On a mild, sunny, autumn afternoon in October, The New Meridian Group Organisers Association gathered in Bournemouth for their inaugural meeting. We split into two groups for our familiarisation visit to the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum. After spending a lot of time in Bournemouth including working there for over 12 months, it is a place I hadn’t visited before and I was really curious to see what it has to offer visitors.
The art gallery and museum is situated on the public footpath as you come from Bournemouth Pier towards the East Cliff. Bournemouth’s town centre, gardens and pier are all in the a valley with the West Cliff, going towards Poole and the East Cliff going towards Boscombe Pier rising up on both sides. The East Cliff and West Cliff have many hotels of different standards, many with views from Old Harry Rocks in the West to Hengistbury Head in the east, and are really popular tourist areas. We walked past the new memorial for FT Lt John Egging, the unfortunate Red Arrows Pilot who crashed over Christchurch during the Annual Bournemouth Air Show.
I lead the second group the short walk from the hotel to the museum, where we were met at the gate by Mel and her Colleague from Bournemouth Tourism and our guide Ruaridhri. The gardens looked great in the autumnal sunshine.
In 1901 Merton Russell-Cotes, who owned the nearby Royal Bath Hotel, gave his wife, Annie her dream house on the cliff tops in the relatively new resort of Bournemouth. As avid travellers they filled the house with their souvenirs of their travels around the globe, works of art and curiousities. The house was extremely modern for its time, with central heating, buttons around the house to ring at the hotel and the hotel staff would bring tea, or serve their dinner. The house even had the first telephone in Bournemouth with the phone number “Bournemouth 1”.
The success of the newly refurbished hotel made Merton and Annie very wealthy. The couple were very active in the political and social circles in the town. They gave the town several gifts including the freehold to East Cliff House, which is home to the museum today with a more modern extension added to the house.
Unfortunately, we only had a short whistle-stop tour, which is what familiarisation visit should be about – just enough to make you want to return with group. I would difinently return again as I didn’t get a chance to explore the new modern part f the building with the art gallery, café and shop in it. To be honest the museum is a feast for the senses, there is so much to take in, the views for the windows, the lavish decoration, as well as paintings on every wall, and the objects on display. It is a very unique museum with a fascinating collection of art and Victorian artifacts in a breath taking position overlooking the whole stretch of Bournemouth coast line, a view I don’t think you can tire of.
The group rate at the museum is good value, and you can have refreshments in the café including afternoon tea. I would add this to an itinerary either at the start or end of the day if travelling by coach, however fitter groups could easily walk to the museum, even coming from West Cliff, a popular area for hotels, along the promenade past the beach huts and pier with the golden sand and ocean to look at, making it a good way to saviour the seaside air that Bournemouth was famous for in the Victorian times.