VISIT TO THE ROYAL ALBERT MEMORIAL MUSEUM
12 NOVEMBER 2014
It was a wet and miserable morning outside but we were given a warm welcome inside by Tom Cadbury, the Curator of Antiquities at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, or RAMM for short! As the RAMM is closed to the public on Mondays, we had the place to ourselves and so were able to take a leisurely walk through the introductory rooms of the museum. There, Tom told us the thinking behind the layout of the still relatively new area of the museum with which he had been deeply involved. The ever expanding collection of artefacts means that the items on display can be changed frequently so that local visitors can come repeatedly and still find something “new” in the show cases which reveal the changing shapes, colours and fashions through the ages.
We then moved on to the “inner sanctum”, not normally open to the public, where a vast collection of artefacts is stored in carefully labelled boxes for study, identification and repair. These artefacts are growing in number as they continue to be discovered around Devon and Exeter in particular.
We were lucky as the examination, restoration and assembly of local pottery finds which had only very recently been completed. A selection of re-assembled pieces of pottery illustrating different styles of pots/storage flagons etc. from different parts of the Roman Empire, as well as some locally produced items, were shown to us.
We were also able to handle (wearing gloves—see picture) and closely examine some of these as they were passed around. They were of particular interest, following the earlier talk at one of our bi-monthly meetings by Dr Salvatore, a leading excavator at the Topsham Road site.
The visit to the RAMM concluded with the remains of the wooden “Stylus Box” included in Dr Salvatore’s talk. This was apparently owned by a master potter at the Roman site, who had used it repeatedly and finally had written directly with ink on the wood of the backing board, rather than impressing the wax tablet that it would have contained originally. “Waste not want not” is obviously not new.
In Victorian times much restoration, rather than conservation, took place. Scaffolding was erected around the South Tower with poles going right through the tower and out the other side. It is difficult to know where the stone they used originated because, with the advent of the railways, it could be brought in from all over the country. Steel was used to support the building and the cloisters were rebuilt. Unfortunately, the Victorians thought plain stone was preferable to its being painted so they removed the render and plaster and pointed up the stones in many old churches, including Exeter Cathedral. Now they all leak! Though much of the paint may have been stripped under Henry VIII.