Record visitor numbers and a dedication to preserving the past point to bright future for Sheringham's 'hidden gem' seafront museum
PUBLISHED: 21:04 14 April 2018 | UPDATED: 22:39 14 April 2018
It may be dedicated to preserving the past, but with its ethos of making history hands-on, fun and interactive, Sheringham Museum has one foot firmly set in the future. And with a whole host of new events and exhibitions in the pipeline, the seafront attraction looks set to achieve its goal of becoming one of north Norfolk's most popular family destinations. Karen Bethell spoke to staff and trustees to find out more.
Founded 30 years ago by a trio of keen amateur local historians who managed to secure funding to buy a row of former fishermen’s cottages in Station Road, the museum initially boasted exhibits amounting to a just a few hundred documents, photographs and artefacts.
But, after the group was offered the contents of Ellis Pratt’s Station Road saddler’s shop following the local trader’s death, donations of family heirlooms came rolling in, and the museum began to make its mark on the town.
Manned by a small group of volunteers, including founder members Tim Groves, Peter Brooks and Mary Blyth, it went from strength to strength and, in 2010, the cottages were sold and the museum was moved to its current site on the town’s east promenade.
Visitors began to flock to the new attraction, which not only housed the town’s seven historic lifeboats, but also boasted exhibits ranging from fishing, agricultural and social history artefacts, to embroideries by Sheringham’s famous fisherman artist John Craske.
Footfall increased again after the opening of a £1.4 million extension three years ago, with numbers hitting a record 15,500 last year – up from a previous average of less than 10,000.
Sheringham-born Lisa Little, whose great-great-great-grandfather, local fisherman Elijah Farrow, is pictured on a mural painted near the entrance to the museum, took on the job of manager last year.
A former assistant curator working across 10 sites for Norfolk Museums Service, she brought with her expertise in research, display and event management and has big plans for Sheringham.
“For me, every time I come to work, I feel like I’m coming home,” she said. “I want to build on the museum – not only on the boats side of things, but also on the knitting, netting and knotting side of our fishing history.”
Mrs Little, who, with learning officer Sally Vaughan-Birch, is one of just two paid staff at the museum, praised the attraction’s army of trustees and volunteers, whose “unique skillset” she plans to put to good use.
“We’ve got genealogists, social history experts, carpenters and conservationists, and what attracted me to the museum is the passion of the volunteers, trustees and directors who really care about its collection and about Sheringham,” she said.
After a successful week of Easter events including a dinosaur egg hunt, a fossil identification day and a flint knapping demonstration, Mrs Little plans to make workshops and events for children and families a regular feature on the museum calendar.
Local artist Colin Seal, who has a studio at the museum, has helped the attraction forge links with local events including the town carnival and annual Viking Festival – something she also hopes to build on further.
“The bigger part we can play in the community, the better,” she said. “We have to evolve as a museum and, in my head, I have planned the exhibitions for the next four years, from the embroideries of John Craske, to knitted cosies and maybe even saucy postcards.”
As well as art workshops, music evenings, history walks and talks and a changing programme of events for young visitors, future plans include upgrading a number of exhibits, creating a display charting 2,000 years of Sheringham history, working with the Marine Conservation Society and diver Rob Spray on the museum’s geology and palaeontology display, and working on a large-scale, marine plastics-themed touring sculpture with artist Kate Munro and youngsters from Sheringham Primary School.
During the summer, the museum, which recently won a Visit England ‘Hidden Gem’ award, will also be staging an exhibition of the work of pioneering Sheringham photographer Olive Edis, which, as well as a series of previously unseen images, will include special events, workshops and a mock-up of Edis’s Church Street studio.
Trustee, director and founder member Tim Groves said the museum had an important role to play in Sheringham’s past, and in its future.
“We are about telling the tale of the town and its people and, first and foremost, we want to be sustainable,” he explained. “And by increasing footfall, becoming self-sustaining and making our displays more interactive and attractive, I think we will be here for years and years to come.”