Unearthing our local Heritage

Events History Wildlife Archaeology Science Geology

Our local museums in Brighton & Hove hold evidence for the human and natural history of The Living Coast, the Brighton and Lewes Downs UNESCO World Biosphere Region.

The geology collections in Brighton Museum and Booth Museum can be traced back to the members of the Brighton Royal Literary and Scientific Society and the Brighton and Sussex Natural History Society who founded both museums in the mid 19th century. These rocks and minerals tell us about the geology of The Living Coast, and the extensive fossil collection shows the species and plants that inhabited the living coast as far back as 100 million years ago, all of which predate humans and are now extinct.

Fossil Fish in Chalk from Upper Cretaceous period (Booth Museum)

Turning to biology, the founder of the Booth Museum of Birds was Thomas Edward Booth, a taxidermist and collector who bequeathed his museum to Brighton Corporation in 1890. He had set himself the task of collecting every single species of bird that inhabited the country. This historic collection features birds he collected in The Living Coast, many of which can still be seen today.

Other local species that can be viewed at Booth are butterflies and other insects, pressed plants, invertebrates and marine material. The Booth today has ‘Designated Status, a scheme which recognises collections which are of national and international significance. The collections support scientific enquiry and help our understanding of human impact on the environment. Some of these collections are not on show and can be seen by appointment only.

Skeleton gallery at the Booth Museum with whale found on Brighton Beach in the 1930s

A new archaeology gallery is planned for Brighton Museum & Art Gallery that will reflect human evolution and history in The Living Coast over the last quarter of a million years. It charts the arrival of early species of humans hunting large Ice Age game along the coast, and the gradual change in lifestyle of our ancestors from hunter gatherers to farmers beginning to settle on the land in local communities.

Examining the objects in the archaeology collections shows how The Living Coast has supported human progress through this period. The abundance of flint along the coast is evidenced by the number and variety of stone tools created for all manner of day-to-day tasks including hunting, food preparation and creating wooden shelters. The arrival of pottery, represented in the collection by thousands of pottery shards and some very early complete pots, illustrates the effect this new technology had on our lifestyle and diet in terms of the storage and cooking of our food. The later appearance of metal weapons, tools and personal objects not only shows us the arrival of new skills and cultures along The Living Coast but hints at a very close relationship that local communities had with the Continent. The gallery is scheduled to open in summer 2018.

A reconstruction by Ian Dennis of the Whitehawk causewayed enclosure c. 3,600 cal BC (reproduced from Whittle, Healy and Bayliss 2011; fig. 1.3)

The Living Coast has also attracted many artists. Find out about Brighton & Hove Museum’s Fine Art Collectionsand the works in Brighton & Hove’s Museums and Galleries. At Brighton Museum, the images in the Brighton Gallery explore Brighton’s history as a fishing town in medieval times, its transformation to a health resort in the 1700s, through to its reputation today as a tolerant and fashionable city by the sea.

One of the most famous artists to have worked in Brighton and Hove is John Constable, who stayed here with his family between 1824 and 1828 during which time he produced around 150 works. These pictures belong to other museums and private collectors, and some of those which were inspired by his time in The Living Coast can be seen in a temporary exhibition at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery which is on display until October.

Chain Pier, Brighton, 1826-7, John Constable (1776-1837), (c) Tate, London 2016

Don’t miss the opportunity for a trip back in time!

Janita Bagshawe
Head of Royal Pavilion & Museums

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Nature 2020

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