Imagine for a moment you're getting married tomorrow, and yesterday was your stag/hen night. You've woken up in Eastbourne with no money and nothing but the clothes you stand up in, and you've got a couple of hours to kill before your contrite 'friends' come and pick you up. Surely there isn't anywhere in a small Victorian seaside town that could keep you engaged and entertained for two hours free of charge is there?
George Musgrave, born in 1914, is the one-man inspiration behind the museum. He is the creator, collector and owner of the exhibits, the founder, owner and curator of the museum and has made it his retirement project to guide the museum, which receives no outside funding, to financial independence. Throughout his life Mr Musgrave has worked in numerous countries on several different continents and has been a radio broadcaster, historian, archaeologist, and has designed children's toys and games as well as cake decorations. The main purpose of his museum, though, is to exhibit his substantial collection of paintings, all his own work. None of his paintings have ever been sold as Mr Musgrave prefers to keep them out of private hands and enable them to be enjoyed by everybody.
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Founded in 1983, the collection was originally housed in Mr Musgrave's own home, and spent some time on location in Heathfield, Brighton and then on the Eastbourne seafront, but now lives in 77, Seaside Road. For further details, see 'How to Get There' below. The collection was awarded charity status for the preservation of the work of George Musgrave and it is this that makes up the bulk of museum, although there is much more to entertain and inform.
Aside from two collections of paintings contained in the museum (see below), the bulk of the paintings, in oil and watercolours on canvas, are imagined scenes. Some evoke childhood memories, such as the boy trying to drag his mother into the sweetshop, and many are of domestic animals, especially cats and dogs. There is also a fine collection of portraits, including paintings of Diana, Princess of Wales, entertainer Roy Castle and Olympic athlete Sally Gunnel.
The Life of Saint Paul The Evangelist
Saint Paul is one of the most significant figures in The Bible and one of the key thinkers in Christian theology, and there are two exhibitions dedicated to him in the Musgrave Collection. This first, most substantial work1 covers the life of Saint Paul, a subject of which Mr Musgrave is an authority. The paintings are of key scenes and, with a few exceptions, are painted from 'life' in the sense that Mr Musgrave has visited the locations in which they are believed to have taken place.
Paul and Thekla
This is a more specific series detailing Paul's relationship with a woman named Thekla, the details of which are also a subject of a book by Mr Musgrave. This collection is smaller than 'The Life of Saint Paul', and is notable chiefly for the fact that the figure of Saint Paul is based on what is thought to be the only known description of his appearance.
It doesn't take a genius to spot a recurring theme here. The exhibits include finds from a boat believed to be that in which St Paul was shipwrecked off the coast of Malta. These were unearthed when Mr Musgrave persuaded a group of off-duty naval personnel from the HMS Ark Royal to dive for him in the area he believed the ship to be. The museum also displays other archaeological finds, including some impressive Egyptian pieces on loan from the British Museum.
For those not interested in the life of Saint Paul there is still plenty to see. From among the collection of materials assembled over a lifetime of diverse careers, Mr Musgrave has put together fascinating displays which cover:
- The history of communication from the slate tablet through to the computer
- The history of moving pictures
- The history of the musgrave family
These displays feature many fine examples of early video cameras, reels of video tape from different periods of the history of film-making2, and even an early projection machine with a hairdryer stuck into it. There are many other items on display, including a substantial stamp collection begun in the Victorian period, and a collection of newspapers dating back as far as the Battle of Waterloo.
At the centre of the whole experience is George Musgrave himself, still running the Museum five days a week and giving his visitors a genuinely unique experience. Each exhibit, painting, display piece and model is embellished and enlivened by his own recollections, stories and vast personal knowledge. If you're too tired to trundle round the museum for an hour or so, sitting and talking for a while to this engaging and endearing pensioner will be enough to justify your visit in itself.
As the museum is unfunded from any source, its money is made from donations3 and from sales in the museum shop. Here you can buy audio tapes of Mr Musgrave's radio stories, leaflets including a guide to the museum, and copies of his books, including his published work on the subject of Paul and Thekla. Also available are prints and postcards of many of his paintings.
How to Get There
The Museum is in Seaside Road, which is just off the seafront. If you come in by train, exit the station and follow Terminus Road to your left, passing through the town centre and main shopping area. You will find Seaside Road on the corner of TJ Hughes and the Cavendish Bakery; turn left and you will find the museum on the other side of the road, about 300 yards down. If you come in by car, you have probably parked in the Arndale Centre car park, which will bring you out on foot into Terminus Road. In which case follow the same directions. If you have come in by aeroplane, you will probably find you are not in Eastbourne, but Gatwick Airport. Take a train to Eastbourne and go from there. If you get lost, find your way to the sea front (most Eastbourne residents will be able to point you in the right direction) then go inland from the Pier and take the second turning on your left, with the museum about 50 yards along the same side of the road. You'd be a fool to miss it.