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For bohemians everywhere

Hastings Museum Association

By Marion Purdey

Hastings Museum & Art Gallery, Bohemia Road

Hastings Museum & Art Gallery, Bohemia Road

It was in 1889 that the idea of founding a museum was first mooted by William Vandeleur Crake.

The following year the Hastings & St Leonards Museum Association (MA) was formed. Among the founding members were the antiquarians T H Cole and Augustus Hare, the naturalist Thomas Parkin, solicitor and amateur archaeologist Charles Dawson, artist and head of the School of Art, Michael Sullivan and Lord Brassey as president.

They immediately set about procuring the basis of a collection as follows: 1. Objects illustrating the history of the ancient Cinque Port of Hastings. 2. Objects connected with local industries. 3. Geological specimens from the Wealden and adjacent strata. 4. Zoological and botanical specimens from the sea and seashore. 5. Specimens illustrating the fauna and flora of the surrounding district.

After two years hard work the Museum opened on the second floor of the Brassey Institute and was an immediate success. Additions to the collection over the years grew to such an extent that in 1900 the museum was moved to the first floor where there was more space. This also allowed the Association to hold special exhibitions of e.g. china, lace, paintings, etc.

However, as the collection continued to increase, it became apparent that the association could not continue to run the museum without assistance from the public. Accordingly, in June 1904, it was decided to hand over the collections to the Corporation to be administered by a museum committee, comprising members of the association and the Corporation. Repesentatives of the MA continue to this day serving on the museum committee. They are elected each year.

The MA’s concern, in accordance with the 1905 agreement is “the management of the collections and any additions thereto and not the museum buildings, staff, etc”. At the handover in 1905, the Mayor announced that “the Corporation would endeavour to make the museum one of the chief attractions of Hastings” and throughout the intervening years they have kept their word.

The first action was to appoint Mr Ruskin Butterfield, a member of the Association, as curator. In 1919, the second Earl Brassey presented to the museum the woodwork of the Durbar Hall and the collections formed by his mother during her voyages on the family yacht, the Sunbeam. Because of lack of space these could not be exhibited and had to be stored away.

Due to the gentle persistence of Mr Butterfield and the museum committee, the Corporation purchased John’s Place in Bohemia Road and the museum moved there in 1928. As John’s Place was a detached building in its own grounds, it was possible to build a wing to house the Durbar Hall. The wing was attached to the main building by a new art gallery. This extension was opened in 1932.

To date there have been five curators: Mr Ruskin Butterfield, Mr John Mainwaring-Baines, Mr David Devenish, Miss Victoria Williams and our present incumbent, Miss Catherine Walling. Each one in their own inimitable way initiating change and adding prestige to this valuable asset of the town.

Throughout these years the MA has continuously supported the museum and staff by raising funds, arranging lectures, helping to man temporary exhibitions, if requested, buying items for the collections, refurbishing seating, paying for the restoration of paintings, stained glass, maps, purchasing tea urns, children’s equipment – the list is endless. You will see many items in the exhibits that were donated by the association. Members with the appropriate expertise, help with mending and cleaning textiles, washing precious china and so on.

The Museum Association The Museum Association was formed in 1889 and is believed to be the oldest such Museum friends group in the country. In 1892 the Association opened the Hastings Museum in the Brassey Institute, now Hastings Library, and were responsible for administrating and funding the Museum, for mounting displays and collecting exhibits. Single membership is £5.00 yearly, £8 per couple yearly, payable to Hastings and St Leonards Museum Association. Events organsed by the MA are held at Hastings Museum and Art Gallery, John’s Place, Bohemia Road. Tel: 01424 451052.


  1. A Michael Sullivan used to attend women’s suffrage meetings. I wonder if it was the same man?

  2. Nicky – we don’t hold any information about Michael Sullivan other than, as stated in the article, he was the principal of Hastings Art School. Perhaps one of our readers will be able to help you? John Humphries.

  3. Hello, I am interested in finding out more about Michael Sullivan the principal of the Hastings Art School.

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