A 'must sea' exhibition at St Albans Museum + Gallery for the summer holidays

HMS Verulam crew 1947

HMS Verulam crew 1947 - Credit: St Albans Museums

A 'must sea' exhibition at St Albans Museum + Gallery is currently revealing the city's nautical history.

Despite St Albans being over 40 miles from the nearest coastline, the city has enjoyed strong links to the sea since Roman times.

From the six HMS St Albans ships to the Sea God mosaic in Verulamium, the current ‘St Albans On Sea’ exhibition at St Albans Museum + Gallery provides a fascinating insight.

St Albans On Sea Exhibition is currently on at the St Albans Museum + Gallery.

St Albans On Sea Exhibition is currently on at the St Albans Museum + Gallery. - Credit: Stephen Burke Photography

The immersive exhibition begins on the beach, where visitors can discover the city’s straw hat making industry, before discovering some natural history in the shallows and braving the deeper waters to discover the many ships named HMS St Albans and HMS Verulam.

HMS Verulam crew 1947

HMS Verulam crew 1947 - Credit: St Albans Museums

Sarah Keeling, curator at St Albans Museum + Gallery, said: “It is astonishing that a city so far from the coast has so many links to the sea.

"A real highlight of the exhibition is a beautiful, restored model ship made by a Napoleonic Prisoner of War who was held in the Abbey Gateway. This would not have been possible without a grant from Headley Trust, and we are incredibly grateful. It is the very first time the ship will be on display in its full conserved state as part of an exhibition.”

Napoleonic prisoner of war model

Napoleonic prisoner of war model - Credit: St Albans Museums

Entry is free and the exhibition runs until November 6.

You can make a sock seagull 

You can make a sock seagull - Credit: St Albans Museums

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As part of the St Albans On Sea experience, there are lots of fun family events to join, including 'Make a Sock Seagull' where children can transform a sock into their very own seagull buddy to take on the 'Seagull Search' around the museum.

Junk boat modelling 

Junk boat modelling - Credit: St Albans Museums

Or kids can have a go at 'Junk Boat Modelling' where they can test their creative skills by building their very own 'Junk Boat' from recycling materials, decorating it and the putting it to the test.

Find out more and activity dates at www.stalbansmuseums.org.uk 

The St Albans On Sea exhibition

As far back as Roman times, the inhabitants of Verulamium realised transporting goods by sea was far quicker than even their enterprising road network.

Archaeologists have found goods from all over the Roman Empire in Verulamium, some as far away as the area of modern-day Palestine, which is 4,000 kilometres (2,500 miles) away.

Sea-themed motifs can be seen in some mosaics at Verulamium, including the ‘Sea God’ mosaic which may depict the face of the god Oceanus.

St Albans Clock Tower played a vital role during the Napoleonic War.

Operating as a high speed ‘shutter telegraph’ for the Admiralty, it was one of 17 stations linking Whitehall with the North Sea Fleet at Great Yarmouth and assisting in the delivery of short messages in around 15 minutes.

St Albans’ links to ships has continued through the years. There have been six HMS St Albans ships, the first dating back to 1687, and two named HMS Verulam.

RNLB St Albans

RNLB St Albans - Credit: St Albans Museums

In 1920, a St Albans branch of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution opened and there have been three RNLB St Albans boats.

From the 1870s onwards, trips to the seaside from St Albans were more accessible and affordable due to the rise of firms such as Thomas Cook and the opening of St Albans City Station in 1868.

The exhibition includes a delightful collection of souvenirs, seaside clothing, postcards and photographs from local residents dating back to 1898.

A straw boater would have been essential on any trip to the beach.

St Albans became a thriving centre for straw hat manufacturing until 1937, after which fashions changed.

JJ. Kershaw, the city’s first purpose-built factory, was built in 1880 and as demand for straw hats grew factories popped up all over the city. 

Farhana Begum, museums business manager at St Albans Museums, said: “This new exhibition is a fascinating look at a lesser explored side of St Albans’ story.

"Delightful and intriguing in equal measure, it is sure to interest local historians as well as families looking for fun over the upcoming holidays. 

“We’re particularly thrilled to be able to bring objects and artefacts from the city’s impressive collection out of storage and display them for all to enjoy.

"We felt it was important to highlight how locals have connected with the sea for thousands of years and we hope visitors take the exhibition as an opportunity to consider the impact we are having on our changing coastline”

In addition to the historic content of the exhibition, visitors can have fun dressing up and enjoy old film footage of holidays by the sea.

There is even a working shutter telegraph so you can send a message to a friend across the exhibition.

Find out more at www.stalbansmuseums.org.uk