The fine line dividing Hove from Brighton has been a subject that’s fascinated me ever since I moved here. Of course one can easily trace it geographically (Palmeira Square would seem a logical spot) but I’ve always had a sense that there is a more meaningful divide in terms of lifestyle and culture.
Hove seems to suggest a slight incline of upward mobility, the place where you move to once you’ve had enough of Brighton’s liveliness – assuming you can actually afford it. Where you go to ‘grow up’ and perhaps start raising a family of your own. You could even go so far to say that Hove is more ‘a state of mind’ than a town. And what came first anyway, the film or the saying?
So all of these assumptions and preconceptions were filtering through my mind on a damp Thursday morning as I made my way up New Church Road and found myself wondering just what to expect from Hove Museum. What would reflect the area’s character and history, and which elements would differentiate it from ‘the mother ship’ and its Pavilion-fronted citadel?
The scale, signage and layout of the building certainly encourages taking a comprehensive tour. It’s all too easy to get overwhelmed when entering a museum for the first time and unconsciously start pre-selecting your visit. This can mean that you end up only looking at things that you already know about or are already interested in.
There’s no danger of that happening in Hove, since you can walk around it in an hour or so. There are also a variety of levels of interpretation, from film projections to interactives and detailed narrative panels, for those who are happy delving a little deeper.
The first thing that caught my eye was actually the lift and the wonderful tiled, colourful and multi-textured mural, created by artist Duncan Hoose in collaboration with community group Brighton Care Co-Ops.
This very much sets the tone of the place. The two ground floor galleries are given over to temporary exhibitions, one of them (Gallery 2, leading to the cafe) currently being developed into a resource room where visitors can sit and read, do some colouring or pick up a trail to explore the rest of the museum.
In Gallery Six when I arrived there was a small group of mums catching up with each other while their toddlers enjoyed exploring the space. This room currently hosts the Amazing Analogue exhibition.
This was easily one of the stand-out highlights of the visit. German artist Jan von Holleben worked with local primary school children to create this extremely creative exhibit which, using clever (and entirely analogue, as the name suggests!) layering tricks which seem to show children wielding huge, fantastical scientific instruments, comprised of all manner of everyday objects and bits and bibs of recent technology.
Von Holleben was inspired by the museum’s collections of Victorian magic lantern slides, many of which look startlingly ‘modern’ and psychedelic. The idea of the exhibition is that the collaborators are using their Heath Robinson-type contraptions to investigate the slides, which, just like the Heritage Learning project with the Volks Railway, once again shows how creativity and imagination can be interwoven into the fabric of learning activities.
Pastoral Scene, 2005 by Penny Green
The cup was unearthed during local roadworks in 1856 from inside a coffin in a burial site, and proved to be one of the most important Bronze Age items discovered in Britain. It was thought to originate from northern Europe, suggesting trade links between Britain and the Baltic stretching as far back as 1200 BC.
Nowadays it sits in its own small glass case, illuminated by the press of a button that bathes it in a suitably reverent, dim scarlet glow. As the curator herself admitted, it’s a little easy to miss considering its significance, but she hopes to make it more of a centrepiece in the not too distant future.
Another interesting aspect of the venue’s layout is the way in which the Museum’s small collection of paintings, themed around ‘the five senses’, are hung at child eye level. This has the added benefit of making them easier to get close to and engage with somehow as a grown up.
The role of Hove’s early cinematography pioneers is highlighted by an extensive collection of antique machinery and panels which tell the story of the various individuals who blazed their own trail not too far behind the wake of the Lumiere brothers. In fact, the first film show hosted in Brighton came just a few months after their Paris premiere in 1896.
Brighton and Hove’s popularity as a seaside resort meant that it attracted entertainers of all stripes and some of Hove’s early cinema’s pioneers came from this background. George Albert Smith was a mesmerist and magic lanternist and Robert Paul was a showman in London. Others transitioned from photography or chemistry.
You can also watch clips from the earliest known moving footage of Brighton.
A still from Scene on Brighton Beach, 1896, by Robert Paul
The oral history anecdotes and quotes about local cinema-going are bound to raise a few smiles too.
Possibly the museum’s most popular space is the Wizard’s Attic, which showcases their extensive toy collection in a genuinely innovative way. The space has been rendered to resemble an old-fashioned toy shop. There is virtually no textual interpretation in this room.
Instead there’s some thoughtful layout design that encourages play and discovery across plenty of nooks and crannies packed with toys, dolls, games and teddy bears. My favourite is the helter skelter-like ramp upon which the Noah’s Ark animals are paraded.
The Local History room is easily the most information-heavy space, which makes sense — you’d expect people browsing in here to be more committed to reading lots of panels and follow a chronological narrative more closely.
It covers the full sweep of Hove’s story, from archaeological finds unearthed from nearby sites, to a map showing the thwarted French invasion of 1514 to a series of panels which outline the myriad range of architectural styles found around the area, Hove in wartime and the growth of modern housing developments.
Of course I’ll be returning to Hove Museum again, so do look out for further posts exploring these collections in further depth.
Finally I spied this word collage left on a wipeboard in the otherwise wordless Wizard’s Attic space. It seems to me to be a rather apt strapline for the museum – and indeed any good museum – itself, wouldn’t you say?
Jools Stone, Blogger in Residence