Rupert Brooks’ latest delve into the past underlines a strange problem in the present: in Arundel, you can, it seems, take your pick of 59 places to have coffee, but can you find a hardware store? No.
You’ll struggle similarly to find fresh bread in a town where there were once 11 different bakers, baking it freshly every day.
Mr Brooks’ new book Shops and Trades of Old Arundel (published by Phillimore and co-authored with Mark Phillips) highlights just how much has been lost... and just how much has been gained.
“We have no hardware shops, no chemist, no bread-bakers... We are desperately short of many of the skills that are long gone. We really do need people with those kinds of skills to come back.”
But at least, it’s fair to say that in other respects, Arundel has seen significant progress from 1800, the year which Mr Brooks, 91, brother of former Observer editor Graham, takes as the starting point for his new volume: “Back then, it was a pretty rough and raunchy sort of place,” he laments. “It was actually a rather dangerous place to live in. You could just as well be stabbed in the guts by a sailor! There were brothels around. It must have been terrible in many respects.
“The reason I wrote this book was because not a lot of people knew it wasn’t the genteel, rather aristocratic place it is now! It really was rather rough.”
Mr Brooks, who spent three years researching the book, puts the subsequent improvement down initially to the Georgians who brought a degree of wealth with them to the town.
“The Georgians were here in the 1700s and up to the 1800s, and they were, in fact, the wealthy people.”
The point was that this was the era which saw the rise of the merchants, which in turn created wealth: “The merchants wanted shipbuilders, and so a shipbuilding fraternity was created in Arundel. They wanted shipwrights. They wanted carpenters.
“They went into the families to find out what trades there were.”
One trade led to another. The slaughtermen killed cattle for leather. Soap and candles were byproducts.
The trades proliferated, many of them carrying names now lost to the English language or at the very least, obscure, and by 1890, Arundel was starting to take on some of the gentility for which it is known today.
The book is Mr Brooks’ second on the town, following on from his Inns and Taverns of Old Arundel in 2009. Both books are his correction of an omission.
“It seemed odd to me when I came here – I have been in Arundel eight years – that when I went into a bookshop and said ‘What have you got about Arundel?’, they showed me two little picture books. Two picture books! No mention of the people, the families, the occupiers, the traders...”