Falmouth’s first female-dedicated Civic Society blue plaque has been officially unveiled at The Poly, in tribute to two pioneering women. 

The Civic Society Blue Plaque commemorates sisters Anna Maria and Caroline Fox, who at only 17 and 13 years old respectively, inspired the founding of The Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society in 1833, one of the UK’s first learning establishments. 

Professor Mike Jenks, chairman of Falmouth Civic Society said: “I am delighted that Anna Maria and Caroline Fox have been given the recognition that their inspirational, forward thinking achievements truly deserve with their very own Civic Society Blue Plaque here at The Poly.

"It is so important to commemorate Falmouth’s most significant people and achievements. This is just the start of a series of blue plaques dedicated to inspiring women, men and buildings in Falmouth – here’s to many more!” 

An iconic blue plaque was unveiled outside The Poly’s historic Grade II* listed building on Saturday, dedicated to them.

The plaque is part of the Falmouth Civic Society’s blue plaque scheme, which is assessed using strict English Heritage criteria, and is the first in Falmouth awarded to women.

It is also thought to be one of the only blue plaques in existence in the UK dedicated to teenagers. 

Professor Jenks welcomed onlookers outside The Poly before Jill Morison DL, a direct ancestor of Anna Maria and Caroline, officially commemorated the plaque’s installation. 

Sally Robinson BEM, The Poly’s incoming president and founder of Young Generation theatre, gave an uplifting speech marking the event. 

An original portrait of Anna Maria by Henry Scott Tuke and a Fox family tree painting were both on display in The Poly’s historic library room.  

The Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society was founded in 1833, the inspiration of Anna Maria and Caroline, the daughters of Robert Were Fox of G.C. Fox & Co, a prominent Falmouth firm of shipping agents.

The firm was also joint owner of the Perran Foundry, whose workmen constantly brought models and inventions for inspection, and new ideas for improving the working of the foundry.  

Anna Maria went on to become an artist, a global traveller, and a keeper of rare birds and pet marmosets.

At just 17 years old she was recorded as saying of the workforce of the Perran Foundry business:  

"What an advantage it would be to those men if there could be some fitting arena provided for all this inventive talent: if the really useful inventions could be at once recognised and rewarded, and if those clever men who are only wasting their time by trying to do something which has already been done, and has proved useless, could by conference with more experienced mechanicians be saved from thus squandering their energies!"  

With their father’s encouragement, a society was formed "to promote the useful and fine arts, to encourage industry, and to elicit the ingenuity of a community distinguished for its mechanical skill". 

Caroline was credited with naming the institution, and for using the word ‘Polytechnic’ for the first time in the English language. 

From its founding, the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society was associated with key inventions such as the Man Engine, created to transport miners throughout Cornish mines, and new technologies at the time, such as photography.  

Anna Maria’s encouragement of art exhibitions and classes at The Poly was the precursor of the Falmouth School of Art, and its first purpose-built building was started in August 1901 "in memoriam of ANNA MARIA FOX".  

To this day, The Poly is a thriving charity promoting engagement in the arts, sciences and Cornish history through film, live events, exhibitions, talks and community workshops.  

The Poly’s roots lie in artistic and technological innovation and local industry, and is the proud guardian of locally, nationally and internationally significant collections of heritage archives and the works of Henry Scott Tuke. 

A special thanks goes to Professor Mike Jenks and the Falmouth Civic Society in their efforts to dedicate this iconic plaque to The Poly.