Vigia our replica catboat, the restorations team has made good progress
The original was built by C. Corke Birmingham Road Cowes in 1872
It has been almost a year since the last newsletter of March 2020, and we are once again in another lockdown! This Corona virus is proving more difficult to control than any of us ever imagined, and it is unlikely that things will get back to near the normal we used to know before many more months, if not next year!
I am pleased to be able to report that although the museum has been closed to the public since before the first lockdown there has been a lot of work going on behind the scenes at both the Boat Shed and the Gallery. You have seen the progress with Vigia on the first page.
As infection rates increased in December, we took the decision the week before Christmas to stop all volunteers working at the museum in order to protect everyone. I am pleased to report that all the museum team are safe and well, and that despite six of them catching the virus after Christmas, not at the museum I must add. None of them required hospital treatment and they are all recovering well; it was a worrying few weeks as they were all in the highest risk category.
I can also report that the museum’s finances are strong, the government grants have covered the running costs, and being entirely volunteer-run we have not had to worry about salaries. We have also received some good grants and generous donations throughout the year. The South East Museum Development Programme gave us a grant to help with preservation materials and equipment, and another for Gallery refurbishment to make it Covid-19 safe and ready to reopen. The Herapath Shenton Trust gave us funds for new display cabinets, and the Cowes Waterfront Trust has also generously supported our work. In addition we have been fortunate to receive donations from a number of individuals whose generosity has been just amazing.
The plan before Christmas was to reopen for Easter. The Boat Shed is ready with reorganised displays. The Gallery work was to have continued through January, February and March. The schedule was tight but achievable; however, with this third lockdown, it has not been possible to move things forward as planned and we are probably now looking at a June opening.
The plan over the winter of 2020 was to refurbish and upgrade the main exhibition room and make more use of the Friends’ Room for smaller exhibitions focusing on Cowes and sailing. As the pandemic required the implementation of social distancing, it became clear that we would have to create a one-way visitor flow through the museum. This would require converting our two offices in to additional exhibition space and opening up three doorways. We decided to apply for a grant and completely reorganise the entire layout of the Gallery. It is a huge task but has the advantage of giving us approximately 35% more exhibition space once the Friends’ Room conversion is completed. The following images show work in progress in the Gallery.
The main entrance with new access to the exhibition room one
View from exhibition room one through former archives office to the main exhibition room
The view from the main exhibition room through a former office to the Friends’ Room.
The Friends’ Room is being used temporarily as a carpentry workshop, where several new cabinets, are being built. We have been very fortunate to have found a new volunteer, recently moved to East Cowes, who has been doing a fantastic job: see images left of the new cabinets, these are also ready for painting.
The building works have been completed and we are ready for decoration to start when our volunteers return to the museum. If anyone would like to come and help, please do get in touch.
Moving the Library and the Archives
With all this work going on you would have thought that we did not need anything more to cope with, but no! Wight Shipyards had asked if we would be able to move the archives to the second floor as it would suit them to use the first floor as offices for their engineers.
The move was a huge task, however, there were several advantages. The second floor area is larger, has two offices and a space ideal for large meetings, lectures and education. For those of you who may know the Columbine building in East Cowes, these were the old OC Sports offices. Our new landlord, the IOW Council, who took ownership of the building last September, have been very helpful in providing some extra manpower to help with the move, which was completed just before Christmas.
Building shelves for the library and archives
The large meeting room with offices in the middle
The new library and archive room on the second floor
The Boat Shed
The exhibits at the Boat Shed in Cowes have been reorganised, as was the plan. The work to improve the visitor experience has been completed and the boats covered up for winter, illustrated right. A big thank you to Seasafe for donating a new life raft for the Children’s Area, illustrated left.
The dinghy and small yacht display hall
Thanks to East Cowes Town Council, ECT Councillor Karl Love and the Hovercraft Museum, we have taken delivery of a SRN4 propeller. The ECT Council has generously provided funding for a stand to be built so that we can put it all together for display. The propellor and blade are illustrated below.
We have also received some interesting carvings from Barton Manor Farm in East Cowes. The owner, Robert Stigwood, had these carved from a large tree that was damaged in the great storm of 1987. When he sold up and moved to the mainland, he took the carvings with him. David Hill, also from East Cowes, discovered that they had been abandoned and left to rot in a field, so he arranged for them to be returned to the Island. You may ask why we have given them a home? They were made by Isle of Wight Master Carver, Norman Gaches, who has carved over 100 ships figureheads including replicas for HMS Warrior, and a number commissioned by Colin Mudie. The figure pictured on the right is the Greek God of Wine, Dionysus, also known as Bacchus, and is currently exhibited in the covered entrance to the Boat Shed.
Future Plans and Events
The New Museum Project
This has, as you would expect, been put on hold for the time being. It would be an ambitious project in the best of times, and one that we will come back to once this pandemic is truly under control. For the time being we must concentrate on building on the successes of the last few years and get ready to reopen as soon as it is safe. If all goes according to plan, we hope that will be sometime in June.
Cowes Classics Week 3rd to 9th July
The Museum is pleased to have been chosen as the official charity for the regatta. We look forward to contributing to the shore-side events that complement the excellent racing program.
Museum’s 25th Anniversary
This year is an important year in the life of the museum, as in September 2021 we will be celebrating our 25th anniversary. The plan is to launch the replica of Vigia, illustrated on the front page, and we will try to achieve that if we can get back to work soon. More on this to come in a few months when we have a better idea of when restrictions are being lifted.
Uffa Fox Celebration in 2022
In November 2019 we received a letter from Mike Dixon, the Commodore of the Atalanta Owner’s Association (AOA), asking if the museum were planning to celebrate Uffa Fox’s extraordinary contribution to yacht design and yacht building on the 50th anniversary of his death. The date was in Rosemary’s diary but at the time no plans had been considered. Over the last fifteen months a small team from the AOA and Museum have worked together and come up with a plan for a weekend of celebrations including a Regatta 18th to 21st August 2022. The on-the-water activities will be organised by the Royal London Yacht Club (RLYC). This event will be the weekend before the Cowes Corinthian Yacht Club’s (CCYC) Flying Fifteen European Championships from 20th to 26th August.
All Uffa Fox-designed boats and classes will be invited to this event. Initial interest has been expressed by over sixty boats which is an excellent start. The weekend will include talks and receptions at the Museum Gallery and Boat Shed with evening events at both the RLYC and CCYC. On Sunday 21st there will be an opportunity to book a tour of the Commodore’s House in Cowes where Uffa Fox lived.
You may be interested in this YouTube film that BBC South produced about the Royal Family and Uffa Fox July 30th, 2012:
Keep safe and thank you for your support