Dave Griffin: New museum will be be like an old friend returning

North Devon Gazette

Ilfracombe Museum’s trustees have approved and announced exciting plans for the future of North Devon’s most popular small museum, loved and cherished by townspeople and tourists alike.

Unveiled is a stunning vision of the collection’s new premises, and if their dream comes to fruition, the relocation promises to transform the seafront’s Capstone area into a community-based cultural hub designed to entertain, inform and educate.

Moreover, to reflect the environmental awareness of our times, the low-energy consuming museum will be built from sustainable materials, with an atrium covered by a timber-framed roof.

Welcoming and inclusive, with easy access to all areas thanks to a wheelchair lift, the museum will be more than just an exhibition.

A café is planned together with a shop offering the same high-quality souvenir merchandise to match that offered in its current location.

Established in 1932 by explorer Mervyn Palmer in the laundry rooms of the now-demolished 1885-built Ilfracombe Hotel, the museum remains on the must-visit agenda for holidaymakers who annually flock to our town. Housed is an eclectic 28,000 strong collection of artefacts reflecting both the town’s Victorian heritage and the individuals who have contributed to its success.

Visitors marvel at its treasure trove of rare and unusual items from around the globe, and are amused and intrigued by the antique vacuum cleaners, radios, gramophones and ancient typewriters. Everything works.

Famously featured is a two-headed cat, the skeleton of a four-legged chicken, once resident at a local farm, a drawerful of tarantulas (deceased, thankfully!) along with Dinky toys, and a host of vintage cameras. Who can forget the cheap and reliable Brownie 127?

Railway enthusiasts are always delighted to discover preserved remnants of the railway once linking Ilfracombe to Barnstaple.

Glass cabinets boast Victorian dress worn by our recent ancestors, reminding us how formal those times were.

Grandmother’s washday packs of Dreft, Tide and Omo are all on display, and Mazzawattee Tea.

You can check out Chas Pedlar’s old ledgers and inspect grandad’s shaving kit from the Great War trenches.

Hundreds have visited the touching tribute to Ilfracombe’s soldiers lost in World War One, their heroic lives celebrated in a portrait gallery. Â

Sadly, the museum’s premises are threatened by damp and rising flood levels.

It cannot operate viably in this situation forever, and as much as all who love and care for the building will miss it, the realistic prospect is to relocate.

The envisaged replacement will gladden the hearts of all who remember the 1925-built Pavilion Concert Hall, a proud, but somewhat unstable edifice that once stood upon the site Ilfracombe’s new museum hopes to occupy.

The Pavilion was for 70 years the home of promenade music and theatre, but sadly demolished after gale damage in the mid-1990s.

Those who miss it will rejoice in the architects’ intention of incorporating the much-missed theatre’s Victorian-style lattice work into the museum’s infrastructure.

It will be like an old friend returning.

The British Museum may have the Rosetta Stone, but it doesn’t have Ilfracombe Museum’s charm, nor its 1950s' Ekco telly.Â

ILFRACOMBE’S CARBUNCLE Â

In the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, woe betide anyone allowing their land to become scruffy and untidy.

Enforcement officers regularly patrol residential streets issuing penalties to those failing to comply with the borough’s high standards of front garden tidiness.

The result is a neighbourhood enjoying surroundings that are properly maintained and cared for, thus reducing crime and anti-social behaviour.

Perhaps North Devon Council should adopt a similar scheme, compelling the owners of the site once occupied by the Golden Coast Amusement Arcade, destroyed in a 2004 blaze, to either develop or surrender their deteriorating and blighted site.

Surely a compulsory purchase order could be slapped on this eyesore, located near the centre of our tourist seafront.

I think it’s a festering carbuncle that shames Ilfracombe and over 17 years has degenerated into a rubbish dump surrounded by unstable fencing disfigured by graffiti.

In August, 2019, J.E. Ventures Ltd submitted plans for an impressive 80-bedroom hotel. They were withdrawn later that year.

If the threat of flooding means no future development for this plot, then why not turn it into an outdoor market?

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