THE HISTORY OF THE MUSEUM
In 1920, St Ives Old Cornwall Society was formed by a group of locals led by Robert Morton Nance to preserve the history of the town. The first St. Ives Museum was formed by this Society, in a cellar in the very heart of the old quarter of Downlong known as "Capel Court" (also affectionately referred to by older inhabitants as "Pudding Bag Lane because it was in the form of a cul-de-sac, "in one way and out the same" like a pudding bag).
Items which had been rescued from the dying days of traditional fishing, mining, and farming, were placed in the hope that they could be preserved for future generations. The St. Ives Old Cornwall Society meetings were held in the loft above the cellar and were content to gather and share their interests and local knowledge with one and all. Their motto was, and still is: "Gather ye the fragments that are left, that nothing be lost."
In the early 1930s, a slum clearance scheme was commenced in the oldest and most unique part of the town. This led to the total demolition of Capel Court and its adjoining ancient fish cellars, net lofts, and dwelling houses. The St. Ives Old Cornwall Society, therefore, had to move, and the items had to be stored until other premises could be procured. Members hoarded various artefacts in attics, spare bedrooms, and cellars until 1950, when a special display was arranged by the St. Ives Old Cornwall Society in the Parish Rooms. It was such a success that the Town Council asked that a similar exhibition should be arranged for the next year, which was the Year of the Festival of Britain Exhibition, in a first-floor room at the Passmore Edwards Library in Gabriel Street. After a month the items were taken back home by the members and stored away, not knowing when they would be placed on display again. However, the four weeks were such a success that the St. Ives Borough Council invited the St. Ives Old Cornwall Society to have a similar presentation on display the following year.
The following year, because the room (the wartime former food office) was not in constant use, the members were allowed to leave the items there during the winter. This led to more artefacts being given by local people and so the collection grew. The Museum was there until 1968 when new improvements to the building resulted in all the premises being required for the library.
The St. Ives Borough Council endeavoured to relocate the Museum and several places were suggested. Around this time, a property became available for sale. St. Ives Borough Council decided to purchase the property and offered the St. Ives Old Cornwall Society a portion of the first floor for a museum. The ground floor was occupied by the "Troika Pottery" and "Humphries Dairy". The first floor was currently occupied by the "British Sailors Society”, but they were about to relinquish their lease.
In the summer of 1968 the Museum moved into a section that is today the "Nance Room", named after the man who did so much to bring the St. Ives Old Cornwall Society and the Museum into existence. In 1969 the British Sailors Society vacated, and the entire first floor was made available to become an enlarged Museum. Artefacts poured in now that local people and others realised that a more permanent home was found for the Museum.
A few years later both the Troika Pottery and Humphries Dairy relinquished the ground floor, and so a larger area became available for other collections.
It is now 80 years since St. Ives had its very first Museum, and it all started as a small acorn planted in Pudding Bag Lane, later transplanted in the library building and which has now been firmly rooted and grown into a mighty oak here at Wheal Dream. It could well be said that it is a dream come true for those early pioneers of the St. Ives Old Cornwall Society. With the help of our volunteers, many of whom are Old Cornwall members and particularly lots of you yourselves who visit it, long may the St. Ives Museum continue to flourish.
Gather ye the fragments that are left, that nothing be lost
OLD CORNWALL SOCIETY MOTTO