Treasure Hunt - The Tidal Clock

Living and working on a tidal island is wonderful, but it can also be a little challenging! All of us – residents, employees and visitors too – are affected by the tides, which rise and fall twice a day and change how we make our way to and from the island. 

Knowing what the tides are doing at any time, and when high and low water are going to occur in Mount’s Bay is very important. So back in the 18th century the St Aubyn family purchased this handsome longcase clock, which gave them all the information they needed.

This tidal clock was made in about 1785 by Roger Wearne, a local clockmaker who lived and worked in St Erth near Hayle in Cornwall. The clock tells not only the time but also the date, and the time of high water in Mount’s Bay. It stands almost two metres tall in a mahogany case and has a painted arch and a brass face.

It is still accurately working today and can be found standing proudly in the corner of one of the smaller showrooms in the castle. If you are fortunate enough to find yourself in the room at a quiet time of the day, just take a moment to stop and listen carefully to the sonorous tick…tock…tick…tock. It is such a beautiful and soothing sound. So, just as it has for centuries, this clock stands tall in the castle and marks the passage of time and tide.

New Visitor Centre on St Michael’s Mount

Skellon Studio and Planning Unit were commissioned by the St Aubyn Estates and the National Trust to create a new visitor centre at St Michael’s Mount in the Old Barge House on the harbour front. The brief was to create a space where visitors could be welcomed, orient themselves and plan their visit, learn about the history of the Mount and gain an insight into island life. A key requirement was also to give disabled visitors, who would be unable to reach the more rugged upper limits of the Mount, a meaningful experience of its geography and history. We also needed to be mindful that the Barge House is prone to flooding!

Our approach was to create a simple, elegant installation that felt at home within the refurbished building. The main wall display consists of a simple graphic presentation of a variety of information about the island and the life of the island community. In the foreground to this display, three other evocative displays bring the Mount to life: a display of postcards showing the Mount through visitor’s eyes over the years; a table top model of the Mount cast from copper; and a film that captures the life and seasons of the Mount through a day and across a year.

Drawing on its past life as a boat store our design solution was to use ash timber frames for the graphic displays of information and postcards. Hand-crafted to an exceptional quality by exhibition contractor Scena the frames hang off the walls allowing the main graphics to be quickly hinged up and fixed from the ceiling, saving them from the rising tides. Slotted into the frames in a rhythmic system of layering and tonal change, the  graphics provide interesting facts, a historical timeline, sections on the gardens and the castle, ’must sees’ and other information to help visitors plan their day. We thought it important not to overwhelm visitors with too much information, but provide glimpses of what the island had to offer. By providing a hierarchy of content, visitors have the opportunity to dwell for some time to take in more extensive information,  or engage with it quickly and still gain valuable insight into the Mount.

The model of the island made by local artist Tom Leaper gives visitors a real hands-on chance to sense the rugged form of the Mount as a totality This is also of value for physically disabled visitors who can’t go up the Mount, and functions as a three dimensional map of the island for visually impaired visitors.

If the model gives visitors the chance to get to grips with a sense of the unchanging form of Mount, the film made by Light Colour Sound, shown on the end wall of the Barge House, gives them a sense of the Mount through time. The film captures the raw beauty of the island through spectacular imagery filmed throughout the seasons, within the structure of a single day. It also gives visitors a chance to see some of the work that goes into running the Mount and how it feels after the visitors have left the island. Full accounts of the life of the Mount are given alongside the film on graphic panels that show portraits and interviews with key characters from the Mount including the local builder and head boatman.

Finally, to tell the history of tourism on the Mount, we came up with the idea of a two-sided postcard display. Through historical postcards, visitors can see how the Mount has changed over the past 100 years, and by reading the backs, visitors can see messages that tourists to St Michael’s Mount and Cornwall  wrote to their families and friends, giving a historic perspective to their own visit to the Mount.

SKELLON STUDIO

Katherine Skellon is an interpretative designer with over 20 years of experience creating museums and exhibitions in the UK and internationally. Having worked for some of the top museum design companies in the UK, Katherine set up Skellon Studio in 2014.

Katherine has experience working on a vast range of projects both small and large that includes The Crown Jewels, Tower of London; National Maritime Museum Cornwall; Oculus, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (Arts Fund Prize winner 2012)  Alongside her practise, Katherine has been active in exploring the thinking behind museum design, teaching exhibition design, presenting at conferences and leading workshops aimed at investigating and progressing questions of how museums effectively design the experiences visitors gain. Katherine formed Skellon Studio with the aim of bringing these two sides together, creating her own platform from which to enable museums to explore new approaches to museum and exhibition design.

Skellon Studio is currently designing a temporary exhibition of the Great Fire of London for the Museum of London, opening in July 2016.

PLANNING UNIT

Planning Unit is a leading London-based creative design studio founded in 2011. Our core principles are: branding, graphic design, digital and environmental space. Whether working for a global brand or local start-ups, we focus on discovering and expressing the unique voice and vision of our clients. “We look to unify a ‘experience ’ creating a seamless visual experience — from installation, through design and into the digital experience — taking our branding experience into the exhibition environment.”

Planning Unit have worked with Clients such as The BBC, The V&A, Play Station, Salomon, Taschen, Adidas and Nike.

Written by Katherine Skellon and Jeff Knowles

Treasure Hunt - The Lantern Cross

Over the centuries this beautiful lantern cross-head has been on display in several places around the castle. For most of the time it has been on display outdoors, both on the balustrade of the church steps and also fixed to the north-facing church wall.

It is possible however that it was originally commissioned for the Lady Chapel (now the Blue Drawing Room). There is also some evidence that suggests that the cross-head may have at one time been fixed on top of the granite post that stands outside the main entrance of the castle.

The main part of the Lantern Cross is carved out of Cornish granite from close to Padstow and was crafted in the 15th century. The four ornate pinnacles were added later in 1827.

A lantern cross is so-called because it resembles an old fashioned square-shaped lantern with four faces. However, instead of each face showing a gleaming light, the faces are carved with four distinct sculpted figures, which are:

This is a remarkable object that deserved preservation from further deterioration by the elements. Therefore, it was brought indoors a few years ago and mounted on a modern piece of granite and is now much more easily accessible for viewing by visitors to the castle. 

The question is, where in the castle can the Lantern Cross now be found? Why not pay us a visit and find it for yourself?

PLANT SPOT #3

Scilla peruviana, is a species of Scilla native to the western Mediterranean region in Iberia, Italy, and northwest Africa.

Although the epithet peruviana means “from Peru”, it is strictly a western Mediterranean species.

Scilla peruviana is a more or less evergreen bulbous perennial, forming a rosette of narrowly lance shaped dark green leaves, that later produce  blue flowers in early summer.

These have been happily growing in the bottom of the east terrace for many years now, and as the bulbs have matured these have been divided into smaller drifts, to complement with other planting in the area. 

This beautiful flower can currently be seen in the gardens so do visit us soon. 

Don’t forget that we are currently running our #seagarden photography competition. We invite our visitors to take photographs and send to us. 

Prize: £50 St Michael’s Mount plant hamper, your image printed on canvas and exhibited in the St Michael’s Mount Summer House during July and August 2016.

READ MORE ABOUT #seagarden PHOTOGRAPHY COMPETITION

Victorian well head in the gardens is restored

Local Sculptor, Tom Leaper, has supervised the restoration of the well head in the gardens.

The Well in the East Terraces is of Victorian construction and the semi-circular walls contain a giant steel water tank which was designed to collect rainwater from the castle’s gutters and drains, which was then used for watering the garden. The attractive metalwork celebrates the Golden Wedding anniversary of the third Lord St Levan and his wife Gwendoline in 1966. 

Due to its position in the garden the salt air a constant, and the well head metalwork had deteriorated to such an extent that restoration was necessary to save it from rusting beyond repair. We were fortunate to have local sculptor Tom Leaper on hand to supervise the restoration at local forge, Forgeries.

When you next visit the garden we invite you to visit the well and enjoy looking at the intricate metalwork that has been restored to its former glory. It should be in place by mid May 2016.

Discover more about the St Michael’s Mount gardens.

Seaside Rock: gardening in a south-westerly

Lottie Allen, Head Gardener, St Michael’s Mount discusses the challenges and intricacies of gardening on a tidal island.

The Mount

Within the natural harbour of Mount’s Bay, just 12 miles east of Land’s End, lies the iconic islet of St Michael’s Mount, a granite outcrop that has been home to the St Aubyn family since 1659. The islet is a tidal island cut off from the mainland for eight hours in every 12 subject to the variations of neap and spring tides; at the lowest low tide access to the Mount can be gained from the beach through the mouth of the harbour and at the highest low tide the causeway is impassable.

The island covers 8.5ha (21 acres) in total and is defined by three main areas (other than the castle atop): the weather-beaten and wild south-western third which is exposed to the prevailing Atlantic winds and waves; the northern third populated by a small community who live and work on the island as well as the necessary service buildings; and the south-eastern third, in the lee of the prevailing wind, where plants have thrived for centuries protected by shelter belts and the ready Cornish sunshine. On a calm still day the waters around the island seem only to make a half-hearted effort of lapping at the shore, and yet in the storms of February 2014, trees were lost and the causeway damaged, rendering it useless until emergency work linked its remaining parts together with concrete. Weather and tide are common to many Trust properties; on St Michael’s Mount, they add drama to a memorable visit and are an ever-present test to an exotic plant community, not to mention the resilient bunch of islanders.

Planting on the Mount dates back to the medieval period when the monks grew herbs for medicinal and culinary use. More recently, in around 1780, Sir John St Aubyn, 5th Baronet, built a Walled Garden at the request of his four daughters. Little is known of the planting at that time, nor whether the structure has since been altered; it may be that we have the original layout. The current three-tiered Walled Garden has a south-east aspect and is protected by a bank of elm trees on its lower south-western edge.  The elms have not been affected by Dutch Elm Disease although there height is constantly checked by the salt winds.

The Walled Gardens

The idea of viewing a garden from above isn’t new, but the sheer distance of 61m (200ft) between the Garden and Castle terrace, as well as the wider panorama of the sea, horizon and sky, makes for a dramatic setting. The challenge for Michael Harvey, the Mount’s Garden Designer, and the Garden Team is to use designs that are immediately visible from the Castle, yet dynamic enough to foster discovery from within the garden. The bold contrast comes from the use of foliage, texture and colour, and the floral relief provides the refined, subtle intimacy from within the garden.

The Top Walled Garden has been designed to reinterpret the wave patterns of the sea imitated by the contrasting foliage of silver-leaved Tulbaghia violacea ‘Silver Lace’ and the dark green of Parahebe ‘Porlock’. The stylised shapes of the pattern come from the windows of the Lady Chapel, seen from the South Terrace of the Castle where visitors can best view the design.

The conspicuous space of the Middle Walled Garden has recently been planted using a series of prairie-type plants. On the strength of the wave pattern in the Top Walled Garden, Michael decided to use a wave pattern here too. From above, the series of alternating stripes mimic another form of the rhythmic pattern of waves; specifically a reference to how successive waves lap the shore. And just like the Top Walled Garden, the contrast of foliage as opposed to flowers, is the main device employed to emphasise the pattern seen from above.

The Terraces

To the east and west, the Walled Garden is flanked by tiered terraces. The East Terraces were created from granite left over after the East Wing of the Castle was built in the Victorian period. The planting is laid out in drifts using foliage and flower colours like the pink Osteospermum jucundum, vivid blue Lithodora diffusa ‘Heavenly Blue’ and orange Gazania ‘Bicton Orange’ to accentuate the difference between the grass areas and plantings. Plants such as Elegia tectorum, Agave americana, Leucodendron argenteum and Coleonema ‘Sunset Gold’ punctuate the drifts and the walls are studded with species of Aeonium, Aloe and Echeveria. In recent years the use of succulents in the walls has been deployed to prevent rot and give more planting opportunities in the terraces. The success of ‘going vertical’ is obvious by the vigour of all the succulents including a flower spike from an Aloe polyphylla, not seen flowering in the garden before.

The West Terraces have recorded temperatures as high as 100F (37.78C) and, perhaps unsurprisingly, there is an area called the Hot Bed where succulents thrive. Here too, the plantings create the area’s character using the straw-coloured grass foliage of Chionochloa rubra and yellow daisy-like flowers of Euryops chrysnthemoides as well as self-seeded (but much wanted) pink Geranium maderense and the tall blue spikes of Echium pininana.

Gardening on the edge

Between the Castle and the Garden is a rock face interrupted by narrow ledges created by the natural weathering of the exposed granite bedrock. As the garden has developed alongside the essential inspections and work to make the rock face safe, the Garden Team has turned the challenge of keeping the ledges weed-free into a planting opportunity. Gradually, as the ledges are weeded, which includes the removal of local invasive Hottentot fig, they are being planted with Aeonium cuneatum and trailing Lampranthus. Work at such a height requires roped access as well as a head for heights and an ability to use a strimmer, hand fork or trowel at any moment whilst harnessed up. Members of the Garden Team have been trained to abseil and, with the help of a local contractor; the ledges are slowly being tamed to reflect the same type and style of plantings seen in the garden below.

A microclimate fit for exotics

Despite the salt air, storm-force winds, thin soils and occasional damp pockets fed by natural springs, the garden is exposed to a fantastic amount of light both directly from the sun and  also from rays reflected off the water below. Frosts are unusual on the island due to the mother rock of the Mount which absorbs heat during the day and releases it at night which, coupled with the surrounding salt air and winds, keep the succulent population from freezing and allow the plant community to not only live but thrive on this tiny island of treasures.

Hunt the Artefact: Bodger’s Chair

This triangular-seated three-legged Elizabethan chair is made up of many pieces of elaborately turned pieces of oak and ash and is at least 325 years old.

The chair was made by a “bodger” who was a traditional woodworker who used a tree lathe which was powered by the springy bent bow of a tree.  This type of lathe rarely produced two spindles alike, so this is possibly the derivation of the term “a bodge job”. Three-legged chairs were popular years ago because they were very stable, especially when standing on uneven floors.

This chair was brought to the Mount by Francis St Aubyn in 1690.  He was the Mayor of Marazion and lived in the castle while his elder brother, the 1st Sir John St Aubyn, resided at the other family home of Clowance near Camborne. 

You can find this seat in the corner of one of the main showrooms and it is highly likely that it has stood there ever since it arrived in the castle.  It can be seen standing in exactly that position in several etchings and watercolours of the room, which are displayed around the castle.

Visit the castle and see if you can find the Bodger’s chair.

Happy 90th Birthday to HM the Queen

In honour of the Queen’s 90th birthday we will be lighting the St Michael’s Mount beacon at 8.30pm.

In addition to the St Michael’s Mount beacon being lit, the Marazion Town beacon will also be lit simultaneously at 8.30pm.

As the beacon fades, we will light the castle in honour of the Queen’s birthday.

We have received several enquiries about the evening and have responded to the most frequent questions we are being asked.

What type of beacon will be used?

We will be using a wood fired basket positioned on a five foot pole.

Where will the beacon be positioned?

The beacon will be positioned on the lower western gun battery. If you are on Marazion Beach looking towards the Mount this is to the right of the castle.

Where is the best place to view the beacon?

The best place to view the beacon will be on Marazion Beach, or at the Godolphin Arms. We recommend the Royal Mojito at the Godolphin Arms - a cocktail with a royal twist - just to get you in to the spirit!

How long will the beacon be lit for?

The beacon will be lit for approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour.

How long will the castle be floodlit?

The castle will be lit from approximately 9.15pm - 11.30pm.

Will the castle be open?

The castle and island are closed to the public - this is for safety reasons.

Will there be photos of the beacon lighting?

Yes - we will be posting pictures on our social media channels of the lighting of the beacon.

 

We hope everyone enjoys the evening and please do share your photos of the beacon lighting. 

PLANT SPOT #1

Scadoxus is native to Africa and the Arabian peninsula. It’s common name is blood lily or blood flower.

It also can be called by its two botanic names either Scadoxus or Haemanthus. 

This one grows about 8 to 10 inches tall and once in full flower has approx 200 tiny flowers on its main head, unfortunately the flower will only last about a week.

With the mild climate on St Michael’s Mount, this has flowered early, normal flowering time should be mid summer.

Scadoxus is in its third year on the West Terraces.

Visit the gardens soon to see the Scadoxus (blood lily) flowering. 

View our garden opening times here.

Annual Valentine’s Flower Count

Since 2006, National Trust gardens in Devon and Cornwall, have conducted a flower count that provides a snapshot of the heralding of Spring.

National Trust Garden teams in the South West have recorded more flowers in bloom since 2008 in this year’s annual Valentine’s Flower Count, with nearly all gardens showing an increase in the amount of varieties of plants in bloom. 

Gardens in the South West are usually the furthest advanced in the UK with early Spring blooms and, this year, thanks to the relatively mild and calm weather, the National Trust Valentine’s count has seen a total of 1,022 more blooms across the South West - an increase of 63%. 

On the Mount we are used to seeing daffodils and snowdrops peeking through as early as January, but this year we have seen the early flowering of Aeonium aboreum and Aeonium ‘Cyclops’. Aeonium ‘Cyclops’ is pictured here, and can be seen outside the Island Cafe. 

In total the Mount has 109 types of plants currently flowering that range from daffodils, primroses, and camellias through to the more unusual aloes, aeoniums, and Medicago arborea, as well as five types of grevillea.

Our gardens are due to open to the public on Monday 11 April, however we do have plants flowering in the village so if you are able to visit before the gardens open, you will be able to see some of the plants mentioned here, as you walk around the village.

2016 Garden Opening Times

Monday to Friday ONLY, 11 April - 1 July, 10.30am - 5.00pm

Sunday 5 June - Special National Garden Scheme Open Day, 10.30am - 5.00pm

Thursday and Friday ONLY, 7 July - 2 Sep, 10.30am - 5.30pm

Thursday and Friday ONLY, 8 Sep - 30 Sep, 10.30am - 5.00pm