Titanic Museum appeals for new home in bid to become one of world's best exhibitions

By Ben Miller | 27 June 2014

One of the country's finest Titanic-related collections urgently needs to anchor. Founder Nigel Hampson on steering the ship to a new home

Click on the picture to launch the gallery

Nigel Hampson had just finished imparting his considerable knowledge of all things Titanic when an exhibit from the hand of the ship’s captain was casually bestowed upon him.

“I’d done this talk for a group, and a lady came up to me – she was 90 years old, this lady – and said, ‘I’ve got these three books here, would you like them?’” explains the man who founded the Lancashire Titanic Museum while unemployed in 2006.

“I opened the bag up. Inside were three discharge books that belonged to her father, who worked for the White Star Line between 1903 and 1914.

A photo of a mannequin of a sailor wearing a hat in a dimly-lit museum display
The Lancashire Titanic Museum also organises talks and educational events© Courtesy LTM
“Basically these were like employment passports – every crew member would have them, and you’d hand them in at the start of the voyage.

“It would be kept by the officers and the captain would fill in your details. It would be stamped with your conduct as to how good and how effective you’d been.

“I said we’d love to have them, thanked her and didn’t think anything else of it.

"A couple of days later I was flicking through them. The very first entry in this book is from a White Star Liner en route to New York in 1903."

“This entry has been written and is signed at the end by Captain EJ Smith – who was, of course, the Titanic captain. It’s in his own handwriting. We’ve got this full entry written and signed by Captain Smith himself.

“I got back in touch with the lady and I said, ‘look, you know, are you aware of what’s in this book?’ She said ‘yeah it’s fine, we’ve known about it for quite a while and we’re not bothered about it at all.'”

A photo of a circular gold contraption used by seafarers to chart direction
Organisers had hoped to stay at their Samlesbury Hall home for two or three years, but have been unable to extend their current deal© Courtesy LTM
Quietly accumulating remarkable exhibits is nothing new for a museum which has travelled as nomadically as sailors of a century ago since mushrooming from a corner exhibition in a library.

A steamer rug is one of a final batch of 52 made for the Titanic. It also escaped the trip.

“It should have been on the vessel but it arrived at Liverpool too late to join the ship down at Southampton,” says Hampson.

“Again, that was a donation – a lady who’d heard we’d opened the museum in Colne three years ago.

“She’d worked for Cunard and when they closed their Liverpool offices, getting the building ready for sale, they came across these crates of blankets made for Titanic itself. They auctioned them off to the staff.

“This lady had had this blanket since the early 70s. Her husband hated the colour scheme.

“It’s kind of a dowdy, depressing colour scheme – he was going to Oxfam it apparently. But she wouldn’t get rid of it and then very kindly donated it to us.”

A photo of a naval crest of arms inside a dimly-lit museum display
The exhibition began in the corner of a library and quickly expanded into an 800-square feet room© Courtesy LTM
Hampson’s exhibits, which include a 20-foot long plan of the Titanic among an array of bulky objects, face an uncertain future. Their current home, at Samlesbury Hall, between Preston and Blackburn, needs to be vacated by the end of July – and moving, he concedes, is “massively difficult”.

“It’s not as though it’s a small exhibition that you can throw in the back of a car and Bob’s your uncle.

“If someone says ‘bring it here for three months’ that would just be a non-starter. If we’re going to move somewhere it’s got to be for at least a year and ideally a bit longer.”

Although the exhibition is based around the 96 Lancastrians aboard the ship – “I knew of about half a dozen when we started, and it just started climbing and climbing”, explains Hampson – he remains open to suggestions about a collection which attracted 6,000 new visitors to the hall, relying on Facebook, Twitter and word of mouth under the constraints of a minimal advertising budget.

A photo of a light from an ancient ship
Objects relating to Lancashire's victims and survivors of the disaster make up significant sections of the display© Courtesy LTM
“I don’t want to be leaving it ‘til the last minute.

"Ideally we’d be in the region, but if someone from Cheshire, say, came along and said they’d love to have it, we don’t have to do the Lancashire links. That’s something that can be tailored to more or less any county.”

First sparked by a Revell model kit bought with a Woolworths voucher as a child (“I made a right pig’s ear of it”), Hampson’s hoard ended up easily filling a larger, 800-square feet space for his original library commissioners.

“That was the beginning of a Frankenstein’s monster, to be honest,” he says, having toured the display around other libraries in East Lancashire.

“People were asking why the exhibition wasn’t set up permanently.

“If I could wave a magic wand I’d like this museum to be one of the best and biggest Titanic museums in Europe, if not the world – that’s what I’m trying to work towards, but we seem to keep getting stonewalled with venues at the moment.

“We’re desperate for a venue. We’ve got to have everything out by the end of July. If we can get some help we’ve got big plans for things we’d like to do long term.”

New volunteers and trustees could strengthen the ship.

“I would love something to come up, like a few years ago, when there were lots of redundant council properties for sale for £1,” says Hampson.

“The buildings are there – there are lots of empty buildings, but the landlords want astronomical rents on them.

“We can’t do that, but the drum I’ve been banging is that we can bring in lots of extra visitors to existing attractions. If someone’s got dead space that they would like us to do something with, we can bring in lots of visitors.”

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