The Origins of RAMM
The idea of creating a museum in Exeter dates back to the early 19th century, although it did not come to fruition until the 1860s. The first step can be dated to 1813, when the Devon and Exeter Institution opened, with the aim of ‘promoting the general diffusion of Science, Literature and Art, and …. illustrating the Natural and Civic History of the County of Devon and the City of Exeter’. The institution started to gather together artefacts and specimens fit for this purpose, some of which made it into the RAMM collections, but while the library flourished, the museum element lost impetus.
The educational purpose embraced by the founders of the institution was shared by Prince Albert in his ambitious plans for the Great Exhibition of 1851. The contents of the Crystal Palace were testimony to the achievements of the British Empire, bursting with Victorian pride. The profits from the event allowed for the foundation of public works such as the Albert Hall, the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum and what was to become the Victoria and Albert Museum.
One of Prince Albert’s secretaries for the Great Exhibition was Sir Stafford Northcote of Pynes (later 1st Earl of Iddesleigh), a Devon MP who also served as President of the Exeter School of Art. When the Prince died in 1861, it was Northcote who proposed that a memorial to him should be established in Exeter and launched an appeal for funds. A meeting the following year created the blueprint for the Devon and Exeter Albert Memorial Institution. This was to be a building housing a museum and art gallery, a free public library, a school of art and a mechanical institute.
The public subscription totalled around £15,000. This was no mean effort given the fact that Exeter, unlike the great industrial cities of northern England, could not rely on immensely wealthy and philanthropic benefactors. Richard Somers Gard, Exeter’s MP at the time, presented a site for the proposed building on Queen Street, and additional land was purchased for £2000.
An architectural competition to design the new building was won by John Hayward, an important figure in the Gothic Revival school in the south-west. The design was strongly influenced by architects Deane and Woodward, who had designed the University Museum in Oxford, which had been completed in 1860 according to the principles of architecture laid down by John Ruskin. Hayward’s design was also much influenced by the Early English architectural style of the 13th century; it was ornamented by large arched windows with tracery, smaller trefoil-headed windows and a rose window of almost cathedral-like proportions.
The building work started in 1865 on Queen Street, when Gard laid the foundation stone, and was finished in 1868. Art and science lessons were started at the Albert Memorial Institution in that year, but the official opening was held in August 1869 in the presence of members of the British Association. On entering the building visitors were presented with a view of a grand staircase, with a statue of Prince Albert as its focus. On the ground floor the museum occupied the southern side, with the free library and reading-room to the north, while the school of art and classrooms occupied the upper floors. A lending library was added in July 1870.
Museum collections were already being amassed before the building work had been completed. Part of an existing building on Queen Street was converted to form a depot, and in 1868 a curator was appointed; this was William Stewart Mitchel D’Urban, who served until 1884. Almost as soon as the building was finished, pressure for space became a problem, leading to a number of extensions in 1884 and 1891, and more substantially in 1895, through the Kent Kingdon bequest.
In 1887 it was decided to celebrate Queen Victoria’s jubilee by building another wing to front on to Upper Paul Street. This was opened by the Duke and Duchess of York in 1899 and is still known as York Wing. It was on this occasion that the institution was granted the right to add the word ‘Royal’ to its title.
The educational aspects of the institution continued to evolve, as it became the Royal Albert Memorial University College, then in 1922 the University College of South West England. The library moved out in 1930, and then in 1955 Exeter University was founded and departments moved to the new campus, freeing up space for museum displays.
HLF funding allowed the redevelopment of the World Cultures in 1999 and a major redevelopment 2001 to 2011 addressed the Museum buildings as a single unit for the first time in its 140 year history. The redevelopment repaired structural damage, allowed further growth with an additional entrance and a new temporary exhibitions gallery and all sections of the building were integrated to serve museum visitors for generations to come. The multimillion pound redevelopment earned RAMM the Art Fund’s Museum of the Year 2012 award. It was funded by Exeter City Council, the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund (£9million), and other sources.
RAMM - a geological showcase
Click on the coloured spots on the drawing below to see which rocks were used to give RAMM its distinctive appearance.
Bricks - York Wing extension at corner of Gandy Street and Bradninch
Bricks had been made in Exeter since the late 17th century (and previously in Roman times). The early sites were close to the centre of the city and were abandoned as the suburbs grew around them. By the 19th century the largest works were in Newtown. There were four in the area around Clifton Hill. The Clifton Hill Sports Centre now occupies one of this firm's sites.
Red sandstone - front façade Queen Street
This red sandstone is made of lots of tiny quartz grains. Wind and rivers once laid down these sandstones in a desert that resembled modern-day northern Africa. Under the hot and dry conditions the rust like iron particles within the sand turned the rock red and brown.
Granite - front pavement on Queen Street
The old pavement in front of the museum is made of granite slabs quarried from Dartmoor. Granite is a stone that formed deep inside the Earth where the temperature is very high (800°C to 900°C). Molten rock accumulated in masses under the earth's surface where it cooled down very slowly. That gave crystals enough time to develop and grow. The crystals within a granite are called quartz, feldspar and mica.
Dartmoor Granite, also known as 'moorstone' has been used as building material since the Bronze Age. It was ready available, abundant and easy to obtain. Boulders and blocks were shed from the outside of the tors by weathering.
Major quarrying started in 1780 when roads were built across the moor. Stone blocks were used for houses, churches, gate posts, stone-crosses and clapper-bridges for pack-horse traffic. People also made querns and cider presses out of granite.
In 1820 a tramway was built entirely from granite to transport the big slabs of stone. Teams of horses pulled a train of wooden carts over eight miles towards Stover canal from where the granite went to London.
Stone blocks from a quarry lying just north of Haytor were used to build the old London Bridge. This quarry was last worked in 1919 to provide stone for the Exeter War Memorial in Northernhay Park.
Exeter volcanic rock - front façade on Queen Street
A red and purple rock with lots of tiny holes. That is the Exeter 'trap', a stone that was once produced during volcano eruptions around Exeter. Molten rock, or lava, rose from inside the Earth. At the same time gas bubbles formed within the lava - a bit like bubbles form in sparkling water or a fizzy drink shortly after you open the bottle
Once the lava reached the surface of the Earth it cooled down very quickly. It turned into hard rock. The gases and vapours had escaped from the bubbles but the voids became part of the stone. Much later, calcite, a white calcareous mineral filled some of these voids.
Exeter 'Trap' is present in many buildings around the centre of Exeter. One can find the dark purple stone in walls, churches and houses. The stone has been quarried locally over centuries. The Romans discovered the durability of the stone and constructed the city wall using blocks that came out of Rougemont quarry. In more recent time trap rock has been quarried west of Exeter at Pocombe.
Limestone - front façade on Queen Street
Blocks of grey local limestone form parts of the wall on Queen Street and St Paul Street.
The limestone contains many fossilised corals and stromatoporoids, a type of sponge. These organisms once lived at the bottom of a sea and formed structures similar to modern day reefs. This was 360 million years ago, when Devon was covered by shallow tropical ocean. One can find remains of these ancient sea creatures in the limestone cliffs at Hope's Nose / Torquay.
Ham Hill Stone - front façade Queen Street
Ham Hill stone is a sandy limestone that contains fragments of fossilised shells. It was laid down in a shallow sea during the early Jurassic, about 180 million years ago. It now forms a well-defined plateau area in Somerset.
Ham Hill stone was worked in Roman times and continues to be quarried as building stone of high quality. It is well know for its beauty, character and durability. The weathering of iron bearing minerals gives the stone its distinctive golden colour. The stone has been used in local villages and for buildings such as Montacute House and Sherborne Abbey.