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Previous Window Displays 2018

Advent Window Display for Christmas 2018

The History of the Christmas Card

Henry Cole (1808 – 1882) was a prominent civil-servant, educator and inventor. He modernised the British postal system, managed construction of the Albert Hall, arranged for the Great Exhibition in 1851, and oversaw the inauguration of the Victoria and Albert museum and was their first director.

Traditionally at Christmas a letter was written to family and friends, but Cole was a very busy man, and in 1843 he decided a timesaving solution was needed. He wanted a card he could proudly send to friends and professional acquaintances to wish them a "Merry Christmas" that could be personalised with a hand-written greeting.  He commissioned his friend, artist and respected illustrator of the day John Callcott Horsley.   1843 was also the year Charles Dickens wrote and published “A Christmas Carol.”

Horsley produced a triptych. Each of the two side panels depicted a good deed - clothing the naked and feeding the hungry. The hand-coloured centrepiece depicts three generations of the Cole family raising a toast, (causing severe criticism from the British Temperance Movement), and black and white scenes depicting acts of giving; the twofold message was of celebration and charity.

This first Christmas card's inscription read: "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you".  Merry was then a spiritual word meaning "blessed" as in "merry old England".

Cole then commissioned a printer to transfer the design onto cards, printing a thousand copies. Of the original one thousand cards twelve exist today in private collections.   In 2010 one of these designs sold for £22,000.

Cole may have been ahead of his time but the commercialisation of Christmas was on its way, prompted by developments in the publishing industry and Prince Albert introducing various German Christmas traditions to the British public, including the decorated Christmas tree.
By the 1870s the new Christmas trends were firmly established in Victorian Britain.

The introduction of the halfpenny stamp, in 1870 meant that sending cards was affordable for almost everyone.  The majority of cards were more like the ones we post today - with frosty scenes, Father Christmas and family get-togethers. The cards were overwhelmingly secular as the Victorian Christmas was not particularly Christian, more a time of good humour.

Humorous and sentimental images of children and animals were popular. Rosy-faced children gathered round a decorated tree might be seen on a card - but so might a dead robin or a turnip wearing a hat.  Food features a lot - not just in family feasts and traditional spreads. One card shows a group of rats, nattily dressed, sharpening knives and settling down to a nice meal of roast cat.  

In 1880 11 million Christmas cards were printed throughout the world.   In 2017 one billion cards were sold in the UK alone.


Window Display for October  / November 2018

The  timely focus for the current window display is WW1. The design is deliberately simple & intended to remind us of the devastation and futility of the loss of lives associated with war. The moving poem naively by John McCrae, is included as  a poignant reminder of those who naively sacrificed so much.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

This special window display is supported by  MKM Extrusions
More photographs available via this link


Our Window Display for June / July 2018

Our latest Window display highlights some of the historic buildings within walking distance of central Lostwithiel.

Click on image above for larger view

The countryside around Lostwithiel is full of interest: there’s the River, the woodland, the Castle, old churches, industrial heritage, myths and legends, secluded spots and superb scenery.

Our new walks guide comprises 8 short walks, suitable for a half day excursion, or longer if you wish. Available to buy in the museum at just £3.00 each.  More pictures from our July display may be viewed on our flickr page.  The full text of the descriptions in the window may be read via this link.

Thanks to Jeff Pearce from  Mellingly Holiday Cottage for sponsoring our display.

Our Window Display for April / May 2018

The well-documented history of Lostwithiel's Fire Service features in our latest Museum Window Display. 

Can't see video below in your browser? Try this link.

Lostwithiel fire records go back as far as the Civil War [1644] when a number of buildings were set alight by the occupying Parliamentary Army. As the town was re-built the beginnings of a fire fighting service, one of the first in Cornwall, were developed.

  For almost 300 years St Bartholomew's Church bell was rung to call the Firefighters to deal with an emergency fire. This practice  only ceased in 1939 at the outbreak of WW2 when the now familiar siren was introduced to alert a fire emergency. It may be hard to believe that the Georgian building now occupied by Lostwithiel Museum was once a Fire Station. Enter the museum today & the main exhibit you see is Lostwithiel's first fire engine given by Lord Edgcumbe in 1716.

It was this engine, with others, that attended the major fire at Lanhydrock House in 1881 when much of the building was destroyed. This fire engine, akin to a portable water trough, was pulled by several men with leather buckets filled with water. One of these heavy leather buckets can still be seen in the museum.

Lanhydrock Fire 1881.
(Click on image for larger view)

With a generous grant from Association of Independent Museums [AIM] in 2008, the Fire Engine  on display was conserved and is back in working order.  You can read more about the conservation project on this page.   The full text on various window display panels available via this link.

 The Fire Service Window Display has been generously sponsored by The Children's Clinic for Cornwall [CCC], based in the Old  Cattle Market  Building [opp Lostwithiel Medical Practice in the main car park]. For more information about CCC please visit their website.

Our Window Display for March 2018

Our latest window display tells the story of  Queen Victoria's visit to Restormel Royal Mine in September 1846. We also preview the visit of The Man Engine to Cornwall over Easter 2018.

In 1846 Queen Victoria, then aged only 27 years, and Prince Albert were touring in the west country. At 8-00 am on 8th September the Royal squadron sailed from Falmouth to Fowey.The Royal Party then travelled by Royal Carriage from Fowey to Lostwithiel town, Restormel Castle and Restormel Iron Mine.

When they arrived at the mine, Her Majesty, one of her ladies, Prince Albert, and three gentlemen went underground in a train wagon lined with straw and covered in green baize.

The Queen and Prince Albert were conducted through the underground workings for a distance of 270 fathoms (540 yards).   The party got out of the wagon and inspected the lode and the Prince broke off a sample. It was the first time a Queen and Sovereign had ever explored the recesses of a mine.

Queen Victoria wrote in her diary:-

"We drove from Fowey through some of the narrowest streets I ever saw in England. We visited here Restormel Mine. It is an iron mine.  Albert and I got into one of the trucks and were dragged in by the miners. The miners wear a curious woollen dress, with a cap like this and the dress thus and they generally have a candle  stuck in front of the cap.

There is something unearthly about this lit up cavern place. The miners seemed so pleased at seeing us and are intelligent good people.     It was quite dazzling when we came into the daylight again.”

In the following month, Mr Taylor, the Chief Minerals Officer of the Duchy, who had accompanied the party, received Her Majesty's command to distribute fifty sovereigns among the miners.

The mine was renamed Royal Restormel Mine, Market Street  was re-named Queen Street and Albert Terrace and Duke Street  were names given to other parts of the town.

Men often began underground work at the age of 12. Younger boys and women, or "Bal maidens" as they were known,
worked mainly above ground breaking rock. In 1839 7,000 children were employed.  Mines were small, cramped, and hot, with temperatures underground sometimes reaching 60 C. with air that could barely sustain a candle.  Miners often snuffed their candle and worked in complete darkness in order to conserve air.

Death and injury were a fact of everyday life. Rockfalls and explosions not uncommon. Many miners developed Bronchitis, TB and rheumatism from their time underground and few miners were fit to work beyond the age of 40.  There were 340 mines employing 50,000 people in Cornwall in 1862.

There were no cages to haul miners up and down as in collieries as colliery shafts were generally vertical, - in metallic mines shafts were commonly inclined at various and frequently changing angles. Access was by a ladder, and pay didn’t start until they reached the rock face, so the introduction of the man engine in the mid 19th century was welcomed by the miners.

Operation of a Man Engine

The 2018 version of the Man Engine will be visiting Cornwall from 31st March to 2nd April 2018.
Quoting  from Will Coleman, The creator of the Man Engine:-

“Our man engine takes his name from an amazing invention. This was a device that lifted miners up and down the shaft saving them the exhausting job, sometimes 2 hours worth, of climbing long wooden ladders. 

It is just over 100 years ago that at Levant the man engine collapsed and killed 31 men in a most horrific manner.  That is the sort of sacrifice that we are commemorating and we hope that our man engine shows the right level of respect to all of those who over 4000 years worth of Cornish mining history endeavoured and toiled to bring us treasure from under the earth.”

More pictures from our display are available via this link.

Lostwithiel Museum would like to thank  Iteracy Web Design  and Harmony Holiday Cottage for sponsoring our March Window.


Our Window Display for  January / February 2018

Our latest window display tells the story of St Valentine’s Day.

The ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia was a fertility celebration that was observed annually between 13th and 15th February.  In 269 AD single Roman men were drafted into the Roman army so many men got married in order to avoid this. As a result Emperor Claudius II of Rome forbade Roman men to get engaged or marry. Claudius also ordered all Romans to worship the state’s religious icons, and outlawed Christianity.

A Christian priest, Valentinus continued to practise his beliefs and performed secret marriages. He was arrested and even attempted to convert the emperor to Christianity which angered Claudius II even further and he sentenced Valantinus to death.

While in prison, awaiting his execution, it is said Valentinus was approached by his jailor, Asterius, who had a blind daughter, Julia. Catholic legend states that Valentinus performed a miracle and restored her sight, and they became very close.

Just before the execution, Valentinus asked for a pen and paper from his jailor, and signed a farewell message to Julia "From Your Valentine" and included a yellow crocus, which is often referred to as St Valentine’s flower. Valentinus is believed to have been executed on February 14, 270 AD which has become known as St. Valentine's Day.

The rise of Christianity in Europe saw many pagan holidays being renamed including Lupercalia. In 496 AD, Pope Gelasius turned Lupercalia into a Christian feast day and set its observance on February 14th in honour of Roman martyr Saint Valentine.

In 1382 Geoffrey Chaucer wrote his poem Parlement of Foules. This poem contains what is widely reported to be the first recorded instance of St Valentine’s Day being linked to romantic love.


The British Library holds the oldest surviving Valentine’s letter in the English language. This dates from 1477 and was sent by Margery Brews to her fiancé John Paston. In this letter Margery describes John as her “right well-beloved Valentine”.

By the 17th century Valentine’s Day gets a mention in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, when Ophelia is given the lines:

To-morrow is Saint Valentine's day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.

In the 18th century the most familiar Valentine’s poem made its first appearance. These lines, found in a collection of nursery rhymes printed in 1784, read:

“The rose is red,
the violet's blue,
The honey's sweet, and so are you.”

The first Valentine’s cards were sent in the 18th century. Initially these were handmade efforts, as pre-made cards were not
yet available. Lovers would decorate paper with romantic symbols including flowers and love knots, often including puzzles and lines of poetry. Those who were less inspired could buy volumes that offered guidance on selecting the appropriate words and images to woo their lover. These cards were then slipped secretly under a door, or tied to a door-knocker.

It was in Georgian Britain that pre-printed cards first began to appear, though these were not yet as popular as they were eventually to become. The oldest surviving example dates from 1797.

More pictures from our display are available via this link.

Lostwithiel Museum would like to thank Asquiths Restaurant for sponsoring our Valentine Window.


Lostwithiel Museum Association would like to thanks these companies for their generous sponsorship to the 2018 window displays.

 Atticus & Willow Lost in Books
 Asquiths  MKM Extrusions
 Iteracy  Romantic Englishwoman
 Harmony Cottage  Acupuncture Cornwall
 The Children’s Clinic   Mellingey Cottage