A First Look with Guillaume Velde
The current site of the town museum was built-for-purpose in 1988 with Lottery Grant funding, when the buildings still standing in the Historic Docks were being redeveloped as a tourist attraction, educational resource and community hub. The museum is next to the Community First Centre and Credit Union, where the Citizens’ Advice Bureau is located on the second floor.
Pagham-on-Sea docks began life as a small harbour for subsistence fishing, which developed in the Industrial Revolution when Joseph Barker opened his factory and mills. Boats took products to and from here to Southampton and other major ports.
The museum was built at the same time that the town morgue was being carefully renovated (preserving the Georgian front). Both buildings appear strangely fortified. It moved from its previous location, sharing a Georgian building with the town library in the town centre, enabling the library to develop and for the collections of both to be better housed. There was some initial resistance to its relocation, but the Historic Docks has also attracted the redevelopment of businesses in that part of Pagham-on-Sea including the sea-view B&Bs, small cafés, kebab shops and the Red Ram, bought by a major national pub chain in 1990.
In this post, we take a quick introductory tour of the museum with Guillaume Velde.
Velde first took an interest in Pagham-on-Sea and its museum as a young boy, and has become an amateur authority on several of its collections and highlights.
It’s a pleasure to introduce the collections. Some of the items in the vaults are not on display to the general public, but special exhibitions make selected objects accessible to visitors throughout the year. Look out for the Smugglers and Wreckers exhibition, Floor 2, Arbuthnot Gallery, April-Oct 2020.Guillaume Velde
The Arbutus Collection
Jeremy Arbutus was a vampire who gifted the museum his collection of c.300 years’ worth of ladies’ neckwear, much of it made of silk. It forms a unique cross section of the neckwear of the middle and upper classes, showing a rare exhaustive diachronic perspective on these garments. It is perhaps to be regretted that each piece is marred by a single bite mark, but this does not diminish the unique pedagogical value of this collection.
The Fossil Collection
Fossil hunting may be a fun pastime elsewhere, but in Pagham-on-Sea, it is frowned upon. The effect that the hyper-fertility of the soil has on fossilised creatures buried deep beneath the town is not something anyone wants to think too hard about. All fossils must be turned in to the Town Museum & Containment Facility without exception.
The Smuggling Collection
The eighteenth century saw a great deal of smuggling activity, and many items related to this dubious trade are in the museum, including a pair of pistols belonging to the infamous Seamus McVey, allegedly buried alive in a tunnel below Fairwood House (known colloquially as The Crows). McVey bet his pistols on a cock fight at The King’s Head, and lost them to a local farmer, Daniel Pierce. This event is recorded in Pierce’s journals, which are now kept in the East Sussex Record Office. McVey and his gang flourished in the 1740s with the aid of the local gentry, the Sauvants, who resided at Fairwood. Sir Thomas Sauvant was the local magistrate, which helped a great deal.
The Weapons Collection
There is a collection of assorted weaponry dating from c.1350-1890, which includes a variety of swords, daggers and guns. Some of these were clearly meant for members of the undead community, and so when they are exhibited, their public appearances are not without some controversy. They are only displayed in context of exhibitions designed by representatives of both undead and ante-dead communities with content warnings and age restrictions, where appropriate.
The Romano-British Collection
The Romano-British collection dates from c.60-490 CE (AD). The prize items in this collection (some of which are displayed publicly and some are not) are largely drawn from a shipwreck at the entrance to the Solent. How they ended up in the Pagham-on-Sea museum is not entirely clear. The list is as follows:
- Three amphorae. Traces suggest they carried red wine.
- Seven swords, typical of the time and place. Of local manufacture.
- Several thousand pieces of broken pottery.
- Two bone flutes.
- The frame of one harp.
- One mat of something that turned out to be red human beard hair.
- One quern. Its upper stone is etched with signs of the zodiac.
- One table, which, according to the divers who found it, seemed to move under its own power every time one looked away from it. This item was thought to be lost, but resurfaced in dramatic style by chasing a small group of visitors down a corridor. It has since been recovered and is kept under lock and key.
Loose Items of Note
One (1) wooden sign that reads: Please Do Not Feed The Harpsichord. The whereabouts of the instrument in question is unknown.
One (1) Sampo.
And that’s the end of our first quick tour! Do come back soon when a few more collections and loose items will be discussed. If you’d like to know about the fossil collection and when these will be displayed, the answer is never. Stay tuned for more on this in the forthcoming anthology of Pagham-on-Sea short stories, All Fossils Are Official Secrets, co-written with Guillaume Velde.