Decant Day, 3 May 2017: News from the offsite store

by Lottie Clark, Curator of Decorative Art

Spring has finally sprung and we’ve now set up our permanent home at ‘MASS’, our offsite store!

The last few months have seen many changes at the store. We are now housing all the art collections (including fine art, decorative art, sculpture and costume), our Designated Cottonian Collection, the ethnography collection and some of our archaeology collections, plus an array of other Museum materials and equipment. We also have a dedicated team based at the store. This means we’ve been able to welcome both researchers and volunteers back to explore our collections!

We’ve had Amanda Yale, an independent Paper Conservator commissioned by the University of Plymouth, looking at our Cottonian Collection. Amanda spent a few weeks conducting a survey of all of the books within the collection as well as the archive, which has never been catalogued or put on display. Our hope is that her work will feed into a joint project with the University, one of our History Centre partners, to digitise the entire Cottonian Collection for future research and use.

In the past couple of weeks we’ve welcomed the first of our volunteers too. Jane Howlett and Celia Bean were two of the incredible team of volunteers who assisted with the decant of the Museum and Art Gallery building last year and they’ve been itching to come back and lend us a hand. Recently they’ve been re-assessing and documenting our ceramics collection in preparation for the new displays we’ll be creating for the History Centre when it opens in 2020.

Volunteer Jane Howlett lending us a hand at MASS

Madeleine Shaw, another of our volunteers, has been working with our Collections Assistants on our works on paper programme. Through this we hope to inventory and re-house all our works on paper in improved conditions in order to preserve them for even more centuries to come.

This is no mean feat: the collection encompasses prints, watercolours, drawings, sketches and even miscellany like velum manuscripts, letters and marriage certificates. It amounts to approximately 11,000 individual works which we are looking to improve both the storage and documentation information of by 2020.

Collections Assistants Jackie and Claire making progress with the works on paper programme

Luckily, one of our newest additions to MASS has more than a helping hand in this project – and many more besides. Terah Walkup joined us as our new Fine Art Curator at the beginning of April and she’s already made an incredible impact on our work with the art collections. Originally from Texas, Terah hails from Exeter and comes to us via RAMM and the Art Institute of Chicago. She’s thrown herself headfirst into the works on paper programme, has been getting up to speed with History Centre developments, given a Bite Size talk at Peninsula Arts about their ‘Thinking Tantra’ exhibition, and more. Not bad for her first month!

As well as these ongoing projects we’ve seen items from our collections go out on tour to other venues in the South West. These include ‘Green Devon’ by Robert Polhill Bevan, now on display in the Museum of Somerset’s ‘A Fragile Beauty’ exhibition. Over 100 pieces of Plymouth Porcelain to the Cookworthy Museum, Kingsbridge for their ‘William Cookworthy: Pioneer of Porcelain’ exhibition. All these loans were coordinated from MASS and there are more in the pipeline.

'Green Devon' by Robert Polhill Bevan from the collections of Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery
‘Green Devon’ by Robert Polhill Bevan can currently be seen on display at the Museum of Somerset, Taunton

For now the work continues exploring and improving our collections here and we look forward to keeping you updated with all our discoveries in the lead up to 2020.

If you’e interested in any volunteering opportunities, either with the team here at MASS, or the wider Arts & Heritage Service, please contact our new Volunteer and Early Career Development Officer on


Can you identify this Plymouth school?

It’s back to school for many, so we thought this topic would be a good one to jog some memories!

Not one, but two photographs this time. They were catalogued consecutively, which means they are likely to be the same school – but you can never be too sure!

Our volunteer Madeleine had a look at these two photographs but she couldn’t identify the school, and neither can we.  If anyone was lucky enough (or unlucky depending on the weather!) to remember using this outdoor swimming pool, we’d love to hear from you.

The photographs are from the City Engineers collection, which covers the post-war redevelopment of the city centre as well as new suburbs. Unfortunately no date was recorded with these items, but we would guess they were taken in the early 1960’s. We’re sure there are some ex-pupils of this school who can enlighten us!

All this work helps towards plans for our redevelopment – you can head over to the Love Our Past news section to find out the latest on the developments.

Plymouth Seafront – can you date this photo?

Plymouth Seafront
© Plymouth City Council (Arts & Heritage)

We continue our series of photo mysteries with this rather lovely photograph of Plymouth seafront.

It looks like the crowds are out making the most of the weather – though there don’t appear to be many in the sea, so perhaps it was too early for that!

We don’t have a date for this particular photograph so would be pleased if anyone can help. Things we have noted which could help with the dating are:

  • Smeaton’s Tower has stripes
  • The Pier is in the background (though we aren’t sure if this is before or after it was damaged)
  • There appears to be a slide from the top of the Tinside Lido structure

Any suggestions welcome…..

All this work helps towards plans for our redevelopment – you can head over to the Love Our Past news section to find out the latest on the developments.

First mystery solved… Devonport Mechanics Insitute

© Plymouth City Council (Arts & Heritage)
© Plymouth City Council (Arts & Heritage)

This photograph caused some interest in our office last week! It was catalogued as the interior of Devonport Guildhall, but our volunteer Madeleine was not convinced! Quite a bit of detective work followed, looking into various suggestions including whether it could have been Devonport Library. The racking and filing didn’t look like it was part of a library though.

Our Curator of City and Maritime Heritage, Nigel Overton, then suggested to try the Mechanics Institute, which sounded like a good lead. Although there are many references to this building online, it wasn’t until after searching on the Plymouth & West Devon Record Office catalogue, we got a match that we could positively identify! Here, it is listed as “a black and white photograph of interior of Devonport Library, showing main hall with gallery”. We do think though, that our copy may be from the time that it was used as the Motor Tax office which closed around 1976.

The record is now listed as ‘Photograph showing the interior of the Mechanics Institute, Duke Street, Devonport, Plymouth, possibly when it was used as the Motor Taxation Office.’ We have the date as c1950, but if you can give a more accurate date it would be welcome!

All this work helps towards plans for our redevelopment – you can head over to the Love Our Past news section to find out the latest on the developments.