Eel Pie Island Music LegendsYou might not know it today but Twickenham has a rich music heritage around jazz and rhythm n blues. Well, we say it’s Twickenham’s heritage but it’s fair to say that one small piece of this town is at the heart of it – Eel Pie Island. Perhaps you went along to the Eelpiland exhibition at Orleans House Gallery in 2013. If you didn’t, you should have. It gave a great insight into the Island’s music scene in the 1950’s and 60’s. But what if that exhibition could be made permanent for more people to enjoy? Michele Whitby is a Twickenham local,  Eel Pie islander and a champion of spreading the word about Twickenham’s place in music history. In this guest blog she takes up the story….

Eel Pie Island Museum
Michele Whitby

Plans are afoot to create a new museum in Twickenham dedicated to Eel Pie Island. World famous for its musical heritage, the island also has a fantastic riparian history, all of which really deserve to be celebrated and shared, not just with locals but also the many tourists that visit London.

Richmond-upon-Thames is steeped in history, stately homes and beautiful parks which all make it a great place to visit. But alongside the more traditional attractions, our borough is also sitting on a wealth of very significant musical heritage. Global superstars such as the Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton and many more, started out on their path to fame and fortune right on our doorsteps. Eel Pie Island played a pivotal part in the British RnB explosion and was a mecca for thousands of music fans in the 1950’s and 60’s; we really should be making more of this exciting aspect of our history.

For today’s sixty-somethings, who were actually ‘there’ when it all happened, the chance to revisit their youth and show their children and grandchildren just how cool they really were is something that is missing from the attractions we currently have on offer. At present we only have the Heritage Board outside the Barmy Arms dedicated to arguably one of the most exciting aspects of the area’s history – Eel Pie Island. The board attracts much attention and almost daily tourists amble over the bridge to the Island seeking a taste of the musical history, but of course the hotel is long gone and there is nothing left to see.

Eel Pie Island Hotel
Eel Pie Island Hotel

So, I want to set up and run an Eel Pie Island Museum in Twickenham, as close as possible to the Island itself.
I believe such a museum would, aside from having local appeal, have the potential to bring significant tourist traffic to Twickenham. Having previously run a shop in Church Street for fourteen years, I am all too aware of the need to increase positive footfall to our town.

‘Cities across the UK have strong music histories and could create a new economy by exploiting their music heritage. The UK’s musical heritage is rich and diverse. British bands from every decade have immortalised their surroundings; cementing local areas into lyrical history and putting hometowns on the map. British music draws thousands of tourists each year to cafés, crossings and pubs across the UK. This is music heritage tourism, and it is big business’. This is an excerpt from ‘Imagine – The value of music heritage tourism in the UK’ and the full report can be seen at www.ukmusic.org

Alongside its music history Eel Pie Island has fascinating boatyard heritage. We live in the only borough that spans both sides of the mighty Thames so the river is without doubt one of the defining features of our locality, yet so much of its infrastructure is being allowed inappropriate redevelopment. I want the museum to highlight our riverside heritage, encourage people to engage with it and inspire appreciation of what we have.

The plans have been getting a really great response so far. People seem to agree that it would be an asset to Twickenham to have this museum and the search is on for a venue to house it, obviously the closer to the island the better. The existing buildings on Twickenham Riverside (Bath House & the toilet block) seemed like perfect candidates but I have been told that I can’t use them because of the council plans to redevelop this area so I am looking at other possibilities. I need somewhere that doesn’t cost a huge amount in rent, which is really difficult to find around here, and it needs to be in the town centre. I am also considering pop-up options too.

Eel Pie Island Memorabilia
Eel Pie Island Memorabilia

It would be really fantastic to get something up and running from June to coincide with the Twickenham Festival and to still have it in place for the Rugby World Cup to make the most of the footfall and publicity that this event will generate for Twickenham, so I am happy to consider a soft-launch in a temporary venue. Hopefully I will be able to prove its value to our town and perhaps get something permanent incorporated into the riverside development when it happens.

Another possibility could be to have a floating museum on a barge moored near the Diamond Jubilee Gardens. It seems to me that we don’t make the most of our available river/ riverside space here. I know that there are plans to change this and perhaps, if no suitable land-based venue materialises, maybe we could look at having one actually on the river. The benefit of being mobile could also be advantageous as the museum could be taken to other riverside events.

Eel Piland Exhibition
Eel Piland Exhibition

I believe that the museum has great potential to benefit Twickenham by increasing tourist traffic and impacting positively on nearby businesses such as cafes and shops. Whilst embracing our local music heritage here is still in its early stages, it is worth noting that in Liverpool Beatles related attractions generate an impressive £70 million per year for the local economy!

With regard to funding for set up costs I am currently looking into HLF, Spacehive and other crowd funding options such as Kickstarter (would 1,000 local residents be willing to donate £10 to get this going?) and also exploring collaborative funding and sponsorship options with local businesses; for example a business could sponsor the purchase of a specific exhibit, printing costs, display cases… David McGeachie from Tenant Finder has very generously pledged the first contribution towards making this a reality, and maybe there are other businesses that would like to support the idea of celebrating Twickenham’s musical and river-related history?

I would make the museum self-financing by way of a nominal entrance fee of £2 to visitors and £1 for Richmond Card holders, and also having a gift shop.

My experience in all things Eel Pie and also retail means I am confident that I can create a sustainable museum to be proud of! I am really very interested to see what local residents think about the idea and welcome any feedback or offers of help. It would be very useful to gauge levels of support to add to any funding applications. You can give your view on this poll and share your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

I really hope that you are as enthusiastic about this idea as I am. Please get in touch with me to add your support or to get involved.

About Michele:
A life-long resident of the area, co-author of the books ‘Eel Pie Island’ (Frances Lincoln 2009) and ‘The British Beat Explosion’ (Aurora Metro 2013), she has been interviewed on radio and TV about our borough’s music history. In 2013 she curated the very successful ‘Eelpiland’ exhibition at the Stables Gallery, Orleans House which received over 100 visitors a day, a unanimously positive response and repeated requests for it to be given a permanent home. She has collected, and has access to, much memorabilia through researching the books and also from curating the Eelpiland exhibition.

Contact Michele at michelewhitby@hotmail.com

LATEST UPDATE at 4th May 2015 click HERE