£47 million Plymouth archive and museum space opens

The Box offers new opportunities for family historians to explore history and records from Plymouth

The Box in Plymouth (Courtesy Paul White Photography)

A brand-new £46.8 million archive, museum and art gallery space is now open in Plymouth.

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The Box opened its doors to the public on 29 September, after its opening was delayed from May due to coronavirus.

Visits are free and must be booked in advance.

The new venues boasts 13 galleries and exhibition spaces displaying 2,177,519 objects.

“It really is something for everyone to enjoy,” collections manager Louisa Blight told WDYTYA? Magazine.

“The collections are spread across a variety of different exhibition spaces but there are spaces dedicated for research and for engagement with the breadth of collections as well.”

It occupies the sites of the former City Museum and Art Gallery and Central Library, with additional exhibition space in the neighbouring St Luke’s Church and Plymouth Arts Institute.

It is also the new home for the archives of the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office.

Louisa Blight explains that the archives were previously stored in a warehouse on the periphery of the city.

“That was not effectively fit for purpose in terms of an archive store.

“We now have the full bespoke storage – environmentally controlled, accessible, right within the city centre,” she said.

“That was the catalyst for the whole project initially, and now it’s become so much more.”

Plans for a new home for the archives were first discussed in 2006.

In 2009, Devon Family History Society and Friends of Devon’s Archives started the Save Plymouth’s History campaign to campaign for a new archives facility.

The Box features a newly built storey, the Box in the Sky, to store the archives.

Maureen Selley, chair of Devon FHS, said she thought The Box was “magnificent”.

“The original focus of Devon Family History’s campaign was to Save Plymouth’s History,” she said.

“It’s now safe. It’s now secure. It’s now available to all.”

Louisa Blight says that the entire building was designed with the goal of allowing a “hands-on” experience, with the entire archive “at [visitors’] fingertips”.

This picture of an air raid on Plymouth during the Second World War is one of many available from the archive service at The Box
This picture of an air raid on Plymouth during the Second World War is one of many available from the archive service at The Box
The Box

“Obviously in the current climate we have reduced capacity on our research elements, but we are seeing a huge interest already from our customers about coming and getting hands-on and doing their own family history or local history,” she said.

The archives are accessible in the Cottonian Research Room.

Four spaces are available at the room on a daily basis.

Visitors are currently allowed one visit per month and can order five documents in advance.

After use, the documents are quarantined for 72 hours.

There is also a Media Lab, providing access to film, TV and still images from the South West Image Bank and the South West Film and Television Archive.

One of The Box’s new major exhibitions is Mayflower 400: Legend and Legacy.

It was designed to mark the 400th anniversary of the famous voyage of Puritan settlers from England to America.

The Mayflower disembarked from Plymouth on 16 September 1620.

The Mayflower 400 exhibition at The Box, Plymouth
The new Mayflower 400 exhibition marks the anniversary of the famous ship’s departure
Wayne Perry

The exhibition, developed in partnership with the Native American Wampanoag tribe, tells the story of the Mayflower and the settlers.

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It also has an interactive display where visitors can explore data from the New England Historic Genealogical Society to trace the descendants of the Mayflower passengers.