Introduction: Mark McNeill
In these unprecedented times of lockdown I hope you and your families are all keeping well and safe. We took the decision on Friday 13th March to close the museum to the public as a safety measure to protect our wonderful team of volunteers, who are mostly of an age that puts them in the coronavirus high risk category. The Government lockdown followed shortly after and it looks like we will now need to remain closed for a minimum of 12 weeks, so we will not be opening until the middle of June at the earliest.
I am pleased to report that although the museum will suffer financially through loss of visitor income, we are in a relatively good position as we have managed to slowly build up our reserves over the last four years. Had this situation developed in 2016 it would have been a very different situation! We are also fortunate in that we do not have any staff costs as we are an entirely volunteer run organisation. It will be a difficult year for everyone, but I know we will get through it and our main priority for now is to keep everyone safe and well.
I am aware that we have been somewhat lacking in the communication department recently, so I am taking this lockdown as an opportunity to bring you all up to date. I will start by saying that we really could do with a volunteer to take on the marketing and communications role. In 2018 we were very fortunate to have Stuart Greenfield fill this role; unfortunately, other commitments are now a priority. If anyone knows of anyone who could help us with this, or if anyone is able to help, please do get in touch.
The winter months are quiet with few visitors, this is the time the Gallery and Boat Shed teams work hard to reorganise the exhibition areas and make them more exciting for the next season, unfortunately even this has now ground to a halt!
Gallery update: Rosemary Joy
In March we anticipated a short-term closure of the Gallery for time to organise the new displays. It’s encouraging to have several new and skilled volunteers to take much of this new work forward and build on the solid base that we ‘old hands’ have worked so continually and so successfully to achieve and maintain.
We are modernising our Reception area with larger screen images giving a flavour of what we have inside. We are getting to grips with new till systems which give us more detailed information as well as more accurate financial control. Card use is increasingly more important than cash to many of our visitors. There will be a smaller and more focussed section on lovely maritime books for sale.
The first room (originally the Cowes Room) retains its current WWI display. Its continuing relevance, with its reminders of the huge part Cowes and East Cowes played in advancing the design and technology of ships, boats and aircraft as shown on several video screens is of surprise and interest for many of our visitors as well as for local school children and their related projects.
The main room is undergoing a major reorganisation so that we can better display many of our objects and improve their lighting and environmental conditions. The room will be arranged around the themes of Naval ships and boats, early powerboats, “Joe” Carstairs and her magnificent trophy collection, 1960s and 1970s powerboats including display of “Collywobbles”, and then development of hulls and in particular the “Nelson” series with their significant contribution to the world of working powerboats. There will be a small section on lifeboats and hovercraft. These displays will be supported with new large video screens, captions and display panels. We will also be including new facilities for children such as a play dinghy, “Yachtsman’s dolls house” and play table. There is a great deal of carpentry, construction and wiring still to do.
The third room (which I continue to call the Friends Room, because its original restoration was funded by the Friends 12 years ago) is to house several changing, and possibly short term, displays of small collections from our stores with big emphasis on our Cowes base as a yachting mecca. Uffa will continue to be an essential here and ‘local heroes’, some well-known, some lesser so, will be spotlighted with film, photo’s and artefacts.
The storage area, mostly unseen at present, not only by the public but not even by most friends and volunteers, increases in size and in organisation on an almost daily basis. Here are archives entrusted to us from several distinguished sources. We are working on steadily collating and digitising where we can and lists of some of these collections will be published in due course to help on-line research as well as providing primary sources for yachting historians.
As a team we continue to seek answers to the many queries we get by ‘phone and email, most of which are from people seeking identification of a cherished boat. Even if photo’s are available, many answers are difficult to find. Recent ones were for the builder of post war cadets’ launches at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, the history of a beautiful pond yacht dated about 1900, and the origins of a very pretty 12’ dinghy optimistically thought to have been built ‘somewhere on the south coast’. We do our combined best to help.
Boat Shed update: Steve Symons
The Boat Shed in Cowes is undergoing some changes to keep the exhibition fresh and appealing to a wide audience of boat enthusiasts.
The workshop shed will now house a Motorboat area from old to newer racing power boats. In addition, the Queen Victoria Lifeboat will now be open to view having been stored away for some years. Opposite these displays will be dedicated to all things Uffa Fox showing many of his sailing boat designs and of course the Airborne Lifeboat with some original film of a launch from the air.
The exhibition shed will continue to show the Jesse Lumb Lifeboat and Flying Spray, but now with other Sailing boats. We are hoping to have the Red Wing used by Lord Brabazon with a propeller rig on show in this area.
The workshop area has been expanded to allow room for more restoration projects to take place, all visible to the public. The primary work continues on VIGIA our replica Cat Boat build. She is close to being decked out and having the rudder fitted. Gurit have supported us with this project since the beginning by providing all the resins. Discussions continue about the best way to give her a suitable mast, where a lightweight solution is preferred.
The Boat Shed now has Wi-Fi thanks to the generosity of Wightfibre who have very kindly installed the service to the reception office. There are plans to expand the connection to provide public Wi-Fi access later in the year. We have been working on a solution for the provision of visitor toilets and hope to have this available later in the year having received some funding for the Cowes Waterfront Trust toward the cost.
Blocks for Vigia.
Museum Development and Future Plans: Mark McNeill
Over the last year a lot of work has been going on in the background and I am pleased to report that we are making good progress. We have strengthened the Board with the addition of two new members: Jessica George and Victoria Preston. Our year end results to 30th September showed a small surplus enabling reserves to continue to be strengthened, which will enable us to navigate through these next few difficult coronavirus months.
We are in negotiations with the owners of a good site to build a new purpose-built museum that will enable us to operate from one site. Progress will now inevitably be somewhat delayed, more on this in future communications.
We entered our WW1 Exhibition into the 2019 Collections Trust Awards, the results were announced in September last year, please see extract from press release below:
“Oxford’s History of Science Museum and Pitt Rivers Museum have jointly won the 2019 Collections Trust Award for Multaka – Oxford.
The Classic Boat Museum in Cowes on the Isle of Wight, Petersfield Museum in Petersfield, Hampshire, Time and Tide Museum in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, and Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums were all highly commended for their entries.”
This is a fantastic result for the Museum, and more importantly the team and our partner organisations that worked so hard together with us over a relatively short period of time to produce a high-quality award-winning exhibition.
To keep the momentum going, we are this week finalising a grant application to the Arts Council England for the refurbishment of the old Friends Room. Rosemary mentions this in her Gallery report. This will enable us to add an extra exhibition room to the Gallery, keep improving the quality of our exhibitions, and have new exhibitions that will attract more repeat and new visitors.
Arts Council England completed our Accreditation review in Febuary and awarded us full Accreditation status. Accreditation is the national museums’ certificate of compliance which confirms that we follow all the required national museum procedures and regulations.
We have been working hard to transfer the collections database to a new online collections management system, which is much more flexible and user friendly. We were due to have two university graduates from Spain join us on a three-month work experience program to help us with this, but that has obviously had to be cancelled.
In order to reach a larger audience base we have just applied to The National Lottery Heritage Fund for a grant to scope out a digitalisation project which will enable us to make a larger part of the collection available online. This is an essential step to promote the museum in today’s digital world and will allow us to make our ever-growing archive available to students and researchers.
We have also been working with the National Maritime Museum Greenwich. Three boats were transferred to us from the Falmouth Collection in September. We made a request in January to have Surfury on loan and I am pleased to advise that this has been approved. This is an important step in developing our future and building relationships with the big National museums.
The Museums and Schools Arts Council England funded project has been a great success, so much so that they are considering extending the project for a further year. The smiling faces of the children is just fantastic to see, unfortunately due to safeguarding regulations we are not allowed to publish the close-up photos, I hope the one below gives you an idea.
To end on a positive note in these uncertain times I am pleased to say that the museum continues to receive many offers of boats, artefacts and archive material to add to the collection. Unfortunately as much as we would like to, we just cannot accept everything. We do our best to give a home to the important material that is relevant to the collections, and every now and then we get an opportunity to have something rather special. The photo below of nine exceptionally well-made model boats which we have recently been offered come more importantly with the history of this island family, and that of the models, including plans and photographs of various stages of construction. This will enable us to put together a very interesting display.
The original of the gentleman’s launch on the right hand side was apparently owned by the Lord Mayor of London. At the beginning of the Second World War the Navy wanted to requisition it, the Lord Mayor agreed on the condition that his boatman was to look after it for them. The boatman was the model maker’s grandfather.
We have a lot to do this year and as always we need your help and support. Most importantly we need more volunteers, so if you know of anyone who might be looking for something to do, or you meet someone who has recently moved to the Island please invite them to come and visit and hopefully join the team. Many people I speak to are concerned about the amount of commitment required. We are flexible, all we ask is that you turn up when you say you will. It does not have to be every week, some of our best volunteers go away on holiday for months - it is never a problem. All we ask for is reliability when you say you can help
KEEP SAFE AND THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT