Come Fly With Me

I said that one of my New Years’ Resolutions was to visit the smaller kind of museum, the quirkier kind that people might not notice. So far I haven’t really been able to do that. Mainly, that has been due to work or some other commitment but this week I had a very rare day off.

So, what am I to do with a day off? Simple: go exploring.

To Shoreham-by-Sea on the south coast I journeyed. For such a small town, Shoreham has loads of interesting features; old churches, the remains of an old manor house as well as a couple of museums. It even has an airport…

Shoreham Airport was opened in 1936 according to the stone by the entrance. The main building is a charming example of the Art Deco architecture popular at that time. Nowadays, though, it looks like it needs a lick of paint and a little bit of love. It sits awkwardly in the middle of an industrial site, an almost lost relic of a bygone era.

Sitting next to the lovely (albeit dilapidated) main building is an unbecoming demountable -the kind that is, in theory, temporary but becomes increasingly permanent.

“Visitor Centre – Museum – Guided Tours” claimed the building.

In we go…

Not really having a background in aeronautics, nor Airfix models, most of the collection was fairly lost on me. It was interesting to see the kind of planes that used to fly from the airport, but having them shut away in cases that screamed, almost literally DO NOT TOUCH rather took the magic away. While I was there, a grandmother with her grandchildren paid a visit to the museum too. Miraculously she helped the collection become meaningful for her young grandchildren, “Do you see these models?” she asked them “When your Dad was little I used to help him make these. I think we had one just like this.”

How sweet! It’s always good when someone can make the collection personal.

Even though most of the models were somewhat lost on me, there was one that really stood out, a model of a proto-type mono plane, which looks not entirely unlike the USS Enterprise. Unfortunately, it was rather hidden away on top of a glass case. Not particularly user friendly…

It does look like that spaceship from Star Trek, right?

The star-object for me though, has to be this ejector seat. An actual ejector seat! Naturally my first instinct is to get involved and try to sit on it.


Oh, DO NOT TOUCH rears its ugly head again. Fine then.

Now, you may be thinking that the airport looks a little bit familiar to you, perhaps it does. You see, Shoreham Airport is something of a ‘celeb.’ My sources (read: local residents) tell me that it has appeared in episodes of Poirot and the film version of The Da Vinci Code. You would think that this would warrant some space in the museum, wouldn’t you?

It seems not.

The only display relating to the airport’s use in films/tv/books is one about a mention in a 1987 espionage thriller called Spycatcher.

I haven’t heard of it either.

Even though this museum is a free one, I was a little bit disappointed with what is being done with it. Everything was very ‘hands off’ but in a way that alienated the visitor. The space holds lots of interesting information but doesn’t really know what to do with it. Local schools would have a field day using some of the stuff to do a local history project, and the nearby aviation college would surely find it to be a valuable resource.

Maybe I’ve just been spoiled by the Big Museums?


4 Comments Add yours

  1. Sam Self says:

    I believe there is a similar style airport building near Liverpool John Lennon Airport which is now a hotel/cafe but not a museum. It’s so sad when museums don’t have the knowledge/information to make things more accessible to their visitors and stick ‘don’t touch’ signs on everything. I went to an exhibition in Rome that said ‘touch but be careful’ which is even worse….so patronising!

    1. Oh dear! It IS such a shame, it could be a really valuable resource for the community! As I was there, I’m pretty sure the guy on the desk was printing even more DON’T TOUCH signs.

  2. emma says:

    Interesting to think about the slowly shifting museum policy when it comes to ‘Don’t touch’ – it seems that the bigger places are becoming more touchable, maybe this is where little museums with no money to make replica items or for conservation and repairs get left behind? I went to Avebury Manor the other day (and wrote about it on if you’re interested!) where the National Trust have tried to create a totally touchable museum – was a v. different experience to the usual NT house!

    1. The Totally Touchable museum sounds like a very interesting experience, thanks for telling us about it. The bigger museums are becoming more touchable, but the smaller ones needn’t be left behind. I’m not saying we should be allowed to handle everything, but there are ways to phrase things that aren’t so alienating.

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