Exciting visitors at the Booth!

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DSC_7989We had an extra special visitor this week at the Booth. As a designated collection, the Booth Museum holds an internationally important natural science collection that is regularly used in scientific research. We were recently contacted by Canterbury Christ Church University who, in partnership with the Sussex Peregrine Study, were looking for Peregrine falcon specimens to sample for DNA analysis. The purpose was to see if they can determine if our current wild populations are descended from native British individuals remaining after their populations were decimated first by human persecution, as then from the use of pesticides, or the result of migration across the channel from European populations.

As per our appointment, Dr Nicholls and Mr Franklin arrived bright and early Monday morning to set about taking samples from our collection of Sussex peregrines. This sampling involved taking a small piece of one of each birds foot pads which DNA could later be extracted from back at the lab.

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Fascinating in itself, and both human visitors are thoroughly nice chaps, however they were overshadowed by the third member of their party. On her way to a new breeding programme was the lovely lady pictured below:

Peregrine

For research and enquires of any sort, please contact us.

Lee Ismail, Curator of Natural Sciences

Tweeting at the Booth Museum

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Sometimes the early morning job of unlocking the Booth Museum is a rather sombre affair as Mr. Booth’s birds slowly emerge from the gloom, polishing their glass eyes ready to face their public once more. But now they are greeted by a new wake up call, an uplifting experience that the birds, our staff and all our visitors can share – the dawn chorus has reached the Booth!

Blackbirds

Blackbirds

For the last month or so, the sounds of a Norfolk woodland and its myriad of birds has been brightening the Booth Museum, bringing life to the otherwise somewhat eerie and quirky atmosphere that the Booth is loved for. It is almost as if the roof has opened when the songs and calls of crows, blackbirds, owls, cuckoos, robins and many other species ring out across the Museum.

Woodpigeons

Woodpigeons

The sound installation was introduced first as a temporary measure to see if it could add a new dimension to the visitor experience and to provide an opportunity to get feedback from our visitors, as well as from our staff. A simple form was designed to ask the questions – how much do you like the bird song playing in the Museum, should it be on all the time and is it too loud? In all, 100 visitors helped us gauge the success of this trial. The results are in!

Almost 90% of visitors rated the bird song as 7-10 on a scale of 1 to 10 with a massive 40% giving it a top score of 10. What’s more, 80% thought the recording should play all the time, as indeed it has been during the trial period. Some visitor comments have been very rewarding:

“Think it’s a great idea, really good for the imagination and makes the experience even more enjoyable”

“It’s very relaxing”

“We loved it – thank you!”

“Very fitting, made the visit more pleasurable”

“It’s fabulous – brings the Museum to life!! Very good as extra sensory feel for visually impaired of for people with special needs and adds to the experience of the visit”

We asked visitors if the bird song was too loud – 83% said not although that does mean that 17% thought the opposite and so we will be turning the volume down just a tad. We were of course very concerned for the well being of our Visitor Service Officers on duty in the Booth and who hear the sounds throughout the day, perhaps at the risk of overexposure but they have been supportive and positive and one or two have even found it to be relaxing and soothing during busy periods.

And so the bird song will stay at least for the immediate future. Come in and see what you think. Check out a sneak peak on our Tumblr. 

John Cooper, Keeper of Natural Science

 

 

 

Brighton and the Pullman car

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Once an important leader in the field of luxury train travel, the Pullman Car Company and its workshops at Preston Park (together with the former locomotive works of the erstwhile London, Brighton and South Coast Railway – ‘LBSCR’) are indelibly linked to Brighton and its glorious history.

Everybody of course knows Brighton! Even those who have never been there would doubtless agree that it is probably the best-known South Coast resort. Her attractions are so great and so varied that at one time she was justly called the Queen of Watering Places – a claim not disputed by more than a dozen of those who would like to have been deemed her rivals! There is but one London, and there is but one Brighton. Not two. Nearby Hove is also quite distinct, even though during the Millennium celebrations, Brighton and Hove together with Portslade have now been granted city status.

Brighton Belle Pullman

Brighton Belle Pullman

At one time, Brighton was seen as too closely in touch with the Capital of the Empire to feel itself provincial in any sense. Eloquence about London-by-the-Sea may be platitudinous today, but to many it is exceedingly true. But the love of Brighton by the true Brightonian, then and now, is passionate and even fierce. You can almost feel that they are in much the same peril as in the Prophet’s opinion were the citizens of Damascus, when Mohammed is said to have refused to abide among them, exclaiming ‘Here I cannot tarry, lest having found my Heaven on earth I might cease to seek one beyond the grave’.

The American physician, poet and essayist Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894) visited this ‘magnificent city built for enjoyment’ in 1886, travelling from London Victoria on the original ‘Pullman Limited Express’ – a seven-days-a-week all-Pullman train inaugurated in December 1881. Holmes paid a glowing tribute to the attractions he saw in One Hundred Days in Europe, but the fame of Brighton is well secured in the New World if imitation is indeed akin to flattery. There is a Brighton in Massachusetts close to Holme’s own birthplace – another in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, and several in between.

Despite the erroneous impression conveyed by some guide-books, the history conscious Brightonian waxes indignant at the suggestion that Brighton is an upstart town, the child of a Prince’s gaudy whim. The town actually figures in the Domesday Book as Bristelmestune, already a considerable village. Until comparatively recently it was spelt Brightelmstone, but in all probability it was always pronounced as Brighton. (Many Sussex villages were in fact pronounced shorter than they were written; Selmestyon was Simson and Heathfield Heffle, for example). But whereas in modern times these pronunciations have been dropped in favour of a literal rendering of the name as spelt, in Brighton the traditional pronunciation has triumphed over the spelling. The Duchess in Alice in Wonderland would doubtless have found a moral in that.

Every generation tends to despise the taste of that immediately preceding, and admire that of the one before. And it seems the Royal Pavilion has taken more generations than usual in its promotion from the fanciful, exaggerated or an apparent atrocity, to a well-loved oddity. The exterior imitates, or rather caricatures the buildings of the Indian moguls, but it is constructed in wooden fretwork and painted stucco instead of marble and mosaic. Of course, its influence was for many years generally profound on seaside architecture, and to complete this architectural picture postcard, a series of fine Regency terraces, grand hotels and bow-fronted houses with their elegant canopied balconies have often been noted by visitors as unsurpassed.

The old part of the town may still be seen in the Lanes; although very few ancient buildings remain, the narrow winding passages – known as ‘twittens’ – were in days gone by, and are often thronged nowadays, with antique or curiosity shops.

Perseus as part of the Britsih Pullman of the Orient Express at Brighton station

Perseus as part of the British Pullman of the Orient Express at Brighton station

Yet on the whole the period of Brighton’s rise to prosperity as a resort coincided with an age of dignity and good taste, and its nearness to London was of course hastened with the opening of the ‘LBSCR’ in September 1841. Increasingly attracting the ‘masses and the classes’, as the Victorians called them, visitors were apparently drawn to the exhilarating air, vast expanse of sea with decorative pier in front (later, two) – contrasting with the immense green sheltering stretches of the Downs behind, not least offering some of the more unusual attractions, including Volk’s electric powered railway (1883), the first proper electric railway in Britain – all of which combined to favour the town.

In the period just prior to the reign of King Edward VII there appears to have been an enormous jump in the number of people able to afford to take a holiday or short-break by the sea. This unprecedented increase had further far-reaching consequences which encouraged a substantial building programme involving an extension to the promenade by a further six miles; the addition of a new outdoor swimming pool, water gardens and renovated aquarium, together with a seemingly implacable building of attractive lodges and small hotels. It was at this time that Pullman car travel between London and Brighton seemingly flourished after an uncertain start: at first, accommodation was limited only to those passengers holding first class tickets, who were conveyed in enormous American-built vehicles, dwarfing the railway company’s ordinary carriages. By 1898, the ‘Pullman Limited Express’ became so popular that the ‘LBSCR’ re-introduced an all-Pullman Sunday service with six or more vehicles on an accelerated timing of 60 minutes in each direction, and it was on the same line that electric lighting became a ‘first’ on the Pullman trains.

Pullman camping coach

Pullman camping coach

This distinctly superior mode of travel was only changed with the advent of third-class Pullman accommodation being made available in 1915 initially on services to Brighton, Eastbourne and Worthing, later paved the way for a Sundays-only third-class limited Pullman Express running between London and Brighton, calling at Clapham Junction and East Croydon.

Pullman car No 54 of 1923

Pullman car No 54 of 1923

Coinciding with these developments, the very words ‘Pullman’ and ‘Perfection’ seemingly became synonyms when referring to railway carriage building, ‘in which art the Pullman Car Company leads the world’ claimed the 1916 Pullman Car Guide. And with a touch of purple prose the intending passenger was advised that ‘…in elaborate design, substantial construction and luxurious finish [the vehicles] represent the highest standard of excellence. Ingenuity and skill are constantly being applied to the improvement of details with a view to adding to the comfort of travel. Every car is in charge of an experienced, well-trained conductor, whose services are always at hand from start to finish of a journey, and invalids and ladies with children can always rely upon ready attention to their comfort and convenience. Cleanliness is also a special feature, coupled with perfect ventilation and good lighting, thus making travelling a real luxury.’

Pullman car Minerva

Pullman car Minerva

By the turn of the Twentieth Century, Pullman cars became an increasingly familiar sight on many services to South Coast resorts, including Bexhill and Eastbourne. In conjunction with the ‘LBSCR’, a huge array of colourful booklets and brochures were regularly published, invariably revelling in the fact that the railway company was the first to link with Pullman in the South and, on 1 November 1908 a new train of wholly British-built vehicles was introduced at great expense. These cars featured elliptical roofs and luxurious internal furnishings, while retaining many of the distinctive American-style Pullman design features. Clearly the star service of the ‘LBSCR’, this special train was bestowed with the evocative title of the ‘Southern Belle’ (the forerunner to the ‘Brighton Belle’ in 1934) making its inaugural run from London Victoria, and quickly established itself.

Local semi-professional photographer, the late Mr Joe Kent, worked as a skilled carpenter for the Pullman Car Company shortly after World War II until Preston Park Works closed in 1964. His collection of Pullman car photographs are an important testimony of how important Pullman cars were to the development of train travel, and their works as a source of employment to the people of Brighton. Many of the images give a glimpse behind-the-scenes of the brief heyday of luxury travel when Pullman cars were some of the finest railway vehicles. As a curator for The Pullman Society I was invited to catalogue many of these photographs, most of which are unique and show a selection of long-distance vehicles more familiar on services out of London King’s Cross.

Antony Ford, Pullman Society Curator and Archivist

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