The Royal Institution of Cornwall – the organisation that owns and manages the Royal Cornwall Museum and Courtney Library – was founded in 1818 for ‘the promotion of knowledge in natural history, ethnology and the fine and industrial arts, especially in relation to Cornwall’. This is still at the heart of everything the RCM does, from collecting, display, exhibitions, education, publishing and their outreach programmes.
Emma Williams, Curator of Social History, has written up the experience
of teaching volunteers how to be museum curators:
“We were very reluctant to recruit any volunteers before having our funding guaranteed as that would get up people’s hopes and would look bad if funding or the level of funding we applied for hadn’t
come through. However after getting everything confirmed we set to recruiting
our volunteers. We produced a flyer and sent it out to all RIC members
in the RIC newsletter. We also sent it to ICE members in the South West
via their e-newsletter and to members of the Trevithick Society.
of mixed abilities and backgrounds (civil engineers, railway enthusiasts,
RIC members and Brunel enthusiasts) attended our initial meeting. We
discussed the project and its proposed outcomes, identified relevant
places and organisations to approach to start the research phase e.g.
universities, libraries, museums collection and rail operators etc and
put together the timescale for the project. At this point one member
dropped out of the group due to increased work commitments. The meeting
was our first opportunity to get the entire group together and highlighted
the difficulties that lay ahead in juggling all their other private commitments
with the project schedule. Prior commitments became a large issue for
all of us as the project progressed and, combined with the delayed start,
meant that the project ran through the summer holidays rather than in
the spring. This made it a real challenge to deliver the project on time
especially as I was due to get married 4 weeks before the exhibition
The group had a series of meetings
to look at the proposed exhibitions space, to talk through the exhibitions
requirements and to go through our ‘idiots guide’ to
exhibition planning. After that they were able to divide up areas of
responsibility between themselves and then draw up a scheme of work.
They then met independently with one of our photographic collection volunteers
to look though the indexes of historic photographs to select key images
required for the project. One group member was then charged with the
sourcing and scanning of the relevant historic images.
was then set up by two of the team to meet the Chief Engineer responsible
for the Cornwall line from Scott Wilson – Geoff Smith-Grogan. He went though OS maps with us highlighting Brunel structures that he knew of and potential ones that he wasn’t
as sure about for us to research further. He agreed to source trackside/line
side images that we cannot access due to health and safety and also agreed
to assist us with any further research.
Digital Photography training with
Simon Green of Digital Imagination started in earnest at the beginning
of the summer. We looked at the basics of how to use the cameras purchased
for the project with Simon highlighting the existing skills of the volunteers
and tailoring his advice to their needs e.g. composition of shots, lighting,
depth of field etc.
The group then met to select the best historic images out
of those sourced and discussed the merits of recreating those exact shots
for juxtaposition in the exhibition. One of the group had pinpointed
all of the sites to be targeted and site visits were then co-ordinated
and teams were set up.
Armed with digital cameras, O.S maps, ladders,
high vis jackets, hard hats, first Aid kits and the obligatory risk assessment
forms the teams were ready for the off:
Team 1 – Visited and photographed structures between Truro and
Team 2 – Visited and photographed structures between Truro, Falmouth
The exhibition team met during this time with the exhibition’s officer to discuss vinyl and graphics for the floor of the exhibition space, framing or mounting of images and any construction needed in the space. One team member was designated to draft the publicity text and the team proofed it and selected the photographs available for our “What’s on” leaflets.
Also posters and text panels were discussed and partially agreed.
image selection for the exhibition was done by the team as a whole over
a number of long days; however consensus was reached very easily.
The teams did a second session of photography in
East Cornwall all together visiting Menheniot, St.Germans and Saltash
where they had a picnic by the Royal Albert Bridge!
The final exhibition
image selection meeting was held just before I left to go on wedding
leave and all went to the printers without a hitch.
All team members were involved in the installation of
the exhibition and the designing of the interactive train cab, signal
and mini viaducts. The interactives were built and installed by one of
the team and another of our team members worked with the education team
to produce educational resources for use within the space.
All text for the exhibition was written by group members and proofed by
me with our director, Hilary Bracegirdle.
The exhibition dates had to
be rescheduled for 30th September – 23rd
December 2006 as that was the next available exhibition space, once we
had revised the project start dates.
The exhibition was installed by the
team over 2 days. The official opening went without a hitch on the 30th
September. We had over 30 people to the opening including the Heritage
Lottery Fund monitor for Cornwall and it had good press coverage. The
exhibition was very popular and the museum was inundated with requests
fro the public for information about it and its run.
Education sessions run by education department and one of our team members
were held over half term and proved very popular. We also had a number
of self-guided school visits.
Once the exhibition was up and running a
second research phase looking again at Bridges through Historic O.S maps
was instigated. This second phase was planned by the team in order to
fully complete the detailed archive of research to be housed at the museum.
Work on pulling
together the publication continued in earnest after the Christmas break.
The team decided that although it would have been nice to produce the
publication to be published at the same time as the exhibition, they
soon realised that due to time constraints it would be impossible. As
they felt that the research and publication legacy of the project was
key they voted to work on the publication after the exhibition to complete
it to the best possible standard and to allow them more time to fine
tune their research. After a team publication meeting, the co-ordination
of the booklet was undertaken by one group member.
A second phase of photography was necessary to capture structures
that were camouflaged by foliage during the summer months and to take
the important record shots for the archive of the less photogenic (and
thus exhibit able) structures. Following that a final selection of images
and text for publication was required.
The launch of the publication
is scheduled for early March. Its launch is timed to coincide with the
RIC newsletter and the launch of the Brunel 200 legacy website going
live, affording us free publicity for the booklet.
The team is keen to keep working with the museum
and it has been decided that a few of them will formally accession and
archive the digital images into the museum’s collection under the supervision of the Photographic collection’s
Royal Cornwall Museum
River Street, Truro, Cornwall, TR1 2SJ
Tel 01872 272205
Dial 0 to speak to the Receptionist
Fax 01872 240514