A History of Cornwall in 100 Objects

PUBLISHED: 00:16 23 March 2011 | UPDATED: 19:04 20 February 2013

A History of Cornwall in 100 Objects

A History of Cornwall in 100 Objects

Inspired by the BBC's History of the World series, Cornish museums have got together to produce a list of 100 artefacts that tell the county's story. Sue Bradbury finds out more

Inspired by the BBCs History of the World series, Cornish museums have got together to produce a list of 100 artefacts that tell the countys story. Sue Bradbury finds out more

Did you know that, little more than a century ago, unmarried mothers in Cornwall could be sent to St Lawrences lunatic asylum in Bodmin and be made to wear a uniform dark dress that condemned them to a life under lock and key? These clothes are now on display at Bodmin Museum.
Were you aware that you can see a Civil War helmet worn by Parliamentarian Major Thomas Johnson at the Liskeard and District Museum? He wore it during a battle at Braddock Down between Liskeard and Lostwithiel on 19 January 1643.
Have you seen the faded and battered stool at Mevagissey Museum that belonged to a Cornishman who emigrated to America? John Varcoe was a carpenter and master builder and, when he and his family left England to seek a better life, his widowed mother sent them an embroidered needlepoint pattern in wool of an American eagle. John made a stool to display the tapestry, which he brought home when he and his wife returned to Mevagissey in the 1890s.
And what about the old wooden surfboards at Perranzabuloe Museum, the pasty money box on show at King Edward Mine Museum near Camborne, or the tin ingot at Looe Museum that is thought to be about 2,000 years old?
There are more than 60 museums, country houses and historic heritage attractions in Cornwall some of them tiny and run by volunteers, others more high profile. What they share is a passion for preserving the countys rich heritage. Inspired by the BBCs hugely successful History of the World project, the museums have all worked together to produce A History of Cornwall in 100 Objects. Each artefact has its own story and each, accompanied by a photograph, appears on the BBCs website. You can also see them for yourself, of course, by visiting the museums.
In Polperro, for example, there is a sword that used to belong to Robert Mark, a local smuggler. The village was notorious for smuggling, dating from the 1680s when a tax was imposed on salt, essential for preserving pilchards. Roberts sword dates from 1789 and is on loan from the Royal Armouries.

There are more than 60 museums, country houses and historic heritage attractions in Cornwall

No less intriguing is the Bude fossil fish soon to be on display in Bude Castle. Three hundred million years ago the Earth was in titanic upheaval, with Africa crashing into Europe at the speed fingernails grow. The colossal pinching of these two land masses created a super-lake thousands of kilometres wide; over time this salt water freshened and became known as Lake Bude. In the 1930s the remains of a fossil fish were discovered in the unique Bude Rock Formation. Classified as a new species and named Cornuboniscus Budensis, it was sardine-sized with razor-sharp teeth. Budes fossil fish is found nowhere else in the world.
Launceston Castle was the Cornish base of Richard, Earl of Cornwall, one of the most powerful men in medieval Europe. He was given the Earldom in 1227 as a 16th birthday present from his brother, King Henry III, and became a great benefactor of Launceston. He was a wealthy, colourful character and his coat of arms can be seen on a glazed earthenware tile that is exhibited at Lawrence House Museum in Launceston.
The Wayside Museum at Zennor features Bronze Age saddle querns that were used for grinding corn. Constantine Heritage Centre has a portable lidded Methodist font from Constantine chapel. Geevor Tin Mine in Pendeen is displaying the T-shirts, videos and badges produced by the local support group that helped save the mine from closure. And Pendennis Castle in Falmouth holds a collection of Second World War George Butterworth cartoons.
Cornwall boasts a rich, compelling history that is kept alive by the people many of them volunteers who run the countys museums, says Jo Mattingly, one of the three Museum Development Officers who have helped co-ordinate the 100 Objects project. Choosing 100 artefacts from the thousands painstakingly collected has been very difficult but, although the list is far from definitive, we hope we have come up with a cross-section of treasures that will encourage more visitors to look at the collections for themselves. Its truly amazing what you can discover.

For more information about all 100 objects, visit: www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/user/CornwallMuseums and for more information about Cornwalls museums visit: www.museumsincornwall.org.uk

10 of the Best

Chosen by Karin Easton, Honorary Secretary at Perranzabuloe Museum. Karin is a volunteer and has played a major part in the project.

Gurneys blowpipe Bude Castle. Developed by Sir Goldsworthy Gurney around 1820, the oxy-hydrogen blowpipe safely burnt oxygen and hydrogen together, creating a very hot flame. The invention led to the discovery of limelight, used in theatres until the end of the 19th century. Gurneys adaptation, Bude Light, lit the House of Commons for 60 years.

Viva Geevor T-shirt Geevor Tin Mine. Created to encourage support for mining, the campaign included a march on Downing Street in 1986.

Trengrouses rocket Helston Museum. An invention that is credited with saving the lives of thousands of people, the rocket was capable of carrying a lifeline to a wrecked ship.

Cornish pasty money box King Edward Mine. When Cornish miners emigrated, elements of their culture went with them. This money box came from Mineral Point in Wisconsin.

Padstow Obby Oss Padstow Museum. One of Cornwalls most famous and enduring folk customs, the Oss is the focus of the towns May Day celebrations.

Surfboards Perranzabuloe Museum. The first boards were flat and made from two pieces of tongue-and-groove deal screwed to three wooden cross-pieces.

Cornwall RFU rugby shirt Redruth Town Museum. The shirt dates from 1991 when Cornwall won the County Championship the first time since 1908.

Opies paintbox St Agnes Museum. John Opie was a successful portrait and history painter who became Professor of Painting at the Royal Academy in 1806.

Huers horn and bushes St Ives Museum. From his vantage point on the cliffs, the huer used these to guide seine fishermen to shoals of pilchards.

Bronze Age saddle querns Wayside Museum, Zennor. Saddle querns were used for grinding corn.

Latest from the Cornwall Life