Museum On Tour, 7 June 2017: New exhibitions and events

by Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer

Summer was always a fun time at the Museum and Art Gallery before we closed. We would make sure we had exhibitions on display that were of interest to local residents and tourists. Our holiday workshop programme brought many families into the building and gave children lots of opportunities to be creative.

Thankfully as a result of our ‘Museum On Tour’ programme it’s business as usual this year, even though we’re having to use a range of offsite locations instead.

Image copyright John Cook 2017. www.ourberylcook.comOne of the major elements of this is the exhibition of work by much-loved artist Beryl Cook that we’re staging at the Council House from 24 June to 9 September. Cook lived in Plymouth for many years and we have three works by her in our permanent collections.

What’s so special about this exhibition is that we have co-curated it with Beryl’s family. They were the most important thing in her life. As well as providing us with access to some of her earliest and quirkiest works, working in collaboration with them has given us a range of personal insights into her and the people she loved the most.

The exhibition will be divided up into a series of different themes including fame, family and friends and fantasy. There will be a special range of merchandise available to purchase – a new experiment for us at the Council House.

The exhibition has also given us lots of inspiration for events and we’ll have a host of talks, tours and family activities on offer. You can find out more about all of these from the what’s on section of our website. It’s great to have an exhibition that we can generate so many ideas from.

Image copyright John Cook 2017.
Image © John Cook 2017.

This work shown above is one of the paintings that will feature in the exhibition. Many people local to Plymouth will recognise the location as the famous Elvira’s cafe in Stonehouse! A man sits at one table drinking a large mug of tea while a dog watches its owner eating a sausage sandwich at another. The woman behind the counter who is serving a customer with a piece of cake is Teresa, Beryl’s daughter-in-law. Teresa will join our exhibition curator Hilary Bracegirdle for a lunchtime talk next month during which she will share her memories and stories.

Another exciting development for us over the summer are our ‘Out and About’ events. Staff and volunteers will be taking a series of themed activities to local community festivals across the city and beyond over the next few months. We began with a successful event at the Freedom Community Festival last weekend and will also be at:

  • Contemporary Craft Festival, Bovey Tracey: 9-11 June
  • Armed Forces Day, Plymouth Hoe: 24 June
  • St Levan Fair, Plymouth: 15 July
  • Love Parks Week, Whitleigh Hub, Plymouth: 20 July
  • Plymouth Play Day: 2 August – a venue for this will be confirmed soon
  • Devonport Park Festival, Plymouth: 20 August

If you’re planning to attend any of these events make sure you come and say hello to us on our stand. Here are some images from the Freedom Community Festival to close today’s post. People made banners and badges highlighting the things that are important to them. Thanks very much to everyone who came along and got stuck in!


Going on safari (almost!) – Dartmoor Zoo

By Jan Freedman, Curator of Natural History.

Driving through quiet country lanes, you arrive at the pretty picturesque village of Sparkwell, just 15 minutes outside of Plymouth. Here, almost hidden, is large car park. And this is where your trip to Dartmoor Zoo begins.

From the car park, you have to walk a few hundred metres to the main zoo. You are not alone on this walk. Animals in large enclosures are roaming on your right: the biggest rodent, the capybara; the weird trunked tapirs; and the big flightless birds, the rheas. The walk up the hill takes longer than you think – in a nice, relaxed way, because you lose yourself watching these beautiful animals.

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The giant rodent, the Capybara, along with the big bird, the Rhea. Just two friendly faces that greet you as you walk up to the zoo.


The story of Dartmoor Zoo began in 2006, when Benjamin Mee and family took over the Dartmoor Wildlife Park in 2006. I won’t say too much, because there was a film made about it! The zoo has recently become a charity, and is working with the Museum, and Universities in the south west to promote research and conservation of wildlife.

Our guides around the zoo were friendly, approachable, and incredibly knowledgeable about all the animals at the zoo. The passion and pure love for the work they were doing shone from the moment we left for our special guided tour. Walking along, following our guide, you don’t get feel like you are in a zoo. It is extremely natural. We stop and are introduced to two very cute, high pitched short clawed otters. The older otter, fittingly named Attitude came to the fence, squeaking loudly calling at us. The younger otter, Jonsi, swiftly follows. The pair always run to the fence and squeak to the visitors, almost as if performing!

Dartmoor Zoo looks after the most number of big cats than any other zoo in the UK. We didn’t see the lynx (which was sleeping) or the cheetah (which was hiding). But this was forgotten very quickly when we came to the Siberian Tigers, Vladimir and Stripe. They are enormous! Siberian Tigers are the largest of the big cats, and are critically endangered, with just over 500 individuals left in the wild. To watch these beautiful animals stride softy across their enclosure, reminds us how fragile their lives are in the wild with poachers, hunters and habitat destruction. They may be the biggest cats alive today, but extinction doesn’t care about size.

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The two enormous Siberian Tigers, Vladamir and Stripe.

In an enclosure opposite is the magnificent lioness, Josie. She moved close to the fence when Justin spoke, giving a clear view of her muscular legs: it was not hard to imagine a pride taking down a zebra. The zoo has plans to do a little match making with Josie. A large male lion, Jasiri lives in the enclosure adjacent to Josie, and we could see his big mane across the grass: he was checking Josie out. Matchmaking lions takes a lot of patience. A lot. The two need to get to know each other, be aware of each other’s presence, each other’s smells. There are plans within the next year to move Jasiri in with Josie. When we came round to his area, we didn’t notice that Jasiri had headed inside his hut feeding. Then something happened. Something that showed us how much the staff at Dartmoor Zoo care and know the animals, and how much the animals know the staff at the zoo. Justin called out for Jasiri. Remember, this big African lion is eating a nice juicy chunk of meat. They generally don’t leave that alone. Justin called for Jasiri. And Jasiri came. Slowly, his large legs plodded out of his hut, and moved slowly towards the back of the enclosure, and then made his way down to us. A truly magnificent animal.

Chincha, the stunning jaguar lay spread out on top of her climbing frame as we walked up to her. Justin called her name. And again his call was answered. Despite looking incredibly relaxed with all legs dangling across a large wooden beam, Chincha got up and climbed down. Gracefully, this powerful cat slowly padded towards us. We could see her short legs, perfect for an ambush predator. She walked passed us in silence.

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The gorgeous jaguar, Chincha, took a stroll to see us all. One of the most beautiful of the big cats.

We were extremely lucky with the next enclosure. It was feeding time for the Iberian wolves. These slender, elegant mammals are pack hunters. Here there are three wolves. In the wild, leader of the pack, the alpha, sends the lowest ranking wolf to assess the surroundings if there is food, or they have just made a kill. Any danger, and the lowest ranking one will be in trouble, but the alpha is safe. What was incredible was that although these wolves were captive animals, they did exactly that in their enclosure: the alpha sent in the lower ranking male to check it was safe. And he did. He ran around the fresh meat several times, and never once touched the food. The second rank came next and did the same thing, and both wolves waited until the alpha took her first bite before touching any of the food.

After lunch we gathered in the education room, where we were extremely lucky to see some incredible creatures up close. Here Kevin the red tailed boa, Kelloggs the corn snake, Django the western hognose snake, Dylan the Crested Gecko and Mango the blue tongued skink all came out. These are animals that people won’t see in this country. And here is where museums and zoos are similar (apart from the obvious!): people can get close to animals and really look at them, the details of their scales, the beautiful colours. When you see an animal in real life, you can really appreciate everything about it. And you can appreciate how wonderful nature is.

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Getting hands on in the education room, with Django, the western hog nosed snake.

The entire day was, to quote one person in our group, ‘like being on safari’. We were watching animals so close, doing things they would do as if they were in the wild. Everything about Dartmoor Zoo is extremely natural. The animals look very happy and healthy, and the passion, and enthusiasm for the zoo staff is nothing but inspirational. They love what they do and the animals they care for. And they are making a difference.


A walk in the woods

By Jan Freedman, Curator of Natural History

Ham Woods is one of Plymouth’s hidden gems. Hidden in the north east of the city, an area the size of around 36 football pitches is home to dozens of species of plants and animals. And it is there for all to enjoy and explore.

The woods would not be here today if it wasn’t for Ham House. Built in 1639, Ham House was built for Robert Trelawny, and stayed in the family for over 300 years. Attached to the house was a large estate, which was covered in managed woodland and lots of exotic interesting plants around. Today you can see a wonderful variety of animals and plants in the woods.

Our Wild about Plymouth October event took a group of enthusiastic families around the woods. Starting at the giant pine tree next to Ham House, we headed down the gentle slope towards the woodland. The entrance to the woods welcomed us with trees, shrubs, flowers and lichen. We turned left, along the path following the leat.

Further into Ham Woods you can find over grown, magical paths that lead you to new spots. The paths in the woods take you on a nice circle route, so there is no chance of you getting lost.
Further into Ham Woods you can find over grown, magical paths that lead you to new spots. The paths in the woods take you on a nice circle route, so there is no chance of you getting lost.

With magnifiers and pots at the ready the families began to explore under stones and rotten branches for mini-beasts. And they were rewarded with dozens of species. Orb web spiders, harvestmen, millipedes, flies, wriggly worms, and beetle larvae crawled around inside the pots. A beautiful Lesser Stag Beetle (Dorcus parallelipipedus) as long as my thumb was the highlight of the search, with its large jaws, and beautiful shiny back. This is quite a late sighting for this beetle, which is normally seen during the summer months.

The Lesser Stag Beetle, one of the UK big beetle species.
The Lesser Stag Beetle, one of the UK big beetle species.

Walking on to the bridge heading up to the meadow the group stop for a quick paddle. Along the bank of the river the families look at the yellow lichen, and lift up rocks to see ground beetles scurry away. Keen eyed youngsters try to spot freshwater eels in the shallow brook without success.

We walk up, through the wild meadow, green and luscious. Just a few years ago, this meadow was a fortress of brambles, meters high, and filling the whole area. Dedicated volunteers organised by the Friends of Ham Woods slowly hacked back the wild brambles and managed to open this area up as a wild meadow. In summer, the meadow is a sea of colours teeming with mini-beasts.

We trundle through the meadow, and someone spots a field vole scurry into a nest in the grass. Too quick for most people to see, but it pumps fresh enthusiasm in the group.

An old crab apple tree. Too sour to eat fresh, but can be cooked into a sweet sauce.
An old crab apple tree. Too sour to eat fresh, but can be cooked into a sweet sauce.

At the top of the young orchard, we sit and look out at the woods. All around is green. Down below, the young apple trees will soon be big enough to produce lots of apples for the picking. To our right, trees move gentle in the autumn breeze. We sit, in silence listening to the sounds of the woods. What is magical about it, is the opportunity to sit in silence. So often we are running around, crossing busy streets, yet here, in the middle of a city, we are sitting in the grass, and can’t hear a sound. No cars whizzing by. No televisions. No chatter of people in a shopping centre.

That’s what makes a walk in the woods so special: to enjoy the beauty of nature around us, and the quite stillness. How lucky we were to see a field vole, a lesser stag beetle and a whole army of mini-beasts. If I head there a little earlier, I may hear the call of a blue tit, or a robin.

There are ten nature reserves in Plymouth, free to use. Take a break from the city life and have a walk around. Listen to the sounds and you will find yourself more relaxed. What is really wonderful is that these nature reserves are in the middle of the city. Yet it seems like you have escaped.

Meet the Experts!

By Emma Philip, Curator of Fine Art

Don’t forget, you can soon hear all about the Cottonian Historic Furniture Project from two experts who have played a key role.

On Tuesday October 22 at 1.10pm, Dr Adam Bowett will talk about his research into the furniture, its makers and many exotic specimen woods.  Click here for further details;

On Tuesday 26th November at 1.10pm, John Hartley, Managing Director at Tankerdale Limited will discuss the process of conserving our historic furniture.  Click here for further details;

Thanks to the Designation Development Fund at Arts Council England, tickets for these two events are COMPLETELY FREE!  Please visit our Welcome Desk or call 01752 304774 to claim yours.

Welcome to our blog!

Welcome to the official blog for Plymouth City Council’s Arts and Heritage Service.

The Service includes Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery, the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office,  Mount Edgcumbe, Public Art, Smeaton’s Tower, the Elizabethan House and the Merchant’s House.

We’ll be using this blog to document the progress of some of the major projects we’ll be working on throughout the year.

Click on the individual pages to get a behind-the-scenes view from our curators, conservators, arts and education officers, and more.

Don’t forget, you can also keep up to date with other things that are going on by visiting our website or Flickr photostream, or by signing up to our Facebook and Twitter pages.

Happy reading!