Museum's permanent displays

Penrith Stories

Penrith Stories shows items from the Museum collection each telling their own tale about the history of Penrith. The exhibits will change to allow more of the Museum collection to be displayed.

The geology gallery

At different times, in the past 500 million years, the area that is now Eden has been part of a volcanic continental margin south of the Equator, a shallow tropical sea, a searing desert and an ice-covered wilderness.

The exhibition 'Ages of Eden', in the upper gallery at the Museum, provides a snapshot of these dramatic changes. Here you can see a selection of the area’s intriguing rocks and fossils, including a fossil footprint of an early type of reptile that lived before the age of the dinosaurs, found in Bowscar Quarry near Penrith. Also on show is a recent discovery of a rare trilobite by local schoolboy, James Gee, which experts at the Natural History Museum in London described as ‘a brilliant find’.

Admiral Robert Wauchope, who lived locally, was one of the earliest amateur geologists you can see fossils collected by. Though collected in France, they show creatures which may well have once been present in northern England.

Mines and minerals

The enormous geological changes that occurred over millions of years led to many episodes of mineral formation. Lying either side of the Eden Valley, the North Pennines and the Caldbeck Fells are both famous for the variety of their minerals. The displays include fine examples from both areas, along with historic photos and information about the old Scordale lead mine near Murton.

Neolithic in Eden gallery

The Neolithic in Eden Gallery opened in 2010, with funding by us, the Local Heritage Initiative through the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Countryside Agency and Nationwide.

The prehistoric archaeology of Eden

The market town of Penrith is situated at the heart of the extraordinary prehistoric heritage of the Vale of Eden. Around four to six thousand years ago this region was a major focus for the construction of monuments by the people of the Neolithic and Bronze Age.

These include one of the largest stone circles in Britain, Long Meg and Her Daughters, while the henges of Mayburgh and King Arthur's Round Table are to be found amidst the outskirts of Penrith itself. Elsewhere in the Vale there are numerous megalithic sites, burial cairns and rock art sites, and hundreds of stone artefacts have been found.

In this gallery you can see a range of prehistoric artefacts. These include rough-out and polished stone axes from the Lake District, and a selection of Neolithic and Early Bronze Age arrowheads. There are also Early Bronze Age beakers and cremation urns, and cup-and-ring marked stones from the cist burial at Little Meg Stone Circle.

Field walking the Vale of Eden

While the Vale of Eden has a wealth of stone circles and other monuments, we actually know very little about the people who built them. Did they live among their monuments, just as people do today?

Field walking is one way to answer this question. This is an archaeological method that is used to map prehistoric settlement by collecting stone tools and other artefacts from the surface of ploughed fields. When farmers plough the land, buried objects are brought to the surface, enabling much larger areas of the landscape to be considered than would be possible through excavation.

Field walking does not damage the fields, the main requirements being permission from farmers and land owners and the assistance of volunteers.

The Museum's 'Living Among the Monuments' community field walking project began in 2006 and is still ongoing. In the Prehistory Gallery you can find more information about the project and see some of the finds collected during the last field walking season.

Stones from the sky

'Stones from the sky' is a short film commissioned from artist and archaeologist, Aaron Watson and John Was. The film imaginatively explores the story and meaning of the stone axe, an icon of the Neolithic period over four thousand years ago. It focuses on the contrasting environments and experiences involved in the creation of stone axes, from windswept mountain summits in the Lake District, to the forested river valleys of the Vale of Eden, thereby connecting us with the wider landscape beyond the gallery walls.

Last updated: Wednesday, 3 August, 2022.