This month’s talk at Rye Museum was “A History of Hastings in 66 Objects” by Cathy Walling. For some years, Cathy has been a Trustee of Rye Museum and something of a mentor, but her day job is curator of the Hastings Museum and Art Gallery.
She was at the same time curator of the The Old Town Hall Museum, a venerable and much-loved Hastings institution. In 2015, the Council decided to cut costs by closing the old museum and Cathy and crew were ultimately given one month to empty the building and absorb the contents into the museum up the hill – a sad day for lovers of the Old Town and a huge influx of important artefacts to the already full museum.
To mark the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, it was decided to mix items from the old museum and the new(er) to create A History of Hastings in 66 Objects. 1066? 2016? 66? A pattern emerges!
The display was originally imagined as a temporary exhibit, but so much effort went in and the result was so interesting and agreeable that it is certain to be a fixture for a very long time. A (relatively) small amount was raised from friends to alter the old glass cases for the new purpose and then began the much more difficult job of winnowing thousands of objects down to 66. They asked members and visitors for input, taking into account not just the importance of each item, but its size and condition.
For the talk, Cathy touched on each and every one of the 66 objects. The pace was brisk but didn’t feel at all rushed as she described each object and its significance to history, beginning with a silver penny of William the Conqueror (minted in Hastings) and carrying right through to the Hastings Bonfire Boys of today.
Many familiar themes recurred – fishing, shipping, pottery and household goods, entertainments in a seaside town – alongside war and fire, smuggling, crime and punishment. We visited Titus Oates, famous liar, and John Logie Baird, the inventor of television (at least, that’s Hastings’ story and they’re sticking to it). By the end, we felt we had walked down the past 950 years of local history, one amazing object at a time.
The show “A History of Hastings in 66 Objects” will be on display at the Hastings Museum for a long time to come. It is well worth a special visit. The next talk at Rye Museum is on May 10, titled “The Manor of Mote” by Christopher Whittick, Senior Archivist at the Keep, the County Record Office.
Photo: Sarah Cooper