Museum Tales 2: Epater les bourgeoisie


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Creative Future run creative writing courses at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery for marginalised writers. Dr Claudia Gould, the group facilitator, encourages participants to use Museum objects to inspire their work. Funded by the Arts Council England, these  groups will be running again in spring 2015. If you’re interested in attending please contact Creative Future (01273 234780) for further information.

Creative Future

Epater les bourgeoisie by Jo Tompkins

It made me smile a wide, droll smile. But, that was all. How lame! I told myself. Whereas my friend cranked up to a bright glaring red on the scalometer whilst we sat sharing a suede couch in Subversive Design.
Within five minutes, his expression had melted into his top lip, which began dipping downwards at the corners, and stopped somewhere level with his moustache. I’m bewildered, but nonetheless uneasy at having invited him along. Another excruciating five minutes of him sat there, headphones off, saying nothing, staring at the screen whilst an artist
discusses Rennie tablets. I’m singly engrossed.
He leaves and I continue viewing ceramic pots with varying skin complaints before sighing and reluctantly leaving the suspender belts behind. In the next room he’s nowhere to be seen. I wander into the cafe curious if he’s left the building. I’m faced with a ruddy complexion, a half empty cup of black coffee and the comment “ If I stayed another minute
I’d lose all faith in my fellow man!”
Did he really say that? I’m aware I’m about to walk a tightrope of diplomacy. My friend continues with an air of melancholy, “I knew I should have never come. It’s just not art.”
“One giant witty playground” I thought to myself.
I’d even added to the exhibition for extra entertainment in my head. I had Miley Cyrus dangling from the wrecking ball in miniature (only in miniature mind, to remove any idea that she and this work might share something in common).
Subversion. Allows suspension of any previous held thoughts and bricked-up beliefs. Challenge is sanctified here. Transformation celebrated.
Campaigns and shouting is one route. This language is equally powerful. Look this is going on right now. I’ll taunt you to see it differently. I’ll speak the unspeakable.
The plight of asylum seekers edging towards the ill-fated dream as broken, half-baked pots. Domestic wallpaper parodying a lack of equality. The exhibition is a sprawling exploration into societal and personal conventions. And occasional aesthetic moulding, such as the exquisite glass grenades and the sheer beauty of the dandelion clock chandelier.
My other additions to the exhibition would be a very long queue of politicians lining up to spend a night in the homeless bed… one at a time please… with many months of waiting whilst their application is assessed. And donating the transparent bodice smeared in blood to the Pope. I’d go see that exhibition too.

War Stories: A Nurse’s Life Rediscovered


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If an old chest in the attic of a Hove family home had not been discovered, we would know nothing about Sister Florence Holdgate. The family discovered that the chest had been left there by their great aunt and they gradually uncovered the story of a military nurse in the First World War.

Inside the chest, they found the nurse’s dress and apron which is now on display in Brighton Museum’s War Stories exhibition. It was the uniform of a Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS) sister. With the dress and apron were some medical implements in a spare uniform pocket that presumably could replace a dress pocket once it had fallen into holes.

Sister Florence Holdgate

Sister Florence Holdgate

The QAIMNS nurses were a select group of professionals employed by the War Office for military hospitals. There were strict entry regulations for becoming a military nurse in 1914 and successful applicants were required to be unmarried, of good family, well-educated and already trained at a listed hospital. Their terms of service were in line with the other branches of the military.

In the chest there were some small black and white photographs that show nurses, patients, British troops in pith helmets and those in the slouch hats of the Australian army. The landscape is dry and dotted with palms. One postcard identifies a large institutional building as being the 15th General Hospital, Egypt, and an online search places this as being in Alexandria. Here casualties will have crossed the Meditteranean from the campaign against the Turkish army at Gallipoli.

15th General Hospital, Egypt

15th General Hospital, Egypt

To find out exactly where Florence was serving, her family turned to the QAIMNS records held at the National Archives. Those that survive can be found online and can be downloaded for a small fee.

From the records, the timeline of Florence’s nursing career could be established by references to personal details from official correspondence and reports. They reveal that Florence had started her training in 1904, aged 27. She was a probationer nurse at the Princess Alice Hospital in Eastbourne and four years later, she joined QAIMNS as a Charge Nurse. Serving in the army often included a posting abroad and in 1911 Florence was sent to Malta. It was here that she started to show signs of ill health and resigned from the service the following year.

War was declared in 1914 and the records show that Florence did not wait long before she re-enlisted with QAIMNS on 19th October of that year. At the beginning of the war only 300 nurses were on active service, but many like Florence rejoined as the war progressed and more nurses were needed. By the end of the war 10,404 nurses had joined the military nursing reserve (for more information visit QARANC.

In 1915 Florence is recorded as being posted to the Kitchener Indian General Hospital in Brighton which is now better known as the Brighton General Hospital before being transferred to Egypt. For the first few months, she is likely to have taken pride in her work as the photographs she had kept with her uniform for all those years date from this period.

A report from a Royal Army Medical Corps officer (The National Archives: WO/399/392) reveals that Florence’s health was soon to start suffering again in the climate and after a few months she was reported to be ‘run down’. It was felt that a sea voyage may improve her health and so she was posted to His Majesty’s Hospital Ship Oxfordshire.

The HMHS Oxfordshire was put on the Basra to Bombay run which at this time treated and transported those who were injured or fell ill during the Mesopotamia Campaign. However, Florence’s health worsened, yet in spite of daily pain, sickness and headaches, she remained on duty until November. She was eventually hospitalised with a gastric ulcer at St George’s Hospital, Bombay, and from there transferred to Poona but her condition worsened. The medical officer diagnoses the cause as from ‘duty and from effect of climate.’

By March she had recovered enough to return home and was put on sick leave for six months while she waited for further instructions. By the autumn she signed a form agreeing that she was fit for service and started work at the Wharncliffe Hospital, Sheffield, where she was a Sister in charge of medical and surgical wards. The Matron described her as ‘an excellent Ward Sister, gets on well with those working under her and is tactful with patients.’

Florence returned to civilian nursing after the war. She eventually retired to Hove where many years later her old trunk of treasured possessions was rediscovered, and the story of a nurse who served despite ill health can now be told.

Jo Palache, Oral History and Life History Research

20 things to do with the kids at Royal Pavilion and Museums this summer


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Bear made by Steiff, TYTMP000119

Bear made by Steiff, TYTMP000119

Want to get your kids away from the TV or their screens this summer? Short of cash or looking for something to do on a rainy day? Get some culture and head on down to one of Brighton’s museums or the Royal Pavilion.

Here’s why? You can hide from the rain and wind, they’re free to get in and you can have lots of fun inside. And you can smugly reward yourselves with some delicious cake for spending some time in an educational way.

With the help of parenting website Brighton Mums, Twitter and some of my friends, I’ve come up with a list of some of the secret and unusual sides of the RP&M which you may not have found yet.

If you’ve got a favourite place your family visit in the museums, let us know and we’ll add it to the list during my time as Blogger in Residence.

  1. Visit the pet’s graveyard at the gorgeous walled garden at Preston Manor. Read the heart-breaking gravestones of some of the dogs and cats who have lived in the big house.
  2. “Writing your name in hieroglyphics is brilliant,” says Isobel, 9. “You can find it in the Egyptian exhibition at Brighton Museum.”
  3. Family Sleep Coach @familysleep said her daughter loves the Wizard’s Attic at Hove Museum. If you’ve not been yet, make sure you do. It’s full of old toys, places to climb and trains to watch.
  4. Put your coppers in Brummel the museum cat and hear him roar (OK purr) in the foyer at the Brighton Museum.
  5. Imagine what it would be like as scullery maid in the downstairs rooms at Preston Manor.
  6. All children love the spookiness of the stuffed animals at the Booth Museum. And there’s a really good gift shop there too with some excellent cheap take home toys.
  7. “Queen Victoria’s toilet is really funny,” says Theo, 11. “You don’t expect to see that in the museum.” You can find Her Majesty’s closet in the Royal Pavilion.
  8. “There are always pens and paper for colouring in Hove Museum,” says Louisa. “It means you can chat to your friends while the children are busy doing something vaguely educational.”
  9. “We always sit on the tiny replica of the Salvador Dali mini-sofa,” says @grumpfuttock. “It’s become a bit of a tradition with us.”
  10. “The pure luxury of the Pavilion wows children, whatever their age, especially the Chinese entrance hall” says Helen. “It’ll take their breath away.” Make sure you take advantage of the free audioguide too. Is it Bernard Cribbens doing the voice-over?

    Iranian calligraphy workshops

    Images of Iranian calligraphy event 2012, Brighton Museum (copyright Neda Kahooker)

  11. Find the Merman in The Booth museum.
  12. A trip to Preston Manor can be a whole day out if you also include a run around in Preston Park complete with tennis courts, a play park and two great cafes. Don’t forget the rock garden across the London Road which is surprisingly big.
  13. Little ones love the art workshops at Hove Museum which are on throughout August. They can get all messy and you don’t have to clear up.
  14. Have a go at table football in the World Voices gallery in the Brighton Museum.
  15. Enjoy a free film in the city’s smallest cinema in Hove Museum – produced by the early film pioneers based in Hove called ‘little Hollywood by the sea.’
  16. Sulky teenagers can discover the history of rebellion in the Renegade exhibition in the fashion gallery at the Brighton Museum.
  17. Create your own Punch and Judy show in the performance gallery.
  18. Escape the sunshine and get Chilled to the Bone with some ice age exhibits at the Brighton Museum.
  19. Imagine you are an art critic – everyone has to find their favourite picture in Brighton Museum – and explain why they like it. Do the same for the picture you most dislike too.
  20. Discover HRH George IV gargantuan dinner parties in the Banqueting Rooms and kitchen at the Royal Pavilion before tucking into some cake at the Pavilion tearooms with the best view in Brighton.



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