The Museums Association Conference 1911

Page describing the Museums Association's 'Circular Trip' from Brighton to Worthing, 1911
Page describing the Museums Association’s ‘Circular Trip’ from Brighton to Worthing, 1911

Brighton & Hove is hosting this year’s Museums Association Conference and Exhibition on 3-4 October.  Museum professionals from far and wide will be coming to the Brighton Centre to visit the exhibition and to attend what promises to be a packed programme of seminars, debates and networking sessions.

It’s not the first time that the Museums Association annual conference has been held in Brighton. One hundred years ago, in July 1911, Brighton played host to around 150 delegates attending what was then a four day event.  In what was to turn out to be one of the hottest summers on record, 1911’s delegates took their annual meeting at a considerably more leisurely pace than their 2011 successors will be able to. With the extra time available, much more entertainment was scheduled into the agenda. Delegates were encouraged to play golf, go on motor tours of the countryside, and visit neighbouring towns and museums.  The 1911 Museums Association programme of events which is held at the Brighton History Centre shows that the Director of the Libraries, Museum and Art Galleries, Mr Henry D Roberts, was an exemplary host who made every effort to meet all the delegates’ possible needs. Before they arrived, members who would be attending the conference were sent a detailed programme of events which highlighted some of the facilities that would be available to them.  Most of the visitors would be staying at the Royal York Hotel with some overflow accommodation provided at the Royal Albion. Provincial newspapers, including the Birmingham Daily Post, Bristol Times and Glasgow Herald, were made available in a ‘public newsroom’ along with ‘Information for Golfing Members’.

Henry Roberts, Director of Libraries and Museums, c1910
Henry Roberts, Director of Libraries and Museums, c1910

The first full day of the conference started on Tuesday 11 July 1911 with an official welcome at the Royal Pavilion followed by a morning session which included the President of the Museums Association’s address and other papers presented by delegates.  This was followed by members having their photographs taken in the Pavilion’s grounds, lunch at the Royal Pavilion, and then a motor drive. A guide book was written specifically to accompany Museums Association members on their tour of the Sussex countryside, which took them on a circular tour to Worthing via such landmarks as Devil’s Dyke and Chanctonbury ring. Tea was provided at Worthing Art Gallery and then it was back to Brighton for a lecture on ‘Open Air Folk Museums’.  On the second day after the morning’s papers, a trip was organised in the afternoon to the Booth Museum and the evening’s dinner was held in the Banqueting Room of the Royal Pavilion.  In the programme, delegates were reminded that ‘Friends desirous of sitting together should inform Mr Roberts of the same not later than Wednesday at noon.’ Thursday’s morning session was followed by a business meeting and marked the end of the official business of the conference; this left another day and a half of purely leisure activities.  Delegates were left to their own devices on the Thursday afternoon but in the evening the Mayor and Mayoress, Councillor and Mrs Thomas-Stanford, hosted a reception at the Museum & Art Gallery. The periodical Brighton Society reports:

‘Councillor and Mrs Thomas Stanford stood to receive their guests at the north end of the Permanent Gallery. The Mayor wore his civic chain and the Mayoress was charmingly gowned in accordion satin of a lovely shade of hydrangea, with wide sleeves and drapery of ninon. A tasteful contrast in colours was effected by the bunch of clove pink carnations she wore at the corsage, and the chiffon scarf, draped over the shoulders of the same vivid shade.’

Brighton Society deemed the whole conference a great success and the evening dance a particular highlight:

‘The night was very hot for dancing, but nevertheless the younger people seemed to thoroughly enjoy the recreation.’

The Brighton Queen, 1917
The Brighton Queen, 1917

As if that wasn’t entertainment enough, a trip to Hastings and Battle had been arranged for the final day. The organisers in Brighton had arranged for delegates to travel by rail from Brighton station but it was pointed out that an alternative way of travelling was by boat: the ‘Brighton Queen’ sailed  from the Palace Pier to Hastings. Catering for this particular preference may have proven one whim too many for the organisers.  The programme clearly states:

‘Please note that any members who may desire to journey either to or from Hastings by boat will be required to purchase their tickets themselves.’

Shona Milton
History Centre Officer

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