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Lecture Archive

 'Museum Evening Lectures'

Almost everyone reading this will possess at least one pair of spectacles and might have wondered where this indispensable piece of equipment came from. Frank Barraclough, who practiced locally as an optometrist for 50 years, will explain in his opening talk for the new evening lecture series at the museum on Wednesday 14th March. The title is ‘The History of Spectacles’ and there will be an opportunity to look at a display of early examples donated to the museum by Mr Barraclough.

The second talk on March 28th is ‘A History of Coopering’ by David Thomas. He has made a detailed study of barrel making and, after an historical introduction, Mr Thomas will show some tools of the trade and demonstrate their use.

On April 18th David Powell, who was formerly responsible for weather recording in Hastings , will explain the importance of this work in his lecture ‘Meterorology in Hastings ’. He will show instruments used and explain how cloud formations are still a valuable diagnostic tool.

The last talk, on May 2nd, is ‘The Techniques of Blacksmithing’. Mark Mason practised as a blacksmith for several years, using traditional tools and techniques. He will tell us something of this most ancient craft and describe how it is carried on today.

All these talks will be held at the museum in Egerton Road starting at 7.30pm. Advance booking is highly recommended as space is limited. Tickets are 4 ( 3 for members) from the museum and include refreshments – call in or phone 787955 or 787950.


'Society of Bexhill Museums'


A very interesting aspect of Bodiam Castle was shown to the audience during the lecture at St Augustine’s on 15th February.  Alan Stainsby, National Trust volunteer at Bodiam for many years, described in his well-illustrated talk how high-status feasting of the late fourteenth century might have been conducted at the castle and similar properties.  Although today the castle externally appears much as when built in 1385 by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge, most visitors know the interior to be a ruin.  However, enough of its walls remain to show the arrangement of the Great Hall, with three doorways still in place which served the Kitchen, Buttery and Pantry.  Mr Stainsby’s photographs of other grand Medieval properties illustrated well the layout of such hall and kitchens, so it was easy to imagine how it would have been at Bodiam.  An interesting point regarding the management of catering on this grand scale in the Medieval period was that this was an all male occupation; women were not involved in the preparation and serving of food.  Copies of a typical meat-day banquet menu were distributed among the audience.  This consisted of six courses indicating plenty of choice for the favoured guests, who were no doubt impressed by the artistic and colourful presentation and use of costly spices, a prime object of their host.  As the Church stipulated Wednesday, Friday and Saturday as non-meat days, the quantity of fish required meant this mostly had to be dried.  It has been suggested by some historians that this demand for fish may have brought about a need to build stronger ships to cope with fishing in the North Sea, thus establishing a ship-building industry capable of producing a fighting fleet when required.  Mr Stainsby’s detailed study of catering in the Medieval period conveyed such feasting in a very entertaining way.


‘The British Sporting Hero Through the Ages’

The lecture on January 18th, ‘The British Sporting Hero Through the Ages’ given by Dr Paul Gilchrist, delighted and surprised even those museum members who didn’t consider themselves sports fans ! He told the audience some exciting stories starting with bare knuckle fighters in the 18th century. There was Jack Broughton, known as the ‘father of English boxing’; Tom Cribb whose fame spanned the Atlantic; and Brighton boy Tom Sayers who had 12,000 people watching his 36 rounds against John Heenan, a fight lasting 2 ½ hours. Strong men were remarkable heroes too: Thomas Topham won a tug-of-war against a horse (sadly he lost against a pair of them!).

Pedestrianism rose to popularity as a sport in Victorian times and each region had its heroes; Harry Clasper won fame on Tyneside for rowing. Better known to us are Captain Webb for his feats in swimming, and W.G. Grace who turned cricket into a national obsession. Sussex cricketer C.B. Fry was also famed for his football. He also held the long jump record for 21 years and in 1919 was offered the throne of Albania!

Lottie Dodd is still the youngest player to have won Wimbledon (she was 15).She later became a golf champion, and even took part in the Olympic Games.Other exploits were on the Cresta Run and in archery.

Some of us remember Dennis Compton, Stanley Matthews and Roger Bannister. TV has given us a wider vista of sporting heroes we would otherwise not have come across like Steve Davis and Eric Bristow. David Beckham’s fame has spread world-wide.

Bexhill heroes were mentioned: Frank Pawson, curate at St Peter’s, was famed as a footballer, competing on the wing for England in the 1880s. Max Faulkner, born in Bexhill, won the British Open Golf Championship in 1951. Winifred Sarson of Cooden Beach became the English Girls’ Golf Champion in 1921.

Many other sporting heroes were mentioned, including our own Eddie Izzard and his 43 marathons in 51 days. And do you know the connection between W.G. Grace and Bexhill? No? Then visit the museum’s new display on Sport which opens on February 6th to find out!


Do you celebrate Twelfth Night on the 5th or the 6th of January ? This was the opening of a very interesting lecture from Mr Tim McDonald on January 4th. Apparently the Eve or Night between the two was the traditional Twelfth Night, the first ‘night’ of Christmas being that between the 24th and 25th December.

It was from the Norse ‘Yarl’s tag’ that we adopted some of our Christmas traditions, including the Yule Log. This was dragged from the forest by the men on Christmas Eve and kept burning for 12 nights How many of us have a hearth big enough now ? The noblemen were given gifts. Holly, ivy. mistletoe and other greenery was brought into the house and again taken out on Twelfth Night to appease both good and bad spirits which may inhabit it. (This was my family’s tradition also )

Wassailing took place, people visiting and wishing you ‘Wassail’ ( Be healthy ), drinking from the Wassail Bowl a mixture of ale, honey and spices. Our mulled ale and wine stem from this - Wassailing songs are still known in Somerset, ‘Wassail, wassail, all over the town’; and the Yorkshire song to the tune of ‘God rest ye merry, gentlemen’ with its chorus of ‘Tidings of comfort and joy’.

Role reversal often featured following the Roman festival of Saturnalia when a man was chosen to represent Saturn, first showered with gifts but then slain at the end of the revelry. The Christian Feast of Fools chose a boy bishop on December 6th who until the 28th was the ‘Lord of Misrule’.

Twelfth Night fruit cakes were traditional; now these just seem to be Christmas cakes. Originally twelve small cakes were made to ensure twelve months of prosperity. These were highly decorated with colourful glace fruit, often displayed in bakers’ windows. They contained surprises : the man who found the bean would be ‘king’, she who found the pea would be queen. If you found a twig you were the ‘fool’; a clove made you the villain and a piece of rag a tart !

These are just some of the traditions told to us by Mr McDonald in a very enjoyable lecture. He is interested to hear from people who have family traditions connected with Christmas. These could be left at the museum.

The next museum lecture, ‘The British Sporting Hero Through the Ages’ will be given by Paul Gilchrist on Wednesday 18th January at 2.30pm in St Augustine’s Hall. He is interested in meeting people with local sporting connections. Admission is £3 or £2 for members.


A talk given by Dr Graham Whitham

30th November 2011

St Augustine’s Hall was packed to capacity last Wednesday afternoon for a return visit of Dr Graham Whitham. Following on from a previous talk on Art Nouveau he explained with the aid of slides, the design style we now know as Art Deco. Until 1968 when the phrase “Art Deco” was used by Bevis Hiller as the title of a book the style was known as “Moderne”. Dr Graham Whitham outlined the beginnings which appeared between the two world wars.In 1925 the Paris Exposition was held, a showcase of “International art Moderne”. This enormous state exhibition, visited by thousands in six months put France back as a leader of art and culture after the war years. Posters advertising the event, their artwork typical Art Deco in appearance with stylized foliage and elongated figures used the word “Moderne” for the first time. The style is not be confused with the “Modern” also used at this time.Setting the facts straight in case anyone in the room considered our De La Warr Pavilion as “Moderne/Art Deco” we were told it is a great example of “Modern”.There are subtle differences between the two styles; Art Deco was more stylized using fluted columns, stepped surfaces and very angular shapes. Small items and furniture were designed with the style considered first before the function. Modern style was used far more for mass produced items, their function the first consideration, and then the style. Straight clean lines and little ornamentation are its hallmarks. In the beginning Art Deco used expensive and innovative materials, especially in furniture making whereas Modern items are far more traditional in their fabric.Plenty of examples were shown, from a chest of drawers made from mahogany, ivory and snakeskin, it’s voluptuous rounded shape described as “the sexiest piece of furniture ever made”, through lacquered pots of Jean Dunand, fabrics by Sonia Delaunay, whose husband was a Cubist painter, to the well known Clarice Cliff china. Her cups with angular handles with no where to put your fingers are a supreme example of Art Deco’s principle of style before function. Plenty British examples of Art Deco building can still be found; The Hoover building on the A40 at Perivale, [now owned by Tesco] shows the typical fluted columns, stepped sides and inside, rounded mouldings of Art Deco. The Daily Express buildings in both London and Manchester which still remain have stunning interiors, but the Firestone Building which despite being listed was knocked down overnight so only photo’s remain.Cinema’s which so many went to in the 20’s and 30’s, using them as an escape from the harsh realities of the Depression were “dream places”. The 1922 discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb by Howard Carter led to a popularity of Egyptian motives and themes. Styled along Art Deco lines these are often seen on cinema buildings.In time Art Deco spread from Europe to America. This partially came about from the Normandie shipping line which regularly crossed the Atlantic. The new liners were decorated throughout with Art Deco. The posters advertising the line again show the elongated, streamlines of the style. America embraced Art Deco and added her own twist. Rather than the Egyptian influences used in decoration Native American motives can be seen. Plenty of examples were shown from the iconic Chrysler building in Manhattan to the Union Trust building in Detroit which shows this national style well.The talk came to a conclusion with a couple of questions from the audience, one about Marine Court in St Leonards. Is it Moderne or Modern? The answer was debatable, and had Dr Graham Whitham scratching his head as the building has elements of both styles and a background of nautical heritage as well. A fascinating talk which I for one will be recalling when I look up at buildings of a certain age or see items described as Art Deco.

Monuments and Magic: Fact and Folklore Workshop - Colin Manton: 21 May 2011.

The Education Room was full of eager participants gathered to find out more about British folklore, and in particular that to be found in Sussex. Colin jokingly referred to the Rapture predictions that the World would end on 21 May 2011, and hinted that despite what the gathered audience might think, he had not planned his lecture to coincide with the predicted event and was relieved that this particular fact/piece of folklore had been proven wrong. Colin gave an interesting and fact filled talk, accompanied by numerous slides, on such things ranging from cheese rolling, well dressing and the like to the Long Man of Wilmington and the imponderable question of why is he there and who made him? The assembled audience was pleased to find out that the artefacts and curios brought along by Colin seemed to be working, especially the witches bottle - a glass phial containing iron nails said to be efficient in keeping witches at bay owing to the magical properties of iron - as the room appeared to be a witch free zone.   

A new series of workshops on various aspects of Britain’s coasts runs each Saturday in June – details from the museum on 787950.

English Landscape Painting: the Real, the Ideal and the Endangered - Dr. Graham Witham: 7 May 2011.


Over 30 people gathered in the museum’s Education Room for an afternoon listening to the second part of a lecture series on aspects of the British Landscape, ‘English Landscape Painting: the Real, the Ideal and the Endangered’. Three key words could be said to define the first part of Dr Graham Whitham`s lecture -‘topographical, picturesque and sublime”. First, however, it was interesting to discover that, before the 18th Century, landscape painting as an end in itself did not exist. Imaginary landscapes were used as background to a portrait or mythological scene. Landscape painting as a genre was not recognised by the academic establishment. In the later 17th Century the paintings of Claude and Poussin exerted a strong influence over English painters.  With titles such as “The Gathering of the Ashes of Phocion by his widow” they were landscapes but Arcadian and imaginary. Even Constable, with pictures such as ‘The Cornfield’ painted in 1826, took liberties with the scenery in order to draw the eye towards a distant church. Topographical landscape evolved together with the use of watercolours as there was less paraphernalia to carry around enabling the artist to paint on the spot.  Paul Sandby, who first used watercolours for military survey in Scotland, went on to become a pioneer of topographical work in this medium. This was ‘Real’ as opposed to ‘Ideal’ painting.  By means of these paintings an appreciation of English Landscape grew in the public mind. A desire to look at rough and untamed nature was fostered by the idea of the Picturesque which, in a way, was a reaction against tidily ordered parkland. The idea of Sublime painting was a further step away from comfortable pastoral scenes and was particularly manifest in pictures such as ‘Coalbrookdale by Night’ by Philippe de Loutherburg painted in 1801. Other favourite subjects were crags and tumbling waterfalls: all part of the emerging Romantic Movement and away from the ordered reasonableness of the 18th Century. In the second part of the lecture Graham showed us examples of Victorian Realist Painting such ‘February Fill Dyke’ by Sydney Percy (1880) and the mystical and influential work of Samuel Palmer. In the 20th Century further mystical interpretations of the English Landscape were represented by the work of Paul Nash and Graham Sutherland, however the representational idyllic rural image persists in spite of or maybe because the landscape is endangered. To my mind the most perfect example of this rural image was James Bateman`s 1939 painting ‘Haytime in the Cotswolds’.  England was under threat and this was the England we felt we were fighting for.

A new series of afternoon ‘day schools’ takes place every Saturday in June with the overall title ‘Coast – Perspectives on Britain’s Seashore’. There will be lectures on painting, architecture, St Leonard’s as Victorian resort and Servicing the Seaside. Full details can be obtained from the museum or on line at

Report by Martin Bluhm



The History of Sussex Inn Signs - Dr. Janet Pennington: 16 March 2011

‘The History of Sussex Inn signs’ was the lecture given by Dr Janet Pennington at St Augustine’s Hall on 16th March. This speaker was well-versed in her subject and conveyed her enthusiasm with humour. It was very interesting to know that the early origins of such signs dated from the fourteenth-century alehouse, which brewed ale on the premises on a daily basis. When the brew was available, a pole with greenery attached was set out of the window. Many examples of signs still to be seen in Sussex were shown, some suspended from elaborate wrought-iron frames which included fine carved and painted bunches of grapes, advertising the sale of wine. Dr Pennington explained meanings of some images which were repeated throughout the centuries - the star, dolphin, Iamb, swan and rose having Christian symbolism, and St George (not always with his dragon) being a particularly popular subject The Hanoverian Georges appeared frequently, as did an earlier monarch, Charles II, depicted in his Royal Oak. Some fine examples of coats of arms were shown, including those of the Duke of Norfolk containing a small red lion denoting Earl Marshal status. Large arches constructed over the road with signs suspended centrally, known as gallows, indicated a superior inn arid some of these still exist. With some breweries the modem examples of artwork are somewhat bland, but it is still possible to find beautifully executed signs.
The lecture on 30th March will be an evening one held at Bexhill Museum 7.30 pm. As places are limited this has to be booked in advance at the Museum. Sarah Page will be speaking of Sussex Trugs.
Birds and Birdsong – Mike Russell: 16 February 2011

The lecture at St Augustines hall on 16th February, Birds and Birdsong, was one with a difference, Given by Mike Russell, Head of Adult Learning at Sussex Wildlife Trust, this talk was appropriately timed, as some birdsong at the start of the breeding season begins in February. With thirty-two reserves to manage, the nearest locally being Filsham reed beds, the Trust’s conservation work in Sussex is extremely important. Celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, Mr Russell’s contribution of 26 years’ service is most impressive.
Apparently birdwatching is the second most popular activity after fishing, whether it be enthusiasts prepared to travel or those who watch from the house window, so it is not surprising that this excellent presentation was attentively followed. This showed why birds sing – to establish territory by warning off competitors and to attract a female. Songsters are male, with the exception of the robin where females also sing in winter to protect the feeding territory. As some birds are often very difficult to see, the ability to identify them by their song and call is very important. High quality recordings of 26 birds singing, calling and warning were played, as relevant still photographs of each bird were shown on the screen. No doubt the songs of some of the garden birds were familiar but certain sounds, such as that of the aptly-named grasshopper warbler and the strange calls of stone curlew and nightjar, probably were not We learned that the blackbird’s alarm call is heeded by all birds and that the starling is an amusing and clever mimic of sounds heard in its territory. The range of the nightingale and the tiny wren’s powerful song are truly amazing, but Mr Russell kept his piece de resistance until last – a skylark in full voice captivating the audience at the conclusion of this very interesting talk.
The Kent & East Sussex Railway will be the subject of Harry Hickmott’s lecture at St Augustine’s hall on 2nd March at 2.30 and visitors will be very welcome.

'Was it Worth It?' - John Dowling: 2 February 2011

Retired local journalist John Dowling, very well known to many of his audience, gave an entertaining and thoughtful account of life with the Bexhill Observer in his talk at St Augustine’s hall on 2nd February. This showed how reporters have to turn their hands to covering all types of events and sometimes at all hours if these become dramatic. The 1986 riot and fire at Northeye prison and the later destruction of the Grand Hotel were vividly described. These illustrated how journalism was no ‘9 to 5’ profession – the notebook and camera should be ready at all times.

John explained how much had changed in the production of the Observer since the early 1960s when print mechanisation involved manual work for all processes. Newspapers today now have electronics to aid them and ‘holding the front page’ is not the potential disaster it might have been in earlier times. However, the digital age has naturally meant fewer staff are required to produce a paper now.
Many amusing anecdotes, and some of a more serious nature, were recounted and it was obvious that this particular journalist was very happy to have spent his working life serving Bexhill in this way.
Birds and Birdsong is the title of the next lecture to be given by Mike Russell at St Augustine’s hall on 16th February at 2.30. As always, visitors are very welcome.

The Open Road - Art and the Automobile - Dr. Graham Witham: 5 January 2011

The first lecture of 2011 held at St Augustine’s hall on 5th January was given by art historian Dr Graham Whitham. The Open Road — Art and the Automobile, an intriguing title perhaps. What is the connection? Quite surprising, as his extremely well-illustrated talk showed. From the earliest days of motoring in the early 1900s to the mass use of the ubiquitous car today, many artists of the twentieth century were inspired to put their individual stamp on the subject. Not only did they use the vehicle in their art, be it painting, sculpture or conceptual work, but most were keen motorists. An interesting photograph of 1908 showed the painter Monet sitting proudly in his motor car which, due to his success at that time, he was well able to afford.

Dr Whitham took the audience through all styles of twentieth century art, from the Italian Futurists of the early 1900s, whose ideas were to depict movement and speed in their abstract work, through the streamlined 1930s of Art Deco and the influence on Surrealism, when ‘found objects’ were the artwork. In America, during the 1950s and ‘60s, when home and curves were the automobile’s ideal, Pop Art and hyper-realism glorified these aspects. Conceptual art and performance events of the late twentieth-century continued to make use of the car in various ways, some quite bizarre. Of especial interest was a fine collection of poster art of the 1930s to early 1950s when the Shell company commissioned artists of the day to produce designs that would encourage motorists to take to the road. It is interesting to think that the functional vehicle we use today should have been such an inspiration to artists from the earliest days.

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