With over 20,000 artefacts in its collection, Bodmin Keep is one of the best historical attractions in north Cornwall, with a particular focus on the history of the Cornish Regiment.
The museum is unmissable as you approach it, with a sturdy stone keep that has surrounded what was once the headquarters of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry since it was built in 1859. Inside, visitors can explore the history of the Cornish Regiment and the British Army, a history that spans more than 300 years, covering significant historic events such as the First and Second World Wars, through to the Army’s part in providing humanitarian aid in world disasters.
Director Helen Bishop-Stevens met with Bodmin Life to give an insight into the museum and the role it has played in Cornwall for the last 160 years: “The Keep is a big part of Cornwall’s history and the history of the town. Over the past century, someone from every Cornish family has walked through the gates of Bodmin Keep.”
Open all year round, five days a week in winter and six days a week during the summer months, Bodmin Keep provides a captivating historical experience for both locals and visitors to Cornwall, giving an insight into Bodmin’s rich past, as well as Cornwall’s heritage.
This summer saw the start of a new exhibition,‘Dealing with Disaster’, which explores the Armed Forces’ role here in the UK and overseas in supporting efforts to help people due to the devastating impacts of natural disaster -something that is now prevalent in the face of the climate crisis. The museum played a big part in Armed Forces Day in Falmouth, putting on a navigation challenge for people to get involved with, which they plan on running as a town trail here in Bodmin - a self-guided trail that includes problem solving, orienteering, and more.
This autumn they will continue their ‘pay what you can’ initiative, which proved popular last year. “We want to make the museum more accessible to a wide group of people,” Helen said. “We have a range of people coming in, from local veterans and visitors on holiday discovering historic Cornwall, to people who are passionate about family research.”
This November, people across the country and the world will be paying their respects to the fallen in previous conflicts, and past and current serving veterans of the military. On Remembrance Sunday, Bodmin Keep will host a special Rifles Memorial Service before joining the parade into town.
Many families will now be planning their October half-term. The museum is a fantastic educational resource for young people, with plenty to be discovered this Autumn. Create poppies with special craft sessions, scare your friends with a fake wound for Halloween, take part in museum trails, and even explore the evolution of weapons with weapon handling sessions.
The museum also aims to be as inclusive as possible to neurodivergent people through its ‘Saturday Soldiers’ sessions, which provide a sensory space for quieter times in the museum, allowing people with special educational needs and disabilities to de-stress and take part in an accepting and welcoming environment.
Some of the team’s favourite artefacts in the museum’s collection include the seven Victoria Crosses awarded to the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, a Bible that is thought President George Washington swore his Masonic oath on, a large piece of the Berlin Wall, and a moving portrait of Stanhope Forbes’ son before he went off to fight in the Great War, and died in 1916.
Helen said: “We have an amazing collection at the museum with many unique and unusual items. People are constantly surprised by what they find here. We’re a fantastic resource for learning about British history and the events that made us the country we are today.”
Bodmin Life was given the chance to walk around the museum, and one item that really stood out was a German helmet with a hole torn through the side, which is thought to have been the helmet of the first German casualty of the Great War in August 1914 - a harrowing reminder of the cost of war. We also enjoyed the memorial exhibit for Harry Patch, the ‘Last Fighting Tommy’. Harry was the last male First World War veteran living in Europe, posted to the 7th Battalion of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, and served as an assistant gunner. He passed away in 2009 at the age of 111.
For more information about Bodmin Keep and updates on their events, visit www.bodminkeep.org.uk