Norfolk Coastal Town Harbours Hopes For New Lifeboat Museum

by Doug Devaney | 19 July 2004
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Shows a photgraph of ten silhouetted people wading ashore. Behind them, a wrecked lifeboat is washed up on the waves

Photo: Courtesy of RNLI

Three years after first applying for funds, the Norfolk town of Sheringham is finally on its way to having a permanent home for its unique collection of lifeboats.

The Sheringham Museum Trust has been granted £22,700 in order to fully develop its plans by the end of the year. It is hoped the money will become available for an £850,000 relocation of the town's museum from its current out-of-the-way location to a more accessible building on the seafront, known locally as 'the Mo'.

Shows a photograph of a modern-looking lifeboat, in its wheeled cage, being lowered down a ramp and into the sea by a tractor-like vehicle

Photo: Sheringham RNLI Inshore Lifeboat, Manchester Unity of Oddfellows © Karen Ollosson. Courtesy of Marc Ollosson

Despite the years of campaigning, which included an initial rejection by the Heritage Lottery Fund, museum curator Peter Brooks is confident of success: "We think we wouldn't have got as far as we have if we weren't going to get there," he insists.

The people of Sheringham are clearly proud of their maritime heritage. With a fishing industry that dates back to the 14th century, it is the only town in Britain to play host to four original lifeboats - three of which have been donated to the museum.

The museum also boasts a number of crab boats, including the Enterprise, owned by Sid Emery, or 'Plug' as he was known. "It was a tradition for all fishermen to have nicknames," explains Brooks. "Especially in a family business like crab fishing. You could have 14 Henry Graces in one road."

Shows a photgraph of a reconditioned wooden lifeboat in a museum. Central mast and oars lie flat in the boat

Photo: Sheringham Museum Trust restored lifeboat, JC Madge © Marc Ollosson

Not that the new site will concentrate solely on matters nautical. As the first town to be bombed by a Zeppelin, Sheringham's museum will have the remains of that original missile on display, while the fallow periods in the crab fishing industry will be reflected by an installation about stone-picking from the beach.

Whole families would spend their days searching for bits of blue boulder flint, which would be sent on to Stoke-On-Trent to make pottery, a practice that lasted up until the 1960s.

Along with relocating the museum to the Mo, the former home of the Digby-Pigott family, there are plans to open up Oddfellows Hall behind it for use as administrative offices for the museum as well as a public meeting place and exhibition gallery.

Shows a photograph of a painting of lifeboatmen rescuing men from a ship while facing tidal waves.

Photo: Courtesy of RNLI

Despite his optimism, Brooks is trying not to be over-confident as to the immediate success of the scheme. While the museum currently attracts about 8,000 visitors, he reckons the new building will initially draw about 12,000, building up over the following five years.

"People have been over-optimistic in the past over how many they're going to attract," he explains. "We've been realistic and I think that's helped our application."

For those who can't wait for a funding decision, two of the three reconditioned lifeboats are already in storage at the Mo and are on display to the public for free every Wednesday, 10am to 3pm.

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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