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National Maritime Museum Cornwall

First Impressions

Photographs John Luxton 2003

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There has been much comment on Merseyside concerning the creation of a fourth grace to form a contemporary iconic building for the Mersey waterfront.

The National Maritime Museum Cornwall certainly achieves this goal for Falmouth. The modern timber clad building on the waterfront is dominated by a viewing tower, with a distinct lighthouse influence. 

One approaches the museum alongside a parade of retail outlets, only one of which is currently open - and which sells maritime prints.

If one is visiting the museum there is a limited pay and display car park close by. I arrived shortly after noon on Easter Sunday and just managed to find a space. Visitors may well consider arriving early if they wish to park close by or alternatively parking at St. Mawes on the opposite side of Carrick Roads and arriving by ferry. On weekdays museum visitors will have shoppers to compete with too. One wonders if some of the wide unused space on the approach to the museum could not have been given over to some car parking. At present it is wasted open space.

Later this season, Cornwall Ferries, part of the expanding King Harry Steam Ferry Group is planning to commence a "park and float" serve to the museum employing former Isles of Scilly passenger launches. 

The National Maritime Museum Cornwall is also located within ten minutes walk of main bus stops and a slightly shorter walk from Falmouth Dell or Docks Stations on the Falmouth - Truro branch line.

The museum certainly creates a positive impression for the first time visitor who enters via a shop / reception area. It is possible to visit the shop without entering the museum.

Once you have purchased your ticket and shown it to an attendant you are directed to the main entrance to the displays - Set Sail Gallery, which introduces visitors to boats and sailing through a multimedia experience. Here one can experience raging in a regatta, a storm at sea or calm estuary.

 As one passes through this gallery one slowly climbs ramp leading up to the "Start Line" on the second floor. In "Set Sail" one can view a large number of models, and nine larger craft including an attractive steam launch as well as watch a number of films and sound tracks being played. 

The "Set Sail" gallery is presented in semi-darkness and as a result photography is not permitted here. Though I did see quite a few flash guns going off.

In the "Start Line" visitors can explore the various uses of small boats for work and pleasure and find out how small boats have been used for some epic voyages.

From the "Start Line" one continues to climb via gently sloping ramps to the third floor. From here one gets a superb view of the "flotilla" a collection of 27 boats suspended from the roof. It is intended that this collection will be changed each year. In the museum's first year the boats displayed with reflect the diversity of the collection. In subsequent years the flotilla will reflect different themes. The annual change in the main exhibition hall will of course make visitors wish to make repeat visits. There is nothing worse than a museum which remains largely the same year on year.

Information on each of the craft in the suspended "Flotilla" can be accessed by a number of interactive information points which line the suspended walkways. On the third floor is located the cafe offering views over the harbour. It was very busy so I gave it a miss. 

Close by is the "Robertson Packet Ship Gallery", sponsored in the memory Mike Robertson, founder of the West Country discount stores Trago Mills.

This small but informative gallery gives an insight into Falmouth brief life as a packet station and point of international departure in the 18th and early 19th Century, before being superseded by Southampton. Falmouth was once an important port of call in the early days of the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company. There is a half size replica of a packet ship cabin. However, having seen similar cabins on board SS. GREAT BRITAIN and the DUNBRODY this cabin replica is something of a disappointment!

Adjoining the "Robertson Packet Ship Gallery" is a special exhibition gallery which was currently showing the art work of Sir Terry Frost. - Modern art which isn't exactly my cup of tea!

Remaining on the third floor and moving to the estuary end of the building one reaches the "Nav-Station" which is an instructive interactive experience which teaches the basics of navigation and meteorology at sea.

From the north east corner of the "Nav-Station" a spiral staircase leads up to the "Look Out Gallery" offering panoramic views of the harbour and the exquisite homes in the Pendennis Marina complex. - Something for the lottery win!

Returning to the base of the tower, below ground floor level one enters the "Tide Zone". Large plate glass windows provided in the "Tide Zone" provides visitors the opportunity to see below the murky water of Falmouth Harbour whilst displays explain the role of the sun and moon's influence on tides.

Returning up to the ground floor a functioning workshop in the "Boat Building Gallery" demonstrates boat building and restoration. Adjacent is an exploration of boat building and the various materials used.

Nearby off the ground floor of the Flotilla Hall is "The Waterfront" where visitors can try their hand at sailing small remotely controlled boats for a fee of 50p. The wind being generated by fans.

Lurking in the north west corner of the building is the "Cornish Quayside" and the "Cornwall and The Sea Gallery". 

I use the word lurking deliberately as I feel these galleries are not given the presence they deserve. The name National Maritime Museum Cornwall suggests that there should be a significant Cornish content but in terms of exhibition space this is relatively quite small compared to the museum as a whole. 

Though the museum was busy these two Cornwall orientated galleries were quiet. The "Cornwall and the Sea Gallery" almost deserted! 

These galleries covered a wide range of material but should have been much bigger. 

As with its counterparts in Ireland the topic of emigration to the New World is covered, but should have been given much greater prominence. 

The widespread emigration of Cornish during the 19th Century depression in the mining industry served to spread the Cornish Diaspora far and wide. It is said in Cornwall that a mine is a hole anywhere in the world with at least one Cornishman at the bottom of it! 

Overall despite some of the points raised above the NNMC created a very  favourable impression. Being a new building it is designed very much with the disabled in mind with full lift access to all areas and gently sloping ramp access to all parts except the "Look Out Gallery." 


Unfortunately during my initial visit I wasn't able to fully concentrate on the exhibits due to technical problems with my last available SD Memory Card. This resulted in much fiddling with the camera to preserve the images already taken as the camera was intent on reformatting it!

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NNMC The Approach
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"The Flotilla"
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"The Flotilla"
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Not a model - but a full size lifeboat from the S.S. Triton - part of "The Flotilla"
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From the  Look Out Gallery - Lough Fisher can be seen at A&P Falmouth.
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"The Tide Zone"
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Through the Tide Zone Window
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"Boat Building Workshop"
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"The Flotilla"
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"Cornish Quayside"
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"Cornish Quayside"
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"Cornish Quayside" - Pilchards!"Cornwall and The Sea""The Tide Zone" windows outside


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