A day out at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall
My longstanding interest in the Vikings whether historical or in miniature meant the Vikings exhibition at the NMMC in Falmouth was a must see! Because of the distance it meant little time to see the rest of the museum although we found time for the cafe funnily enough. Walking through the museum I did like the Viking inspired decoration of the learning area.
The Vikings in Cornwall
Most people think of the raids on the North East coast, York and Alfred burning the cakes when Vikings are mentioned. However, they really got around and that included Devon and Cornwall. The Great Army burnt down Exmouth in Devon where I live and some residents think they should do so again! In Cornwall there is evidence of settlement and trading which the exhibition included. The combination of interpretation, reconstruction and objects really brought this out clearly I thought.
Vikings – raiders or traders?
This argument has a long history and I’ve encountered it since university days in the late 1970s. Coincidently this same argument applies to the Homeric world of the Iliad and Odyssey which I studied in the context of ancient banditry but that’s one for another blog.
I liked the way the exhibition clearly brought out both sides of Viking life. The combination of the large clear interpretation panels and related objects was excellent. Being able to handle objects was good too. My mother was amazed at the weight of a mail shirt and said being able to touch it really helped imagine it in use.
Including weapons and slave fetters illustrated the dark side of Viking life. Backed up with DNA research showing how many Icelanders are descended from Irish women taken as slaves. The Irish connection was well documented in the exhibition too.
Trading ship Walrus
My favourite part of the exhibition was the recreated Viking trader the Walrus. Visitors are allowed on this boat which was both fun and informative. Moving about on the deckspace really made both of us appreciate the skill and courage needed for sailing shallow draft ships on the high seas.
Speaking with a well informed volunteer about how the ship was made at the NMMC and finding out more about some of the recreated objects was really interesting. I didn’t know that the Vikings used hazel as barrel hoops which makes perfect sense in terms of time and resources. After all splitting hazel is quicker and cheaper than making iron hoops.
How the Vikings made things was a really strong theme in the exhibition. From nails for ships to rigging from intestines there was enough information to appreciate how preindustrial societies relied on skills, crafts, time and effort. I also learnt that saws were not used but a broad headed axe provided a means of splitting wood into planks.
No, not some form of dark undead from the Sagas but women and children. Another strength of the exhibition was including women and children in the interpretation and the objects on display. A lovely object was a child’s toy boat and imaging it being played with really brought the past closer. Having a reconstructed trader’s booth with a female mannequin was a nice bit of trading interpretation. The clothes worn were plainer than often shown which seems sensible as the cost of fine clothes with tablet stitch decoration would make plainer working clothes more practical.
As you leave the exhibition
I enjoyed the display of modern items inspired by the Vikings. Everything from films to comics, toys to the Rover badge. A good assortment of souvenirs were in the shop although I didn’t buy anything. Most of the items were very reasonably priced as well which is always good to see.
Three men and a Viking boat
By odd coincidence a week after visiting the exhibition I was at Legionary, the Exeter Games Show, talking to a friend and a trader about Viking ships.
I do like to be beside the seaside
Especially when I find a new cafe that I really like!
Well, cafe is not strictly accurate as the emporium is a delicatessen too. This does mean as well as goodies to consume on the premises there’s loads of tempting things to take home – just in case you get peckish on the way of course. The cafe element is quite small but there’s space inside and outside.
I found by sitting with my back to the cheese counter and looking out of the window I managed to resist any further purchases.
The cake man, the cake!
A good mix of cakes was on offer as well as pastires. The chocolate cake was lovely with a sprinkling of white chocolate drops on top. I really enjoyed the coffe and would rate it as one of the best I have had recently. And served in a cup and and saucer which I like.
A friend tried the food and said that the lunch was very good. Those familiar with Devon cuisine will be pleased to hear Tom’s Pies are stocked.
My mother said
The Deli on the Strand is situated near the indoor market in the Strand in Exmouth. For those unfamiliar with Exmouth the very expensive redevelopment of the strand has not met with universal approval in the town. The columns of the Exmouth Journal still glow with readers’ letters on the subject.
It was a mess when first built and looked like a classic white elephant. Observing a Christmas fair consisting of soggy white tents on the wet mud at this time prompted my mother to observe it reminded her of going into London after the Blitz. Happily it has improved with grass being laid and the lighting at night is quite pleasant. Also happily the local authority has not gone ahead with its plan to make a “super cafe” in the Strand which may have well put small traders like the deli out of business.
A farm a monument?
Well yes, most farms have significant heritage attached to them unless completely redeveloped. How obvious that heritage is does depend of course! The farm building itself is one of the earliest brick buildings in Exmouth and has a range of outbuildings also of brick.
The main house is built on a stone foundation and finished with brick which is covered with a lime wash one two sides. The thatch has a very distinctive roofline neither I nor an informed friend have seen elsewhere and after looking the only similar building was one outside Lympestone that is now demolished. By coincidence it too suffered a severe fire
A brief history
Mentioning fire means time to go into the history of the farm a bit. Nearby Exmouth had a thriving brick industry so probably supplied the bricks. As a friend pointed the bricks used in the farm are the wrong size and shape to be Dutch bricks used as ballast and dropped at Topsham. A walk round Topsham will reveal the difference.
The is no formal history of the farm but recent years are well remembered in Exmouth. Stanley Long was the last owner of the farm and a well known local character. He added to the farm by securing land from the Courtlands Estate next door. He was known for his love of animals and had gates raised so pigs could run under to eat the acorns to prevent his horses from eating the acorns (horses and acorns do not mix). His fowls included peacocks!
Stanley Long generously left the farm to the National Trust in 1996 with the intention of halting development from creeping up the estuary. Looking at the Ordnance Survey map will show Upper and Lower Halsdon Lane no longer are linked by a green lane due to building work over it. While this donation stopped development the farm was attacked by an arsonist and then rebuilt by the National Trust . Since then it has been run as a working farm again by the redoubtable Peter Renouf.
A disclaimer and the future
I should admit I have a keen interest in the farm from having lived at the farm for the last four years. Hopefully I have contributed a little by attacking the garden and creating a rockery and pond. Recently the National Trust held a consultation over the future of the farm. Various thoughts were put forward by the National Trust, and my favourite is to link the estuary cycle path to Exeter Road thus creating a link to A la Ronde. Nothing has changed on the website nor on the poster outside the farm since November 2011. Well, apart from the possibility of turning part of the farm into allotments being mentioned at a talk to volunteers by a National Trust manager.
Farming is not an easy nor profitable venture on the scale of small farms like Lower Halsdon Farm. Given that 90% of us live in towns now it is a real asset for Exmouth having such a working farm where people can see it as they walk and cycle past at evenings and weekends.
I am very sorry to leave Lower Halsdon Farm but would be even sadder if the National Trust changes it from a traditional working farm into a visitor experience in pursuit of profit and membership targets. I suspect the neighbours wouldn’t like the extra traffic either!
A round house with many angles
A la Ronde is one of those National Trust properties that really feels like a discovery when you first see it. It has a great charm and more atmosphere than many of the Trust’s grander houses. It is also one of the odder properties being an elaborate cottage ornee with Victorian additions.
There is a story that it was inspired by a church in Venice but I feel it is more in the tradition of similar 18th Century buildings that drew inspiration as widely as possible. It is a great shame that the cottage ornee at Prior Park in Bath is ruined as it would make an interesting comparison.
A house of two stories
The property was created by two spinster cousins (the third was sent home from their grand tour) and intended to descend in the female line of the family. The ground floor of the house is still very much concerned with the Parminter cousins and the many souvenirs from their grand tour. Not to mention lots of handiwork with shells and feathers! The National Trust have restored the central octagon to give the feel of the original and it is a fine space. As a friend says, you can imagine their parrot flying up to the top of the shell gallery there.
The shell gallery is still astounding as it is a decorative work created from shells, feathers and other media embedded and stuck to plaster. It has windows all around with amazing views across the estuary. I find it very impressive that the cousins created this without a safety rail given the dress size to walkway ratio!
However, despite their best efforts a man inherited in the form of a Victorian vicar called Oswald Reichel. He was something of a character whose activities included suing his bishop! He became a reformed character in later life and contributed many articles to local historical journals.
He also converted the first floor into accommodation, put in a bathroom, a dumb waiter and gloriously steam punk central heating! He also tiled the roof and made other changes but kept the shell gallery.
I feel the National Trust is missing a trick in not telling his story as well as the Parminters. Not least because they each shaped one story of the building in both senses of the word story!
I have volunteered at A la Ronde form some years now. Working in the garden was fun as it needed rescuing a bit and over time it’s been good to see it progress. I did my first work on collections at A la Ronde and was trained in object photography there too. I didn’t manage to photograph all the objects but got a good thousand done before a new job in the heritage world meant learning more new skills and less time for volunteering.
Volunteering is always a great way to get to know a place and it can be a lot of fun at A la Ronde. They have a website but why not drop in and see for yourself?