Fascinating free Hastings attraction draws visitors from around the globe but is virtually unknown locally
The Shipwreck Heritage Centre at Rock-a-Nore is in need of more local support.
The free museum, which contains some fascinating exhibits and interactive displays, is in danger of becoming the most overlooked attraction in Hastings and Rother says chairman Tim McDonald.
Tim says the museum is something of a blind-spot with people drawn to the Blue Reef Aquarium opposite or not walking further than the Fishermen’s Museum.
The Shipwreck Museum tells you all about two major historic local shipwrecks, both accessible at low spring tides. Exhibits include a cannon and other items from the wreck of the Amsterdam, as well as part of a Roman ship regarded as the earliest sea-going sailing vessel ever discovered in the northern hemisphere.
Other attractions include a perfectly preserved tree dating back to the period when Moses and Tutankhamun walked the earth, and part of the original wooden London Bridge that spanned the River Thames in Roman times.
It has an incredible array of fossils, including a dinosaur footprint that youngsters can actually sit on, while holding a large real dinosaur bone.
Tim said: “It is strange that one of the most intriguing and fascinating museums in Hastings and St Leonards remains almost entirely unknown to the majority of inhabitants of the town. And yet it attracts around 80,000 visitors a year, by far the greatest percentage coming from other parts of the country, or overseas.
“I talk to hundreds of local people, many of whom regularly visit the Rock-a-Nore Road area but simply don’t know we exist. I tell them we lie next to the Fishermen’s Museum on one side and the Blue Reef Aquarium on the other. But the response invariably is – we’ve never seen you. Are you new to the area? No, I reply, we’ve been here 35 years! Quite how so many people can walk past us and yet remain totally unaware of our existence is a real enigma.”
Lockdown has enabled the Shipwreck Museum’s small but hugely enthusiastic band of volunteers to give the building a major renovation and improve the overall appearance. Plans are ongoing to enhance the visitor experience with the introduction of virtual reality and other new display technology.
Tim McDonald also used the downtime to begin investigating the massive archive which lurks in just about every corner of the Museum: “It’s unbelievable what was found. Hundreds of boxes stored away high up on a capacious shelf space revealed amazing treasures from all periods of history, including a set of 2nd century Roman sandals, which is now on display alongside the Roman ship and the London Bridge fragment.”
Tim reckons it will take another year to work through the rest of the archive.
For the moment, the Museum is focusing on developing its huge potential. “To do this,” says Tim, “we need to add to our current little army of volunteers. Primarily, we need people to help serve in the gift shop and to act as stewards, meeting and assisting visitors, but there are several other roles that need filling in such areas as IT. We also need to build our body of trustees to help guide the Museum towards the bright future that many experts see for it.”
For more information or to offer your services as a trustee or volunteer, please visit [email protected] or call 01424 437452.