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Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro

Founded: 1818        Governance: Independent Trust        Scope: Local history, natural history, archaeology, geology, art       Visited: Spring 2017

The RCM was founded - before all the other museums in this selection - not to preserve the local history of an area, but to promote good practice and practical knowledge in its industries. At its core lie the documents of the attached Courtney Library and Sir Philip Rashleigh's collection of minerals which were of such importance to the varied mining industry of the county.  The RCM is still governed by the Royal Cornish Institution which set it up, but as is often the way with such collections it's acquired a great variety of stuff over the course of the years: mine-owners weren't just interested in mines, and Rashleigh himself was responsible for bringing to light the Trewhiddle Hoard of early Christian silverwork, now in the British Museum (the RCM just has copies). As well as local history, decorative and fine art, and stuffed birds, there are bits of Roman and ancient Egyptian paraphernalia, and really all sorts of wonderful old tat. There's a little bit of everything you might desire in a museum.

That means it's a bit hard to display, though. Everywhere you turn there are gorgeous things to catch the eye, but drawing the whole collection together is a big ask, arguably an impossible one. The one thing that doesn't emerge very strongly from the displays is the personality and nature of Cornwall itself, this very distinctive and proudly different part of the British Isles. The great atrium at the centre of the building is where you find the local history, but a sense of how this history locks into the landscape is a little unexplored. 

That said, by the end of a morning's visit we were thoroughly museum-ed out: there is simply so much to look at. There were no fewer than four temporary exhibitions - a little display about a Georgian Cornish doctor in Nigeria, an art show about artists and the Cornish landscape, Cornwall in World War One, and the inevitable Poldark tie-in (which was actually quite good, anchoring the books and TV series in the reality of the society they were based in). I rarely take photographs of museum text alone, but I thought the graphics of the WWI display, 'Heart of Conflict', were masterful and moving. Each separate section of the permanent displays has its own personality: the Rashleigh Collection looks a bit like an alternative version of the TARDIS control room. George Sherwood Hunter's 1897 painting Jubilee Procession in a Cornish Village absolutely takes the breath away; and, if you're familiar at all with that national anthem of Cornwall, Father Hawker's 'Song of the Western Men', I defy you to stand in front of the portrait of Bishop Trelawney without it running through your mind. 'And shall Trelawney live/Or shall Trelawney die ...' 

Royal Cornwall Museum TruroRoyal Cornwall Museum TruroRoyal Cornwall Museum Truro
Royal Cornwall Museum TruroRoyal Cornwall Museum TruroRoyal Cornwall Museum Truro
Royal Cornwall Museum TruroRoyal Cornwall Museum Truro
Royal Cornwall Museum Truro
Royal Cornwall Museum TruroRoyal Cornwall Museum TruroRoyal Cornwall Museum Truro
Royal Cornwall Museum TruroRoyal Cornwall Museum TruroRoyal Cornwall Museum Truro
Royal Cornwall Museum TruroRoyal Cornwall Museum TruroRoyal Cornwall Museum Truro
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