The Norris Museum is set in a beautiful riverside garden. Come along and see it as part of your visit - but don't tell anyone about it! This little green area of tranquillity is one of the best kept secrets in St Ives.
The Norris Museum garden


If you're only going to visit the Norris once, make sure it's in May! That's when you will see our Wisteria in bloom and the blossoms fill the whole courtyard with their fragrance. Wisteria in the Norris Museum garden
But even during the rest of the year this magnificent plant is always worth a look. The gnarled and twisted branches in winter, and the fans of leaves in the summer time (with a second flush of smaller blossoms in July) stretch 80 feet across the Museum buildings.  
Despite its size and antique appearance, our Wisteria is less than 30 years old. It was planted in the early 1980s.  
Variegated Box
Variegated box in the Norris Museum garden The variegated box has more history to it. It was grown from a cutting from the tree in the churchyard of the St Ives parish church of All Saints.
  The Hurstingstone
  There are several ancient objects on display in the garden. This is the "Hurstingstone", which used to stand on a hillside above St Ives where Royal Air Force Wyton is now (it was moved to the Museum garden when Wyton's runway was extended in the 1950s so that V-bombers could land and take off).
The stone is often called "The Abbot's Chair" because of its shape. But that's misleading, because you see it now standing on its side. It was originally the square socket for the base of a wayside cross. The Hurstingstone in the Norris Museum garden
During the religious turmoil of the Reformation the cross was pulled down, wrenching the socket onto its side. The cross itself was taken away but the upturned socket was left where it was, looking like a stone chair.  
Roman coffins
These stone coffins were found alongside the A1. They were discovered when the road was being made into a dual carriageway in the 1930s, close to the Huntingdonshire village of Water Newton, near Peterborough. Water Newton was a town in Roman times.
Roman coffins in the Norris Museum garden
Mulberry tree
Mulberry trees have a special place in the history of St Ives. There are several very old Mulberry trees in the town, planted in places with links to the 18th century. There is one in the garden of Mulberry Cottage in Chapel Lane, for example, and another at the lock-keeper's house at St Ives Staunch - the first lock was built there in 1723.
Mulberry tree in the Norris Museum garden
So when an Apple tree in the Museum garden died in 1998 we replaced it with a Mulberry. It's a Black Mulberry and it's descended from a cutting taken from a tree planted in Chelsea Physic Garden by King James II - the original tree was destroyed in the Blitz.

As this is a Museum garden, we like to grow plants that have historical associations, or just ones that are old-fashioned cottage varieties. These handsome plants are Acanthus. 2000 years ago the curling leaves were the inspiration for the carved stonework of the Ancient Greek "Corinthian" style of architecture.

As well as the leaves, Acanthus have spectacular flower spikes and seed heads. They can be dried and used in flower arranging, but watch out for the sharp spikes!


Hollyhocks are a much-loved and traditional flower. Ours grow very tall in this sheltered corner of the garden, often as much as nine or ten feet. As well as the shelter and the fact that the garden faces south-west, they are helped by the rich soil. The Broadway, the street outside the Museum, was used as a cattle market for many centuries - there must be plenty of historic manure mixed in with our soil. And at the other end of the garden is the River Ouse, which sometimes floods the garden and covers it with river mud, another treat for our plants.

Hollyhocks in the Norris Museum garden
Spring blossom
The Magnolia and the Flowering Currant add to the magic of the Museum garden in the early spring
Magnolia Flowering Currant
The Earith Fire Pump
The latest attraction in our garden is the 250-year-old Earith Fire Pump. This has recently been put on display in a specially designed outbuilding provided by the Friends of the Museum at a cost of more than £30,000. Built from traditional materials, with a solid oak framework and a lead roof, the new building gives you a clear view of this fascinating piece of machinery.

The fire engine was bought by the villagers of Earith, a few miles east of St Ives, in about 1750. It was built by Richard Newsham of London, who patented the design in the 1720s.
The Earith Fire Pump Illustration of how the pump was operated.
The pump was worked by the handles along the side, but there are also treadles that more men could work with their feet, while holding the fixed handles at the top. All this pumping could squirt a powerful stream of water – yet the machine is small enough to fit into narrow alleyways.

The tank at the bottom of the engine could be filled from buckets, or a leather hose could be attached to it and the pump used to suck water up from a pond or stream. Village accounts in Earith show money being spent on oil for the leather buckets and hoses – and on beer for the men who worked the pump! Six shillings was “Paid for ale” when the fire engine was used on 6th May 1785 for example, which would buy a lot of beer in those days.