There aren’t all that many small museums in Britain which manage to attract more than 80,000 visitors a year, but Hastings’ very own Shipwreck Museum is one of those select few.
The one-time stables block, situated towards the end of Rock-a-Nore Road, welcomes people both local and from across the world every day in the summer, and at weekends during the winter months.
People are invariably amazed at the astonishing variety of artefacts on display, which includes exhibits from two major historic shipwrecks – the Warship Anne, built in 1677, and the great 18th century Dutch East Indiaman, the Amsterdam.
There are touchscreens which enable the visitor to undertake epic journeys around the globe or to explore the Amsterdam in more detail. And everyone – not just younger folk – seems to love trying out the display of pulleys or having a go at tying nautical knots.
There is a section devoted to local geology, which includes the head of a fish from the age of the dinosaurs, found on the beach locally, as well as a perfectly preserved 4,000-year-old tree.
One review left on TripAdvisor summed up a visit to the museum perfectly. It said: “Beautifully arranged and very high quality exhibits, with more depth of detail and genuine historical care than you find in many places. The only museum of comparable quality on this theme is the Mary Rose which costs a bundle. This museum was like a hidden gem, totally free and very interesting.”
The museum was founded in 1986 by Dr Peter Marsden and celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2016. With a steady increase of interest in maritime history and archaeology, it is now looking firmly ahead to its next 30 years with a veritable raft of ambitious and adventurous intentions, ranging from relatively small-scale projects such as a series of talks, to much bigger undertakings, including extending the museum premises, rescuing the Warship Anne from her watery grave and putting her on display, and building a modern reconstruction of a Roman ship, the remains of which are on display in the museum, with the intention of then sailing her in the Channel.
In order to achieve these, and other, objectives, the museum is looking to develop a group of volunteers willing to help raise the attraction’s profile even higher. To begin with, it is looking for people willing to spend a few hours welcoming visitors and providing a friendly presence.
As volunteers become more experienced, there is a range of other roles which they could undertake, including leading guided walks to the wreck of the Amsterdam on Bulverhythe Beach at low tides, helping with maintenance work in the museum, getting involved with fundraising, marketing, digitising, welcoming school parties, serving in the gift shop, researching and many other fascinating and rewarding tasks.
Everyone will be given full training and guidance and there will be help available every step of the way.
Anyone interested in helping to promote a part of Hastings’ fascinating maritime history should contact the museum on 01424 437452 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, call Tim McDonald on 01424 713938 or e-mail him at email@example.com More information is at www.shipwreckmuseum.co.uk.