May Staycation 2013 – Day 8

Saturday, May 25th 2013

Our plan for today was to travel down to the famous seaside resort of Brighton and visit Preston Manor, a historic family home that was gifted to the city and is now one of its beautiful museums. Strange as it may seem, although I lived in Brighton until I was 19 years old, I never went to see the Manor. Time I caught up!

Preston Park
Preston Park
Brighton’s “other station”

Preston Manor is set in one of Brighton’s finest parks, called Preston Park. If the names suggest a connection to you, then you would be right: Preston Park once formed part of the grounds of the Manor. Just before the London train enters Brighton’s main station, it passes through a smaller station called Preston Park and this, as you might guess from the name, is the best place to alight for the Manor. Not all trains stop here, however, so you need to check the timetable.

Brighton Clockworks
Brighton Clockworks
Not many of these clockmakers survive today

Very close to the station is this clockmaker’s shop which I always look at with interest, given that I am fond of old clocks. Also, not many such businesses still survive in our modern world. We usually come here at the weekend when the shop is closed so I have never been inside but I did find this interesting little video, The Horologist, about the shop and the present incumbent, Bernard Williams. I fear that this clock shop, too, will close in the not too distant future, taking with it both its history and the now rare skills of the horologist.

Preston Manor
Preston Manor
Entering the grounds

The Manor is within easy walking distance of the station (just follow the signs) and you enter through the gate pictured above into the grounds. This is quite a good way to arrive because the house is at first screened from view by the foliage and then suddenly appears.

Front entrance
Front entrance
A surprisingly modern look

The word “Manor”, I think, conjures up images of something ancient, perhaps Gothic in style, so when I arrived at Preston Manor, I was surprised at its modern, somewhat Art Deco, appearance. One must remember, however, that although the Manor, as both a house and an institution, goes back centuries, it was a family home until the 1930s and during that time underwent repair and modernization.

Mounting block
Mounting block
When was it last used for its intended purpose?

On the front lawn this object still stands. It is a mounting block to help riders mount their horses. It would once have been pressed into regular service but when was the last time, I wonder, that it was used for its intended purpose?

Rear of the Manor
Rear of the Manor
Catching the morning sun

You will be expecting me to describe our visit to the Manor and the beautiful and interesting discoveries that we made within. That is a quite reasonable expectation and I am sorry to disappoint you as we were ourselves disappointed. It turns out that Preston Manor is closed to visitors on Saturday! Closed on Saturday, of all days of the week! The one day, apart from Sunday, when most people would want to come and visit it. I don’t know what genius made that decision but I suggest it should be reviewed and quickly.

St Peter's Church
St Peter’s Church
Symbiotically related to the Manor

Close to the Manor, so close as to be in a sort of symbiotic relationship with it, is the ancient Church of St Peter. Unlike the Manor, which is now a museum, the church, which originates from the 14th century, is still functioning.

The Manor Garden
The Manor Garden
Open separately from the Manor itself

The Manor stands in its own grounds but a part of these has been set aside as a beautiful and well tended garden. It is a delight to wander here or to sit and take in the peaceful atmosphere. It is open separately from the Manor and we were therefore able to explore it before moving on. We will come back to visit the Manor itself when we can arrange a day.

The Booth Museum
The Booth Museum
Brighton’s Victorian museum of natural history

Knowing me as you do (assuming you have been reading my blog), and my love of animals of all kinds, you may be surprised to learn where we went next, namely to the Booth Museum of Natural History, a collection of stuffed and preserved animals, birds and insects created in the Victorian period. As one who regards taxidermists and “collectors” with horror, such a museum is the last place you would expect to find me.

When I was a child in Brighton, I loved visiting the Brighton Museum and would always drag my mother there whenever we went anywhere near. Despite the existence of the dedicated museum of natural history (which I never visited as a child, strange to say), the Brighton Museum had its own collection of preserved animals and these were my favourite exhibits. As a child, I had no conception that these were dead creatures. To me, they were “the animals”, and I went to see them whenever I could. Years later, when I returned to Brighton on a visit, I went to the museum, hoping to see “the animals” again, only to be told they were no longer there but had been moved to the Booth Museum. For this reason, I went to see the exhibits of the Booth Museum, whatever I might think of such displays with my adult moral sense.

Victorian collector's study
Victorian collector’s study
As it might have been in Booth’s own house

Edward Thomas Booth (1840-90) was a “gun-toting Victorian” (to quote David Bellamy) but he was also interested in what we would today call “the environment” and he would probably have referred to as “nature”. To the Victorians, nature was an inexhaustible resource, a bottomless store of minerals and living creatures that could be ransacked without let or hindrance and never be exhausted. Many great collections, some scientific (like that of Charles Darwin) but many more of them private, were started in this period. Booth set to with zeal and passion and his treasures soon exceeded the space available in his house. To house his collection, he therefore built the Grade II listed museum that still today serves its original purpose and that he inaugurated in 1874.

Reconstruction of Booth's study
Reconstruction of Booth’s study
Cases, drawers, life-scenes and a corner to work in

If I had thought that the magic wrought by childhood innocence might illumine today’s visit, I was disappointed. I am glad I went but I am unlikely to go again. With the scales gone from my eyes, I saw only dead animals, set in rows, pinned to boards or arranged in gruesome “lifelike” poses. Their natural beauty at times shone through but with a dimmed lustre. Preserved animals suffer the same wear and tear as any items of human property and many of the creatures here displayed showed scratches, cracks and worn patches.

Lifelike pose for a mammal
Lifelike pose for a mammal…
…but disorder for eggs

Booth sought to create lifelike scenes consisting of one of more animals in a simulacrum of their natural environment and obviously used the services of a professional taxidermist. Not everything merited the same care, however, and in contrast to the lifelike animal above, see the jar containing eggs in complete disorder.

Butterflies and Moths Death's Head Moth
Butterflies and Moths
Quantity and completeness

It is when we come to the insects that we see how quantity and completeness become more important than any consideration of individual species. On the walls there are glass-covered boards covered in rows upon rows of insects, covering genera and species and sub-species. In the drawers there are masses more. The modern naturalist looks on this profligacy with horror – at least, he should so look upon it – even though murmuring an exculpatory “They knew not what they did”.

View of one of the aisles
View of one of the aisles

From the outside, the museum appears to be of moderate size. It rather resembles a small chapel or “tin tabernacle” but once you enter, it seems to expand, Tardis-like, to become larger on the inside than on the outside. The above photo shows one aisle of three, and even this does not run the whole length of the building. I think that once he had moved his collection from his house to here, Booth must have redoubled his efforts to a veritable collecting frenzy because the building is full.

Heads all in a row
Hippopotamus Giraffe
Heads all in a row
There are relatively few exotic animals in the collection

Booth concentrated on British and perhaps European wildlife and exotic animals appear in relatively few examples, such as this row of heads, displayed like those of traitors on London Bridge or as hunting trophies – in fact, I suspect that they could well have been the latter originally.

One of my favourites as a child was the head of an elephant. I expected to see it here but could not find it and when I asked the staff, who were friendly, well-informed and helpful, none knew of any such head. Either it is in store somewhere or has been disposed off.

Tigers, wild and domestic
Tigers, wild and domestic
A not unusual pairing in natural history museums

One place where exotic and familiar come together is in the skeleton section where we see the skeletons of a tiger and a house cat side by side. For some reason, this seems to be a not unusual pairing in natural history museums, perhaps to demonstrate the remarkable similarity between the two, if we overlook size. A domestic moggy is truly a miniature tiger.

Stained glass window
Stained glass window
Probably from Courts furniture store

An exhibit not originally collected by Booth is a pair of stained glass windows depicting wildlife, of which I show one above. The maker is not known but the windows came from the old demolished Courts furniture store where they would have been installed around 1890.

The Booth Museum is both a natural history museum that we can use to study wildlife and also a monument to Victorian “collectionism”. From it we gain an insight into the Victorian concepts of nature and environment and an impression of the man himself who, though he has left us a resource that we can use for our own purposes, lived and operated in a world very different from ours.

Brighton Seafront
Brighton Seafront
Showing the pier and the Brighton Wheel

After viewing the Booth Museum, we went down to the seafront. Brighton is not one of the quieter seaside resorts but, while it provides plenty of popular entertainments, it never slides into vulgarity like some towns I could mention. The Wheel is relatively new but the Pier (today called Brighton Pier but known to older Brightonians as the Palace Pier) has been here since 1899. It is the sole survivor of Brighton’s three piers. The original Chain Pier (1824) was first damaged and then swept entirely away by storms, while the West Pier, closed in 1975 for safety reasons, was later destroyed by fire.

The Terraces Milkshakes
The Terraces
The round cafe restaurant beside the sea

We went into this quaintly shaped round cafe restaurant called The Terraces and treated ourselves to milkshakes.

Under the Arcades
Under the Arcades
Small shops and fast food

Later we went for a stroll along the seafront. Under the arcades you find small shops selling the usual things – post cards, ice cream, seaside mementos, etc – and fast food outlets.

Out in force
Out in force
The biker fraternity loves Brighton

This row of parked motorcycles shows that the biker fraternity was out in force, as is usual in Brighton on a sunny weekend. Bikers seem to love Brighton (and other seaside towns).

The star of the show?
The star of the show?
No one was saying…

I wondered whether this glittering Harley Davidson was the star of the show but if it was, no one was saying… 🙂

Domestic tiger
Domestic tiger
Too busy to chat

We thought to stop and pass the time of day with this domestic tiger but he made it clear that he was far too busy to chat. We left him to his toil and discreetly moved away.

Volk's Electric Railway
Volk’s Electric Railway
A Victorian institution still going strong

When you know that Brighton’s seafront electric railway was inaugurated in 1884, you might think that the letters “VR” on the the front of the cars stand for “Victoria Regina” but they in fact stand for “Volk’s [Electric] Railway”. Son of a German clockmaker, Magnus Volk was born and brought up in Brighton. He was interested in technology and something of an inventor. He provided his own house with electric lighting. the first in Brighton to enjoy this amenity, and later installed the first electric lighting in the Royal Pavilion. Despite initial hesitation on the part of the authorities, Volk managed to built his railway which was an immediate and lasting success. The only time it was out of service, as far as I know, was during the Second World War when the whole seafront was fenced off and mined against German invasion. Once the threat had passed, Volk’s electric railway made a triumphant return and still operates a frequent service today.

The Royal Pavilion
The Royal Pavilion
An exotic palace in beautiful gardens

You cannot visit Brighton and not go to see the Royal Pavilion. Well, you can, of course, but why would you? The Prince Regent today is regarded as a decadent spendthrift and a self-indulgent sensualist who neglected his duties and chronically overspent his finances in the pursuit of pleasure but, however much we may criticize him, he conferred at least one inestimable favour upon Brighton by both putting it on the map and providing it with an exotic Royal Palace which for novelty and beauty has no equal. The Royal Pavilion was last in Royal hands in the reign of Victoria but since then it has been owned and maintained by the town – and now city – of Brighton.

Victoria Regina
Victoria Regina
Lecturing the birds (apparently)

In the Pavilion grounds, we came upon a somewhat grubby Queen Victoria apparently lecturing a group of gulls and pigeons. Food scattered by some charitable soul in the grass below Victoria’s monument may go some way to explaining the unusual assiduity of their attendance upon Her Majesty.

The opportunist
The opportunist

Gulls are opportunists of the first order, and this one did not scruple to turn his back on the monarch and approach us in case we had coming bearing alms. We had not but if he was disappointed, he was too proud to show it.

As the town I grew up in, Brighton is familiar to me and yet is still capable of providing new experiences, such as the Booth Museum and Preston Manor (yet to be visited). If I could no longer live in London, Brighton would be one of the places where I would be able to make my home and be content.

Copyright © 2013 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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2 Responses to May Staycation 2013 – Day 8

  1. cabbieblog says:

    Over the years I have spent more time visiting ‘stately homes’ than one probably should, I once managed three in a single day. I’ve noticed that in recent years a number of the more photogenic houses in private ownership are closed on Saturdays. I can only conclude that Preston Manor like many others have a licence to conduct weddings and that it is commercially more rewarding than me buying coffee and a scone in their tearooms.

    Like

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