Tag Archives: Bexhill

Talk at Bexhill Museum

bexhill to bexhill

All welcome to Bexhill Museum’s talk next Thursday, 21st May. From 3-4pm I will be sharing photographs and stories of my journey to places called Bexhill, stopping in at a couple along the way.

Admission will also include a chance to look at the work in progress of In Conversation with Annie, a Heritage Lottery Funded Residency developing a dialogue with heritage and connecting mine and Annie’s journeys. Several other lovely exhibitions currently running at Bexhill Museum are also open to visitors: Something Old Something New; Bexhill & Abroad; & The Kings German Legion in Bexhill.

Open from 10-5 Tuesday to Friday and 11-5 Saturday, Sunday and Mondays. For more details about how to get there click here.

Singapore with Annie

Revisiting Singapore with Annie ‘In Conversation’ and I am finally able to spend time with the pangolin, normally squirrelled away in the Victorian study. He/she has captured something quite distinctive of mine and Annie’s journeys, and has provided fascination and wonder since first sight. Annie was given a pangolin as a present by the ex-Sultan of Johore at which she was rather perplexed:

…”a live little beast, not an alligator, and not an armadillo or a lizard; in fact I do not know what it is; it clings round my arm just like a bracelet…” (A Voyage in the Sunbeam, A. Brassey 1878)

One hundred and thirty seven years on and it is still a creature that captures the imagination. They are not easy to find now and there are not many left. All eight species of pangolin are threatened with extinction and are listed under Appendix II of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora). This means any trade is regulated and monitored. There is a zero export quota for all four Asian species of pangolin. Despite this, pangolins are the most illegally traded mammal in the world (Save Pangolin Association, 2015). Reported as the creature that may become extinct before it is even recognised by many it has been subject of a high profile in the media recently. It is a creature that conjures images of fairytales and fantasy.

Bexhill to Bexhill

Pangolin, Bexhill Museum (Louise Kenward, 2015)

The pangolin is sometimes described as a scaly anteater, a mammal with a tongue longer than its body, they live in trees and burrow in the ground. Solitary, nocturnal animals, they foster a description of being ‘secretive’. With a hard protective shell of scales they roll into a ball to defend themselves and are notoriously difficult to keep in captivity. This makes Annie’s pangolin all the more surprising. When rescued from illegal trade they are difficult to look after and rehabilitate. This focusses conservation efforts on prevention; training rangers and developing education programmes. For more information and links to ways you can help see www.savepangolins.org

Bexhill to Bexhill

Pangolin (detail), Bexhill Museum (Louise Kenward, 2015)

Bexhill to Bexhill

Annie with pangolin, Bexhill Museum (Louise Kenward, 2015)

I don’t remember seeing any wildlife during my visit, although spent little time in Singapore, my postcard to Annie was hurriedly sent from the airport as I waited for my flight to Jakarta. Just a day or so to explore the stunning architecture of this incredible modern city. The performing arts building on the Esplanade is inspired by the durian fruit, a bridge in the centre of the city is inspired by the structure of DNA. The skyline and the streets are clean. Chewing gum is banned. Slick shopping centres are vast and expensive. The seafood is very good. 

Comparing my experiences to Annie’s, things have changed quite considerably:

“the town… [was] not imposing, its streets, or rather roads of wooden huts and stone houses, being mixed together indiscriminately…As soon as the Governor and his suite had set off for Johore we went down into the hot dusty town to get our letters, parcels, and papers, and to look at the shops. There are not many Malay specialities to be bought here; most of the curiosities come from India, China, and Japan, with the exception of birds of Paradise from New Guinea, and beautiful bright birds of all colours and sizes from the various islands in the Malay Archipelago.”

I don’t recall any dust in Singapore but did find the post office Annie visited. Now converted to a hotel.

Work at the museum is progressing. I am writing and drawing, photographing and talking. Displays are being altered and updated, shifted and edited.

In conversation with Annie: Hong Kong

I set out my objects from St Petersburg again and sift through paraphernalia bought back from my time in Hong Kong. A train ticket from Shanghai to Jui Long, a brochure from the aviary. I recall the soft horizon and pink skies. The view from the top of The Peak across the city below and the islands beyond. The vast maze of shopping centres and well dressed locals. Clearly defined from China, this identity is emphasised with signs that forbid spitting and give instruction on how to use a Western toilet. It is a curious place between West and East, between time spent in China and Vietnam.

Re reading Annie’s journal entries my memory is jogged, we went to the races at Happy Valley, I caught up with an old school friend and had my first  conversation for three weeks. China was challenging. I focus on associations with Bexhill. Henry Young, a founder of Bexhill Museum, made a statue of Queen Victoria at his Pimlico foundry. I smile as I learn more about Victoria’s journey to Hong Kong and recall my journey looking for her.

Having recently celebrated Chinese New Year I take fortune cookies in to the museum and we celebrate the year of the sheep’s arrival. A photo of Peter the sheep is added to the wall, football mascot during World War I. 

Coins are found from the archives, mine are prettier, Hong Kong dollars now sporting more elaborate scalloped edges. Also from the archives some very small Chinese shoes. Probably a model rather than anything actually worn. There is a discussion about foot binding when the children’s workshop comes to visit. They concentrate well and enjoy their afternoon at the museum. 

Bexhill to Bexhill

Chinese shoes, Bexhill Museum (Louise Kenward, 2015)

Bexhill to Bexhill

Chinese shoes, Bexhill Museum (Louise Kenward, 2015)

Of Annie’s journal entries I am particularly drawn to the following comments on life in Hong Kong (Victoria) and the treatment of girls and boys:

“Off the town of Victoria the crowd of shipping is immense, and it became a difficult task to thread our way between the fleets of sampans and junks…The sampans are long boats, pointed at both ends, and provided with a small awning…In these sampans whole families, sometimes five generations, live and move and have their being. I never shall forget my astonishment when, going ashore very early one morning in one of these strange craft, the proprietor lifted up what I had thought was the bottom of the boat, and disclosed three or four children, packed away as tightly as herrings, while under the seats were half-a dozen people of larger growth. The young mother of the small family generally rows with the smallest baby strapped on to her back, and the next-sized one in her arms, whom she is also teaching to row. The children begin to row by themselves when they are about two years old. The boys have a gourd, intended for a life-preserver, tied round their necks as soon as they are born. The girls are left to their fate, a Chinaman thinking it rather an advantage to lose a daughter or two occasionally.” Annie Brassey from A Voyage in the Sunbeam, 1879.

I spare the young visitors this information and hope that changes to Hong Kong extend beyond architecture and prolific use of concrete. There is much more to Hong Kong than there was in 1879, and a great deal more of it too. Much has been reclaimed from the sea. Victoria harbour remains, but no longer with that name and it is now a further away from China than it was 136 years ago.

I spend my day adding to the mind map on the wall, continuing my journey from Russia. Quotes from Annie are added and I start to draw. The shoes  captivate me. Attempts at photographs do not do them justice. I am compelled to draw, to explore them further. Simple line drawings of pattern of embroidery is soothing and early attempts to create shape and form are more successful than later ones. I want to use colour but find pastels clumsy and heavy. I make a note to bring watercolour pencils next time.

In Conversation with Annie is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Revisiting St Petersburg with Annie

From now until June I will be spending my Thursdays at Bexhill Museum as Artist in Residence. Working with artefacts and memories of my journey I will be connecting with Lady Annie Brassey and her travels. Inspired by the archives at Bexhill Museum (in particular Annie’s collection), this is an opportunity to revisit my journey in the context of Annie’s. With Annie as my companion for my travels it seems the ideal way to return to where I began. This time I know Annie a little better, I have written to her regularly, shared her journeys and visited places she has been.

Day one and I am returning to St Petersburg. The first point at which I crossed Annie’s path. She sailed to the Baltics in 1866, I took the train 147 years later. To be honest, I was just glad to get there, anything else in terms of exploration was a bonus. After four days of travelling I had spent two nights on a train, experienced an unnerving border crossing and had been stranded in Belarus in the middle of the night with neither local currency or language. Reaching the one place I had been to previously, it felt like a huge achievement and a familiar face all at once. To meet up here with Annie was lovely, it gave purpose to my stay. I visited the Botanical Gardens, remembered the Hermitage and completed an expedition in looking for a stamp to send a postcard back. My journey had begun.

The Church on Spilled Blood

The Church on Spilled Blood, Louise Kenward 2013

Setting up at the museum this morning I have a large wall space and long wide shelf the length of the wall. The possibilities are tantalising. I come armed with materials, equipment, books and artefacts. An empty tea tin with images of the city on it, a calendar from the Hermitage from my previous visit, tickets, postcards, two small 10 kopek coins, a small stone and three acorns from the Botanical Gardens and a leaf stitched into my diary because that’s where it fell while I was writing. Covering the wall in lining paper I enjoy writing and mind mapping, remembering my trip and Annie’s, and Bexhill’s connections with St Petersburg and Russia. Kate Marsden, nurse, missionary, explorer and writer, and (one of the) founder(s) of the Bexhill Museum joined me on my journey through Siberia. Equipped with fur coat and whistle she left Bexhill in 1891 in search for a cure for leprosy. I am working next to a case dedicated to Kate, there is a spectacular photograph of her wrapped up in many many layers of furs and animal skins. In a book with the same image it describes her wardrobe:

“Her get up consisted of Jaeger clothing; a down filled ulster covered by a sheepskin coat covered by a reindeer skin cloak in which she was unable to bend or to manoeuvre herself into a sleigh.” Hodgson, 2002

Kate was nonetheless very grateful for such clothing:

“I wish to thank you for having persuaded me to wear Jaeger Clothing. Humanly speaking I owe my life to that and not taking stimulants; and I really believe that no woman could have gone through all my dangers, privations and difficulties without both of these aids to health” (Advertisement, cited in Hodgson, 2002).

Bexhill to Bexhill

Kate Marsden in full travelling dress, image courtesy of Bexhill Museum.

Annie Brassey did not suffer such hardship in her travels. ‘Flight of the Meteor’ was published only privately (1866), so it is not possible to be certain, but her travels were not as a missionary with a view to curing leprosy and were generally more comfortable and with greater means than Kate. This isn’t to say that Annie’s travels were frivolous however, she supported many good causes and adopted an approach of education and publicity to a wider audience than Kate would have had access to. 

Like Annie, I am a collector, unlike her, I collect with my heart rather than my head. Annie was more thoughtful about her collection, without sentiment she set out (and had means) to collect the finest examples of the finest objects. A collector in a different league to those of her era, she regarded objects as a curator does today, rather than a collector of her time. This brings an interesting dialogue at the outset between me and Annie. Today I have brought my few mementoes of St Petersburg, things connecting with the country and my journey. These included the three acorns, two small coins, stone and leaf from St Petersburg, a small plastic container with lip salve in the shape of a Russian doll given as a gift by a friend before I left (in a bid to find all things tiny). Some postcards and map from the Hermitage bought the previous time I’d visited the city, two oak leaves collected from inside my car which begged to be painted gold, a guidebook on St Petersburg, a map of the city, a metro token, a theatre ticket from attending the ballet and the memory of a small metal pin of an aeroplane that was a gift from a friend and was sadly irretrievably lost in St Petersburg. I took my letter to Annie and my blog posts, and crochet pebbles to ground me.

Bexhill to Bexhill

St Petersburg, leaf stitched into place where it fell. Louise Kenward, 2015

Surrounded by books and objects and with lining paper covering the wall I am soothed and have created a space within which I can explore. With a school visit there is little time or space to think about what I am doing. Their energy and enthusiasm is inspiring. I lower my shoulders and pick up a pen. The morning is spent drawing out thoughts and ideas, recollections and associations, a diagram of my thoughts and interests grow out of the wall. A welcome interruption and the museum curator, Julian Porter, shows me around all the Russian connections on display: a model of a Scourge ship sent to Russia during the First World War; some woolly mammoths, traditionally with a Siberian connection these were found at Eastbourne (long thought to be mole-like creatures because of the common discovery of them underground); a butterfly postcard (one of a series of allies and enemy forces) from World War I. Press cuttings had been found, connecting Bexhill and Russia: Bexhill Observer reports of the Northern Lights in June 1908, later discovered to be the effect from the meteor crash landing in Tunguska, Siberia; and the role the Mayor, a Mr Mayer, of Bexhill had in discovering Anna Pavlova.

I am wondering where to start, how to capture all this, what an incredible breadth of resource and knowledge is held at the museum, and in Julian’s head. I am amazed at how well connected Bexhill is to the rest of the world, and so many eras past, what happens when you scratch the surface. However, the magic is yet to be revealed. Within the archives a number of Russian coins, several from the time Annie would have visited, were found. A second rummage in the archives turns up nothing less than an emerald from the Brassey collection itself, complete with original label. This is Annie’s emerald, collected from Siberia. It is mighty, weighty and rather wonderful.

Bexhill to Bexhill

Brassey Collection, Bexhill Museum, Siberian Emerald (Louise Kenward, 2015)

Bexhill to Bexhill

Siberian Emerald, Brassey Collection, Bexhill Museum (Louise Kenward, 2015)


In Conversation with Annie is supported by an Award from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

First stop Omsk

Trail of breadcrumbs part one…

Stones, pebbles, rock. Universal objects and materials. Multitudes of uses, meanings and metaphor. A pebble beach, Bexhill coastline is filled with all shapes, sizes and colours of stones, with varied patterns, striations and markings. Collecting pebbles, skimming stones, picking them up and putting them down again, universal activities for so many beach visitors. The satisfying crunching sound they make under foot, albeit unstable, is one of the noises synonymous with time at the seafront. That and the inevitable caw of the seagulls cutting through the wild, calm and ever moving sea. I have tried to take sound footage of the seafront, trying to capture the atmosphere. Sounds are so evocative. The beating of the masts on the sailing boats. The sound of the sea whether crashing waves with frothy white tops of spray or barely there shoreline kisses and caresses, it is a constant. A reminder that the sea is a truly powerful beast, it holds me with such a strong connection. It is soothing, energising, frightening, exciting. It puts things in perspective. It is also at risk, our oceans are under enormous pressure. Something I will come back to, but for now my focus is the pebble. The humble, brown, blue, round, pebble.

Bexhill to Bexhill

Pebble collection, Louise Kenward (2014)

My intention for my journey was to make connections, make links. It was to see what unifies us and the things we share around the globe, irrespective of culture, creed, race or language. I have a small collection of stones and pebbles from times in my life and places I have been. I don’t remember the story of them all, and for that I am sad, but they are all important to me. So to collect pebbles along my route was an obvious intention. Travelling ‘light’ the idea of collecting stones in this way was was not very practical. I have picked up my back pack more than once to exclaim ‘what’s in this, rocks?’ only for it to gradually dawn on me that yes, there are certainly a number of stones in it. I have been careful of what I have collected, conscious of what a minefield collecting anything from the beach is in many places. So I hope, I have certainly tried, to be as conscious and aware of this all the time. What I have actually brought back is very little, but each object has been carefully labelled and stored, waiting to be sorted and accompanying stories told.

In addition, I learned to crochet last summer. I wanted to make something along the way. Crochet was an appealing medium. It was a new skill, it was portable, I could make a blanket en route to keep me warm in Canada. The practicality of this was short lived and my task was to find something that would be manageable. My friend bought me a gift from a charity shop and my project was formed…

from Nicole

from Nicole

A trail of breadcrumbs as I have since referred to it, is a trail of pebbles I have found and collected on the way between places called Bexhill and beyond. Crocheting a cover for each one was sufficient ‘intervention’ after which I would replace the now covered pebble where I found it, or would leave it at the next place I arrived. Or an alternative suitable spot. It became a challenge to find the ‘right’ place to leave each one. This became as important as selecting the pebble and making the crochet for it. A very ‘female’ act it felt a surprisingly rebellious thing to do. Crochet is an activity for firesides surely, I have an incredible woman in my family who I have fond memories of in association with crochet. The influence of women on this trip cannot go without comment. Annie (Brassey) is obviously a huge influence, who may or may not have crocheted (it was then considered a ‘poorer’ version of lace making from cursory research). Kate Marsden, another incredible woman from Bexhill. I tried to find trace of Kate through Siberia in her quest for a cure for leprosy but without success. She remains present in her connection with the museum and her adventures. And thus it seemed fitting to use an unapologetic ‘female’ ‘craft’ in my interventions around the world. Two words that can often draw negative connotations in themselves.

So, I launched on my quest from Bexhill (itself a place where crochet is not out of place). A town often known for it’s older population and being slightly old fashioned in many respects, this is one of the reasons I have such affection for the place. Armed with crochet hook and yarn and a book of patterns to follow I headed off to crochet my way around the world. The first week or so was a bit of a whirl of train timetables and deadlines, with little time for dawdling or pondering. Until I reached the Trans Mongolian Train. Here I had five days to do little else but ponder and dawdle, interrupted only by the routine of making tea and noodles, watching for wisps of smoke from the houses in the distance, and an occasional game of ‘Dobble’. Train travel is perfect for pondering, wandering and crochet.

To start with it felt a little clumsy, finding a way of introducing my new found friends and companions to my crochet exploits. I was a little sheepish, it took a while to get used to. It draws attention. Crochet is indeed an act of rebellion, perhaps. My later meeting with the Knitting Nanas was wonderful, a truly incredible bunch of ladies doing wonderful work while also making fabulous woollen items.

And so, the first place we stopped, where I had enough confidence to get off the train and know it would not leave without me, was Omsk. Here I collected my first stone, from the railway tracks…

This time last year…

…I left Bexhill. An hour on the train and 37 miles later and the world awaits. The first and arguably most crucial step, I was escorted by Sam from the Community Rail Partnership. I discover this stretch of line, the ‘Marshlink’ is not a popular route. I am stunned. The gateway to Europe and the world is waiting at (the now renamed) ‘Ashford International’. Since the Channel Tunnel opened, Ashford is the last stop before France, Belgium, Germany, and from there, well anything is possible. Train travel alone can take you to Singapore, India, Central Asia, North Africa.

The ‘Marshlink‘ is a hidden gem, a beautiful journey in itself. I can’t believe I haven’t made this trip before (on leaving the train at Ashford I had already promised myself to take this line more often, mentally planning future travel itineraries). Along the south coast with the shore line and coloured beach huts, and then up into the marshes (as it’s name suggests) with the open landscape of wilderness and wilds. I missed much of the scenery, engaged in animated conversation with Sam, so pledge to return for that part of the trip again. 

Bexhill to Bexhill

Here we go…leaving Bexhill, UK (Louise Kenward, 2013)

Living in the south east of England, it is often under the shadow of London. To travel anywhere you must first reach or cross, or circumnavigate the city. Access to London is fantastic (debates around train services aside), I am grateful it is so close, but to go anywhere else in the UK it’s a time consuming irritant. I recently spent a particularly tedious afternoon rediscovering the M25 between junctions 4 and 5 in great detail. The only direction you can go without encountering the capital’s metropolis is south. When you live on the south coast this is pretty restrictive. The opening of the Channel Tunnel has changed this. Growing up in Kent, I remember writing about the prospect of the Channel Tunnel at school, a fairly fruitless exercise on arguing a debate. I didn’t know very much about it, there were some vague fears about being physically connected to France and the risk of animals with rabies wandering through, security risks and generally being closer to France. I was intrigued by the discovery that this had not been the first time such a venture had been mooted. The first proposal was in 1802. Albert Matieu was a French engineer with ambitions of digging the tunnel by oil lamp and with horse drawn carriage. In 1881 a pilot tunnel was made with a boring machine, stretching 1,893 metres from Shakespeare Cliff, and 1,669 metres from Sangatte. In 81 years the tunnel had made an average of almost 44 metres growth per annum. It did not seem promising. Coincidentally this was also the time Annie Brassey was venturing around the world on the Sunbeam‘. The project was abandoned the following year owing to concerns a tunnel would jeopardise national defence. Sitting in my classroom I did not imagine for a moment it would happen. 2014 brings the twentieth birthday of the Channel Tunnel’s opening.

It was only later I learned that my uncle was involved in it’s construction. An explosives expert, there is a photograph album full of images of rock and dark spaces, wires and labourers as he documented his time there. Often with connected tales of camaraderie and work mates. So I feel some personal connection with the tunnel. Living so close to the entrance the opportunities for travel are amazing and, in part, provided the inspiration for my journey around the world. This time last year I arrived at Ashford, the first section of my journey complete. Small but perfectly formed, and in good company.

Bexhill to Bexhill

Ashford International, Louise Kenward (2013)