by Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer

A new year means a new series of exhibitions, events and activities – even though our building is closed. 2018 is shaping up to be another important twelve months for us as we move ever-closer to the opening of The Box – but did you know that 1768 was a significant year for Plymouth too?

250th anniversary of William Cookworthy’s patent
William Cookworthy PortraitOn 17 March 1768, William Cookworthy (1705-80), a successful pharmacist and discoverer of China Clay, was granted a patent for the manufacture of hard paste porcelain in England. Prior to this it had to be imported all the way from China.

Cookworthy opened a factory, which we believe was located on the site of the former China House pub in Sutton Harbour. We have a number of historically important pieces produced by it in our decorative art collections.

Cookworthy was a brilliant man who had some equally brilliant friends. John Smeaton stayed with him while he was building Smeaton’s Tower. Cookworthy helped his friend rediscover hydraulic lime which was a vital component in the construction of the lighthouse.

250th anniversary of the start of Captain James Cook’s first voyage
Portrait of Captain James CookOn 26 August 1768, Captain James Cook (another friend of Cookworthy’s) departed Plymouth on his first voyage of discovery.

The voyage was supported by the Royal Navy and Royal Society and had two aims: to observe and record the Transit of Venus on 3-4 June 1769, and to seek evidence of the ‘unknown southern land’ referred to at the time as ‘Terra Australis Incognita’.

It was the first of three significant expeditions commanded by Cook, all of which started from Plymouth.

We’re currently planning and confirming our #Cook250 programme for the summer – so watch this space.

250th anniversary of the founding of the Royal Academy in London
Portrait of Joshua ReynoldsOn 10 December 1768, the Royal Academy was founded in London, with Plympton-born artist Joshua Reynolds as its first President.

The Academy’s aim was (and still is) ‘to promote the arts of design’. It was an art school, an exhibition venue and a lobbying body for British artists.

Reynolds was truly dedicated to the cause of British art and combined his painting with running the Academy for some 20 years, helping to develop its theories and becoming its chief spokesperson. The annual discourses he gave to students were eventually published and remain with us today as some of the earliest formal art lessons in England.

We’ll be working in partnership with Peninsula Arts and other Plymouth-based organisations to commemorate this anniversary in the autumn/winter. Details will be published in due course.

These three stories of innovation, exploration and artistic endeavour, all with strong connections to Plymouth, form the backbone of our ‘On Tour’ programme in 2018. With the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Institution of Civil Engineering (currently underway), the 150th anniversary of the birth of Scott of the Antarctic and centenary of the end of the First World War (both of which will be covered in later posts), we certainly have some interesting and worthy moments in history to build a programme around!