Monday, 8 April 2013

RAMM’s Holly lends a helping hand at Fairlynch

Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery  
Image credit: Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery and Exeter City Council

It seems appropriate in 2013 to remember the links between Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum  and the much smaller Fairlynch Museum. 
It was exactly two hundred years ago that the first steps towards a museum for the city were taken when the Devon and Exeter Institution opened in 1813, with the aims of “promoting the general diffusion of Science, Literature and Art” and of “illustrating the Natural and Civic History of the County of Devon and the City of Exeter.”  And it was in that year that Henry Carter, one of the county’s great scientists, pictured below, was born in Budleigh Salterton.




So RAMM’s contribution to Fairlynch Museum's bicentenary exhibition in Carter’s honour was only to be expected. After all, the world-renowned sponge expert from Budleigh is known to have presented at least 38 zoological and botanical specimens to the city’s museum between 1875 and 1885 during his retirement, including British and Australian sponges, corals and mammoth hair from Eschscholtz Bay in North America.


Hair of Siberian mammoth Elephas primigenius  found in ice at Elephant Point at Eschscholtz Bay North Coast of America. Acquired by RAMM 2 February 1881 from a bequest made by Henry Carter
Image credit: Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery and Exeter City Council

Fairlynch was fortunate in coming into contact with Holly Morgenroth, now RAMM’s Curator of Natural History. Brought up in Otterton, Holly knows the Budleigh area well and immediately volunteered her help when Fairlynch’s Michael Downes turned up unannounced at RAMM with his plans for a bicentenary tribute to Carter. 

“We really appreciate Holly’s expertise and readiness to help make a success of our exhibition,” said Michael. “We may be a small museum but our ‘Sea, Salt and Sponges’ show to honour Henry Carter has been marked by lots of enthusiasm and goodwill from a wide range of contributors.  We have rare fossils, amazing Victorian medical equipment, beautiful crystals, strange-looking sponges and even some very special art work to make an enjoyable experience for visitors.”

Holly began her museum career in Plymouth as a volunteer in the natural history department while studying Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology at the city’s University.  After a year’s Museum Studies at Leicester University she worked at the National Museum of Wales in  Cardiff  before joining RAMM in 2010.  Her latest appointment at RAMM in January this year as Curator of Natural History came after a dream holiday in New Zealand, during which she spent a fascinating week’s work experience at Auckland War Memorial Museum.  

During her time in New Zealand with the natural sciences team she assisted with the curation of a collection of exotic butterflies, helped to sort their pickled fish and pressed seaweed collections and went hunting with the Curator of Entomology for giant weta - a large cricket- in the park that surrounds the Museum.

Holly, on the left, is pictured with a colleague Emily Feltham putting the finishing touches to a display of glass sponges kindly loaned by RAMM

The Venus’ flower basket sponges on display at Fairlynch

These extraordinary specimens including Euplectella aspergillum - better known as Venus’ flower basket - continue to fascinate and inspire naturalists and collectors alike today. The broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough chose Glass sponges as one of his top ten most beautiful and most remarkable living organisms among endangered species. They were featured in a BBC Two wildlife special entitled ‘Attenborough's Ark’ which was broadcast in November last year.  

 Also on display is a Glass rope sponge from RAMM's collection

Fairlynch’s exhibition ‘Sea, Salt and Sponges’ is open from Friday 29 March until the end of September. The Museum is open daily except Saturdays from 2.00 - 4.30 pm. Admission is free. For further information see




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