Museum Throws Open Its Doors To Public

The Museum on St Mary's

The Isles of Scilly Museum opened its doors for free yesterday during their annual open day.

Curator, Amanda Martin says the open day is run to encourage as many people, locals and visitors, to have a look around the museum. She said it’s the one day when the entrance fee shouldn’t be a bar.

Amanda says the open day is also important because it helps people to understand the work done by the museum team and even encourage them to help out in the future.

And people visit for a whole range of reasons, says Amanda.

Shipwrecks are “always a draw” she says, as they capture people’s imagination, but there’s also great interest in the archaeology of Scilly, particularly the Bryher sword and mirror and Nournour collection.

She says people also enjoy the Harold Wilson collection and the lace displays.

A popular aspect of the museum is the work of the Family History Group.

Amanda says the “Scillonian Diaspora went to all four corners of the earth” and many people visit to research their ancestors. The museum gets requests from all over the world but in particular from Australia and New Zealand.

Roger Banfield, a member of the Family History Group, provides help and advice on how to go about researching the archives.

He says many of the visitors are on holiday but have family history here, often sharing one of the common local surnames such as Pender, Mumford, Hicks or Banfield, although there are also more unusual names linked to the coastguards who spent time on the islands.

The baptism, marriage and burial records in Scilly only go back to 1726 mainly because the earlier information was lost in a fire in 1750 and while much of this later than 1837 can now be accessed online, the earlier written records are kept in the museum.

Roger said one lady came to the open day researching the Webber and Woodcock families who lived on Samson, an island that was formerly inhabited but cleared in 1855 by Augustus John Smith.

He said she has been accessing a whole range of records from court proceedings to census data.

Amanda says the museum is run as a small charity hence the need to charge a fee normally to pay the rent and bills.

But Amanda says they’re starting to see some significant deterioration to the fabric of the building, which is threatening their artefacts, particularly the written records.

She displayed the plastic bags catching the drips and the damage to exhibits caused by the roof leaking during the recent storm and she said she would love their landlord, the Council, to try harder to keep the building watertight.

We understand that Councillor Richard McCarthy and the Council’s Housing Officer visited the building yesterday to check out the walkways at the top of the building as well as the Museum itself.

Richard says Sunday’s North East gales had driven rain water into one or two of the Council flats above the Museum and from there, because of the ‘interesting’ structure of the 1960s building it seeped down some of the pillars into the Museum as well.

Various attempts have been made to solve this problem over the past 10 years says Richard and it only tends to occur in the sort of extreme weather conditions experienced last weekend.

As a result of yesterday’s visit materials have already been ordered so the necessary remedial work can be carried out as soon as possible.