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Local history museum plan

PUBLISHED: 10:30 21 February 2008 | UPDATED: 10:28 03 July 2010

Tapestries, trinkets and toys will mingle in a planned new museum that weaves together family and local history.

Circus artefacts will also tumble through the ages at the attraction in a former antiques showroom in King Street, Great Yarmouth.

Tapestries, trinkets and toys will mingle in a planned new museum that weaves together family and local history.

Circus artefacts will also tumble through the ages at the attraction in a former antiques showroom in King Street, Great Yarmouth.

For its “ringmaster,” creator Valerie Howkins, it marks the culmination of a 20-year dream which she sees as a loving legacy to son, David, and a gift to Yarmouth.

The 74-year-old has amassed more than 1,000 objects including dolls, curios, teddy bears and royal memorabilia as a hobby hoarder - some of which were collected by her mother and fairground father, a professional clown Van Norman who appeared at the Hippodrome.

At its centre will be a scale model of Yarmouth in 1820 created by local schoolchildren and groups who will be encouraged to “adopt a Row” with gifted model-makers drafted in for prominent buildings like St George's and the town hall.

The museum will be called the David Howkins Memorial Charity Museum after her son who died aged 18 in 1979 from undiagnosed pneumonia, devastating his parents and two sisters, but instilling in Mrs Howkins a determination to preserve his memory. At first a secret mini-museum flourished with few knowing of its existence. The range of artefacts, some of them quite bizarre, fired the imagination of those who were given a covert tour and left many asking for more.

The objects unite a range of characters who people Mrs Howkins's own colourful life story arriving barefoot in Yarmouth in the 1950s. Among them are the acrobat Albert Shaffer, a contemporary of her father who, when injured, would spend his time meticulously covering furniture with postage stamps as therapy.

Mrs Howkins said the town had been good to her providing a home, family and business and she wanted to say thank-you with the gift of a museum.

“It's a great privilege. I still cannot feel that it is coming to fruition. I am so thrilled and delighted. When I came to Yarmouth I did not even have any shoes. I was penniless but it has been wonderful. The museum is a thank you to Yarmouth and a way of perpetuating my son's memory.”

Mrs Howkins has formed Yarmouth Heritage Ltd to shape the museum which needs to clear a planning hurdle if it is to open this spring.

Artwork by John Dashwood depicting local scenes and characters currently covers the large feature windows that were smashed by vandals. But inside the 1912-built gas showroom, later an antiques showroom for Howkins with its well-remembered giant rocking horse, the beautiful building is in good shape and poised for a new era.

Mrs Howkins is keen to hear from anyone who can mend holes in a stained glass window in situ or add contours to an 1820 map of the town. To help call 01493 844639.

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