The Collection



Origin of collection:   The Museum was purpose built in 1897.  The collection at Keswick Museum was founded by the local Literary and Scientific Society in 1873, with a particular focus on Natural Sciences.  The collection of random, chance finds of local, natural and antiquarian interest was quickly focused under several local naturalists and geologists, including James Clifton Ward, to active systematic collecting. A number of pieces were bought including Flintoft's model of the Lake District, while the bequest of James Edmonson's butterfly collection forms a focus of the entomological collections today. The important literary collections were begun when Canon H.D. Rawnsley, one of the founders of the National Trust, became a Fitz Park Trustee in the early part of the twentieth century. His fame brought donations and bequest from many quarters including members of the Southey family. The collection is largely provenanced to Keswick and the North Lakes.

Keswick Museum - FoxScope of collection:
  1. Books: early tourist and geology guidebooks
  2. Periodicals/Journals: Almost complete run of The Fell and Rock Journal from 1942 to 2002.
  3. Newspapers: English Lakes Visitor and Keswick Guardian (1870s 1910)
  4. Maps/plans: geological maps associated with James Clifton Ward.
  5. Photographs/audio-visual: collections of photographs by early Keswick photographers such as the Maysons, Pettits and Abrahams. The Abrahams firm in particular holds national significance as photographers of pioneering mountaineering climbs locally and elsewhere.
  6. Non Paper-Based Holdings:  Detailed below

Fine Art - 500 Items          

Keswick Museum - Artwork Primarily works on paper, mainly 19th Century in date and of regional significance. The exceptions are nationally important works by Nash and Westall, primarily of 18th Century Southey family portraits and contemporary views, and a significant collection of etchings and lithographs by Brangwyn. Other notable artists include Sir Charles Holmes, Collingwood and Longmire.

The easel paintings are again mainly 19th century in date and of regional importance, though the collection does include a number of works by James Durden, a portrait of Robert Southey by Opie and a Redpath oil.

Decorative Art - 80 items

This collection mainly consists of metalwork from the Keswick School of Industrial Arts (KSIA), founded by Canon H.D. Rawnsley in 1884. The collection includes some early pieces of repoussé and chased copper articles by named artists including W.H. Mawson and a fine portrait of Rawnsley in bronze relief by Edith Maryon, and various sporting trophies and shields, some silver, but the bulk is later stainless steel commemorative ware. There are also some KSIA fixtures and fittings in the building itself. The busts of the Lake Poets include a nationally important bust of Hugh Walpole by Epstein. The Goldscope Cup is a fine piece of silversmithing, but its main importance lies in the locally sourced silver.

Archaeology - 200 items

The bulk of the collection comprises of local pre-historic worked stones and axes, including examples from the Langdale Axe Factory sites, showing techniques from rough outs to highly polished axes, and settlement patterns in the area. The pre-history collection also includes a small number of bronze items. The Roman collection is mainly ceramic in nature, from Samian to lower wares from different local sites, and a few unprovenanced coins. The Medieval collection is also ceramic in nature from key local sites such as Lords Island, seat of the Earls of Derwentwater, except for a recently acquired lead seal.

Keswick Museum - Musical StonesSocial History - 1000 items

The social history collection is mainly domestic and community orientated, with significant material in the costume collection, (mainly 1920s and 30s daily wear and accessories) and associated with pastimes, sport and especially the Musical Stones. The Museum has three sets of Musical Stones and a significant archive of associated material. The areas of work and commerce cover a few commercial companies such as the Cockermouth, Keswick & Penrith Railway and Gas, Light & Coke Company, following specific deposits of material. The collection also covers local schools and 'celebrities', such as Sir J G Woodford.

Natural History - 16000 items

The natural history collections formed the original basis of the Museum and most specimens date from the 19th and 20th Century. Most is of local and regional significance with some specimens of national interest, such as the Vendace, a local relict of the ice age, together with published examples of taxidermy, for example, Greenwell Blackett's Buzzard. Most have close associations with notable local naturalists such as Joseph Flintoft and Linneas Eden Hope who helped develop the collections (excluding geology), consist of a range of mounted birds and mammals, some not found in Cumbria today, some osteological material, several hundred clutches of birds eggs and nests, and a naturally mummified "500 Year Old Cat". There is also a large entomological collection of mainly British Lepidoptera and Micro-Lepidoptera, and a comprehensive collection of local Coleoptera. The collection includes fish, reptiles and amphibians, preserved wet, dried and mounted, with a significant collection of freshwater and marine shells from Britain and the world. The herbarium includes over 1000 sheets of pressed material.

Geology - 3000 items

The geology collection contains a good balance of rocks, minerals & fossils, mostly from local sites and well representing the complex local geology, industrial activity and the work of important 19th Century collectors. A large proportion of the minerals and rocks are from named collections, including that of James Clifton Ward, Robert Harkness, John Postlethwaite and Jonathan Otley; all early geological pioneers. The Museum also holds a small collection of minerals collected by John Ruskin, the great Victorian author, artist and social reformer and has specimens donated by 20th Century geologists such as Edgar Shackleton. Cumbria has the greatest number of mineral species in the country and the minerals of the Caldbeck Fells, an internationally important mineralogical area, now collecting restricted, are well represented, including many irreplaceable specimens. Local commercial exploitation and use of stone is also documented in the collections.

Graptolites and other marine fauna of the Skiddaw Slates are well represented in the fossil collection, with some type and figured material of national importance. Plant fossils of the Coal Measures are also well represented and the Museum has one specimen of footprints in Eden Valley Sandstone.

Special collections:   a collection of archives, documents, maps and literary material primarily associated with the Lake Poets and writers including Robert Southey, William Wordsworth, De Quincey, Coleridge. Hugh Walpole, Canon H.D. Rawnsley and John Ruskin.  The Robert Southey archive is the most substantial and consists of early manuscripts of published poems and unpublished letters.

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