by Emilia Griffin
Cornwall has a lot to offer across the county, from the larger, more interactive and modern museums to the little, local museums dotted around different parishes showcasing local history and offering an insight into society of the past and present. This list is not exhaustive by any means but offers a guide to museums that may interest you – whether a local or a tourist wanting to find out more about Cornwall, technology and science, art and social history.
As highlighted by the Cornwall Museums Partnership, Cornwall has a wealth of brilliant museums, many of which include exhibits with links to science and the community. To find something to do wherever you are in the Duchy, follow us on this virtual tour:
PK Porthcurno · Geevor Tin Mine, St Just · Penlee House, Penzance · Tate St Ives · Museum of Cornish Life, Helston · National Maritime Museum, Falmouth · Falmouth Art Gallery · Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro · Wheal Martyn, St Austell · Eden Project, St Austell · Bodmin Keep · Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, Boscastle
We start our journey in the South West of Cornwall at PK Porthcurno, the UK’s only museum dedicated to global communications. The first international telegraph cable was run from India to Porthcurno, or PK, in 1870 and reduced the message time from 6 weeks to just 9 minutes. This was revolutionary for global communications and the beginning of the science and technology that underpins the world today. The museum takes you through the history of electricity, morse code, telegraph and the future of technology for communications with a series of interactive exhibitions and informative talks. While we patiently wait for indoor entertainment to open again, head over to CSC Youtube channel to watch a talk with Paul Tyreman to celebrate 150 years since the cable station opened. Also make sure to head to the beautiful golden sands in the bay of Porthcurno.
Geevor Tin Mine
Next, we head up to St Just to visit the Geevor Tin Mine to learn the story of the tin and copper mining industry in Cornwall. Here you can visit the mining buildings and enter the 18th century Wheal Mexico Mine and walk the tunnels of the mining men over 200 years ago or pan for “gold” in the mill. The Dry is a truly moving experience as the change room is left as it was when it was used for the last time with all the smells and sights that the miners would have known well. Geevor is a truly fascinating day out learning about the science behind and importance of metals mined in Cornwall.
Penlee House in Penzance is up next. Here we have galleries with an art collection celebrating Cornish talent from the 19th and 20th centuries. The museum’s collection covers over 6000 years of history in the West of Cornwall through archaeology, social history, natural science and of course art and photography. The house is set in a beautiful park grounds with a shop and café on offer too.
Tate St. Ives
Next stop, St Ives. Here Tate St Ives over-looks the beautiful sandy beach of Porthmeor bringing visitors from all over the world. Whilst the Tate is not a local organisation, many of the exhibitions showcase the artists of Cornwall. A significant artist to note is Barbara Hepworth who was a leader in artists who fled to St Ives during both wars. Just down the road is a museum dedicated to her and her sculpture garden. Here you can also see many other famous artists from around the world including works by Picasso and Matisse. This is a must see if you want to get to all the Tate galleries!
Museum of Cornish Life
The Museum of Cornish Life is a free admission must see back down in Helston. Here is a collection of Cornish history artefacts from farming to toys to gardening and musical instruments. Dotted around all of Cornwall are many voluntary run museums displaying social history artefacts for that particular area. This is potentially unrivalled by any other county due to Cornwall’s interesting communities with fishing and mining.
National Maritime Museum & Falmouth Art Gallery
Falmouth is next, a town influenced by the sea and its maritime heritage. Here we have the National Maritime Museum and Falmouth Art Gallery. The National Maritime Museum explores the influence of sea on history and culture. An interactive and immersive experience takes you around Cornwall and the world. The current exhibition is Monsters of the Deep learning about legends, folklores and modern-day science. Head over to our Youtube channel again for a talk about the evolution of sailing dinghies by Reuben Thompson who is the in-house boatbuilder. Falmouth Art Gallery is another outstanding collection of British and Cornish artworks all available to view for free.
Royal Cornwall Museum
Now we move on to the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro, Cornwall’s only city, which promotes excellence in science and art and tells stories of Stone Age Cornwall to current artefacts. The museum is part of the Cornwall Museums Partnership.
“Cornwall Museums Partnership develop and manage collaborative programmes of work which are designed to help museums raise standards, engage with more people and to be sustainable and resilient. We help museums to do the things that some find difficult to do on their own including advocacy, audience development, fundraising and workforce development. We are always open to suggestions of ways to collaborate in inclusive and innovative ways: if people want to find out more, have any questions or ideas please contact us on email@example.com”Celine Elliot, Cornwall Museums Partnership Engagement Lead
We move east to Wheal Martyn near St Austell. In the UK’s only china clay mining museum you can learn how the industry has shaped the lives and landscapes of Cornwall. Here you can go to an interactive discovery centre, woodland walks with local wildlife, historic trails and a real modern working clay pit. The china clay industry is less well known than the tin and copper mining industries but is an important contributor to the national economy. Wheal Martyn produces china clay, a material that is used in items such as paper and pharmaceuticals in our everyday life.
Close by is The Eden Project which is a collection of huge Biomes housing plants from all over the world, including the world’s biggest indoor rainforest. There are also outside gardens with many native and temperate region plants. The water used at the Eden Project is harvested rainwater and the buildings have underground irrigation for plants and flushing loos. Here we learn the significance of the relationship between plant and people and how this can help us to address the crisis the planet faces.
Heading north is Bodmin Keep, a centre of Cornish and world history to educate people of all ages about conflict and the impact of war. The Keep is the historic home of the army in Cornwall and teaches 300 years of military history. The museum is a testament to soldiers, their families and the affected local communities.
Museum of Witchcraft and Magic
Finally, on the North Coast is Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle which explores British magical practice and makes comparisons with other systems of belief. Learn about the diversity of magical practice through entertaining exhibitions and the collection of objects which has been described as the largest in the world.
This list of some of the main museums should hopefully provide you with something to do whatever the weather and something to get you excited to learn again. Cornwall has a lot to offer and teach about its social history and importance of different industries. We should take these opportunities to get learning when these experiences are offered to us by volunteers at little cost. We are lucky to live in such an incredible place with so much science to offer.