CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Devon Life today CLICK HERE

Exeter's Jewel Box

PUBLISHED: 15:07 27 January 2011 | UPDATED: 20:34 20 February 2013

Exeter's Jewel Box

Exeter's Jewel Box

As a reinvented and refurbished Royal Albert Memorial Museum gears up to re-opening in exeter, later this year, Julien Parsons considers its future in this age of austerity

Later this year the doors will open and an expectant public will be welcomed back into the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM). An ambitious refurbishment of this much-loved Exeter landmark has taken four years of closure to complete. Much has changed over those years; the new RAMM, conceived at a time of plenty, will be born into an age of austerity. How can it prosper in such a harsh climate? It may be that studying the past can offer up some solutions for the future.



As I write, contractors are busy installing display cases in readiness for the return of collections. We are entering the final phase of a master plan created by Allies and Morrison, a London-based architectural firm. The allure for them is working on a Victorian architectural gem: An exquisite jewel box of a building; a Venetian casket, enthused the architectural historian and TV presenter Dan Cruickshank. The development of the Exeter City Council-run museum has been possible because of 10.3 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund, backed up by 1 million in charitable donations and revenue funding from the governments Renaissance programme for regional museums.



This investment will deliver a transformation for visitors. False walls and suspended ceilings have been stripped away to reveal stunning new vistas. Fundamental structural issues have been fixed, and a new extension provides an entrance from Bradninch Place and a state-of the-art gallery to show the best touring exhibitions, and RAMMs internationally important collections are being spectacularly re-displayed.



During the closure weve experienced a banking crisis, global recession and a new government tackling a colossal national debt with a sharpened axe. And while culture secretary Jeremy Hunt tries to foster American-style philanthropy of the arts in the UK, others grimly shake their heads predicting dire consequences for our museums and galleries. The renowned philanthropist Dame Vivien Duffield, who has given millions of pounds to the arts, said that Charity ought to be providing the icing on the cake, and government should be providing the cake. If you look at RAMMs history, its clear that private funds have helped out with baking the cake and icing it.



After Prince Alberts death in 1861, debate in Exeter focused on creating a public memorial to him. Sir Stafford Northcote, one of the secretaries for the Great Exhibition, launched a public appeal for 15,000 to build the Albert Memorial Institution. It was to contain a museum, school of art, public reading room and library. By June 1864 enough had been collected to appoint John Hayward as architect. Working in the Gothic Revival style, Hayward produced an exuberant design complete with tracery and a rose window more at home in a medieval cathedral. The first phase, opened in 1868, was barely more than the faade on Queen Street, but it was soon supplemented by a new wing opened the next year.


The museum lacked funds for decoration, furniture and even showcases, so to help out RAMMs impressive cellars were leased to the wine merchants next door. It was only when the museum was transferred to Exeter City Council care in 1870 that financial stability was finally achieved: its been RAMMs greatest supporter and principal funder ever since. Through the 1880s and 90s more extensions came from private donations and bequests, such as that by Kent Kingdon who left 6,000.


In addition to assisting with the building, private donations established our collections; although there were some curious early gifts. What to do with 101 beach pebbles, an elephants tail or a cartload of curiously shaped oak? It remains a challenge to raise funds for special pieces when they arise. These days the Art Fund can help out. Its a membership organisation aiding museums in acquiring works that would normally be beyond their means.


Art Fund contributions have helped secure many of RAMMs treasures, like an outstanding collection of early Westcountry silver spoons, a Turner watercolour of Buckfastleigh Abbey and a group of drawings by John White Abbott. In just the last few years acquisitions have included a contemporary Egyptian tapestry, a Japanese lacquer vessel, a miniature by Richard Cosway, and a portrait of John Rolle Walter painted by Pompeo Batoni. The Batoni acquisition shows how combining sources can make all the difference: in this case the Art Fund, Heritage Lottery Fund, MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund and RAMMs Friends helped raise 300,000. In reality this is how successful museums have come to exist, looking opportunistically to combine private and public funding. I think such arrangements will become the norm in the next few years.


Extracts from museum donation book, 1870


11 Jany Elephants Tail A704 1 Lieut White 50th Regt. Indian


1 Feb Specimens illustrative of the beach at Budleigh Salterton 101 spms. J. H. Carter Esq., The Cottage, Budleigh Salterton


7 March Cartload of curiously grown oak timber for ornamental seats Henry Maudsley Esq., Bystock, Exmouth. Cut up for firewood by order of the Committee.



If you feel you would like to take up the role of modern-day philanthropist, we would love to hear from you. You could perhaps sponsor an exhibition or let us host your corporate events.


Contact Ruth Randall, 01392 665955. RAMMs Development Trust is a registered charity raising funds for the redevelopment. For more information contact newramm@exeter.gov.uk. More information on the Art Fund can be found at artfund.org


0 comments

More from Out & About

Tue, 11:06

Wild camping can be one of the best ways to escape the crowds for a night or two and lose yourself in the landscape - SOPHIE PAVELLE chooses her five favourite places to ‘wild-life’ camp in Devon

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

From sandy beaches and lighthouse-topped cliffs to views of the Jurassic Coast, the Devon coastline offers many perfect locations for a seaside walk. We pick 10 of the prettiest routes to take

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Take our quiz to find out how well you really know Devon

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

As the weather starts to warm up and the Devon countryside beckons, LIZZIE JANE of the National Trust in the South West offers plenty of walk ideas for you to try. Whether you want a relaxed Sunday stroll or a more strenuous hike, here are 10 walks across Devon (and beyond) to help you escape the crowds and head off the beaten track

Read more
Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The South West Coast Path is celebrating 40 years by calling on people to help raise £40,000. To show their support, teams from Devon’s top tourist attractions are preparing to take to the trail. CHRISSY HARRIS finds out more

Read more
Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Away from the hustle of places like Woolacombe and Ilfracombe, North Devon is peppered with tiny coves, empty beaches and wooded walks leading to secluded bays that feel a million miles away from the tourist trail. BECKY DICKINSON reveals her pick of the best kept secrets on the North Devon coast

Read more
Friday, September 14, 2018

As part of her regular series where she visits Devon’s best places for 24 hours, Lydia Tewkesbury has this time been to Sidmouth

Read more
Thursday, September 13, 2018

Ranging from rocky and windy walkways along the South West Coast Path to the sandy beaches on the picturesque coastline, the district of North Devon is one of the prettiest coastal areas in the South West of England. In no particular order, here are 10 of the prettiest villages in the district of North Devon

Read more
Tuesday, September 11, 2018

In Devon’s towns and cities there’s an awful lot you can do in just 24 hours. For her regular feature, Lydia Tewkesbury travels to see what you can do in a day in Kingsbridge

Read more
Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Villages in Devon are some of the prettiest in the South West. From beautiful little hamlets on the outskirts of the moors to seaside communities, we pick 10 villages in Devon you need to visit

Read more
Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Dust off your walking shoes and head to South Devon – here are 6 reasons why the area is so good for a stroll writes Victoria Rogers

Read more
Tuesday, August 28, 2018

There is something quite life-enriching about being by the water and in Devon there are plenty of ways to enjoy it, writes Fran McElhone. Including surfing, wild swimming, water skiing and more, here are 10 great ways to enjoy Devon’s water

Read more
Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Encompassing large swathes of Dartmoor and plenty of the county’s most distinctive sections of coastline, it’s no wonder that the South Hams district is home to some of Devon’s prettiest places. We pick out 10 of the best towns and villages the area has to offer

Read more
Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Devon is as beautiful underwater as it is above. Chrissy Harris highlights the best places to discover our county’s hidden depths… Here are 6 great places for crabbing, rockpooling and diving

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy



Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Subscribe or buy a mag today


subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search