Great Yarmouth, Norfolk: Time and Tide Museum

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Holy authentic smells, Batman!  Now, I’ve been to a LOT of places with “authentic smells” but I suspect the Time and Tide Museum is the first to have authentic “authentic smells,” if you know what I mean. This is because the museum is housed in a Victorian herring curing works, and the smoky aroma of kippers still hangs in the air and between the cracks of the cobblestone floor.  Odours aren’t the only attraction of the Time and Tide Museum, however.

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Great Yarmouth was best known to me as the place where that seaside episode of Keeping up Appearances was filmed (and you better believe I rode that laff-in-the-dark ride, magnificently unchanged after 20-odd years), but among the less nerdy, it is famed for its herring, although the industry has almost completely disappeared in recent years.  The Time and Tide Museum strives to tell the story of the herring industry, and its role in the growth of Great Yarmouth.  (Thus, it is now the second fishing heritage centre I’ve been to, though I’ve still not seen Grimsby).  The museum is located a few blocks away from the seaside, with only a small sign alerting you to its presence down an alleyway.  Admission is £5.20, and was collected by a friendly woman at the front desk who seemed quite proud of this local museum, and rightly so.

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The adventure begins with a stroll down “Kittywitches Row,” so named for the supposed witch and her “demon cats” who once lived there.  The re-created street was mainly made up of shops and their waxen proprietors, although there were a few cats lurking around for the eagle-eyed to spot.  Crossing through a small garden full of model ships, we then entered the former processing works, and the fishy scents that lingered therein.  The main display was devoted to the fishing industry, whilst the dark rooms branching out from the main hall explained the curing process.  Watching a video about smoked herrings in an old processing room whilst our noses were gently caressed with that familiar sooty smell was a multi-sensory experience on par with “Wonka-vision.” (And sans the creepy Oompa Loompas, even better!)  It was in this section of the museum that I learned the difference between bloaters and kippers (length of smoking time); I’ve no doubt I’ll have need of that knowledge someday, perhaps in a pub quiz?

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Heading upstairs past the wooden herring, former mascot of the “Bloater Depot” chippy, dangling from the wall, (Quick question, who in their right mind would rename a chippy called Bloater Depot?  And also, what’s the best chippy name you’ve ever seen?  My current favourite is “Chip-in-Dales” which I spotted a few weeks ago in Otley.  Genius) we came upon a local history gallery.  I enjoyed the life-size cutout of Robert Hales, the “Norfolk Giant” who was 7’8″, and the cabinet of curiosities, which was a relic from Great Yarmouth’s first museum, (which sounded like a veritable wonderland of oddities, all of which were for sale)!

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At the end of the hall, we first walked down the narrow, sobering section on lifeboats and the many lives lost aboard fishing vessels, and then headed into the room on seaside amusements, complete with myriad entertainments, which ranged from an early 10p moving pictures machine to a mechanical miniaturised pier that played “Rule Brittania!” (though only the chorus.  I’ve still no idea how the verses go).  In addition to these rooms, there was the obligatory wartime gallery, which actually had some interesting information on the zeppelin attacks in WWI, and a replica 1940s bedroom.

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After another section with a few more remaining curiosities, we reached the special exhibition at the end; a collection of artwork by Alfred Wallis (not Alfred Wallace, naturalist, as we initially thought before seeing the spelling).  As this Alfred Wallis was a fisherman, his paintings were all maritime themed, which isn’t really my thing.  They did have some Donald McGill-style saucy postcards in the first shop, so bonus points for that!  (That reminds me, I should probably write about my trip to the Donald McGill Museum one of these days…)

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I adored the authentic smells and Kittywitches Row, and the herring processing section was nicely informative, but the local history parts were a little hit or miss.  Nonetheless, for a local museum mainly about fishing, it was a good effort, and I’d recommend it if you need a break from the splendid tackiness of Great Yarmouth Pier (more on that in the next post).  3.5/5

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