Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro

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The Royal Cornwall Museum is the oldest museum in Cornwall and is the largest centre for the exhibition of Cornish culture. It is located in the centre of Truro. It is owned by the Royal Institution of Cornwall which was founded in 1818 for "the promotion of knowledge in natural history, ethnology and the fine and industrial arts, especially in relation to Cornwall."

Founded as the Cornwall Literary and Philosophical Institution, the Royal Institution of Cornwall (RIC) was one of seven such societies set up in England and Wales in the 19th century. These voluntary bodies would set up a a library and museum, give lectures and scientific demonstrations, and teach the working class population before state education was available.

The Institution received Royal patronage in 1821, and became the RIC. It still holds true to its original aim, ‘to encourage and promote the study of literature, natural science, geography, archaeology, history, ethnology and fine and applied arts, with special reference to Cornwall’.

The museum is housed in a Grade II building in Truro. It was originally built in 1845 as the Truro Savings Bank, and later became Henderson’s Mining School. It was acquired by the RIC in 1919. Later, in 1986/7, the RIC acquired the adjoining building, the Truro Baptist Chapel (built in 1848). These two granite-fronted buildings have been linked with a foyer and shop. The remodelled and extended interiors are ideal buildings to display the collection, and host an events programme and various temporary exhibitions.

The museum has collections grouped in the following areas:

* Cornish archaeology

A collection of material from prehistoric to post-medieval periods. The Bronze Age material consists of pottery and metalwork. Neolithic flint and stone tools and Iron Age and Romano-British pottery. Among the many sites of special significance that have yielded material are Carn Brea (Neolithic), Trethellan (Middle Bronze Age), Harlyn Bay (Iron Age) and Nanstallon (Roman). Apart from those too fragile, most finds are on display.

* Non-Cornish archaeology

Prehistoric artefacts from other parts of Britain and Europe. These include the Ropley gold armilla from Winchester and the Westminster bronze sword, both from the Late Bronze Age.

There are also collections of Egyptian, Greek, continental Roman and Byzantine artefacts.For example the 25th Dynasty mummy, Ast Tayef Nakht, who was a priest from the Temple of Al Karnack: red-figure ware from Apulia in Italy when it was a Greek colony; Roman glass vessels from Tiberias in Palestine and Coptic textiles.

* Applied and decorative arts

Ceramics, Metalwork, Textiles, Glass, Furniture and Woodwork. 2500 ceramics from Britain and Europe, including examples from the main factories in England. Plus studio pottery from Bernard Leach. Metalwork includes Newlyn copper, a English pewter and a few good pieces of local silver. Artefacts from Japan including ivory carvings, decorative boxes, swords and an important collection of decorative Shibayama work. Textiles include Cryséde fabrics and clothing made or worn in Cornwall from the 18th to 20th centuries.

* Biology

The botanical collection contains pressed plants. Including the collection of F Hamilton Davey used when he was compiling his “Flora of Cornwall” (published in 1910 and you can find a copy in the RIC’s Courtney Library). Additional collections compiled by R V Tellam (British flora), F Rilstone (Cornish mosses, liverworts and fungi etc.), and R W Smitham (Cornish mosses).

The vertebrate zoology collection has both taxidermy, skeletal material and birds’ eggs.

The invertebrate zoology collection has insect and shell collections. These include the Bannister Collection (beetles or ‘coleoptera’), the Rollason Collection (moths and butterflies or ‘lepidoptera’), the J H James Collection (acquired in 1909) with its detailed, original catalogues.

* Numismatics (coins)

Several Roman coin hoards are represented. A 14th to 15th century collection of Spanish gold coins from Praa Sands is believed to have come from Le Kateryn Van Arnude (sank in Mount’s Bay in 1478). A representative collection of Cornish tokens.

* Fine art (including Newlyn School paintings)

The collection includes work by Cornish artists and artists living in Cornwall from mainly the Newlyn and St Ives Schools. There are paintings by Henry Scott Tuke, Harold Harvey, Stanhope Forbes, Elizabeth Forbes, Julius Olsson, Norman Garstin, Annie Walke, Charles Napier Hemy and Sherwood Hunter. Earlier Cornish art is represented by the painter John Opie, the sculptor Neville Northy Burnard and Truro-born miniaturist Henry Bone and his son.

In addition there are a small number of works by William Hogarth, John Constable, Sir Peter Lely, Lord Leighton, Edward Burne-Jones, Sir Godfrey Kneller and Cranach.

The Alfred de Pass donation includes also works by George Romney, John Constable, John Sell Cotman, Thomas Gainsborough, Samuel Prout, JMW Turner, Van Dyck, Sargent, Rossetti, Rubens, Correggio, Guardi, Tiepolo, Il Guercino, Rowlandson and Augustus John.

* Geology

The Royal Cornwall Museum houses a fine collection of mineralogy from South West of England. This includes the Philip Rashleigh (1729-1811) collection, the James Wickett collection (acquired by the RIC in 1922), a collection of calcites from Wheal Wrey (acquired 1930) and donations from Richard Barstow (acquired 1970-1982).

The palaeontology (fossil) collection is a relatively small

The petrology (rock) collection covers Cornish granite building stones plus examples of rocks that can be found in Cornwall and the South West.

* Social history

Objects showing the Cornish way of life, in both trade and industry and in social and domestic life. Worthy of note are the Trewinnard coach and the Tangye bicycle, the medical chest of the explorer Richard Lander, a Cornish bottle collection and a toy collection.

* World cultures

World Culture material has come about from Cornishmen collecting items abroad. Weapons are a large proportion of this collection. The main areas represented are Africa, America, Asia, the Pacific and Melanesia and Polynesia. And in addition there are American ceramics, Oriental ceramics, Navaho silver and costum. The Maori hei-tiki and the taiaha (wooden staff) from New Zealand, the 12th century clay votive tablets and Buddhist figures from Burma are particularly interesting.

Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro


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