The poor state of the Ramsgate Maritime Museum building and damage to pieces in the collection inside has been slammed by Thanet councillor and heritage enthusiast Tony Ovenden.
Cllr Ovenden, who is involved with cataloguing historic Thanet artefacts, has highlighted not only the damage to the Clock House structure but the deterioration of artefacts within.
These include a medal loaned to the museum which is oxidising and has mould on the ribbon and its box.
Thanet council owns the freehold of the Clock House – where the museum is based- and Smeaton Dry Dock in Ramsgate. Both are Grade II* Listed. However, The Clock House was placed on the Historic England Buildings at Risk register last year.
Thanet council granted a 25 year full repairing and insuring lease for the site to The Steam Museum Trust (SMT) in April 2012 at a peppercorn rent. This lease expires on January 31, 2037.
The terms stipulate that the Trust start repair works between April 2013 and March 2017. To date that repair work has not taken place. The works are estimated to cost in the region of £250,000, excluding professional fees and VAT.
Cllr Ovenden said: “The clock house is in a shocking state, the items within it that just happen to be our heritage are suffering appalling neglect. The place is damp, poorly ventilated and nowhere near to the standard a museum of that status should be run. Conservation measures are non existent.
“The medal was loaned to the maritime museum in good faith. It represents one of the chapters of our maritime heritage. It is not being cared for. The ribbon and box are going mouldy and the medal is oxidising, causing irreversible damage.
“A building can be repaired, a museum can be relocated . It is the collection that is important. Damage to the collection due to lack of care and the loss of provenance is permanent.
“In the museum collection are TDC loan items. I have asked TDC to look into the fact that their loan items are not being looked after to the correct museum conservation standards like their collection in the Margate museum for example. At the Margate museum the Margate museums trust that look after the collection are working to accredited museum conservation standards. Something that is absent at the Ramsgate maritime museum.”
The care and ownership of the collection is the responsibility of the Steam Museum Trust which took over from the East Kent Maritime.
Prior to the take over EKMT received a legacy from a former trustee Robert Butler, worth some £300,000, to develop the maritime museum for educational purposes.
In 2008 The Ramsgate Maritime Museum was closed. EKMT became defunct and care of the steam tug Cervia and museum was taken over by SMT, under the trusteeship of Michael List Brain, after the lease was signed.
The museum closed again and then reopened in 2015 with volunteers on a seasonal basis. The SMT and The Ramsgate Society put forward proposals for the repair and complete restoration of The Clock House building; the reorganisation and curation of the Maritime Museum Collection by creating a modern heritage centre and exhibition space; the repair and restoration of the Smeaton Dry Dock, the steam tug Cervia – which is currently up for sale – and the historic boat The Sundowner; improvements to the Pier Yard car park, possibly a pop-up cafe and bar and the creation of a business plan to secure the long term sustainable financial future for the project.
That year The Ramsgate Society secured a grant of £25,000 from the Coastal Revival Fund to procure architects plans, condition surveys, cost reports and a sustainable business plan for the project. The work was completed as part of a Heritage Lottery Fund Stage 1 Bid. The total value of the bid was to be circa £3million.
Following discussions SMT agreed to assign the lease to The Ramsgate Society and Heads of Agreement are currently agreed in principle.
However, this exchange requires the prior written approval of TDC as the owner of the building. The council is also needed to act as the accountable body for the HLF bid but declined to do that in June 2017.
But The Ramsgate Society is not giving up and chairman John Walker has a meeting scheduled with the council on February 26 to try and secure the backing for a renewed HLF bid.
Mr Walker says the scheme could be delivered as part of Ramsgate’s Heritage Action Zone designation. It is a move that Cllr Ovenden says he will support as it is a new approach and will include stakeholders.
Mr Walker said: “We are trying very hard to make this happen. Our next step is the meeting with Thanet council’s chief executive to ask if we can now get Thanet council support for what we are trying to do.
“The Royal Navy museum is keen for artefacts to remain in Ramsgate so they are supporting our bid.”
Three items from the collection of Stirling Castle artefacts, which is under the stewardship of The Isle of Thanet Archaeological Society, are being cared for by the National Museum of the Royal Navy for safe keeping at Portsmouth.
The Ramsgate Society proposal includes a museum and heritage centre with five gallery areas, a terrace and mechanical interactive exhibits on various historical themes. It would be a combination of renovation and new build,
In the proposal it states: “The Clock House presents an exciting opportunity to develop a heritage centre which enables visitors to explore Ramsgate’s maritime and social history.
The surrounding Harbour and dry dock is of significant heritage value and would greatly benefit from a centre where visitors can access information and interpretation.
The proposed centre should compliment rather than compete with existing museums and places of interest, encouraging visitors and residents alike to explore the historic town.”
The SMT lease terms state if the repair works are not completed by April 2022 then Thanet council could terminate the agreement. This would bring the Clock Tower, and the associated costs of repairing it, under TDC’s responsibility.
The SMT and Thanet council have been contacted for a response.