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Sheringham Museum

Founded: 1986        Governance: Independent Trust        Scope: Local History    Visited: Autumn 2014

Yet another illustration of the huge variety that can be found in Britain's local museums, Sheringham started out being housed in a fairly typical manner in a row of cottages, before it was compelled to move by its growing collection of lifeboats to a former Anglian Water building on the seafront of this little former fishing town on the North Norfolk coast. The building, now called The Mo very weirdly after 'a little girl who lived in Sheringham over 130 years ago' (what names did they reject? The Freda? The Gertie?), is jaw-droppingly ugly and looms threateningly over anyone making their way up the path towards it, but having only been opened in 2010 it was spanking new when I went there and is going to be even newer after its refurbishment in 2016 - a revamp again driven by necessity, the building not being terribly well-laid-out for museum purposes. 

Despite that decidedly unprepossessing first approach, the place is rather splendid once you get inside. Naturally the sea features large in the collection and galleries and when I visited they were still displaying the last few remnants of a major exhibition of fisherman's jerseys or ganseys as they call them in these parts; it may not mean much to anyone less than au fait with knitwear but the sheer visual impact of these aeronautic tops is unforgettable. The same might be said of the lifeboats and fishing boats which unavoidably occupy much of the museum space: you don't need that much interest in or knowledge of either fishing or sea rescue to have your imagination piqued by these charismatic objects in which people have spent so much time and struggled with the elements. Upstairs the rough work of fishing gives way to the more genteel incarnation of Sheringham as a holiday destination, with some gorgeous Victorian costume and a fun little hotel tea-table arrangement which tells you so much in one image. You can, all these delights having been sampled, top it off by ascending the tower to the entirely separate Sheringham Shoal Wind Farm Visitor Centre, an excitingly bleak, concrete-floored room with views out across the swelling North Sea to the eponymous wind farm just visible on the horizon, and a range of displays telling you how and why it was built. Corporate propaganda it may essentially be, but it says something very important about the life and landscape, or seascape, of this community. Which is what a museum should do.

Sheringham Museum Sheringham Museum
Sheringham Museum Sheringham Museum
Sheringham Museum Sheringham Museum

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