On 20 April 1868, a new museum opened in Exeter, known then as the 'Albert Memorial Museum, School of Art and Science and Free Library'. 150 years later the museum has seen many changes but it is still going strong.
An architectural competition to design the new building was won by John Hayward, an important figure in the Gothic Revival school in the south-west. The design was strongly influenced by architects Deane and Woodward, and the Early English architectural style of the 13th century. It was ornamented by large arched windows with tracery, smaller trefoil-headed windows and a rose window of almost cathedral-like proportions.
6 years before the museum opened the committee sent out a letter asking for donations. The public subscription totalled around £15,000. This was no mean effort given the fact that Exeter, unlike the great industrial cities of northern England, could not rely on immensely wealthy and philanthropic benefactors.
After serving as a Royal Navy officer FWL Ross retired in 1830 to live at Broadway House in Topsham, Devon.
He devoted the rest of his life to collecting and the study of natural history. He created his own museum with specimens from around the world. His collection came to RAMM after his death in 1860
Percy Sladen was an expert on starfish and sea urchins and gathered a large collection of specimens during his lifetime.
Sladen died in Florence and in 1903 his wife Constance presented his collection to RAMM. She paid for Sladen’s Study to be created in his memory and for a curator to research and display the specimens.
The Exeter firm of Veitch & Sons became one of Britain’s most important horticultural firms. Employees travelled the world in search of botanical specimens.
During his life Sir Harry Veitch and his wife also amassed a significant art collection. It included Meissen figures, Venetian glassware, drawings and paintings. The collection was bequeathed to RAMM in 1924, following Sir Harry’s death.
Miss Juliana Emma Linter started collecting shells in the 1880s.
She wrote frequently to the shell experts of the day and could almost be described as a shell dealer.
‘For many years I have been collecting exotic land shells, in fact, my collection is about as complete as it can well be, and I have spared no expense or labour in making it and keeping it up to date, by securing representatives in the finest condition of all new species found and described.’
Frederick Richard Rowley held the post of curator at RAMM for 32 years. A report in the daily gazette on 26 November 1921 recorded that RAMM’s governors unanimously agreed that he ‘was in every respect the best man to be appointed’.
Rowley’s Saturday evening lectures on the collections and natural history in general were said to be so popular and engaging that there wasn’t always enough room for everyone.
Charles Peel was confident that big game hunting was the best lifestyle for young men in the late Victorian empire.
Peel wanted to promote the outdoor life and big game hunting. So he set up a private Museum of Natural History and Anthropology in his home town of Oxford.
When Peel moved to Devon he offered his collection to RAMM.
When RAMM accepted Charles Peel's collection of big game Sir E. Channing Wills paid for the specimens to be prepared and transported to RAMM.
Channing Wills also paid for a ‘temporary’ store known as the Peel Hut to house most of the collection. In fact the hut lasted for 60 years! This is a postcard produced by RAMM.
Gerald the Giraffe is one of RAMM's most iconic specimens. He has stood in the galleries since the 1920s.
In 1901 he encountered big game hunter Charles Victor Alexander Peel at Moshi, Tanzania, close to the snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro.
Using a laser he measures 5.05m hooves to horns (known as ossicones) and 4.94m hooves to the top of his head.
Only two objects remained in the building site during the redevelopment because they were simply too large to store elsewhere - the elephant and the giraffe.
When their time came to be installed into their new gallery they exited RAMM through a window on Upper Paul Street. A low loader moved them to Northernhay Gardens where they spent the night.
The multimillion pound redevelopment earned RAMM the Art Fund’s Museum of the Year 2012 award.
Lord Smith of Finsbury, Chairman of the judges panel, said, “The new Royal Albert Memorial Museum is quite simply a magical place, modest in scale but vast in its ambition and imagination. The Victorian aspirations to bring the world to Exeter are stunningly realised through some of the most intelligently considered displays on view in any museum in the UK. Every exhibit delights with a new surprise, and provokes with a new question".