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Ronan's report

Sunday September 23rd 2012

I'm quite fond of museums.

My Dad worked in museums and, by coincidence, so does my partner. So they have good associations I guess.

I have early memories of musty-smelling and labyrinthine oak paneled galleries, dark corners and weak light filtering dustily through high windows, slightly tatty stuffed lions and wildebeest, glass jars of pickled fish, and long glass cabinets of rocks and minerals. My dad's fly tying kit mostly consisted of the off-cuts from numerous failed, or retired taxidermy efforts.

When we were small kids my younger brother and I got shown behind the scenes at the Manchester Museum. The best bit was seeing feeding time in the reptile house (strange that a museum kept live reptiles, but there you go…). The keeper would feed dead white rats to the pythons and alligators and, on one occasion we were even allowed to hold a corn snake. As a six year-old that was probably one of the coolest things that could possibly happen, although to be fair my brother (who was three at the time) does now have a snake phobia…

I think the first book I ever chose to read was from Manchester Museum: The How and Why Wonder Book of Rocks and Minerals. I've still got it somewhere, along with some other How and Whys bought on subsequent visits (WWII, and Extinct Mammals I think).

Those visits to the museum were a window on the world. Better than the telly, here were the actual objects right in front of you. You could walk around them and understand them in your own time. If you wanted you could just wonder at the size of a polar bear's paw, or you could step back and read about the animal, where it lives, how it lives.

The US has a few fly fishing museums. I've been to the one in Vermont (just down the road from Orvis), and one in Montana (was it an FFF one in Livingston?). They're good fun. Not earth shattering particularly, but a nice way to while away an hour here or there.

In the UK I'm only aware of the small display at Hardys in Alnwick which, although interesting enough, is only really a few glass cabinets filled with one manufacturers' kit.

Wouldn't it be nice to have a proper angling museum in the UK? We have a rich angling history and culture all the way from the mysterious Dame Juliana, through Walton and Cotton and on to Venables; via Hofland, Marryat, Halford, and Skues; Stewart, Pritt and the North Country mob, all the way to Goddard and Clarke and who knows who-all else. The list goes on.

Although we don't actually have a proper UK fishing museum quite yet, a few people are working away to just such a goal. First among these are Andrew Herd and Jon Ward-Allen. These are the guys behind The Medlar Press who produce some really nice (if expensive) books on all things fishing.

They are lacking the wherewithal to build an actual museum right now, but that hasn't stopped them . Oh no. They've set up The Fishing Museum web site as a first step, and I have to say I really like it.

OK it does also happen to be excellent publicity for Medlar and its publications, but there is some great stuff there. Personally speaking just the fact that there's a digitised copy of Pritt's Yorkshire Trout Flies right there for you to flip through is reason enough to like the site.

So I wish Jon and Andrew all the best with their efforts, and one day hopefully we'll get an actual real museum, complete with dusty corners, glass cabinets, taxidermy, and maybe even pickled fish.


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