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Arundel Museum

Founded: 1964        Governance: Independent Trust        Scope: Local history    Visited: Summer 2016

Peering past the reception desk of Arundel Museum I was a little dismayed to see that the whole thing was basically one room, albeit a moderately large one, with a temporary exhibition gallery off on one side - and that was shut. It was a wee bit pricey for that: not a problem for a singleton who almost always visits museums no matter what, but perhaps more off-putting for a family. However, this one room turned out to comprise one of the best local museums I've visited. Given that there's only one paid member of staff who had nothing to do with the move of the museum to this site in 2012, and the whole redisplay was managed by volunteers, it really is very professional. The objects are beautifully laid out and the history of the town is described with a clarity and definition that some better-resourced collections should envy. Those objects aren't perhaps anything very special (apart from some of the items relating to Arundel's former life as a port - the barge rudder is really a rather charismatic piece) but they're arranged with such an aesthetic sensitivity and placed so very firmly into the context of the community and its changing nature over time that they seem something more. I didn't know Arundel had been such a centre for maritime trade once; the role of the Castle in the town's identity is covered in a subsidiary keep-like enclave in the middle of the gallery; and the decline of the port and the emergence of tourism and antiques-trading gets a mention when in so many museums the recent history of the community they're supposed to be examining doesn't appear at all. Arundel today seems such a prim, middle-class sort of place, but its museum isn't frightened of the truth at all. I think it's absolutely examplary, and worth celebrating.

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