fishing heritage

Brighton: Brighton Fishing Museum

My favourite thing about the Brighton Fishing Museum had to be the sign located on a hut opposite it, reading “Brighton Fishing Museum, Admission Free, ‘Just Opposite this Sign.'” I love that “Just Opposite this Sign” is in quotation marks, and enjoyed trying to figure out why. Is that the museum’s slogan? Did there used to be someone who actually stood inside the hut, directing traffic across to the museum, and it is quoting them? Do they just not know how to use quotation marks? Whatever the explanation, the sign is delightful.

   

Stumbling on this museum was actually a bit of a fluke (ha!), so maybe it’s good they had the sign. I’ve been to all the other museums in Brighton and Hove that I know about, except for the Old Police Cells (because you have to book a tour to those in advance, and they’re only offered at like 10 in the morning), so I wasn’t even planning on visiting a museum – I just wanted ice cream from Boho Gelato! But we were wandering along the beach, eating our ice creams (we actually went to Brighton twice in one week while we had the use of a car, so even though I did have a seagull steal my ice cream cone and eat it in front of me in what was a deeply traumatic experience that I mentioned in my last post, we went to this museum on our first visit when I was able to finish my ice cream unmolested by gulls (that White Chocolate Almond, oh my god)) when we found Brighton Fishing Museum, which I had heard about, but never really knew where it was. Turns out it is in one of the storefronts down on the beach (rather than on the pier), near a disturbing giant prawn statue that I made Marcus stand by for a photo, and once I found it, obviously I was going in, because I can’t resist a museum.
  
The museum itself is rather cute, but has a vague air of dust and abandonment about it. Admission is free, just as the sign promised, and there was no one there to have taken any money anyway, though there was a small museum shop in a hut nearby (a different hut than the one with the sign on it) with a cute dog inside, so I guess they could presumably run over in case of trouble (the human running the shop, not the dog). I’ve still never been to the Grimsby Fishing Heritage Centre (that is truly the dream, but I’m afraid to go because I know it will almost invariably disappoint), but I don’t think this museum was anything like on their level (certainly there were no changes in temperature or chances to experience seasickness), nor was it like the Time and Tide Museum or NAVIGO – it was most similar to the Hastings Fishermen’s Museum in both size and scope.
  
The museum consisted of one main room dominated by a fishing boat, with a small anteroom off to one side. It was mostly about the importance of fishing to Brighton, which, since Brighton became a resort town in the late 1700s, is something that is largely overlooked (and indeed, the rich people who flocked to Brighton after it became trendy were themselves not a fan of the fishermen, thinking them unforgivably crude and foul-mouthed, and their trade a smelly and disgusting one (though I’m willing to bet the rich and famous stuffed themselves stupid on fresh seafood whilst in Brighton)).
  
This was a very old fashioned museum, with nothing interactive about it at all, but if the information is interesting enough, sometimes that’s what you want (or expect, certainly). Unfortunately, that wasn’t really the case here. There were a few signs about the fisherman and their trade, and then a lot of old photos and paintings, and a few old wooden signs. I was interested in learning more about the traditional King Neptune celebrations that used to be held in Brighton (I know sailors used to dress up as Neptune and perform some sort of unpleasant initiation rites on their crew members who were crossing the equator for the first time, and I’m not sure whether these were related, or just also Neptune themed because after all, he is ruler of the sea), but they didn’t go into enough detail for my liking – I guess participants just wore themed costumes?
  
There were only a few display cases – most contained model ships, but there was one with a few pots and Staffordshire-esque figurines in it, which were mildly amusing. The boat inside the museum was named the Sussex Maid, but unlike at the Hastings Fishermen’s Museum, you couldn’t actually climb aboard, so it was minimally interesting. I was far more into Big Ron, the boat outside the museum, mainly because of the name!
  
I have to be frank – this really isn’t one of Brighton’s better museums (not that Brighton even has all that many museums, but the Brighton Museum and Booth Museum are both way nicer), and it’s not even one of the better fishing museums I’ve been to. It’s nice that they are trying to preserve this history, but it’s quite forlorn in its current location, and in need of a space that, I don’t know, at least has windows? The hut with the sign really is the best thing about it, but it was free, so at least I can’t complain about having wasted any money. 1.5/5.

He’s definitely plotting something…

This has absolutely no connection with fishing or Brighton, but I went to another event recently that doesn’t really fit in anywhere, and this post is a little short, so I’m going to take the liberty of sticking it in here. I happened to see Phobiarama listed in Time Out as part of the Lift Festival and was intrigued by the idea of a 40 minute ghost train (or laff-in-the-dark ride, as I like to call them. Blame a childhood spent poring over all those “Now-Defunct Amazing Looking Old-Timey Amusement Park” photo books (this is the sort of thing I mean, though not that actual title since it wasn’t published until 2005)), even though I was less keen on the whole political aspect of it (not because I thought I would disagree with the politics, more because I don’t think they really belong in a dark ride). Nonetheless, I booked Marcus and myself a pair of very expensive (£21 each!) tickets.

You get treated to this photo of me and a cowboy in Brighton, because I don’t have one of Phobiarama.

It is located in what appears to be a temporary purpose-built structure (I haven’t explored King’s Cross all that much since its regeneration, so I can’t say what exactly is normally there) in the Granary Square area, and we were asked to queue outside for about twenty minutes before our slot started. I don’t want to give too much away about the actual experience, in case anyone is going and wants to be surprised, but it’s a Dutch concept that was changed a bit for British audiences, I think mainly in terms of the news clips used. You are riding an actual ghost train style car along a track (cars fit two, so go with a friend or prepare to get friendly with a stranger, because they weren’t really all that big), and the ride uses live performers rather than animatronics or wax figures or something (which I might have preferred!). If you don’t like having things jump out at you in the dark (or clowns, or clowns that jump out at you in the dark), this probably isn’t the event for you, but I love it (well, not clowns, but I’m not so scared of them that I can’t deal), so I had a pretty good time, especially when the cars reversed direction and zipped really fast along the track, which was super fun. I thought the end was strange and it made me uncomfortable, since I felt bad for the performers, and the whole experience dragged on longer than it needed to, but overall I’m glad I went, though I think a tenner would have been a fairer price. Really the scariest part of the ride was when the clowns started blowing up balloons, because I hate balloons, but everything else was pretty tame (that said, some woman kept screaming, so maybe it depends on your tolerance). 3/5, maybe worth checking out if it comes to your city if you like this kind of stuff (I’d imagine London is probably booked up at this point).
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Hastings, East Sussex: A Brief Tour of Three Local Museums

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I’m finally done with the long run of Denmark posts, and back in Britain (at least for now, hint hint).  I’m sure everyone knows by now that I love a day at the English seaside, mainly so I have an excuse to eat cheesy chips and ice cream.  When the weather was starting to turn a few weeks ago, we thought it would be an auspicious time to head to Hastings, as it would probably be the last good seaside weekend of the year.  Besides, Hastings seemed to abound with quirky free local museums, so I imagined I’d come back with plenty to write about.

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Interestingly, Hastings isn’t where the famous 1066 battle took place – that would be a few miles up the road, in the aptly named Battle.  But, they have made the most of their coastal location with a variety of maritime themed attractions.  We skipped the expensive ones, like the “Smugglers Adventure” and instead headed straight for the Shipwreck Heritage Centre.

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It was not very big, and unfortunately, not that good either.  Most of it was devoted to the Shipwreck of the Amsterdam, but I think I would have rather just gone to see the ruins.  There was a mildly amusing computer game where you had to make decisions as a sea captain; unfortunately, I based my decisions on what would have been historically accurate, and not on what was best for my crew, so I didn’t do very well.  You can see the highlights in the pictures I’ve posted – a chunk of the original London Bridge, and Captain Jazz Hands up there.  Amusing mannequins aside, it was nothing special.

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So we moved next door to the Fishermen’s Museum, with cholera-ridden Dick van Dyke.  He’s not a Pearly King, as it might appear at first glance, but is wearing a suit decorated with shells.  Although the Fishermen’s Museum was similarly petite, the collection was far more eclectic, and thus, more appealing.  The room was dominated by a replica ship that you were welcome to climb aboard, and the walls were absolutely crammed full of paintings, giving it the air of a Victorian parlour gone mad (carrying on with the Mary Poppins theme, I’m picturing the interior of the home of that admiral who spends all his time on the roof firing off his cannon (which is for once not a euphemism)).

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There was even a fish-themed stained glass window, and a taxidermy collection including an albatross, and a giant lobster that gave me the creeps.  I have a definite phobia of crustaceans and arthropods.  Arthrophobia?  Is that a thing?  Anyway, I loved learning about local characters like Biddy Stonham, the Tub Man, and admiring the winkle trophy.  I also enjoyed the collection of photographs of 1890s Hastings.

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If you have to choose between the Shipwreck Heritage Centre and the Fishermen’s Museum, I definitely think the Fishermen’s Museum is the way to go, but they are both free, so there’s really no reason you should have to limit yourself.  After finishing there, I wanted to go to the Flower Maker’s Museum, as flower makers came down with some pretty horrible diseases as a result of the arsenic used to colour the leaves green, but I didn’t write down the address before we left, and it wasn’t in the main stretch of Old Town with everything else.  So, we popped into the Old Town Hall Museum of Local History instead, which we had passed during our search.

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The Town Hall was spread over two floors, though it was still only two rooms.  It was mainly full of posters that tracked the history of Hastings, though there were a few wax figures, figureheads, and other random objects. The set-up was a little odd, as there appeared to be no way to progress chronologically through the collection, no matter which end you started from upstairs, but I suppose it didn’t matter a great deal.  I did learn a few interesting titbits, but it didn’t take much time to look around here either – I’d say we didn’t spend more than half an hour at any of the three museums, and probably less in some cases, so I’m glad we didn’t have to pay for any of them (though I did leave a donation at the Fishermen’s Museum, as I think they’ve got a good thing going).

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When it comes to rating them, I’d give the Shipwreck Heritage Centre 2/5, Fishermen’s Museum 3.5/5, and the Town Hall Museum 2/5.  None of them are anything I’d go out of my way for, but they’re not a terrible way to pass an afternoon in Hastings whilst you’re building up an appetite for chips.  Speaking of chips, I was dismayed to see that cheesy chips did not feature on any of the local menus (why is it some places in Britain have cheesy chips everywhere, but they’re as hard to track down as Bigfoot in other towns?) though we did have a large portion of the non-cheesy variety that were surprisingly tasty. I still don’t know what is so difficult about keeping cheddar cheese on hand though, as the combination of greasy chips and cheap cheddar slightly melted by the heat of the chips is magical. Excitingly, Hastings had one of my favourite American treats for sale: Hawaiian Shave Ice, but the shaver they were using wasn’t quite right and it came out more like a snow cone.

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Hastings has a number of other attractions, from the cliff railway to arcades, and even a waterfall, but other than a stroll along the pebble beach, we didn’t partake of any of them (it was already late afternoon after visiting the museums).  I’m glad I finally went to Hastings, as it’s another seaside town to add to the list, even if they need to get some cheese for their bloody chips!

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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