Monday, 3 October 2016
How quickly the three years of a university education fly by! It seems only yesterday that I first made the journey with my daughter along the south coast to Brighton, to the University of Sussex open day for prospective undergraduates. This summer she graduated and I did the return trip for the final time with all her accumulated stuff loaded into the back of the car.
Having no real reason to do that drive again (or desire, the A27 not having become one of my favourite routes across the country) I needed to seize a last opportunity to visit the Booth Museum, something I'd meant to do on every previous visit to Brighton, but always somehow failed to accomplish. Although I will generally go out of my way to visit any collection of stuffed birds and animals and natural history curiosa, I think I was probably fairly sure it would turn out to be small, tatty, over-interpreted for parties of children, and not really worth the effort.
I was pleasantly surprised. The collection is much larger than I expected, deployed in glass cases down two very long corridors, which enclose a couple of small rooms of skeletons, rocks and fossils, and a replica of a Victorian naturalist's living room. Unfortunately the lighting is dim and the angles of view are limited, so I took what photographs I could, and simply enjoyed some classic Victorian dioramas, a form of museum display Booth is credited with inventing. It's a static collection, now, pretty much as bequeathed by Booth to Brighton Council in 1890, but that is what gives it its considerable charm.
What can you say about Edward Thomas Booth, Victorian naturalist-exterminator, other than that his was a splendid example of what happens when a completist head-case is armed to the teeth, and determined to bag at least one of each variation of every feathered thing living on these islands for his collection of taxidermy? The man must have stunk of gunpowder. Mind you, he was also a heavy drinker and, being a bit of a misanthrope, an equal-opportunity exterminator. He is said to have turned his gun on another hunter in the Norfolk Broads for having had the damned cheek to come too close. He even took pot-shots at passing postmen from his home on Dyke Road in Brighton – named by him, would you believe, Bleak House – which is where the museum is now housed.