Due to the imminent arrival of the remnants of “Hurricane Bertha” which was sweeping north across the British Isles it was a rainy afternoon on the second full day of our holiday in the Lakes. So it seemed like a good time to pop indoors and visit the Ruskin Museum in the centre of Coniston.
The museum describes itself as
an award-winning Cabinet of Curiosities which tells the Story of Coniston.
and that’s probably a good a description as any.
It was founded as a memorial to John Ruskin, who spent the last years of his life at Brantwood on the east shore of Coniston Water and who died on 20 January 1900, by his secretary and friend, W G Collingwood. The museum opened on 31 August 1901. Many of the original exhibits were from Ruskin’s own collection of geological samples.The current building, constructed of recycled local stone and slate and insulated with wool, opened in May 1999.
It’s quite modest in size but packed with exhibits. We spent almost a couple of hours there and returned later in the week (by gift aiding the entry fee we are allowed 12 month’s access).
The exhibits concentrated on the history of Coniston, it’s geology, industry and well known individuals and events.
This rug was a modern piece but reflected the craft traditions of the area and was made from the wool of Herdwick sheep, the local hardy breed.
There were displays on other crafts and industries too, in particular lace making, copper mining and slate quarrying. I was particularly interested in the information on the history of copper mining in the area, including the interactive displays showing the mine workings up on the surrounding mountains.
This sculpture of a wild boar by Sally Matthews was originally sited in Grizedale Forest (Grizedale means “valley of the wild boar”) and was one of the earliest of the sculptures created specifically for the forest. I recalled seeing it amongst a group of siblings in a clearing during our original visit many years ago
A special wing was added fairly recently commemorating Donald Campbell and his attempts at the water speed record on Coniston Water in the 1960’s. He was tragically killed on 4 January 1967 when attempting to break the record Bluebird hit a wave at over 300 mph, flipped over and crashed upside down on the water and sank. I remember vividly watching the film of the crash on the TV news as a boy. Campbell’s body and his vessel laid undisturbed in the lake until 2001 when both were recovered.
Bluebird came out remarkably intact and is being rebuilt. When this is completed it will be displayed in the museum. Until then a badly damaged section of the superstructure, that can’t be used in the reconstruction, and the engine are on display along with other exhibits about the Campbells, their vehicles and vessels and attempts at land and water speed records. A fascinating exhibition.
Campbell’s body was finally laid to rest in the cemetery on Hawkshead New Road, just around the corner from the museum.
Someone else associated with Coniston and particularly Coniston water, is Arthur Ransome, onetime Guardian correspondent for the Guardian during the Russian Revolution, who knew Lenin and Trotsky and married the latter’s secretary. But he’s best known as the author of the Swallows and Amazons series of children’s books and many of the fictional locations are based on real places around Coniston Water.
The museum’s small display about Ransome included the boat (originally named Mavis) on which his description of Amazon was based.
There was also a comprehensive display of exhibits centring on John Ruskin, including some of his watercolours and sketches, notebooks and samples from his collection of geological samples.
A very interesting little museum and well worth a visit even if it isn’t raining.