Standing tall in Helston’s town centre, the historic market buildings are an iconic part of the town’s long standing history. Whilst many admire the outside, the real story of the town’s colourful past lays behind the building’s doors.
Home to Helston Museum, the former Market House and Drill Hall houses a treasure trove of memories, artefacts and archaeological history. The museum has five display halls spread over three floors, all packed with thousands of objects that tell a unique story of local ancestry and Cornish heritage.
Although the museum was originally founded in 1937, the collections moved to its current location of the Market Buildings in 1949. The historic building was originally designed as the town’s Market House and was made up of two separate structures. These buildings originally occupied the butter market and then expanded into the meat market in the early 1980s. The unique sloping granite floor, still in place, is a reminder of the bustling activity that took place in decades past.
Today, the museum is an interactive family attraction, visited by hundreds every year and encourages people of all ages to take part and get involved. The museum houses one of the largest and diverse social history collections in the South West, which ranges from archaeological evidence of the earliest settlers to the Lizard Peninsula, to a fully stocked 1950s kitchen.
With local heritage at the heart of everything they do, there is also a permanent display dedicated to Flora Day, including the famous Flora Day Clock.
In addition to this, the museum has a collection of over 20,000 photographs, documents and objects, which archive and demonstrate how life was on the Lizard Peninsula during the 18th – 20th centuries, providing an insight into everything from mining, fishing and farming through to home life. This year the collection was digitised, allowing more people to view these artefacts online.
The museum is run by a small team of two permanent members of staff and supported by a team of over 80 volunteers. This support allows the organisation to host events and special school workshops, such as immersive learning sessions, allowing children to ‘go back in time’ and relive how life would have been in the Victorian period or during WWII.
The museum hosts one of the best collection of costumes in Cornwall, allowing the general public to view historic garments, including a Victorian gentleman’s smoking jackets, a prisoner of war shirt, as well as more conventional clothing from various periods.
Staying true to its local roots, the museum also has intensive information on various local personalities of interest, which has proved popular with local residents, including boxer Bob Fitzsimmons, inventors William Bickford and Guglielmo Marconi, as well as inventor of the ‘Rocket’ life saving apparatus, Henry Trengrouse.
This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Museum, which is officially celebrated throughout November. 2018 is set to be another packed year of activities as January sees four new projects taking place, including a project entitled ‘walk with me’ which involves working with Sithney Guides and Kneehigh Theatre. There is also a project working with artists Melanie Young and Caroline Schanche, entitled ‘Cooking with Gas’, which is inspiring the stories of cooking and sharing food that bring people together.
Admission to Helston Museum is free for the general public, and is open Monday to Saturday from 10am – 4pm. For more information on the exhibitions, or upcoming events, get in touch by calling 01326 564027 or visit their website http://www.helstonmuseum.co.uk/.
- Previously run by Cornwall Council, management of the museum was taken over by the South Kerrier Heritage Trust in August 2013. The Trust is a local registered charity working with the community, and day to day work at the museum is largely undertaken by volunteers.
- The museum has a set of of 11 memory boxes that go out to schools, memory cafes and residential homes. These boxes ignite memories of the past for older people and for young people provide a physical link to that past.
- The museum celebrates 80 Years of being a museum this year in November 2017.
- In June the museum finished an 18 month project funded by HLF to digitize their extensive photographic collection – you can now view them at http://photographs.helstonmuseum.org.uk/
- In December the museums will be 3D documenting their amazing costume collection and will be the first museum in the SW to embark on a project like this using SketchFab – thanks to funding from Cornwall Museums Partnership supported by ACE
- The ‘Walk With Me’ project working with young people (Sithney Guides) and Kneehigh Theatre is supported by Heritage Lottery Fund
- The ‘Cooking with Gas’ project that takes as its starting point ‘food glorious food’; songs, memories, utensils and artefacts inspiring the stories of cooking and sharing food that bring people together, funded through Bright Sparks by Cornwall Museums Partnership & Feast supported by ACE
This article was featured in the West Briton on Thursday, November 30, 2017.