Pride at The Royal Cornwall Museum

Royal Cornwall Museum at Cornwall Pride 2018

The Royal Cornwall Museum Pride Project is a rolling programme which started in 2017. It strives to uncover neglected heritage stories of LGBTQ Cornwall and is an integral platform offering queer events across the Cornish community.

Evidence of sexuality and gender fluidity have often been neglected in history. This is not through lack of evidence in which diversity existed, but representative of how political views can shape the histories being communicated. As a result, queer stories were often ‘straightened out’ or smoothed over, which meant an open discussion of sexuality in history didn’t exist.

The Museums ongoing pride project began with attending Cornwall Pride in 2017. This was followed by a year-long research project into queer history in Cornwall, culminating in a BBC Radio Cornwall series where different queer figures from Cornish history were discussed in the run up to pride 2018.

Publicising these historical queer stories from Cornish history challenges the heteronormativity of historiography, as many of the historical stories discussed in the series are well known local people who have been detached from their queer identity, such as Daphne Du Maurier. It is vital to remember the importance of championing these stories and to offer them a platform of validating Cornish history as queer history, as prejudice is still prevalent in many forms today.

LGBTQ Pride attendees with Royal Cornwall Museum

At Cornwall Pride in 2018 we took along a video recorder and asked attendees why pride in Cornwall was important to them. This contemporary collecting created a snapshot of queer identity which has now been accessioned into the Museums’ permanent collections. This was a significant step for the Royal Cornwall Museum as previously, nothing in the collection (a collection of over 500,000 objects) had been noted as LGBTQ. Despite a 200-year long presence in Cornwall, 2018 was the first time an openly queer object was accessioned.

In 2019, the Museum will be promoting gender fluidity in Cornish History where it will be exploring the stories of Gluck, Samuel Foote, Marlow Moss and many more.

Some may see the museum’s presence at Cornwall Pride as unexpected. The RCM is the first Museum of its time, in Cornwall, to attend Cornwall Pride. Statements such as ‘I did not expect the Royal Cornwall Museum to be at Pride’ and ‘I didn’t think the Museum would be the kind of place to support us’ were often heardThis is exactly the sort of appearance the RCM and historical institutions across the UK are endeavouring to break free from; the National Trust took a big step in exploring queer stories associated with their properties and the V&A have LGBTQ tours of the galleries.

Museums are not intended to be a neutral space and are there to inform and be open to interpretation, acting for and with everyone. The Museum is working hard on celebrating diversity by actively expanding the programme to become more inclusive, and by working with community groups. The Royal Cornwall Museum’s Pride project sends a message of acceptance, it allows the museum to welcome everybody and allows people to interact with their heritage in a way they possibly couldn’t or wouldn’t have before.

Pride at Royal Cornwall Museum 

This August the Museum will host a week-long pride event featuring:

  • An evening with local drag act Roxie Moron on Wednesday 17 August.
  • A talk by Dan Vo, who founded the award-winning volunteer-led LGBTQ Tours at V&A, London and developed Bridging Binaries for University of Cambridge Museums. He works with museums and galleries to shine a light on objects which explore gender and sexual identities through a queer lens.

If you would like to get involved in the Museums Pride project, please apply to be a Citizen Curator with the Museum, as part of the programme will support the Pride project.

Read more on The Hidden Histories of Cornwall’s Queer Community here!

– Sophie Meyer
Marketing and Digital Lead, Royal Cornwall Museum

Spotlight on: Katie Wylie, Marketing and Digital Intern at Royal Cornwall Museum

After five fantastic months, I am now nearing the end of my placement as the Marketing and Digital Intern at the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro. My role at the RCM has primarily involved assisting the Marketing and Digital Lead, Sophie Meyer, in promoting stories from the museum’s collections. This has mainly been achieved through a mix of social media, blogs and online exhibitions.

I have also had the opportunity to attend a number of talks and conferences, including the Museums Association ‘Digital Basics Bootcamp’ at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester. I have learnt a lot about the importance of creating great content – using my knowledge to explore the collections, stores and archives, and to bring hitherto unknown tales to the fore.

Knowing that my term at the RCM would take in International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month (both in March), I have been particularly inspired to focus on the women that are represented in the museum’s collections.

Staff and patients, including Red Cross nurses, outside the Royal Cornwall Infirmary, Truro, Cornwall. 21st July 1916. © From the collection of the RIC (TRURI-TRUhrc-9). As featured in the online exhibition ‘Behind the Lines: Personal Stories of the First World War’.

For example, with the recent online exhibition ‘Behind the Lines: Personal Stories of the First World War’, I was keen to incorporate pieces on both Red Cross nurses and the Women’s Land Army in Cornwall. The RCM’s photographic collection clearly shows their remarkable contribution to the war effort – training to help the sick and wounded and taking on demanding agricultural work. It was a privilege to research their time at the Royal Cornwall Infirmary and Tregavethan Farm near Truro.

Members of the First World War Women’s Land Army at Tregavethan Farm, Truro, Cornwall. April-May 1917. © From the collection of the RIC (TRURI-1972-2-56). As featured in the online exhibition ‘Behind the Lines: Personal Stories of the First World War’.

Likewise, I am currently participating in a campaign devised by the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Using social media, they have been asking the public whether they can name five women artists. Many cannot, calling attention to the fact that women have not been treated equally in the art sphere, and today remain dramatically underrepresented and undervalued in museums, galleries and auction houses worldwide.

In a bid to help the NMWA promote gender equality, we have joined the #5WomenArtists movement – pledging to release a series of blog posts highlighting five women artists that are included in the RCM’s collections. A physical trail has also been put together to emphasise their work within the museum.

The posts will feature artists from a range of time periods, who use a variety of different mediums for expression. The first article was about Esther M. Moore (1857-1934), who worked as a colliery agent before becoming a sculptor in 1891. Her Art Nouveau and Symbolist piece ‘At the Gates of the Past’ is one of my favourite objects at the museum. The following instalments will be published on each Friday in March.

‘At the Gates of the Past’ by Esther M. Moore (1857-1934). As featured in the #5WomenArtists blog series with the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my internship and look forward to making the most of my last few weeks at the RCM.

– Katie Wylie
Marketing and Digital Intern, Royal Cornwall Museum

You can follow #5WomenArtists here: https://www.royalcornwallmuseum.org.uk/5womenartists

The online exhibition ‘Behind the Lines: Personal Stories from the First World War’ can be found here: https://www.royalcornwallmuseum.org.uk/exhibition/behind-the-lines-personal-stories-of-the-first-world-war