The Museum of Shops, Eastbourne
The Museum Of Shops is sign-posted all over Eastbourne. It really whets your appetite. What an intriguing name. What could this place be? And it doesn't disappoint when you get there. It's spread over four floors in a townhouse not far from the seafront, in a quiet bit of town.
It's a massive 100,000 bit collection of, well, stuff, from the last hundred and fifty years of shops and consumption. Packaging, advertising, products, signage, clothes, ephemera, everything. The collection is crammed into themed displays with emotive mannequins acting out the part of shopkeepers. See Mr Barton in his well-stocked Grocer’s Shop. Check out the now long-gone treats available in the Sweet Shop. The Edwardian Kitchen is like a scene from Upstairs, Downstairs and the Wartime display will remind everyone large and small that we’ve never had it so good.
The focus seems to be mostly on the first half of the 20th century; if you're a thirty or forty year-old, you won't find much actual nostalgia to bathe in, but that's better in a way. You don't spend your whole time shouting 'Look! Spangles!' you actually look and think.
The museum was created by Jan and Graham Upton over a period of 50 years. They've done it really nicely. There's none of the compulsory interactivity that seems mandatory in museums nowadays. And no real attempt to create some historical context. You just gawp at the stuff and soak up the atmosphere. But it works really well, the overwhelming effect of the densely-packed sheer mass of stuff soon fades and you get to peer at the revealing little details. The tiny shop format is the perfect way to organise it – like full-size doll houses. This is a great place to pass some time.