To me, The Atkinson is a museum like no other. I am a keen museum-goer, frequenting museums of all types and interests. However, as soon as I entered the Atkinson for the first time, it felt like somewhere special. The surrounding area and external façade are beautiful; set in the backdrop of Lord Street in Southport which is an area full of character and charm harkening back to the Victorian Era. The grand but not overstated building itself echoes this architectural period with more modern designs complimenting the original features of the structure. As visitors walk through the museum, it feels tranquil yet full of life and learning; truly creating a welcoming atmosphere for everyone.
As to what the Atkinson has to offer - it boasts a diverse programme of events, exhibitions and activities. Although I will be focusing on the museum housed in this grand building, it is worth noting that the building also contains the town’s main library, art galleries, education rooms, as well as a theatre and studio for live events.
The museum comprises collections of two themes. These being ‘Between Land & Sea: 10,000 years of Sefton’s Coast’ and ‘Discover Ancient Egypt’.Between Land & Sea: 10,000 years of Sefton’s Coast
The former is the regional collection which tells the stories of the local residents and businesses. This exhibition is split over three rooms and covers various types of local culture. The entire exhibition focuses on Southport as a coastal resort and town with the themes being split into: the irresistible coast, the abundant coast, the inspirational coast, the healthy coast and the stylish coast.
As you enter the beginning of this exhibition, you are transported to the time of our ancestors, surrounded by stone tools which are over 8,000 years old found along the coast. Next, the abundant coast provides a look into the wealth of seafood in the area, with shrimping, cockling and fishing providing a generous supply of seafood.
The next part of the exhibition focuses on the cultural achievements and backdrop of the town. The inspirational coast explores the victories of the land speed records in motor racing, as well as the illustrious creators who came from Southport which include but are not limited to: Frank Hornby who was the creator of Meccano, and Frank Hampson who was the creator of the Dan Dare magazine series. Lastly, the exhibition focuses on the important role of Southport in the late 19th century to the early 20th century when tourists flocked to the coast to bathe and take in the sea air. Southport acted as a resort, with this part of the exhibition looking at the influx of theatres, restaurants and hotel chains to the area.
Highlights of this exhibit include: the extensive photographic archive which shows many aspects of local life, memorabilia commemorating the famous horse Red Rum who won the 1973, 1974 and 1977 Grand Nationals, and a reconstruction of a shrimp cart, made with the same traditional methods as were used in the past.Discover Ancient Egypt
The second exhibition is a fabulous Egyptology collection with a local connection of its own. This collection of objects came into existence due to a Victorian lady named Anne Goodison who was deeply fascinated with all things ancient Egyptian. Anne was born in 1845 and later married local engineer George Goodison. Interestingly, the famous home of Everton Football Club, Goodison Park, was named after the road it was built on - the one that Goodison himself had laid the sewage system for.
The Goodison couple travelled to Egypt twice in 1886-87 and again in 1890-91. It was due to these trips that Anne became enamoured with the delights that Egypt had to offer. These travels resulted in Anne setting up a museum in the Goodison home which contained a substantial collection of over 1,000 objects. When Anne passed away, her husband sold the collection to the Bootle Museum and Art Gallery. After this museum closed in the 1970’s, the collection was transferred to Southport, where it is still housed to this day.
The Egyptology collection includes a vast array of artefacts from a wide range of time periods and locations. The exhibition is all housed in one room, but this is split with wall dividers to create four distinct themes across the collection: ritual, everyday life, beauty, and communication in ancient Egypt.
In the first theme of ritual, there are objects such as shabtis, ceramic vessels, figurines, tomb models, offering trays, canopic jars, a coffin lid, and a coffin containing a mummy. These objects are used to show and describe the funerary practices of the ancient Egyptians. With so many objects within the collection, extra drawers have been inserted into display cabinets to allow visitors to pull out more objects for viewing.
The second theme of beauty showcases a wide range of objects that pertain to how ancient Egyptians adorned themselves. Included in this part of the exhibition are: sandals, mirrors, palettes, amulets, beads and necklaces. At the back of this particular part of the exhibit, there is also a handy dress-up box for children and an ancient smelling station with the aromas of various spices.
Everyday life is also a key theme in the exhibit with displays focusing on all kinds of activities from bathing to baking. Objects included are: a reconstructed senet board game, fire sticks, headrests, baskets, grain remains, glassware and lamps. A short film can be found in the centre of the exhibit which tells the life stories of a young Egyptian boy and girl.
Last of all, the theme of communication looks at the way in which the Egyptians would have corresponded directly with one another but also how they communicated beyond the grave through stelae. Stelae were slabs of wood or stone which had inscriptions, reliefs or paintings regarding the deceased owner. This part of the exhibit predominantly contains such stelae, but also cylinder seals, monumental inscription fragments and a coffin panel. A huge interactive wall runs along the left-hand side of this part of the exhibition. Four blocks in the shape of hieroglyphs can be placed into their corresponding sunken characters on the wall to activate videos and soundbites. This is always a firm favourite with younger visitors!
A highlight of this exhibit includes a set of three figurines called paddle dolls consisting of wooden figures lavishly decorated and adorned with a beaded network for hair. This type of figurine is fairly rare in the record, with under one hundred confirmed in the global, modern corpus. Therefore, The Atkinson collection owning three such figurines is highly remarkable. Another highlight has to be the extensive collection of written material that make up the communication theme of the museum. The collection contains everything from the written name of the famous Pharaoh Akhenaten, to the New Kingdom stela of a man called Amenhotep and his son Piay, to cylindrical seals of all varieties which would have been used to label objects and correspondence.
The museum is continually working to improve the way in which all visitors are able to access the museum, with accessibility and inclusion being key aspects to the museum’s own ethos.
The museum even has its own in-house inclusion team who work alongside museum staff to consider and implement necessary adjustments to exhibitions, making them as inclusive as possible. Changes have been made to signage, labelling, museum operations and resources to provide a truly open experience.
Additionally, permanent and temporary exhibitions alike have benefitted from access friendly resources and infrastructure such as audio-visual equipment, tactile panelling, autism-inclusive areas and pre-visit signposting on the museum’s own website to allow the visitor to familiarise themselves with the building.
The museum is open 10am-4pm Monday to Saturday, with the rest of the building remaining open until 5pm. The museum is closed on Sundays and Bank Holidays.
The Atkinson is in the centre of Southport, with access via trains directly from Liverpool and Manchester. Buses also run regularly between these two cities and Southport. From the train station, it is only a 5-minute walk to The Atkinson itself.
The Atkinson is completely accessible to everyone, with all areas of the building being wheelchair-friendly and containing lifts to every floor. Facilities at the museum include free Wi-Fi, seating, a café and gift shop.
All the permanent exhibitions are completely free to visit in the museum, yet from time to time the occasional temporary art exhibition may have a small charge. The majority of the day-time talks, workshops and events are also completely free and open for everyone!
It is also worth noting that non-flash photography and recording is permitted for personal use in all the museum display areas.
If you get the chance to visit The Atkinson in Southport I would recommend it entirely. The proximity of this town museum to large cities such as Liverpool or Manchester makes it an ideal place to visit for anyone visiting or living within the UK.
As a previous visitor myself and someone who has volunteered for the museum, I have been able to see the amazing work and initiatives being carried out at this gem of a museum. It is a cultural hub that promotes art and culture in many varying forms in the humblest of ways.
If you would like more information on what the Atkinson has to offer, or to ask any questions about the museum, the website and contact details are:Website: https://www.theatkinson.co.uk/
Megan Clark is a PhD candidate at the University of Liverpool where she studies Egyptology. She regularly volunteers at a range of museums including the Atkinson and hopes to pursue a career in museums and heritage in the future.Twitter: @meganclark1111