Seaside towns often throw up interesting little places. Actually, ‘interesting’ is a lazy word, but it covers most things. Odd, quirky, different could all work, but they don’t always have the positive connotations that interesting does.
Linguistic digression over, I want to tell you about the Flower Makers Museum in Hastings. Yes, you read that correctly, flower making. It’s the construction of artificial flowers rather than breeding them like a Botanical Garden might. Hasting’s Flower Makers Museum is fairly unusual as the museum is part of a still working flower making shop.
I’m not sure which I find more surprising – that a museum about making artificial blooms exists or that it’s still a business.
I make my way into the shop front, nestled in the picturesque Old Town, every shelf full to bursting with materials and tools of the trade. An industrious older lady is toiling away, turning the fabrics into a veritable jungle. “Excuse me,” I ask, “How do I get to the museum?”
“Just down the stairs, it’s £1 to get in,” she replies. After scrabbling in my wallet, I scrape together the entrance fee and make my way down the stairs.
Blooms, berries and blossoms adorn the wall, turning the basement staircase into something like a fairy wood or a theatre’s prop department in the middle of a run of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The stairs creak and I mind my head as I make my way down, trying to take a few nice (well, an attempt at arty) photographs as I go.
The tools used were almost as pretty as the flowers they make, fitting as each cutting tool has to reflect the shape of the petal they make. I like it when a tool is beautiful as well as functional.
Most of what the museum displays is from the private collection of Brenda Wilson. I think she may have been the industrious older lady, who was working away when I arrived. She has shared pictures of her parents, giving everything a personal quality. These flowers were once very much a part of the everyday decoration, and the decoration of special occasions too – there’s a lot of Bridal Crowns festooned with flowers and petals that would have faded and died long ago if they weren’t made of fabric.
But, this is also an industry has a touch of show-biz about it, and the museum has some great theatrical connections.
Mamma Mia! Makes you go blind
Take a look at this violently pink fabric., it’s very bright.
Be careful not to look at it for too long though – the daisies may look friendly, but they come with a dire warning:
“Because of the intensity of this colour affecting the eyes, no machine operator is allowed to spend more than one hour cutting this at any one time.”
The museum tells us that this fabric was used in the costumes for the popular musical Mamma Mia! Unfortunately, there wasn’t an image of the daisies in action, so it was difficult to get a sense of how many daisies were used on the costumes, but it’s easy to imagine all the wear and tear that these dainty petals would endure. I wondered if the costumier had to abide by this “no more than an hour” rule as well.
A Unique Museum
I mentioned earlier that the museum was part of a still working, and from the looks of things, thriving shop. Everything in the museum has been used by the owners and operators of the shop, and this authenticity added so much. The marks of use were still visible on the tools, and that they had been used in the shop made it feel… organic is perhaps the best word. There was a rich history here, and the experts were telling their story using the very tools that made the business. The pictures Brenda shares of her parents makes me think this is a family business, although this is never stated in the museum…
As a Museum Adventurer, it is my mission to track down and explore museums – the more niche the better! And this one is certainly a very unusual subject matter. They claim to be the only one in Europe, I wonder where the others could be.