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Hornsea Museum

Founded: 1978        Governance: Independent Trust        Scope: Local & industrial history    Visited: Autumn 2015

Hornsea was my favourite East Yorkshire museum, partly because it reminded me of the Priest's House in Wimborne, where I worked: not only is it housed in an historic building in a small town centre and has the same sort of stuff in its collection, but the sterling volunteers who run it have done what we did at Wimborne and thought about the history of the building and how it relates to that of the town around it. It originated perhaps in the sixteenth century as a farmhouse, much extended and amended as the centuries have gone by, and in the mid-1900s was divided into shops and cottages. Some of this is reflected in the displays, most notably the tenancy of the Burn family  who lived here from the late 1600s to World War Two, succeeded by 'a glamorous lady of meretricious repute' and a Mr & Mrs Audas. Some of the rooms reflect its domestic occupation, some its one-time incarnation as a working farm, and some its commercial tenants. The outbuildings house dairy and workshop displays and a little mocked-up street with four shop windows packed with chemist's jars and the like (you can't lose with chemist's jars). 

Then there is a doorway which leads into a separate display about Hornsea Pottery. I have next to no interest in ceramics , at least the commercial items the Hornsea Pottery made, some of which you can see in the photos below. But what the Museum does is tell the story of this once-vital local employer with an intense focus which is revealing and fascinating. The gentlemen who started it up got into pottery from doing clay modelling as therapy while recovering from war injuries in the 1940s, and the original kiln sits in the gallery  (at the end, interestingly). The display describes the firm's experimentation with forms and products, expansion, and long battle to keep afloat in an increasingly hostile economy, being bought out by this and that bigger company and stumbling upon the one thing that was going to save it before something else going horribly wrong and eventually ceasing to trade. The insight the gallery brings into the relationship between craft, entrepreneurship and international late-capitalism is actually quite radical and not something I expected to discover at all. It goes to show just what museums can do with imagination and a bit of cash.

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