Celebrating 200 Years: the Royal Cornwall Museum comes to life!

royal cornwall museum

It is damp and dreary but I have been looking forward to today for months so I was going to be put off. Walking up the granite steps into the museum I was immediately stuck by how bright everything looks. And how busy, my favourite little museum had really come alive!

I have been going to the Royal Cornwall Museum since the 1980s. I think every person I know who went to school in Cornwall has been taken to see the Egyptian mummy at some point. Since those school trips I have continued to visit regularly, to use the library, to hunt down an object I have read about or to attend a talk. But today really felt like a new chapter.


The hard work of the past few months has paid off. All the familiar displays have been Continue reading


My Guide to Open Studios

Once a year makers all over the county open up their studios to the public. Its a rare and precious opportunity to seeing all kinds of craftspeople – potters, jewellers and painters at work and buy straight from them.

DSC03775I try and fill my life with what makes me happy – my friends, walking, writing, photography and learning something new. I want to spend my time doing as much of what I love as possible and I have to admit not having the responsibility of children allows me to do that freely!

Art (beautiful things) is also one of my loves.

Today I visited the Open Studios event at the Krowji Creative Space in Redruth.

For years I have seen the bright orange O’s in the hedgerows, not really realising what it signifies (that there is a maker nearby you can visit) but I learnt that at Krowji you visit about 50 craftspeople all in one place, without the hassle and extra cost of driving about the countryside.

I have to say I have had a really wonderful day. So many beautiful and inventive things to see it is really hard to pick which ones to talk about but these are my highlights! I particularly enjoyed the bright and bold screenprints of Paul Bawden especially when he let me have a good myself! So much fun and such a lovely man!


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Cornwall & The Nebra Sky Disc

Hanns, the custodian of the hotel shakes our hands warmly.  There are no other guests so he is delighted to tell us we have been ungraded to a better room.  Our window looks out on a typical German street of apartment blocks, the walls now warmly lit red in the setting sun. Halle an der Saale gets its rhythmical name from the briny salt springs that were once the town’s mainstay but Hanns is wondering what has brought two British tourists 3 hours on the slow train from Berlin to his little town.

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Side street with tram line in Halle

When I explain that we have come all the way from Cornwall to visit Halle’s museum his belly shakes with laughter. “Fifty years I have lived in this town” he says “and I have never been to the museum – maybe next year I’ll go”.

Halle is a beautiful town, there was clearer plenty of money to be made in salt.  The cobbled market square is  surrounded by 16th century houses and in it’s centre looming above the yellow trams is the grand ancient clock tower.  The town is also a town of music having connections to both Handel and Bach, as the next day as I walk the narrow streets in the direction of the museum I notice that the buskers are of a particularly high standard.

Halle’s State Museum has one of the finest and most comprehensive collections of prehistory artefacts in Europe.  In the hills near by more than 1000 prehistoric barrows (ancient burial chambers) have been identified.  The museum houses some 15 million items, but I have come all this way just to see one.  The Nebra Sky Disc.

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Halle’s Prehistory Museum (Landesmuseum fur Vorgeschichte)

Sometimes wonderful and utterly unique pieces of our past are discovered that throw our understanding and admiration of our ancestors into a whole new light.  These objects speak to us somehow.  The first time I saw a photograph of the Nebra Sky Disc I was star-stuck but when I learnt of its connection to Cornwall I just had to go and see the real thing up close.

Despite the museum’s international reputation on the day we arrive there are very few visitors besides ourselves.  As we enter a group of elderly German tourists politely applaud their guide and shuffle back to their tour bus, a class of local schoolchildren are eating their pack-lunches on the grass outside while the security guards chat with each other and wander slowly between floors.  It is all cool marble and glass inside, a welcome relief from the sweltering summer heat outside.  I am ashamed to admit that I am so excited to finally be there that I walk straight passed the cases containing thousands of precious items and head straight for one gallery.

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The Nebra Sky Disc

The room as you enter it is initially pitch black, I feel as if I am stepping into a void.  As my eyes adjust a starry sky of glistening stars appears and as I take it all in I realise I am looking at the Milky Way silently revolving above my head.

Moving deeper into the room the sky disc comes into view, it is the only lit object and the only source of light.  It is wonderful in the fullest and most complete sense of the word.

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Detail showing the Pleiades

The disc put simply was a kind of calendar and map of the night sky.  There are stars, a crescent moon and a full moon (or sun).  The cluster of stars at the top right of the disc represents the Pleiades constellation which appears in the sky in the spring and possibly denoted when it was time for planting of crops.

The two gold arcs that run along the edge of the disc (one is now missing) are set at a 82 degree angle which it is believed indicates the angle between the sunsets of the summer and winter solstices in the precise area in Germany where the disc was found.  There is also a theory that the number of stars represented denotes how many years had to pass before the ancients had to make adjustments to their calendar – like our leap year from what I understand.

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The Golden Boat

And then of course there is the golden boat.  The myth of a boat which carries the sun and the moon across the sky is an idea which has permeated other cultures – particularly the Egyptians – but this one predates any other.

The Nebra Sky Disc is completely unique, nothing else like it has ever been found.

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The back the disc

Peering through the the glass at the reverse of the disc I can clearly see the marks the maker produced hammering it into shape maybe as much as 4000 years ago.  It is roughly 30cm in diameter and made of bronze and gold.  It’s exact age is uncertain but we know it was buried around 3600 years ago and that during it’s life it was remodelled and reused in a number of different stages while still in use.

The stages in the life of the Nebra Sky Disc
The stages in the life of the Sky Disc. Photo credit: LDA Sachsen-Anhalt

The disc’s connection to Cornwall lies in it’s creation.  Analysis of the metals used shows that the tin in the bronze came from Cornwall and the gold used to form the stars and moons was from the Carnon valley, just a few miles from Truro.  If you visit the Royal Cornwall Museum you can see many of the gold finds from the area, including a nugget of gold from in the Carnon valley – the largest found in the county.

To me this thought is magical, that something so beautiful and so important both then and now started life – if only in part – in Cornwall.  And that idea opens up so many other questions – Where was the disc made?  Who mined that gold?  Who transported to Germany?  Why was it buried and lost for so long?

When I leave Halle’s museum I have a huge smile on my face, I can’t wait to tell Hanns that it was worth it, worth the drive to London, the flight to Germany and the two slow trains it had taken to get there!

For other similar stories try: A King and our Lost Cornish Gold or Ravens & Cornwall’s first graffiti artist







John Couch Adams – The Stargazy Cornishman and the search for Neptune

If you google ‘how to find a new planet’ an article published in The Guardian in May pops up.  In recent months, it reports, NASA has discovered 1200 new planets orbiting distant stars in far off solar systems. In just the last couple of weeks a possible “earth-like” planet has also been discovered.  How far we have come and how deep we can reach into space makes it seem all the more improbable that it is only a mere 86 years since Pluto, the farthest planet (I know, debateable) in our own solar system, was discovered.

Back in the early 19th century however, according to thinking at the time, there were still only 6 planets including our own.  Finding a new planet in the night sky with the telescopes that they had back then was in many ways more luck than judgement.

And it was a Cornishman who lucked out and discovered Neptune, well, more to the point he predicted the existence of Neptune, because that’s what you did apparently, you found the signs of its existence, you didn’t actually see the planet itself.  (Are you picking up on to the fact that science was not my forte at school, along with maths and netball?)

John Couch Adams was born in Lidcott in North Cornwall in 1819 and I know he had no problem with maths at school! The young farmer’s son showed a natural aptitude to algebra and developed an early passion for astronomy after seeing Halley’s Comet in the clear Cornish skies in 1835.

While still an undergraduate at Cambridge in 1841, Adams made notes that he had decided to investigate:-

… the irregularities of the motion of Uranus…in order to find out whether they may be attributed to the action of an undiscovered planet beyond it.

Adams became convinced of the existence of another planet. However he was it seems a unassuming man, many of the other students hardly recalled him, those who did said he was a neat, quiet fellow in a faded green frock coat and not much else. True to his nature Adams only made his findings concerning the new planet known to his small inner circle of like-minded friends.  He did hand in a report in September 1845 to the Cambridge Observatory and this was passed onto the Royal Observatory at Greenwich but it didn’t cause much of a ripple.

When the Frenchman Urbain Le Verrier announced his ‘discovery’ of the possible location of a new planet in 1846 Adams made little attempt at a counter claim, in fact he is said to have written a paper in which he bashfully congratulated Le Verrier on his success.  It was Adams’ friends who reminded the scientific community of his earlier work and in the end the Royal Observatory had to admit their mistake. As a result both men were given the credit for Neptune’s discovery.

Adams went on to work quietly within the field of astronomy for

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Memorial to Adams in Truro Cathedral

the rest of his life teaching and making many other discoveries mostly around comets and meteors. He gained honorary degrees from Oxford, Dublin, Edinburgh, and Bologna and  was elected to the Royal Society, the St Petersburg Academy and to The Academy of Sciences.  But Adams was never one to boast of his achievements and it is said that when he was offered a knighthood in 1847 he turned it down. His own students remembered him mostly for setting them dastardly maths problems to solve.

I think Adams is a wonderful character who despite perhaps his own wishes shouldn’t be allowed to fade into the background.  We as a race have always been so fascinated by what lies beyond our own blue planet and that fascination continues to the present day in our culture and our scientific strivings.  It was men like Adams who were at the forefront of each new discovery that pushed us little by little to where we are today – gazing at a planet like our own 500 light years away.

Because of our long mining heritage there is a saying in Cornwall that if there is a hole anywhere in the world you will find a Cornishman at the bottom of it, I like to think that there is a Cornishman amongst the stars too.

For another clever Cornishman try : The Singular Mr Daniel Gumb & his house of rocks