The history of RAMM

RAMM’s distinctive façade – a mosaic of local stone – has been a much-loved Exeter landmark for over 150 years. Its architect, John Hayward, was inspired by medieval churches to include arches, columns, tracery and even a rose window. His design captured the Victorians’ love of the Middle Ages in the style known as Gothic Revival.

Senior Collections Officer Julien Parsons takes us on a walk through the museum and talks about the building’s architecture and how the museum’s displays have changed over time

There were calls for a museum in Exeter from the 1840s, but it was not until 1861 that the project gained momentum. In that year, Prince Albert’s death led Devon MP Sir Stafford Northcote to launch an appeal for a local memorial. The result was a proposal for a building on Queen Street to house a museum, art gallery, library, art school and college, named the Devon and Exeter Albert Memorial Institution. The first phase was completed in 1868 when the public opening was celebrated by a ‘Grand Bazaar and Fancy Fair’, concerts and a banquet to help raise more funds.

Sir Stafford Northcote
Sir Stafford Northcote (one of the secretaries to the Great Exhibition, 1851) was a key figure in the movement towards the creation of RAMM.

The museum’s storerooms were soon overwhelmed with collections, one of the most important arrived in 1868 from the Devon and Exeter Institution. The need for more space led to expansions through the 1880s and 1890s. After the 1899 extension was opened by the Duke and Duchess of York, the Albert Memorial was granted the right to add ‘Royal’ to its name. In the 20th century, some of the institution’s functions – library, college and art school – moved out and the building became known as the Royal Albert Memorial Museum or RAMM.

From 2007 to 2012 the museum closed for a £24 million redevelopment, and opened again with a fresh new look and layout.

From 2007 to 2011, RAMM underwent a major redevelopment, primarily funded by Exeter City Council and the National Lottery Heritage Fund. A new gallery, entrance and courtyard were designed by the architectural firm of Allies and Morrison. In 2012, RAMM won the Art Fund prize for Museum of the Year.

In 2018 the museum celebrated its 150th anniversary. Here’s to the next 150 years!