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Kent Archaeological Review extract

The Powell-Cotton Museum, Birchington.
by Christopher Powell-Cotton.

This Museum is the creation of the late Major P H G Powell-Cotton who died in 1940. Between 1887 and 1939 he travelled widely in Africa and Asia, making some 28 collecting expeditions. His initial interest lay in big game hunting and exploration, but later widened to include ethnography. He was a good field naturalist, a keen and sympathetic observer and a systematic recorder of animals and their habits and of the primitive peoples with whom he came in contact. He made an, unrivalled personal collection of the larger mammals of Africa and Asia and of ethnographical material from the regions he visited; these collections have been extended by members of his family. The Museum was begun as a single gallery in 1896, but was enlarged in his life time to, comprise three large rooms; the main feature is seven large dioramas containing fine whole mounted specimens of most of the larger African and Asian mammals, including elephant, rhinoceros, giraffe, buffalo, lion and tiger; these are displayed against a representation of their normal habitat. Major Powell-Cotton was a pioneer in the relation of such museum exhibits to their natural background.

He endowed the Museum, as a trust and since the war, the Trustees and Governors, who include representatives of national museums, of the local authorities and of his family, have been able to carry on his work and to add two rooms, one of which is used as a cinema hall. Two further galleries are now being built and should be finished in the autumn, although the arrangement of the exhibits will take upwards of two years to complete. These extensions have made it possible to increase the ethnographical material on display; the new galleries are designed to facilitate a greater separation of the different collections and the elimination of unsatisfactory floor cases. Although the natural history exhibits remain the Museum's most popular and striking feature, and equally the extensive series of skins, skulls and skeletons, especially of the African primates and including many type specimens, are the principal attraction to zoologists, the fine collections of artifacts from Africa and Asia are of great interest both to the ordinary visitor and to the student. Many are illustrated by photographs and generally these ethnographical series give a good indication of aspects of life in undeveloped communities. The Museum possesses and shows to suitable audiences cinema films of ethnographical interest and also animal films to schools and to the general public.

Secondary exhibits include examples of Stone Age culture from Australasia and the Pacific and a small archaeological series. Local archaeology was one of Major Powell-Cotton's varied interests. Some of the more important items are a collection of different Bronze Age palstaves found in a pit at the old brick-field near the Birchington Primary School, a Saxon glass from Howletts, Bekesbourne, 'tin' money from Quex and a rather larger series of Early Iron Age material from Minnis Bay. The Roman and Romano-British periods are represented in the permanent display, but during 1967 a temporary exhibition is being held of Romano-British and Belgic finds from the Drapers Mills site at Margate, on loan from the Thanet Excavation Group. There is limited additional material available for study by prior arrangement. Other display cases contain antique firearms, Chinese and Japanese porcelain and bronzes and miscellaneous items from the Powell-Cotton family collection; old cannon are disposed around the buildings.

The Museum is situated in the grounds of Quex Park, about one mile south of Birchington Square. The entrance is in Park Lane (B2048) and is sign-posted. The Museum is open to the public every Thursday afternoon throughout the year, in June, July, August and September, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons and during the school summer holidays, Tuesday to Friday inclusive. Hours are, 2.30 to 6 p.m. Admission charges: Adults 2 shillings, children 1 shilling, There is an adequate car park and frequent East Kent buses run to Birchington Square and the Number 70 passes the entrance in Park Lane. Parties are admitted at reduced fees in normal working hours on any weekday by arrangement with the Curator, Mr L R Barton, Phone Thanet 42168, and exceptionally such visits may be arranged in the evenings and at week-ends but at higher rates. Parties are normally conducted round the collections by the Curator and are given a film show.

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