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Museum at home blog

Beside the Seaside

User AvatarPosted by Penelope Lovesy at 10/06/2020 22:08:15

Rebecca Rossiter, Public Programming and Learning Manager at Poole Museums, reflects on the importance of the sea within the museums’ collections and its power to connect with us at a time of social distancing.

Author’s Note: I wrote the blog piece below back in April, in anticipation of museum learning colleagues working on some seaside-themed resources. It was when the UK was in the midst of full lockdown and the local beaches were largely deserted – a slightly different picture from some of the packed scenes we have witnessed in recent weeks. That said, the sentiment holds true. The sea continues to draw us in and draw us together. Please enjoy all it has to offer in awe, oars and wonder, but do stay safe.


As you’d probably expect from a museum estate located next to Europe's largest natural harbour, we really rather like the sea at Poole Museum. Our collections have many items that relate to Poole’s natural history – rich in sea birds and wildlife – as well as an extensive number of items that reveal the local maritime history from international trade and boat-building to piracy and shipwrecks. And the list doesn’t stop there. We also display aspects of Poole’s social history with artefacts and artwork linked to bathing, tourism and seaside entertainment. Oh and oyster shells. I forgot to mention them. We’ve got dozens.

Yet, even when this impressive catalogue is put into words I am still guilty of forgetting the fact that I live and work by the sea. When I first moved to Poole in 2013 I made a point of always sitting on Poole Quay during my lunch break and (weather permitting) I looked at the sea every day. Now, having been at the museum for over six years, I rather take the view for granted and am far more likely to opt for the staffroom to grab a quick sandwich or, at particularly busy times, dine al desko. Lockdown is a strange state of affairs though. While being intense and often challenging, it also has a way of bringing into focus those things that we consider most precious.

At the end of April I declared to my husband that I really needed to see the sea. We live in Creekmoor (to the north of Poole centre) so the nearest beach for us without jumping in the car is at Hamworthy Park. A little further than our usual family bike rides with our son strapped into a seat on the back of mummy’s bike, we decided to go for it one Saturday morning and cycled via Upton Park, past a much loved but closed pub and up the road to the shoreline. When we arrived we had to pre-warn our toddler that the playground was shut but he seemed perfectly happy with the fact that we could still get down to the sea and ran across the open grass to the line of beach huts in visible excitement.

And there it was. The beautiful briny sea. It greeted us like long-lost friends, lapping at the shore quite gently and providing the calming sound of breaking waves that was more healing than any amount of free, online yoga or mindful attempts at being mindful that I have attempted over the past couple of months. Looking out that morning I once again felt so incredibly lucky to live in Dorset and to feel in some small way reunited with all the people that I miss – my workmates, my friends, my dad and brother in London and even my dear mum who passed away several years ago and always loved a day at the beach.

It’s amazing how the sight and sound of the sea can evoke these connections. When my mum was ill and visiting us one weekend we took her to Hamworthy Park, possibly even sat on the same bench we chose that morning – just for a moment she was back with me. And when Ted was born, the beach at Hamworthy was the first place we chose for our very first outing as a family with a tiny, new human being in the pushchair. I’ve got a photo of myself in front of the sea that my husband took, baby asleep in the pram and me with victorious hands raised in the air at achieving this great moment.

Standing there for a few minutes (aware that I mustn’t loiter, keep my two-metre distance and go about my daily exercise) I felt isolated but not alone. Ted paddled in his wellies for a little while, picking up shells and sand, then promptly moaning because he had a wet sock. I dutifully plonked him back on the bench where we’d rested the bikes and helped him into a dry pair, savouring the time we had and wishing we could have brought towels, a blanket and a picnic – hoping it won’t be too long until we can really enjoy a whole day out again.

In the mean time, I’ll savour the socially distanced hug that the generous blue sea gave me that morning. How lucky I am to work at a museum that celebrates the sea and all its stories. The sea is simply magical and that is really all I have to say.

Check out this week’s seaside resources from our learning team in the Hands on History section of our From Home page http://www.poolemuseum.org.uk/museum-from-home/hands-on-history/

Get in touch to share your stories about the sea: museums@bcpcouncil.gov.uk

Image: 'Bathers at Swanage' by Eustace Nash (oil on canvas), 1920s


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