November 2017


LATEST ON THE TIMELINE : From Bridge Farm to Westham, the untold story of Pevensey School


On 13 November 1865, the beaching of a 71 foot long Finback Whale, the weight of eight double decker bushes, brought crowds to Pevensey Bay

Estimates vary about the number of people that came to see the whale, with some newspaper reports suggesting that as many as 40,000 people witnessed the event. The incident was advertised by the publicity department of the London and Brighton and South Coast railway. Many people alighted from trains at what was called the Pevensey Sluice, jumping down from the carriages at the impromptu stop.

One of the stories embedded in the local psyche looks set to become an international bestseller with the launch of the new Cambridge Museum of Zoology ‘Whale Hall’. It is to make the skeleton of the Pevensey Whale, which it has owned since 1866, the star attraction.

The architecturally stunning two storey ‘Whale Hall’ has attracted £1.8 million Lottery Funds.

The project, pre-launched to the national media this coming November, the 150th anniversary of the event, is planned to open to the public in November 2016, with a final price tag of £5.9 million, putting the museum and the iconic whale skeleton centre stage, as an interpretive experience related to whales, to rival any museum in the country.

Local history project, the Pevensey Timeline Association, lottery funded in 2014 with a small grant of £7,368, has been chosen by the Cambridge Museum of Zoology to partner voluntary research at a local level about the story of the beaching of the whale.

Talking to the association, Tracy Biram, responsible for external marketing & communications with the University Museum of Zoology in Cambridge said, ‘as you are most likely aware, we are the home of the famous Finback whale that washed up in Pevensey. This coming November marks the 150th anniversary of the Whale beaching at Norman’s Bay’.

‘As you also may be aware, our Museum is currently in the middle of a massive Heritage Lottery Fund-supported redevelopment. One of the highlights of this refurbishment will be the construction of the Whale Hall – an extension that will not only be the new public entrance to the Museum but the new home of the Finback skeleton’.

‘We are in the process of devising a fundraising campaign to help pay for the re-hanging of the Whale (and the redisplay of some of our other specimens) and we are trying to gather as much information as possible about the Whale and its story’.

Tracy added, ‘it would be brilliant if the association would like to participate in the project with research done at a local level with regard to any new details that could be discovered behind the story’.

She explained that the prestigious institution plans a visit to Pevensey in the summer of 2015 in the company of Chris Watson, an internationally renowned seascape artist.

“The Ocean Song project includes at its core a series of 20 workshops with people from across Cambridge and beyond, where we will be exploring the sounds of nature, how animals produce and perceive sounds, and exploring our own voices and the sounds we can make. Recordings will be made of these voices of the community, and combined with natural sounds, including recordings of the ocean at Pevensey, to create an atmospheric sound installation for the new Whale Hall”.

“The sound installation is being created by award winning sound recorder and artist Chris Watson, known for his work on David Attenborough’s “Life” series and “Frozen Planet”, as well as work for radio, and creating sound pieces for Museums and other cultural institutions”.

The importance of the story and national launch of Whale Hall in Cambridge has not escaped the attention of a number of businesses in the Bay.

An enterprising local company is planning to open a new service in the Bay that will see the iconic visualisation of ‘Whale Hall’ as its interior backdrop, together with a storyboard sequence on the walls that will tell the story of the day that one of the largest finback whales in the world was found washed up on the nearby shoreline.

Pevensey Parish Council is looking at the possibility of a Whale sculpture to be commissioned in the Sea Road car park, which could become a tourist attraction of some description.. Councillor Bob Peasgood, on hearing the news about the plans for the new Museum in Cambridge said ‘the idea to commission a Whale sculpture locally is a brilliant one’, adding, ‘we have been looking at the possibility of some kind of sculpture, and this could be the catalyst’.

The story of the Pevensey Whale could become a new addition to the local nostalgia driven locality. Pevensey Bay is already an interesting day attraction and traditional holiday destination that has been valued for at least three generations, with its traditional bucket and spade mentality and old school charm.

Sat amongst the old groynes in the company of friends and loved ones, with its spectacular sunsets, the small resort and its particularity, has long been appreciated by the cognoscenti.

Four volunteers from the Pevensey Timeline Association are now trawling the records, local history books and newspaper archives looking for details and accounts of the story of the Pevensey Whale. They have already turned up a priceless gem, that is being heralded as a re-discovery of an extraordinary kind.

A newspaper cutting dating in 1932, includes a letter recalling a childhood memory from the late 1860s, in which a rhyme is recalled ‘sung by children in the villages about the Whale’. The Association has every reason to believe that this was a skipping rhyme, very likely to have been sung by the side of the Whale in 1865.

Tracy Biram at the University Museum of Zoology in Cambridge described the value of the re-discovery to the team behind the planning of ‘Whale Hall’. ‘Thank you so much, this is fantastic. Everyone on the team is so excited about this’.

One possible plan is that the skipping rhyme, which may not have been heard since the Whale was beached in 1865, is to be recreated by Pevensey schoolchildren this August when ‘LIfe on Earth’ sound recordist Chris Watson comes to the locality, to form part of the Whale Hall experience when it opens.

Talking about the development with voluntary research at a local level on behalf of the Cambridge Museum of Zoology, Dianne Dear, chair of the Pevensey Timeline Association said;

“This really is an exciting development for us as an association”, adding “It is validation of all the hard work that has gone into the teaching aspect of the project and the production level technical work and the way in which our tutors, have put so much into seeing that the spark has been ignited here with local historical research.’

“To have been chosen to partner the launch of the £1.8 million ‘Whale Hall’ at the University Museum of Zoology in Cambridge at a local level with some research, is a tribute to everyone who is putting so much work into seeing that the Pevensey Timeline becomes a sustainable success”.

Will the Whale of a Tale transform the fortunes of the Bay, injecting a much needed new element into the fragile local economic landscape?

The skeleton of the famous Whale is currently in storage. The £5.9 million price tag for the Cambridge Museum of Zoology, with one of the largest finback whales in the world ever beached, is a story that has been waiting to be retold to a new generation of museum goers across the country.

With the national publicity that will surround the launch of ‘Whale Hall’ and all interpretative power that the best money can buy, to promote the project, it seems inevitable that the story of the Pevensey Whale will reach a much wider audience.

Rhyme and reason suggests that we will be hearing more about the Pevensey Whale. The story of one of the most famous finback whale beachings in the world looks set to come home to where it all began.

The 150th anniversary of the beaching of the Pevensey Whale is on 13 November 2015. Whale Hall in Cambridge is planned to open to the public in 2016.

image courtesy Nicholas Hare Architects
The Finback Whale skeleton displayed in the new Whale Hall