During the Napoleonic War, one hundred and three ‘Martello Towers’ were built along the south coast, from Suffolk to Eastbourne. These imposing brick defences, designed with extremely thick walls to withstand canon fire, were built into the ground, creating a Tardis-like effect upon entering. Now redundant, the towers still pepper the coastline, either maintained as buildings of interest or adapted for new purposes.
Deep inside tower number 74, the officer’s living area and gun powder magazine remain busy and occupied even now – teeming with artefacts and recollections of days gone by.
Walking down the curved staircase of Seaford Museum, tentatively gripping onto the rope handle, feels like entering another world. The air is dusty and thick, and has the distinct aroma of a place underground. Inside the first room the visitor is given a typical overview of local history, from boats and wartime stories to artefacts from local schools. It is only when one walks into the next room that the museum’s unique approach to documenting social history is revealed.
Overflowing with televisions and radios, this maximal space is so heavily occupied by objects that one could spend an hour in here alone, just taking in the unusual and evolving designs. From this point on, a theme of obsessive collection and storage dominates, inviting the visitor to explore every part of the space.
Sewing machines, computers, vacuum cleaners, heaters, cameras, tools and constructed historical scenes are displayed in a labyrinth of shelving units and cases. This never-ending record of past eras, documented through physical matter, is used as a talking point by informed volunteers, who seem to have an equally endless knowledge. One member of staff explained how people just keep giving the museum more and more objects, and that, amazingly, what is on show is not all that could be displayed.
Seaford Museum is a unique maximal space in that it is still growing and changing, unlike The Booth Museum which is a space preserved in time. Recent lottery funding has enabled the museum to start a life-long learning project, which is centred around people’s memories and recollections. One of the aims of this project is to offer a provision of reminiscence material to the many elderly, infirm and disabled residents of the town. This idea of providing a wealth of bygone objects, in order to stimulate recollection and narrative, is extremely powerful – it places both the visitor and the object at the centre of the museum experience.
Walking through the space and hearing these remembrances was a truly fascinating experience, and the way that the ‘simple things’ on display inspired such accounts, sent shivers down my spine.
Seaford Museum can consequently be summed up as a space that is filled with individual stories, as much as it is by concrete things.