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Royal Cornwall Museum - your help required!

Last Updated: 19th Oct 2017

By Roy Starkey

An article published in the West Briton on 9 March 2017 highlights the good news that the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro has received a major funding boost from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The project is clearly now well-advanced because the article names the successful bidders who will “consider the visitor experience and how the museum might be adapted to cater for an improved experience for Cornwall’s resident communities as well as tourists.”

Many Mindat readers will be familiar with the Royal Cornwall Museum, and in particular with the Rashleigh Collection of minerals which is housed there. The Rashleigh Collection is of national and international importance, and has for many years been displayed in a dedicated, and beautifully fitted-out, gallery on the right hand side of the museum entrance.
One of the things which sets the Rashleigh Gallery apart is the very high density of objects on display, and the excellent detailed labels which accompany every specimen (placed adjacent to the specimen). The displays feature a mix of wall cases and table-top display cases, and the general feel of the gallery is of a historical treasure house – which indeed it is. It is unquestionably the finest public display of Cornish minerals anywhere in the World, and we must ensure that the Museum recognises the international importance, and preserves the integrity, of the displays in any redevelopment programme.
The article in the West Briton mentions that the museum is seeking public feedback to assist with developing the design brief for the project, but unfortunately the online questionnaire runs only through February and March so the publicity is rather delayed if the museum really wants feedback.

My purpose in posting this article is to raise awareness across the international mineralogical community of the opportunity for engagement, and hopefully to influence the eventual outcome of the project. The first step should be for as many people as possible to complete the online questionnaire – available here http://www.royalcornwallmuseum.org.uk/things-to-do/events/museum-survey

It is not all that obvious on the website, which is a shame, and it does not clearly indicate that this is a public consultation exercise in relation to the recent HLF-funded redevelopment project. It will take you only a few minutes to complete – so please take a look and do wave the flag for the mineral collection and Rashleigh Gallery. There is also the opportunity to be invited to a focus group discussion to put forward your own ideas, so if you live within striking distance of Truro, do please sign up for an invitation.

The general trend in modern museum display design seems to be to reduce object density, increase “interactivity” and “interpretation“ (i.e. text and graphics), and unfortunately to “dumb-down” the visitor experience. Lighting is also an aspect of many modern displays which is a particular “hobbyhorse” of mine – see my conference poster here https://www.researchgate.net/publication/272510604_The_Good_the_Bad_and_the_Ugly_Museum_Displays_-why_do_we_keep_making_the_same_mistakes

You might also care to write a thoughtful letter to Ian Wall, Director of the Royal Cornwall Museum (25 River St, Truro TR1 2SJ, UK), highlighting your interest in, and affection for, the mineral collection and the Rashleigh Gallery. Alternatively, you can email him at ian.wall@royalcornwallmuseum.org.uk

You can find some background information on the Rashleigh Collection here
and here

An excellent overview of Philip Rashleigh is available on Wikipedia here

Mindat photo 253144 shows a shot of the Rashleigh Gallery
Rashleigh Gallery, Royal Cornwall Museum

Such is the international importance of Philip Rashleigh and his collection that the Mineralogical Record collector biographies website features a major account of the man and his collection. http://www.minrec.org/artwork.asp?artistid=44&cat=1
which draws on the excellent article by Bob Jones - Jones, R. W. (1995) Philip Rashleigh and his Specimens of British Minerals (1797 and 1802). Mineralogical Record, 26, 77-84. A major article by Thomas Moore was published in 2013 - The Royal Cornwall Museum and the Philip Rashleigh collection, Truro, Cornwall, England. Mineralogical RecordVol. 44, No. 4, 449-462.

The Royal Cornwall Museum itself highlighted the huge importance of the Rashleigh Collection by nominating it as one of the BBC’s 100 objects describing the history of the World (Cornwall) http://www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/objects/AxcIGMslS2K18LcZ1PgJ6g

"ROYAL CORNWALL MUSEUM. Cornwall's mining and mineral wealth triggered the development of many fine mineral collections. Perhaps the most famous is that which belonged to Philip Rashleigh of Menabilly near Fowey. As a wealthy local Gentleman in the right place at the right time with the right connections and extensive mineral rights, he started to collect minerals in the 1760s and continued until his death in 1811. This collecting activity coincided with the mining of particularly rich copper lodes in Gwennap so the Rashleigh collection is very rich in specimens from this area. His near complete, beautifully documented collection still resides in the county where it was put together. It is housed at the Royal Cornwall Museum along with his manuscript catalogues and copies of his illustrated published volumes etc."

If you have never had the opportunity to visit the museum, take a look at this short video showing Dougal Jerram presenting the Rashleigh Collection on You Tube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3JTghBKqSE

So, the message is – there is new funding available to help the Royal Cornwall Museum, which is excellent news, BUT we all need to make sure that the future of the Rashleigh Gallery and the mineral collection in Truro is secured, and that the unique historical appeal of the gallery and the huge number of specimens on display is not compromised in any way by the HLF redevelopment project.

Please get involved, and get writing – time is short.



This article is linked to the following museum: Royal Cornwall Museum (Cornwall)

Article has been viewed at least 2763 times.

Discuss this Article

12th Mar 2017 03:42 GMTMalcolm Southwood Expert

Roy thanks for bringing this to wider attention. It would be an absolute tragedy if an injection of funds led to a modernization that changed, significantly, a wonderful exhibit of such historically significant material. Let's hope for a positive outcome!

12th Mar 2017 15:25 GMTPeter Nancarrow Expert

I have filled in the museum's online questionnaire,and sent you a pm with the salient points of my answers for you reference.

Pete N.

12th Mar 2017 21:09 GMTRoy Starkey Expert

Thanks Malcolm and Peter. It really is important that the international mineralogical community does all it can to protect the collection and gallery at Truro. I've received a lot of positive and supportive messages since posting the article.


13th Mar 2017 11:49 GMTDale Foster Expert

Having visited the Rashleigh Gallery over many years, I will probably be one of the few who thinks it has gone from being a superb systematic mineral display to a somewhat reduced display that seems to have championed style over substance.

I would prefer to see it revert to its older form with more material on display.

13th Mar 2017 22:49 GMTRoy Starkey Expert

Thanks Dale - everyone will have different views, so the important thing is make sure that the Museum and Project Team hear the views of the mineralogical community and that we all do what we can to ensure that the collection is valued and protected. So the more people who complete the online survey, or write-in, the better.

14th Mar 2017 18:02 GMTKnut Eldjarn Manager

I have only visited the museum in Truro once - 20 years ago when travelling Cornwall with my wife and children. But the Rashleigh collection made a lasting impression (not the least the Liroconite!) that I gladly have contributed to the survey. I hope there will be a strong presence of mineral specimens on display at the museum also in the future!

Kn ut

15th Mar 2017 08:20 GMTRoy Starkey Expert

Thanks for your support Knut - there has been an excellent response with people completing the online survey and also offering to write to Ian Wall. This is great and can only help to generate awareness and raise the profile of the mineral collection.

Let's keep encouraging our colleagues to complete the survey and support the cause.

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