Commemorative Stone Preserves Links
30 July 2008
Exeter's ambitious plans to bring the Royal Albert Memorial Museum into the 21st century took a step back in time on Wednesday 30 July. Construction work on the £15 million project paused while a vital link with the Museum's past was removed for safe keeping.
Following the demolition of the Conservation Laboratories at the rear of the Museum, Exeter City Council's Lead Councillor for Environment and Leisure, Cllr Kevin Mitchell, and Tony Richardson from the Heritage Lottery Fund oversaw the removal of an engraved commemorative stone. The inscription on the stone reads:
This stone was laid on Monday March 16th 1891 by Charles Edwin Ware Esquire, Mayor of Exeter, in commemoration of the Jubilee of Queen Victoria 1887.
The stone was laid when a laboratory and lecture room were built at RAMM for Exeter's School of Science. By 1911 the school had become the Royal Albert Memorial College and had outgrown its rooms at RAMM. It moved into Bradninch Place just behind the Museum, now the home of Exeter Phoenix. The college became the University College of the South West of England and subsequently the University of Exeter. The School of Arts moved into the vacated rooms, using them as a pottery and sculpture studio, and when the Art College moved out in 1978 they became the Museum's Conservation Laboratory. The Art College went on to become part of the University of Plymouth Department of Art.
The Museum conservation department started life in 1968 in the basement of Rougemont House which was then home to the Museum of Archaeology and Antiquities. In 1978 Rougemont House was converted into a Museum of Costume and conservation and storage of bulk archaeological finds moved into the now demolished labs. The Archaeological Field Unit was then part of the city museum service and, with major developments like the Guildhall Shopping Centre taking place in the city, archaeological finds were the main focus of conservation. In the 1990s, as city centre developments reduced, there was a greater focus on the conservation of the general Museum collections and archaeological finds were moved from the main lab to a store at Haven Banks in 1996 to allow the expansion and modernisation of conservation facilities.
The commemorative stone being removed from the lab will be taken to RAMM's off-site store and cared for with the city's collection.
The buildings at the rear of RAMM have been demolished to make way for the construction of a new exhibition gallery, a second Museum entrance and access onto the city wall. The new gallery will allow RAMM to bring major national touring exhibitions to the South West and the new entrance will provide access to the Museum from the gardens. This work is part of a major development project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Exeter City Council and a number of charities and institutions. HBG is the project's main contractor.
Since the building closed in December 2007, the city's collections have been taken away for safe storage, the inside fittings have been stripped out and the galleries that were built over a Norman defensive ditch have been underpinned to stop subsidence. This ambitious project will provide Exeter with a museum fit for the 21st century, revealing the original Museum spaces, redisplaying the city's collections, providing a new learning suite, a new temporary exhibition gallery and a new entrance and shop. The new RAMM opens in 2010.
About the occasion
Exeter City Councillor Kevin Mitchell said:
"Exeter City Council is proud to mark another milestone in Exeter's cultural development. When the Royal Albert Memorial was built, it was home to our museum, library, school of art and school of science. Today we are removing a foundation stone that symbolises the joint birth of several treasured institutions and in doing so we are also laying a new foundation for a museum service for the 21st century."
Julie Cooper, Head of HLF South West, said:
"The Royal Albert Memorial Museum is of huge regional significance. The museum's collections provide a wonderful insight into the rich, natural and cultural heritage of the South West region. Through redesigning the galleries and improving access to the museum, this project will dramatically improve opportunities for visitors to learn about and enjoy the collections. This grant will create lasting benefit to the local community – both now and for generations to come."
Image (Left to Right): Nigel Harris, HGB Site Manager; Cllr Kevin Mitchell, ECC Lead Councillor for Environment & Leisure; Nena Beric, RAMM Redevelopment Project Coordinator; Camilla Hampshire, Museum Manager; Alan Caig, ECC, Head of Leisure and Museums; Richard White, Allies and Morrison (Architects); Tony Richardson, HLF South West Committee Member.