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Museums in Cornwall – A journey through industry, science and art

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.

Our tour of museums takes us from the far South West all the way to North Cornwall.

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


PK Porthcurno

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

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 info@cornwallmuseumspartnership.org.uk

Celine Elliot, Cornwall Museums Partnership Engagement Lead

Wheal Martyn

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.

Eden Project

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.

Bodmin Keep

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.


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The Cornwall Geothermal Rum Distillery: a valuable asset or cause for conflict?

by Jessica Forsyth

Image credit: Grimshaw Architects

When you think of Cornwall and rum, your initial thoughts may be of the county’s notorious smuggling history.  Indeed, in the 18th and 19th century, Cornwall was a centre for smuggling of goods such a tea, tobacco and of course, rum. There are many stories, including the famous novel ‘Jamaica Inn’ by Daphne du Maurier, that tell the tale of wreckers who would entice ships to the coastline before looting them when they inevitably ran aground on the rocky shores.

But what if instead, your first thought was of a pioneering project that harnessed renewable geothermal energy to mature and distill rum right here in Cornwall? Well, this is the hope of the Cornish Geothermal Distillery Company (CGDC) who have ambitious plans to create the UK’s first geothermal run maturation facility and distillery on land in Redruth, Cornwall.  

Image credit: Grimshaw Architects

About the Project

The United Downs Deep Geothermal Power Project (UDDGP) is the first geothermal power plant in the UK. It aims to utilise the hot granite rocks below the United Downs Industrial Site to generate power and heat.  The CGDC’s plan is to make a direct connection to the power plants waste heat output and boost it to run heat intensive distillery processes. To do this they aim to use an innovative high temperature heat pump that they are developing alongside global engineering consultancy, Buro Happold. This would go a long way to making it one of the most sustainable and carbon-neutral distillery projects in the UK.

The CGDC’s efforts to prioritise and champion sustainability has been recognised through their receipt of the largest single award from the UK Government’s Green Distilleries Competition which aims to fund the development of technologies that enable distilleries to use low carbon fuel.  These awards form part of the governments commitment to “building back greener” from the Covid-19 pandemic. Clean Growth Minister Kwasi Kwarteng believes that these awards will allow “UK distilleries to lead the way…in the green industrial revolution…while also creating jobs”.

However, despite this support from the UK government, and the project’s potential for providing “much-needed investment and quality full-time jobs…in this part of Cornwall”“much-needed investment and quality full-time jobs utilizing local skills and businesses in this part of Cornwall”, the original project’s progress through planning has come to a standstill due to a conflict arising from the land on which the rum maturation facility’s designs were initially drawn up.

Concern over the site

In the 18th century, this area of land at United Downs was used for mining and forms part of the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape World Heritage Site. UNESCO and Historic England have expressed a great deal of concern regarding the potential environmental impact of the project and claim that it ‘risks damaging one of Cornwall’s prized natural landscapes’. Although they have expressed their support for the economic and employment benefits that the project aims to provide for the local area, they wish for an alternative location for its construction to be found.

CGDC’s concept requires proximity to the geothermal power plant and in their Design and Access Statement for the original plan they argue that the ‘development has the potential to offer long-term security for the site and its mining heritage’ and claim that they are committed to provide funding to contribute towards ‘restoration of the mining heritage on and around the site boundary’ as well as ‘offering World Heritage and Cornish mining related literature’ in the Visitor Centre. In spite of CGDC’s promise to spend £2 million decontaminating the site and restoring heritage features that have been heavily eroded, Historic England and UNESCO’s intervention means the original project’s future is now uncertain.

The conflict over the use of this site also comes from the current leaseholders, Purple Cornwall Ltd, also known as Autospeed, who currently use the site for stock racing. According to a statement by Cornwall council ‘Purple Cornwall’s lease with the Council to operate their stock car racing business on Cornwall owned land at United Downs runs until October 2021.’ Autospeed fear that with alternative sites for the racetrack yet to be found, the council’s plans to look for ‘low carbon and sustainable alternative uses for the site’, such as the distillery, may signify the end of stock racing in Cornwall for good. Calls to save the motor sport venue are being made by The Save United Downs Raceway Action Group and have been backed by former Renault Formula 1 racing driver Derek Warwick.

The concern shown by UNESCO/Historic England for the protection of this world heritage site from degradation caused by the construction of the distillery is somewhat confusing when considering its current use. Undoubtedly over the 50 years during which the site has been used as a racetrack, it will have suffered from erosion and continuing to use the site in this way would seem to conflict with the aim of preserving the heritage of the Cornwall Mining Landscape.

Cornwall council have said that ‘In preparation for when the lease expires in 2021, the Council is looking at low carbon and sustainable alternative uses for the site’ that ‘contribute to economic growth’ and provide ‘job opportunities in the area’. It seems, regardless of whether the distillery plans go ahead on this site or not, the racetrack has a small chance of being able to continue to exist at this site, but, with the support of the Council, will hopefully be able to relocate and continue to provide ‘a safe, controlled environment’ for ‘followers of racing, and for families who are looking for that great day out with a difference’ to enjoy.

Looking ahead

CGDC’s determination to safeguard their green, job-creating, sustainable project has seen them submit a new outline planning application for a much smaller research and development proposal. This project would be built on the hard edge of the former United Downs landfill site – a brownfield site that currently has no designation and is situated directly next to the Geothermal Energy Plant. The “Celsius – Sustainable Distillery Research Centre” will make use of the aforementioned high temperature heat pump to operate a copper still for distilling rum and a small facility to mature rum in casks. This Celsius Centre is a separate scheme from CGDC’s pioneering Rum Cask Maturation Facility and would have no biome or visitor centre, no public access and would create 6 full-time jobs. Its true value lies in its focus on the development of green technologies that will not only enable the distillery ‘industry to make vast improvements in energy efficiency’ but will also allow other ‘enterprises to use waste heat from other industrial processes too’.

The research conducted at this Centre and the technologies developed would undoubtedly act as important foundations for the shift to a green economy post pandemic and would contribute to increased focus on sustainability ‘in the distillery sector and beyond’. In a time when Cornwall Council has declared a climate emergency, surely supporting the development of a project that is committed to the creation of green jobs and ‘revolutionising sustainability’ should be part of the action plan to achieve a cleaner and greener Cornwall.

Image credit: Grimshaw Architects

To keep up with project developments please go to www.geothermaldistillery.com.  

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Combining Art with Science: a new Cornish museum?

by Jessica Forsyth

On a sunny day in Cornwall there are plenty of activities to enjoy outdoors, whether it be a long walk along the coastal path or a refreshing dip in the sea. But on a day where the weather is not so pleasant, there is a lack of indoor activities to turn to, particularly for those with young and inquisitive children.

Discovering 42 are a community interest company that have recognised this and believe that Cornwall would benefit greatly from the opening of a museum that combines art with science and sustainability.

They are currently raising funds via their Crowdfunder page with the aim of setting up a pilot exhibition for a period of 6 months. During this time, they hope that high footfall will prove that there is a keen interest and desire for this type of attraction and hope to go on to make it a permanent fixture for the region to enjoy.

On their website, Discovering 42 state that they ‘want to challenge the misconceptions that art is frivolous and science is perplexing’. In other words, they wish to demonstrate that art can be an extremely effective and captivating method of conveying important messages. In this particular instance, they aim to use the skill and talent of local Cornish artists to create exhibits that will be, where possible, crafted using recycled or waste materials. They wish to show that when you combine art with science, you are able to engage people on issues they might not have otherwise shown an interest in, in a much more effective way.

Indeed, some of the most memorable pieces of artworks I have seen are where an artist has used their skill and talent to convey a message of importance, typically a message related to an environmental issue or issue of sustainability. One such example is a piece of art known as “Skyscraper” which is a sculpture of a whale made of over five tons of plastic that was found in the Pacific and Atlantic ocean. This sculpture was designed by architects and designers from STUDIOKCA and has been toured around the word. 

I think there is much to be said for the pairing of art and science. Looking back in history, art has long been used as a method for documenting scientific discoveries or progression. An example of this is of Marianne North’s paintings of tropical plants. In her 40’s, Marianne decided she would travel the world and document the worlds flora through paintings. She was an acquaintance of Charles Darwin, who is said to have considered her paintings as excellent examples of his theory of natural selection. Her paintings can be seen to provide a visual accompaniment that aid the understanding of the writings of Darwin, once again demonstrating the benefits that can result from the coupling of art with science.

Cornwall is undoubtedly  ‘a region with creativity at its heart’ and has provided the world with exceptional engineers, scientists and artists. Having a museum where this can be celebrated and recognised would be a great asset to the region and contribute to achieving progress on the CSC’s key ambition of increasing the number of people who are actively engaged and involved with science in Cornwall.

Of course, Cornwall has many other museums to offer that showcase various cultural and historical aspects of the region, such as its maritime links and mining history, that are all worth a visit. In fact, the CSC is currently working closely with the Cornwall Museums Partnership to find a way to support the virtual showcasing of such attractions. So, if you’re interested in finding out more about some of the interesting museums that Cornwall has to offer, do keep your eyes peeled for more information in the coming months!

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Blue Health – the benefits of landscapes featuring water

by Jessica Forsyth

Often after making it through a stressful week at work or whilst going through a challenging life event, we experience the instinctive urge to immerse ourselves into nature. In fact, hearing someone say ‘I need to take a walk’ or ‘I need to get some fresh air’ when they are feeling a bit run down is fairly commonplace. But is there any science behind why the outdoors seems to act as a natural medicine and any evidence that being outdoors actually benefits our health?

In recent years there has been increasing interest in the positive impact that getting out into nature and exploring wild spaces can have for our health and wellbeing, both physical and mental. This idea has broadly been termed ‘Green Health’. As this field of research has expanded, the concept of ‘Blue Health’, that is, ‘the impacts of time spent alongside, in, or under water’ has gained a considerable amount of attention. This attention largely stems from scientists’ comparisons of the health benefits of a variety of natural landscapes which appears to suggest that there are distinct health benefits of being in landscapes featuring water, otherwise referred to as ‘blue spaces’.

One project taking a greater look into these benefits is BlueHealth, a pan-European research project led by Exeter University’s European Centre for Environment and Human Health (ECEHH). During the last four years, over 20 studies have been carried out in more than 18 different countries aimed at gaining an insight into how urban blue spaces affect people’s wellbeing. All over the world people live at the boundaries between water and land – whether it be in coastal areas or along riverbanks. Providing evidence that proximity to blue spaces can have a positive impact on health and wellbeing will help to influence urban planning, encouraging the incorporation of urban-water interfaces as a key feature of any newly planned space.  

The benefits incurred from exploring blue spaces are numerous but one particularly interesting one is the impact it has on our train of thought and sense of self-importance. It is very easy to become consumed by everyday things; the weekly shopping, the trials and tribulations associated with work and the jobs that need doing around the house. Dr Mathew White, who works on the BlueHealth project explains that when we go for a walk on the beach there tends to be “a transition towards thinking outwards towards the environment…putting your life in perspective, if you like.” Indeed, when walking along the beach or a coastal cliff top in Cornwall, it is quite hard to stop yourself becoming overwhelmed by the brooding landscape that surrounds you. Standing looking out to sea serves as a reminder of the fact we are part of something much bigger than just the life we lead, we are part of an ecosystem, and spending time in landscapes or environments much ‘greater than we are, diminishes our own sense of self-importance’. Sometimes this reminder that our troubles are small in comparison to the landscape we stand in, can be a powerful way of grounding us and returning a sense of calm back into our, otherwise, chaotic lives.

The benefits of blue health are now so well recognised that in 2010 it led to the establishment of the world’s first surf-therapy course funded by the NHS. The Wave Project was set up in Watergate Bay in Cornwall with the aim of using surfing to support mental health. After an initial pilot run it was concluded that it provided ‘a demonstrable and cost-effective way to deliver mental health care’ and has since been prescribed to those suffering from anxiety and a range of other mental health conditions including depression, and schizophrenia.  In recent years the importance of understanding mental health and finding new ways to help those suffering with it has grown. Projects such as this provide a clear example, and direct evidence, of the benefits that tapping into the medicine of nature can provide and will hopefully act to encourage the set-up of similarly effective programmes.

A quote by Sophie Hellyer, former British and English surfing champion, describes the effect of being in the sea on her wellbeing; ‘The ocean can change your mood: if you think you’re sad it makes you happy, if you’re feeling stressed it makes you calm. It’s like hitting the reset button’.

Using nature to help reset ourselves is something we should all, where possible, take advantage of. Whether it be going for a surf, if you are lucky enough to have access to blue spaces like the sea, or just a fifteen-minute wander in your local park. Immersing ourselves in nature, in whatever capacity, allows us to stop, reflect, remember what’s important and return to our busy lives just that little less flustered.

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Plastic Pollution: Reduce, Reuse, or Recycle?

by Jessica Forsyth

It is estimated that approximately five million tonnes of plastic are used in the UK each year. Unfortunately, this extraordinary reliance on plastic has resulted in it becoming a common contaminant of the soil, the ocean, and the atmosphere. There can be no doubt that plastic pollution is one of the world’s most pressing environmental issues, but the question remains of how best to resolve it.

It is important to remember that the presence of plastic in the environment is not an inevitable by-product of its use, but a direct result of our irresponsible and unsustainable disposal of it. As a matter of fact, plastic itself has several environmental benefits. These include the impact it has on reducing food wastage by extending the shelf-life of fresh produce, as well as reducing CO2 emissions from the transportation of goods as a result of its lightweight properties.

Scientist Mark Miodownik argues that plastic is too valuable a material to replace. Rather than swapping in other materials, that if improperly disposed of will also cause problems, ‘the more valuable thing to do is to focus efforts on how to make the process of using plastic more sustainable’.

So how can we achieve this? Well, if you were to ask the average person how they thought they could help in the plastic pollution crisis, their answer would likely include the idea of improving their recycling habits.  But should this be the focus of our attention? Many of us will be familiar with the ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ slogan. It is referred to as the ‘waste hierarchy’ because it lists the solutions to waste management in order of their effectiveness.

Interestingly, you will notice that recycling comes last on the list. The UK is considered to be a successful recycling nation with 45.7% of household waste classed as recycled. However, the majority of this recycling does not take place in the UK and where exactly our waste ends up and whether it is ‘truly recycled’ is unclear. Shamefully, in 2017/18 a report found that Westminster Council sent 82% of all household waste, including that put into recycling bins, for incineration. So perhaps we should focus more on reducing our consumption and improving our reuse of plastic. 

people near building

A strategy that the scientists at the University of Portsmouth are focussing on is finding ways to reduce the demand to manufacture new plastic. They have engineered a super enzyme capable of breaking down plastic into its chemical building blocks from which new plastic can be made. In 2018, they discovered that an engineered version of an enzyme known as PETase was capable of breaking down plastic in a matter of days.

Since then, the scientists have discovered a similar enzyme known as MHETase that, when combined, creates a super-enzyme capable of degrading plastic six times faster than PETase alone. Both enzymes were found in a soil bacterium known as Ideonella sakaiensis. Fascinatingly, with so much plastic polluting the environment, it seems that these microbes have evolved ways of turning plastic into a source of energy. By exploiting this ‘naturally occurring plastic-degrading system’ scientists have found a new way of improving our ‘Reuse’ of plastic.

Finally, it is important to remember that manufacturing new plastic from fossil fuels is a relatively cheap process and if any means of recycling or reusing plastic is to compete with this, it needs to rival it in cost. The discovery of this super enzyme is an important step towards this as the increased speed of plastic breakdown translates to a significant reduction in the cost of the process and thus a big step towards its consideration for commercial use.  

green plant in clear glass vase

With the Covid-19 pandemic leading to a rise in single use plastic, the plastic pollution crisis is more evident than ever before. With the discovery of new ways to reuse or recycle plastic comes hope that we can begin to move towards a more circular economy ‘where everything has value and nothing is wasted’. Only then can we hope that we can continue to benefit from the use of plastic as a valuable material without it posing a threat to all life on earth.

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Ocean 3D – Improving the accessibility of Cornish communities with VR

by Jessica Forsyth

For some people, getting out and about to explore new places poses a challenge. This might be the result of a physical disability that makes it difficult to move around or of an anxiety disorder which can make visiting new places an unnerving experience. These are just a couple of examples of the barriers that can leave individuals feeling as if they are shut off from their community. To ensure this is not the case, we must find ways to increase the accessibility of our communities to those with additional needs.

Virtual reality (VR) is a technology that has enormous potential to do just this and is something that the Cornwall based company Ocean 3D has been quick to recognise. Based in Penzance, they conduct 3D and interactive tours with the aim of ‘enabling people to visit, explore and enjoy locations that are difficult or impossible to access due to distance, income, physical or mental disabilities’.

Some of the locations mapped already include The Museum of Cornish Life, Penzance railway station and St Buryan Church, with plans for the near future including a scan of the Old Penlee lifeboat house and a project with the Tate St Ives. These tours are freely accessible via their website and are of an extremely high quality.

Speaking with the director of the company, Chris Wood, I was able to gain an insight into some of his goals for the future, one of which is to be able to create scans of entire villages with links to 3D tours of artist studios and village shops that can be viewed worldwide. We also spoke about the positive impact that the company had achieved through the creation and provision of these tours to members of the community.

One example that Chris provided was some feedback he had received from families that had utilised the tours for elderly relatives. For some who were bedbound this had allowed them to explore locations that they had fond memories of but could no longer manage to visit and for others, who suffered from dementia, it had had the power of triggering positive memories that were thought to have been lost.

More and more research is being conducted into the variety of benefits that VR can provide with studies ranging from exploring its use in combatting loneliness in the elderly to its use in exposure therapy for the treatment of anxiety disorders. Ultimately, the benefits of VR are unique to the individual but whatever capacity it is that these tours help in is an important step in improving the inclusivity of society and therefore a step in the right direction.

The emphasis that Ocean 3D has on using this technology to benefit those at a disadvantage is commendable and if you wish to find out more about their work please visit their website at https://www.ocean3d.co.uk/.