A Grand Day Out: Visiting the Museum of Cornish Life for the First Time

Museum News

A Grand Day Out: Visiting the Museum of Cornish…

‘Right, are we all ready to go?’ With my family (and dog!) bundled into the car at 6:30am we set off for a four-hour journey to Cornwall to visit the Museum of Cornish Life. I was excited as this would be my first time visiting the museum in person, having completed an internship and then staying on to volunteer remotely, as I enjoyed working there so much.

As we pulled up to Helston at 11:30 we were given a warm welcome, with the sun shining down on the town. Approaching the museum, I was taken aback by how grand the building looked, and once inside I was even more impressed by the scale and size of the collection. It’s one thing seeing it all on a screen, but quite another in person.

After sitting down and having a cup of tea (much needed after a long journey!) I was given a special tour around the museum by trainee curator Tamsin Chaffin, which included going backstage. My absolute highlight here was being able to handle objects from ancient Egypt, as it’s a period I have been fascinated with since I was a child. Below you can see me handling ‘The dancing girl from Naukratis’ which dates from 580 BC. Very old indeed!

Once I had finished geeking out over the Ancient Egyptian objects, I walked around the museum, which included visiting the Shallowpool dolls with whom I had become acquainted with over my internship (Check out the blog I wrote for more information on these little gems!) I then found myself exploring the rest of the vast collection of dolls, with the shelf to the right of the display case catching my eye this time. Clad in a blue Tudor style dress I found this regal looking doll accompanied with others dressed in historical clothing (one even looks like Queen Elizabeth I). Upon closer inspection, a label reveals a Miss Cecily Josephine Jebb made these fabulous outfits in the 1950s/60s.

Nearly a hundred years before these dolls were created though, I also found a China doll from c.1870 in the display case which also intrigued me, as whilst it wasn’t adorned with striking blue silks or other coloured fabrics I marvelled at how good the condition was, despite its age.

Next, I spotted more curiosities –wooden crosses encased in bottles. I had heard of ships in bottles before, but not crosses and so I was immediately interested as to what purpose they served. I also noticed that other items were in the bottle too and a label attached to one said, ‘Tools for the crucifixion,’ which makes me wonder if these objects served a religious purpose.

I then found myself being drawn to the Victorian greeting cards with their pastel colours and flowery patterns. I especially liked the Christmas greeting card and its typography, with gold swirly letters spelling out ‘Christmas free thy heart from every care,’ a message that rings true for me at Christmas today, as it’s my favourite time of the year. Alongside the cards was also a Victorian scrapbook filled with various stickers that I found quite charming as well as relatable for someone like myself who tends to collect stickers.

Tamsin then kindly showed me the magic lanterns they had on display in their home life area, as well as the slides that would have been used with them. Popular from the eighteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, magic lanterns were a type of image projector used to entertain audiences. They were also a direct predecessor of the motion picture projector and so it was great to have seen up close the device which helped lead to the creation of films. Who would have thought these big chunky image projectors would lead to one of the biggest industries we have today.

I then made my way around the exhibition space which showcased various finds acquired by the museum as part of the portable antiquities scheme (a project which encourages people to record their archaeological finds). My favourite objects from this exhibition included three bronze age glass beads, which still looked beautifully bright and a post medieval dress hook that was adorned with swirls. For a small piece that was once attached to a dress, it was very ornate, which made me wonder what the dress looked like?

The next objects to catch my eye were a small group of intricately detailed swords. The Naval dress sword was particularly interesting because it had a series of patterns etched onto the steel blade, including a star of David and a rope and acorn design, though I also I loved the shape of the curved dress sword with a brass and ivory handle.

I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the objects in person and finally meeting the lovely people I’ve only ever seen on my screen before and in total I spent a good few hours exploring the museum before it was then time to go (and grab a pasty!). While I have included a few of my highlights from the day, in reality I was captivated by many more objects, which is a testament to how fascinating and comprehensive the collection is. Whilst the online tour is great for accessibility and helped me explore remotely, nothing beats being here and seeing the objects up close!

Ellie Davison

Remote research volunteer

Museum of Cornish Life