Over the years, Rottingdean has been home to many famous residents, from Edward Burne-Jones to Rudyard Kipling. However, one of the town’s most forthright former inhabitants has sadly become less prominent in recent history. This is in spite of her most famous work enduring as a cinematic record of life in Rottingdean during the 1930s.
In her lifetime, British playwright and author Enid Bagnold was famous for addressing controversial issues, and leading an equally controversial young life. At the age of thirty one, she married the wealthy head of Reuters, Sir Roderick Jones, and settled in Rottingdean, where she soon became a conspicuous figure; known for her cutting (almost ‘too’ cutting) social observations. As a woman who was referred to as ‘a scallywag who married a very rich man,’ by Virginia Woolf, she is definitely a character who should not be forgotten.
Curator Marcus Bagshaw’s painstaking research into Bagnold’s life and career, which is drawn together in a fascinating exhibition at The Grange Museum, is consequently a pleasure to discover. Photographs by Cecil Beaton; film posters; various editions of her most famous book ‘National Velvet’ and hand-drawn illustrations by Bagnold, dominate one half of a room in the museum.
As Marcus explained more about Bagnold’s life, I could not help but want to find out more – this is definitely the sign of a good exhibition.
Nestling alongside these curious objects, is another exhibition, which also has a filmic element. As I walked into this half of the room, row upon row of stylishly dressed dolls stared down at me, showcasing what would have been the latest fashions during the 1950s. These collectables illustrate a post-war era dominated by rapidly changing design, where wartime developments in material, such as nylon, enabled vibrant colours to be used for the first time. Pristine dresses; glittering costume jewellery and films from the time fill the space; recreating the sense of excitement and progress that would have been felt during the year of the Queen’s coronation.
Throughout the rest of the museum, the local area is documented through objects and displays. This documentation includes a recreation of Rudyard Kipling’s study – the perfect place to sit down and read one of his Just So stories, which were written in his Rottingdean home.
As the curator explained to me, The Grange Museum has a limited amount of space. Through its maximal use, the museum effectively makes the most of this capacity. And, in my opinion, it is the frequently changing exhibitions, which are linked to the local area or topical themes, which really bring it to life.
The Enid Bagnold Exhibition is open until the 5th of May 2013, and the 1950s fashion exhibition ends on the 28th April 2013.