The building at Wheal Dream that now houses the St Ives Museum has a long and most interesting history. Firstly the site is the result of a quarry to infill Smeaton’s Pier built between 1767 and 1770. After which, the landowner Sir Christopher Hawkins Bart had lime kilns constructed to supply building lime for new properties on The Terrace in the 1830s. Alongside these kilns was a courtyard fish curing cellar. It is reputed that the Bible Christians first met there, presumably in one of its net lofts.
With the demise of the pilchard fishery, the building was purchased around 1900 by Mr Short, who had roofs removed and a large first floor added over the whole of the ground floor. There he commenced a Steam Laundry, known as the Island Laundry, which continued until the First World War when it then became St Ives’ first cinema. Tresidder’s Marine Engineers workshop occupied an area on the ground floor.
After this, the first floor of the property was rented by a branch of the British Sailor’s Society to cater for fishermen, mariners, shipwrecked seamen and a recreation location for boys and young men with billiards, snooker and table tennis.
The building was purchased by St Ives Borough Council and in 1968 a room let out to the St Ives Museum, which was founded in 1924 by the St Ives Old Cornwall Society. (From 1951, the Museum was located in the former WW2 Food Office on the first floor of the Passmore Edwards Library in Gabriel Street.)
The Mission vacated the building in 1968, with the famous Troika Pottery on the ground floor leaving two or three years later. Mr Humphries, who had a dairy, and town milk rounds situated there, retired in the early 1970s, so vacating the building.
Today, the entire building houses a fascinating history of St Ives’ heritage. Eight rooms on two floors contain collections of all facets of the town’s history, including art, blacksmith, boat building, Cornish kitchen and parlour, Crysede, farming, fire brigade, fishing, flags, geology, Hain Steamship Company, lifeboat, lighthouses, mining, models, photographs, police, railway, shipwreck, toys, victorian clothes, wartime memorabilia – and the original fish curing cellar can still be seen.
Independently administered and manned by a loyal band of volunteers, the Museum is open to the public from Easter to the end of October. The opening hours are Monday to Friday, 10.30am to 4.30pm, Saturday 10.30am to 3.30pm. It is closed on Good Friday and Sundays.