The Museum Club, held on Saturday mornings at Eastgate as we called it, was the highlight of the week for both my older brother and myself. I think that we used to arrive at about 9.30 so that we could muck about with the other kids, terrorising the fish and frogs in the pond and chasing the pigeons and toads in the surrounding garden.
The sessions were probably only a couple of hours long but always so varied and interesting that although the age range was quite wide, we always enjoyed ourselves. It was not a worry to our parents that we walked quite a few miles there and then back, it was quite normal then.
I seem to remember that we were not allowed to go through the building on our own. We would be taken from the door at the back through the narrow and dark passage way that held the polished wood and glass exhibit cases. There were never any lights on so in the winter months it was really scary. I can remember butterflies and moths pinned to boards and bits of bones, large and small, too. I believe there was an Egyptian room with a mummy, but perhaps I am getting confused with the museum at Maidstone.
The most frightening place was the room that opened onto the wide wooden steps that we had to negotiate to get to where the club met. There was a very dark coloured piano that was haunted, we were told, by a mad composer and that he moved things around in the room.
We had Christmas parties where all of the age groups attended. I think that they must have been in the afternoon because the lights were put on as it got dark outside. The games that we played were simple but such fun; spin the plate, pin the tail on the donkey, and blind jelly feeding. We ate and drank so much that we were sick, so toilet trips were horrendous as we negotiated the haunted areas with the our own reflections frightening us to death.
One of the other competitions was being wrapped in bronco toilet paper to create the illusion of an Egyptian mummy – so perhaps my memory was correct after all about the Egyptian exhibits.
We also had drawing and writing competitions. I won the poetry competition – I still have the entry – but was told that it was so good that I could not have written it. So I had my first literary victory taken away. I think I must have been eleven then.
At some stage we arrived one Saturday to find bits of wood all over the previously paved areas where we normally played tag, or marbles or fag cards. (We little girls did ‘swapsies’ too, exchanging our treasured diamonds and pearls – glass beads in reality - for anything that looked colourful.) I think that we had to be let in through the main entrance for once.
The following week there were stacks of wooden partitions that looked like huge pieces bits of shed. When we arrived the next time Dickens Chalet had been erected in our playground. I know that we all boast of halcyon days but those really were.
A couple of years later I was astounded to find that my new school friend, Sandra Brunger, was the daughter of the Caretaker of the Eastgate House. She arranged to take me down there. As I walked through the corridor that held all of the wooden display cases that had frightened me so much, I was immune to the fear that they had caused when I was a little younger. Her father took me up the wide polished stairs to the room that had previously held the huge black piano that had been reputedly haunted. The frightening beast was gone.
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Barbara and Eddie Goldsmith
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