Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society: Wikis


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The Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society is an educational, cultural and scientific charity, based in Falmouth, Cornwall, England, United Kingdom. The Society exists to promote innovation in the arts and sciences, while its trading subsidiary runs "The Poly", a local arts venue.



1897 Annual Report with portrait of Anna Maria Fox

In 1832[1]the Fox family. [2] a prominent Quaker business [3] family of Falmouth, founded the Cornwall Polytechnic Society[4], to promote the ideas and inventions of the workers in their Perran Foundry. This was the first use of the word ‘Polytechnic’ (meaning “of many arts and techniques”) in Britain [5]

In 1835 King William IV bestowed Royal Patronage on the Society, at the request of Davies Gilbert and it changed its name from the Cornwall Polytechnic Society to the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society. [6] [7].

In the same year the Polytechnic Hall was built, at 24 Church Street, Falmouth, being originally used for “objects connected with the sciences, arts and literature”, but not for theatrical purposes. This restriction was removed in 1889 to permit “dramatic plays”. The building was designed by George Wightwick. [8]

View of the RCPS building designed by George Wightwick
Meteorological Observation Tower, built by the "Poly" in 1868.

By 1837, the Society had local Committees in Falmouth & Penryn, Truro, Redruth, Camborne, St. Day & Chacewater, Helston, Penzance & Marazion, Hayle, St. Austell & Fowey, Liskeard and Bodmin, as well as a Ladies Committee. In all, there were 98 committee members[9].

The Society played a prominent role in industrial development in the 19th century, being instrumental in the development of the “Man engine” in mines also improved drilling machinery, mine ventilation, the health and welfare of fishermen and miners – and explosives. In 1865 the Hall was damaged by a demonstration of Nobel’s gun cotton and nitro-glycerine. In 1858 the Society founded the The Miners Association to better aid the mining industry.

The first Secretary to the Poly was Thomas Brown Jordan.

In 1840, Jordan was succeeded as Secretary by Robert Hunt, who both organised the programme of Exhibitions and Lectures and gave fascinating lectures himself. [10] The Society benefitted from the availability of "star" scientific and technical speakers in its Lecture Programmes, thanks to the network of friends of Robert Were Fox, F.R.S. and his brother Charles Fox. The presentation of the cutting edge of scientific knowledge resulted in large and enthusiastic audiences.

The Society has had many notable Presidents including the novelist Howard Spring who lived in Falmouth from 1947 to 1965 and served for eight years.


Notable people

Notable members and others associated with the Poly include:

21st Century developments

In 2000 the Society merged with Falmouth Arts. The Society, following this merger, decided to adopt the trading name of Falmouth Arts Centre and this has now become the name of the Polytechnic Hall. Today the building regularly shows the work of art students as well as the screening of films in its cinema.

At its AGM on 3 October 2006, the Society decided to both value the past but to live in the future. It adopted the Board's plan to shift the "brand" from "Falmouth Arts Centre" to "The Poly". Members agreed to divide the organisation's operations into two with a charitable body and a trading wing, both providing high quality services. The meeting accepted the new Memorandum of Association, approved by the Charity Commission.

The ""Poly" is the most southerly venue in the UK of the Café Scientifique movement, running events at Falmouth and St Ives.

During 2008, the Society will celebrate its 175th anniversary with a series of events and announcements. Emulating 19th Century awards for technology projects, it will also offer the first of a planned biennial prize to encourage innovation in some area of art and science. To be called "the Fox Award", in honour of the founders of the Society, the details of the inaugural prize will be announced in May. In September, there will be an exhibition on the History of the Society.

Annual Reports of the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society (1833-1985) at Falmouth Public Library.

Notes and references

  1. ^ The first Annual Report of the Cornwall Polytechnic Society was published after the first Annual General Meeting, held 14 January,1833. It indicates that the first Exhibition had been held previous to the AGM, probably in October 1832. At the AGM, it was resolved that the next Exhibition would be held in Falmouth in October 1834. Sir Charles Lemon, MP, FRS presided at the AGM and five other Fellows of the Royal Society were Vice-Patrons. Lord de Dunstanville was Patron. The Committee includes: "Dr. Fox , Mr & Mrs RW Fox, Mr & Mrs GC Fox, Mr TW Fox, Mr GP Fox, Mr & Mrs A Fox, Mr J Fox, Mr & Mrs C Fox of Perran, Miss Fox and Misses AM and C Fox and Mr RB Fox of Bank". The subscription was a minimum of five shillings and there were 98 members at the time of printing. Charles Fox of Perran had offered a premium of 10 guineas for the best improvement on the method of ascending and descending in mines. Sir Charles Lemon and R.W. Fox offered a premium of ten guineas for improvements in the safety and efficiency of blasting operations in mines.
  2. ^ Caroline Fox is said to have suggested the name “Polytechnic”. Her older sister, Anna Maria Fox was the initial moving spirit, wishing the engineering models made by the workers at the Perran Foundry (managed by her Uncle Charles) could be displayed. Barclay Fox, the only son and middle child of Robert Were Fox F.R.S. and Anna Maria Fox was on the Polytechnic Committee from the age of 17 (1835) until 1854). In his Journal, Barclay indicates that played a major part in the development of the Polytechnic and in running the Annual Exhibitions, which also included a programme of public lectures. See Wikipedia articles on Barclay and Caroline for sources.
  3. ^ The Fox family business was originally ship broking. They were also involved in the foundry at Perranarworthal, various Cornish mines and the transmission of metal ore and coal between North Cornwall and South Wales, where they part owned the coal mine at Neath Abbey. "Uncle Alfred" was involved in pilchard fishery, processing, packaging and export.
  4. ^ current website of the Poly
  5. ^ Barclay Fox’s Journal (page 46) records on 23 April 1833 that “prizes and subscriptions for the forthcoming Polytechnic Society” were settled. His entry 8 October 1839 states, in his jocular manner “Miss Poly’s seventh birthday” so some launch event must have occurred on 8 October 1832 (page 164).
  6. ^ Davies Gilbert was a former President of the Royal Society and M.P., who chaired the Polytechnic Society at the time. (Barclay Fox Journal:75 see also ODNB)
  7. ^ In 1883, the Society published an account of its Jubilee year (1882) with an historical synopsis. A copy is held at the British Library: see Bibliography for catalogue entry.
  8. ^ Designed by George Wightwick according to the editor’s note in Barclay Fox Journal:105). George Wightwick, a Plymouth architect and writer was a good friend of the Fox family and the Polytechnic. He gave a lecture during the Annual Exhibition in October 1838 and judged the competition in October 1839 (Barclay Fox Journal:134,164). In their journals, Caroline and Barclay Fox note their informal meetings with George Wightwick,and his flow of anecdote and wit. see also ODNB:
  9. ^ R.C.P.S. Annual Report, 1837.
  10. ^ Robert Hunt, Chemist and scientific populariser. He published the first book about photography in the UK. See ODNB


  • The journals of Caroline Fox, 1835–1871: a selection, ed. Wendy Monk; London, Paul Elek, (1972) ISBN 0-236-15447-8
  • Barclay Fox's journal ; edited by Raymond L. Brett; London : Bell and Hyman, 1979 ISBN 0-7135-1865-0 and Totowa, N.J. : Rowman & Littlefield ISBN 0-8476-6187-3
  • Historical Synopsis of the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society ... presented ... to the Society on its year of Jubilee, 1882. (List of essays, treatises and scientific papers published in the Reports.) by Wilson Lloyd Fox; 76 pages. 1882. In : Falmouth.-Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society, Report, etc. (Fiftieth and Jubilee Report, 1882.) [1833, etc.] 8º. British Library System number 001282900
  • J.A. Buckley The Cornish Mining Industry: a brief history; Redruth, Tor Mark, 2nd Edn. 2002 ISBN 0-85025-397-7 For “Man Engine” see pages 26 to 29.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entries, relating to the Poly

  • Rosamund Reid, ‘Wightwick, George (1802–1872)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 19 June 2006
  • Alan Pearson, ‘Hunt, Robert (1807–1887)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 21 June 2006
  • David Philip Miller, ‘Gilbert [Giddy], Davies (1767–1839)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 21 June 2006
  • G. C. Boase, ‘Fox, Charles (1797–1878)’, rev. Justin Brooke, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 13 June 2006
  • Denise Crook, ‘Fox, Robert Were (1789–1877)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 13 June 2006

See also

Alan Pearson "A study of the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society": Thesis submitted for a M.A Degree to the University of Exeter, September 1973. This work and a long run of the annual Reports of the Poly are held in the Local History Reference Section of Falmouth Library.

External links


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