While friendships and social networks linked some of the traditional singers, it would have been a mistake to assume that, despite their shared Sussex location, most knew each other and interacted on a regular basis. Theirs had been a relatively static culture with scant social or geographic mobility and minimal mediation via publicity to a wider public. Yet the 1950s and 1960s saw far-reaching social changes that impacted upon this residual culture, forcing its members into greater proximity and prominence.
While the breaking up of the urban traditional working-class community in the period after the Second World War has been well documented (e.g. Hall and Jefferson 1976; Clarke and Critcher 1979), this period also witnessed the decline of the agricultural labour force and the transformation of traditional rural communities.
As the extensive railway network was dismantled, private car ownership correspondingly grew bringing greater geographical mobility and easier access to neighbouring towns and to villages. Many small village schools were closed, catchment areas were widened and more children travelled by bus to larger educational establishments in towns, thus breaking long-established generational continuities in hitherto isolated rural communities. With the break-up of the British Empire considerable numbers ex-Colonial armed-forces officers and senior government civil servants returned to the home country and became landlords or regular customers of rural pubs. The idyllic vision of village life held by this ‘Gin and Tonic brigade’ (as they came to be colloquially and unflatteringly known through their choice of drink) effectively gentrified the public house, heightening its class tensions and marginalising the traditional customer base.
Firstly, it was temporally and geographically delineated and distinctive. The Sussex folk revival began in earnest in the 1960s and peaked in the 1970s. It blossomed first in coastal Brighton albeit with preceding developments to the north at Horsham and to the east at Hastings. It then quickly spread via transportation networks to other county towns such as Worthing, Shoreham, Lewes, Seaford and Eastbourne. Its second scenic feature was the formalisation of musical events. Leading figures in the emergent culture set up and helped run folk clubs. Some clubs had formal membership with annual subscription although most necessitated paid admission by an audience to scheduled sessions by specialised singers at advertised venues. Many used pubs as venues but others employed entirely different types of buildings – coffee bars, church and public halls, ballrooms and restaurants. Even in pubs there was perhaps the utilisation of a stage in a separate upstairs ‘club-room’.