Museum of… Crab Museum, Margate
Housed on the first floor of a former pie factory, the Crab Museum is in Margate, Kent, not far from the Turner Contemporary gallery and Dreamland funfair. “We opened in October 2022, in the ‘off-season’, which gave us time to iron out some of the creases before the summer,” says Ned Suesat-Williams, one of the three co-directors and a crab enthusiast.
“The museum is the result of a good few years of wanting to create a space in Margate where people could learn about science in a fun, accessible way,” says Suesat-Williams. “We knew we wanted to start a project that tried to find alternative ways of thinking about the climate crisis, but we weren’t sure how. An interdisciplinary science museum, which is necessarily linked to the political world, seemed a good idea.
We started the project in Covid and didn’t get much chance to visit other museums. We’re not museum people. The museum is free so we’re funded by donations from visitors and gift-shop sales. Our initial funding came from our own, now depleted, savings. Once we decided to make it happen, each of the three directors spent a year earning money to plough into it.”
The museum has a small permanent collection that includes some fossils and taxidermy. “The real museum part is the conversations we have with the public,” says Suesat-Williams. “Perhaps the most innovative aspect is our digital microscope, which we use to examine specimens we find on the beach and affectionately call ‘The Crustacean Identification and Magnification Station’. It is a big hit with kids and adults alike, mostly because when we examine sand samples from the beach, which is a three-minute walk away, they’re able to see the microdiversity of their local area.
It’s like magic, and once they’re glued to the screen we can have conversations with them about whatever tangent they feel like pursuing. These range widely from microplastics to trade embargos on spider crabs or invasive green crabs in the Yukon, for example.”
“People often say how much they enjoy the hallway, which has a to-scale representation of all life on Earth in it, where each one millimetre represents one million years, but there is such a variety of exhibits that people often take away different things from their experience,” says Suesat-Williams.
“Perhaps one of our stand-out exhibits is Crabton-on-Tyne, a model English village set in 1926, beset by the twin spectres of Bolshevism and the suffragette movement, and populated by crabs wearing hats and eating cucumber sandwiches.”
Help at hand
The museum has a small number of volunteers who help out at the counter, chatting with the public and going through worksheets with children. Other than that, there are only the three co-directors, who all have separate day jobs.
Suesat-Williams says: “Take it slowly, be nice to yourself, don’t prioritise the museum over your mental health, call in every single favour you’ve ever been owed, and never expect to make any money.”
“We’re planning on taking the museum into schools and community groups,” says Suesat-Williams.