Andy Wilson © The River & Rowing Museum

Weather forces museums to close

Simon Stephens, 12.02.2014
But most venues escape serious flooding
A number of museums have been hit by the floods that have plunged large areas of England into chaos.

The River and Rowing Museum in Henley-on-Thames has been forced to close for the second time this year due to flooding. The museum had to shut for a week in early January and has been closed again since Saturday as water levels have risen again.

“We are very fortunate that the building itself is dry, and David Chipperfield's brilliant design, with an elevated structure on stilts, is working well in extremely testing conditions,” said River and Rowing Museum marketing manager Catherine Yoxall.

“Our problem is that we are unable to get anywhere near the building and it simply wouldn't be safe to expect our staff to try to get in. I understand that water levels in our car park have now exceeded all records since we opened.”

Spelthorne Museum in Staines, Middlesex, closed on 11 February because of the rising waters that have affected many areas along the Thames river. The museum website says it is shut until further notice.

Brooklands Museum in Surrey, which has been affected by flooding before, has seen its visitor car park at Mercedes-Benz World underwater again. Brooklands is still open but the River Wey is very high, so as a precaution against flooding the museum has raised the vehicles in its motoring sheds.

In Shropshire, Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust was forced to close the Museum of the Gorge on 11 February and the Coalport China Museum was only partially open because of flooding.

There was better news for museums in flood-hit Worcester. The Worcester Heritage Partnership Group issued a statement to reassure people that “despite the city's recent flooding, the heritage venues remain open for business”.

Museums in the area include the Elgar Birthplace Museum; Museum of Royal Worcester; the Commandery; George Marshall Medical Museum; and Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum.

Mark Macleod, the head of the Infirmary Museum at the University of Worcester, said: “If the news is to be believed then Thursday will be the worst time. As a new venue it is a little unnerving watching the waters rise, especially when there’s lots of horror stories about previous floods and how high they reached.”

Has your museum been affected by flooding? Email or share your experiences in the comment box.


Sort by: Most recent - Most liked
20.02.2014, 09:04
As for government cuts, they have not yet begun. Britain is in deep debt. Governments - especially Labour governments - have over-spent and borrowed too much. Without drastic cuts to welfare, pensions, and benefits, Britain shall go bankrupt very, very soon. The IMF may bail us out, but they shall insist on dramatic cuts.

The IMF don't care about what the voters think. Their cuts shall be deep, and I suspect many people in the museum profession won't be in the profession for long.
20.02.2014, 08:59
This isn't the fault of the present government but the Environment Agency (their budget is £1.2 billion, nearly half of which is spent on pensions and salaries), and the EU. The Environment Agency is bigger than those of France, Canada, Austria and Denmark combined, so it isn't under-manned or under-funded. And its own 2012 report 'Managing Flood Risk' says partial flooding of the Somerset Levels is official EA policy. The EU's 'Water Framework Directive' and the 'Habitats Directive' steered them away from dredging.

Lord Smith is a Labour peer, and his predecessor was a Labour peer. And both were enthusiastic about implementing EU regulations.
MA Member
18.02.2014, 10:26
Flooding really should have been prepared for long ago and be considered as vital as the nuclear deterrant during the cold war. This is not the museums fault, it is the fault of a government keen to randomly fall the spending axe on any area that isn't ringfenced. Museums should have cash reserves and contingency plans, but it would have been nice to have had a similar level of efficient flood defence to that of the Netherlands. Don't give me all that EU rubbish! Most countries on the continent tend to ignore certain EU laws outright, it's only here in the UK that it seems that we bend over backwards to implement them then complain afterwards.
But it does show just how badly we have acted as stewards of this planet. Building on floodplains? What were people thinking? Call me soft, but if a museums collections get damaged, then that's it. They might be able to be repaired to a certain degree but it would be like ruining the family photographs. In fact even more so. They're part of our collective human memory.
I am glad this museum is safe, even though access is affected. We should be grateful for the mercies and joys of human life. We have technology which can predict weather patterns and so we should respond through preparation.

No doubt these museums will be hit economically, but it would be far worse if peoples lives were at stake. I am glad Worcesters museums are open. I wish the people in that city all the best of civic luck.
We can but hope and pray that this pattern of weather is a blip in the short term and a wake up call for humanity in the longer term.
Simon Stephens
MA Member
Deputy Editor, Museums Journal, Museums Association
13.02.2014, 13:12
Here are a couple of updates on museums and the floods.

Chertsey Museum in Surrey is ok so far, says its curator Emma Warren: "We’re situated on the bit of Chertsey which historically didn’t flood, a little island in the medieval water meadows. However, the water is beginning to rise through the ground on the playing field opposite which was the heart of the island so it’s looking a little more worrying. I’ve just been to check our cellar again and the floor is discoloured by damp but isn’t wet to the touch. Many of the roads around us are flooded and some impassable but we’ve had the police and army trucks trundling by all day taking sand bags to those in need."

A comment from Anna Brennand, chief executive officer at the Ironbridge Gorge Museums: “The severe weather has been an on-going concern for us as we have several properties on the side of the River Severn. The river is currently at its highest level for 14 years and we have instigated our evacuation plans at the Museum of the Gorge and parts of Coalport China Museum, relocating the collections and displays to secure stores above the flood line. As we work in an area where flooding is a regular threat, we have specially designed display units, robust procedures and well-rehearsed emergency plans to ensure that we are able to evacuate our museums quickly and efficiently to safeguard the collections. We operate ten museums in the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site and all of the others remain unaffected by the floods and open to visitors."