Build Update: 24 May 2017, Discoveries and Hoardings

by Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer

Welcome to this month’s update on all things to do with the building and construction work that’s taking place at the History Centre site.

Firstly, here’s the latest time lapse video from the web cam which takes us back to everything that happened during April.

You may have seen the report in the Herald but work at St Luke’s Church has unearthed some old gravestones. Our building contractors already knew they were underneath the old timber floor and that there were no bodies to be found! The gravestones were revealed when the floor boards inside the church were ripped up. An archaeologist was present at the time to make sure all the relevant information about them was recorded.

Picture by Paul Slater/PSI – http://paulslaterimages.newsprints.co.uk

St Luke’s Church stopped functioning as a place of worship in 1964 and the floor was rebuilt – hence the reason why there was no need to expect any hidden surprises! In these two images courtesy of the Herald you can get a good idea of how St Luke’s Church currently looks now the floor boards and the false ceiling have been removed.

Picture by Paul Slater/PSI – http://paulslaterimages.newsprints.co.uk
Picture by Paul Slater/PSI – http://paulslaterimages.newsprints.co.uk

Elsewhere on site, progress continues to be made with the scaffolding. This is most visible from the North Hill/Drake Circus side of the former Central Library building where you can really see the extent of the scheme.

Scaffolding being put up over the former Central Library in Plymouth

The other most visible change is that the graphics have at last been installed on our hoardings! As well as acknowledging our partners and funders, and highlighting the ‘Museum On Tour’ programme we’re currently running in a range of offsite locations, the graphics feature large-scale black and white images of scenes and people from Plymouth. The images we’ve used are from the collections at the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office and South West Image Bank.

The graphics were expertly installed over a period of four days by Atlas Graphics – not bad going considering they had to apply multiple sections of vinyl over an area of more than 150 metres in length by 5 metres high. I hope you’ll agree that now they’re up they look really smart.

I’ll be back again in June with more updates. In the meantime, make sure you keep an eye on the blog for collections, History Centre Heroes and ‘Museum On Tour’ updates too.

History Centre Heroes: Sir Francis Chichester

by Rosemary Babichev

We’ll be hearing lots about Sir Francis Chichester over the next couple of weeks. Perhaps the largest crowd ever to gather on Plymouth Hoe – a quarter of a million people – saw the 65 year-old sail home to finish the first west-east solo circumnavigation of the world fifty years ago, on 28 May 1967.

Crowds on Plymouth Hoe to watch Sir Francis Chichester's return in 1967

Hundreds of small ships scattered across the Sound let off their hooters and sirens, fireboats sprayed red, white and blue water and the navy gave a ten-gun salute in an extraordinary celebration over land and sea.

The event was shown on TV, and the heroic yachtsman with his ketch Gipsy Moth IV at once became internationally famous for his heroic feat of skill and endurance.

The accolades poured in immediately. He was knighted by the queen just two months later with the same sword Elizabeth I used to knight another Sir Francis for the first global circumnavigation by an Englishman.

Such a stack of historical parallels even drove the Royal Mail to break a tradition that had never permitted: the depiction of a living person (baring members of the royal family) on a postage stamp. That same year the new one shilling and nine pence stamp bore a picture of Chichester aboard his record-breaking vessel.

Sir Francis Chichester entering Plymouth Sound in 1967

Having won the first solo transatlantic yacht race in 1960 and beating his own record two years later, he then set the yardstick for round the world solo yacht racing. Over the following years his time of 119 days went down to 94 (Ellen MacArthur) in 2001, then 71 in 2005, resting at present at only 57 days since 2008.

Chichester came to yachting late in life. Born in 1901, he began his career as an airman. As soon as he gained his pilot’s licence he attempted to break the record for solo flight to Australia.

Too slow to succeed due to mechanical problems he nevertheless proved the utility for air travel of off course navigation, an ancient method in which you deliberately sail the wrong way in order to get to the right place faster. It gave greater accuracy as well, and allowed him make the first ever aerial landings on two tiny Pacific islands: Norfolk and Lord Howe, where the islanders helped him rebuild his damaged plane.

Too old to engage in active service during the Second World War, he joined the reserves and used his expertise to write the manual instructing pilots on solo missions over Europe.

Sir Francis Chichester 28 May 1967

It was his passion for navigation that compelled him to undertake these huge journeys rather than any enjoyment of their solitary deprivations. On returning to Plymouth in 1967, he is quoted as saying: ‘What I would like after four months of my own cooking is the best dinner from the best chef in the best surroundings and in the best company.’ Let’s hope he found it close by.

Museum On Tour, 10 May 2017: Plymouth History Festival

by Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer

Hopefully many of you will be aware that the Plymouth History Festival began on Saturday (6 May).

This is the fifth year in a row that it’s taken place and I have been involved with helping to co-ordinate and promote it since it began.

The festival runs until 4 June. Many people might think this is the busiest time for me on the project – but the bulk of the work actually takes place between December and April.

Myself and other colleagues who are responsible for event programming usually meet in early October to decide the dates and any particular themes for the following year. We then announce these in the press and give the individuals, societies and organisations who want to be involved around 2-3 months to confirm their events with us. We also have to make sure we have our own events organised by the deadline!

Once all the information is in I have my first major task on my hands: editing everything into a consistent format, double checking dates, times, address and contact information, creating a diary of listings for each day and then using it all to build our website. I usually put this live by mid-February.

After this my next major task is to take this information, source around 40 different high resolution images to go with it, write the foreword, draft copy about the latest developments with the History Centre and then brief all of this in to a graphic designer so they can produce the festival brochure. This is a massively popular piece of print.

While the brochure is being designed I source the printer, book advertising space in as many of the local what’s on publications as the budget will allow, liaise with our distribution company and raise the relevant purchase orders. Then there’s the job of proof reading the brochure, running it past everyone involved, briefing any amends back to the graphic designer, proof reading it again, signing it off, getting the artwork to the printer, checking their proof to make sure everything is fine with the colours, pictures and fonts, and then finally approving it for print.

Once the brochures have been delivered our distribution company collects around half of them and gets to work dropping them off at a range of venues across Plymouth and the travel to work area. The other half are distributed through our own networks, at the events we attend throughout the month and by the festival event providers – all of whom have been brilliant about coming to the Museum to collect their copies this year.

By this point I will have also sent out information about the festival to local media, forwarded the artwork for any adverts we have booked to the relevant publications and planned a social media campaign. The History Festival has its own Facebook and Twitter feeds and in the run up to and during the festival I post and share regular updates. This year we have also produced a series of graphics for the Big Screen in Plymouth’s city centre – I’ve used them in this post. I’ve also been able to secure some of the large format poster sites in the city centre car parks so we have produced a series of posters for these, as well as for the library network and Tourist Information Centre.

I’ve been very proud of the History Festival since it began and as a Service we are hugely grateful to all those who take part. It is a mammoth amount of work – a fact that isn’t necessarily acknowledged the way it should be. Lots of my colleagues from the Arts and Heritage and Library Services are involved too and are running events at different times throughout the month. There is no separate team to deal with the management, coordination, promotion or facilitation of the festival – we are doing all of this on top of our ever-growing commitments to the History Centre.

This year’s festival began with a really successful Local Studies Day and there are nearly 100 different events on this year’s programme including exhibitions and displays, guided walks and tours, talks and presentations, music, film and performance, special events and family activities. There’s real variety on offer for all ages and interests and the range of subjects highlights the depth of Plymouth’s history.

Take a look at the festival website if you haven’t done so already and I hope you enjoy the events you attend. Plymouth History Festival will return in 2018 and we will announce the dates and details a little later in the year!

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 rebecca.wikes@plymouth.gov.uk

Build Update, 27 April 2017: Making progress

by Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer

The History Centre construction site continues to be busy as our contractors Willmott Dixon make progress.

Demolition work and scaffolding are the two most visible things that have been happening since our last update. On some days it’s been pretty noisy working in the Museum Annexe with the sound of diggers and rubble being moved around – but it’s also confirmation that things are moving forward!

Photograph of the demolition work at the Plymouth History Centre
Work carries on as the sun starts to go down on 4 April

One of the main elements of the demolition this month has been the knocking down of the toilet block at the back of the former City Museum and Art Gallery. Weaver Demolition are the company working on this.

Demolition work takes place on the Plymouth History Centre site April 2017
The toilet block on the former City Museum and Art Gallery was demolished this month
The toilet block on the former Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery building is demolished April 2017
A close up of the demolition in action

Great progress continues to be made with the scaffolding too. As mentioned in last month’s post this is quite an extensive piece of work. The two shots below taken three weeks apart give an indication of its ongoing advancement. LTC Scaffolding have certainly been busy!

Photograph from the History Centre web cam on 7 April 2017
A shot from the web cam on 7 April
Photograph from the History Centre web cam on 26 April 2017
A shot from the web cam on 26 April

This shot taken from the upstairs of the Caffeine Club gives you a different vantage point and a closer view of the scaffolding that’s been put up to the side and over the roof of the former Central Library.

Scaffolding going up on the History Centre construction site in Plymouth on 11 April 2017
A different view of the scaffolding taken on 11 April

Willmott Dixon also do a lot of community engagement work and the History Centre was one of the sites that they recently opened up as part of the national Open Doors initiative.

‘Open Doors’ is a chance for people who are interested in a career in the construction industry to see behind the scenes and learn more about some of the UK’s major ‘live’ construction sites. The History Centre was one of 130 sites that took part across England, Scotland and Wales – 31 of which were Willmott Dixon sites. Students from the University of Plymouth and South Devon College visited for a talk and tour.

Willmott Dixon also started a series of ‘Hard Hat Tours’ for us this month.

The first one was really successful with lots of interested people, questions and discussions. Many thanks to them and everyone who came along. The next tour takes place tomorrow and is fully booked but a new series of dates for the rest of this year have now been released, so book your places now!

Hard Hat Tour attendees at the Plymouth History Centre construction site on 31 March 2017
The attendees to our first-ever Hard Hat Tour

I’ll wrap up this post with the most recent footage we have from the web cam – just in case you haven’t already seen it on our YouTube channel. This contains all the footage from March – just look at how many different types of weather all those working on site had to contend with!

History Centre Heroes: Ellen MacArthur DBE

by Rosemary Babichev

It was ‘Swallows and Amazons’ the classic children’s story of sailing and adventure on the Norfolk Broads that led Ellen MacArthur to choose the tack that made her a record breaking yachtswoman. She first hit the headlines sailing solo round the world aged only 24, little more than a decade after saving up for her first boat, the ‘Threp’ny Bit’ with money from missing dinners at school in Derbyshire where she grew up.

Photographic portrait of female sailor Ellen MacArthur

Her connection with Plymouth came in 2000 when left the port to race to Rhode Island in the USA in just 14 days, 23 hours and 11 minutes, setting the record for a woman making a solo passage East-West across the Atlantic. She has continued to champion the city as the starting point for the Transat, the first solo yacht race in history which has started from Plymouth ever since it began in 1960.

Her most incredible feat is circumnavigating the globe entirely alone in her high-speed trimaran in 2005. She had to face heaving seas fleeing from an 80 mile-an-hour storm in the Southern Ocean, knowing she was at any time four days away from being rescued – the nearest humans were on the international space station somewhere above. She successfully took the record from Frenchman Francis Joyon, and though he took it back three years later, she is still the fastest woman to sail round the world solo to this date.

On a vessel leaping across mountainous waves, racing the clock she knew her life depended making the right decisions in her battle with the weather, but that she had total control over everything that happened on the ship. MacArthur learnt above all the importance of planning. Each last item she needed during the voyage had to be brought from the outset, if something got used up she would have do make do without.

Photography of Ellen MacArthur celebrating after breaking the round the world sailing record

After this, shocked by abandoned whaling stations on a desolate island in the South Atlantic while on a survey of Albatross she began to see her experiences on a boat at sea as a metaphor for our world in the universe. Like the food and materials she used as she sailed along, she felt the critical importance of doing something to stop coal, oil and gas being burnt up to no advantage to the planet.

Since 2008, instead of using her immense determination to plan ever faster solo crossings, MacArthur seeks out international decision makers and people of influence in universities and governments to explore ways of developing a ‘circular economy’. Waste would be eliminated altogether. Every product would be designed to have a complete ‘life cycle’ – each component when obsolete or used up could be used in other products or services and have new functions in supporting human life.

She now runs the Ellen MacArthur Foundation that funds research into plastics and textiles, beer making from waste bread, and urban biocycles. It supports an online community to ensure the ideas behind changing from a one way, linear economy to a circular one are discussed continuously.

Photograph of an Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust sailing yacht

Her lifelong love of the excitement and freedom of sailing she shares with children suffering life-threatening illness through the Ellen MacArthur cancer trust. MacArthur has now put her courage and commitment to survival in the service of other people.

Museum on Tour, 12 April 2017: Thinking Tantra

by Rachael Aylmore, Plymouth University Fine Art student and Peninsula Arts Exhibition Intern

As part of the journey towards the History Centre, Peninsula Arts and staff from the Arts and Heritage Service are working together on a series of partnership exhibitions.

During my placement at Peninsula Arts I have been fortunate enough to support the installation of their current exhibition, ‘Thinking Tantra’ – ‘Tan’ being Sanskrit for stretch and ‘tra’ Sanskrit for beyond boundaries. These beautiful, bold and abstract Tantra pieces of art have been created as tools for meditation and rituals linked to Sanskrit texts.

The exhibition unfolds
Together with Polly Irish and Catrine Wallace (also Fine Art students and Peninsula Arts Interns), I have gained an understanding of the many different processes and tasks that are involved with setting up an exhibition – from prepping the space, collecting the work, curating and even publicity. Throughout the last two weeks in March before ‘Thinking Tantra’ opened, we watched it unfold in front of us and learnt all the important steps and skills (as well as people) it takes for an exhibition to come together smoothly and successfully.

Before we even get a glimpse of artwork, the Peninsula Arts Gallery must be prepped, walls taken down (or moved) and walls painted for each show. It’s important that that the gallery is in good condition for the artwork to be displayed. There are many helping hands involved in this process including technicians, gallery assistants and curators. Stripping the gallery back to its bones and starting from fresh allows the curator to view the space with new eyes and make the final decisions about the placement of works.

It’s like Christmas
Once the space is prepped and ready to go, the exciting process of removing the carefully packaged artwork from storage can begin – it’s like Christmas in March! We can then begin the all-important quality and condition check of every single piece of art.

Once the checks have been completed, one of the final parts of setting up an exhibition is of course installing the work. Although rather daunting and nerve racking the process is relatively straightforward and can be done fairly quickly once a system has been established. A lot of measuring, maths and wrongly drawn pencil marks later, the exhibition space finally starts to come alive!

Photograph of the Thinking Tantra exhibition install at Peninsula Arts in 2017

Thinking Tantra
With the exhibition installed and displayed in its full glory, you can really get a feel for the use of colours, shapes and rituals as well as the transcendental ideas behind the Tantra artwork.

Photograph of the Thinking Tantra exhibition at Peninsula Arts in 2017

I hope you’ll visit the exhibition while it’s here in the city. We are the only UK venue on the tour outside London and it will be on display until 27 May.


‘Thinking Tantra’ is a collaboration between Rebecca Heald, Drawing Room, London and Amrita Jhaveri Contemporary, Mumbai.

‘Thinking Tantra’ is a History Centre partnership exhibition.