Mill Tea Rooms

It’s so last century: ‘Dead Famous in Ilfracombe’ to return in the autumn - Dave Griffin

Dave Griffin

Ilfracombe isn’t a town that wallows in its past, but it certainly values the legacy of past generations, celebrating at every opportunity those who have contributed to the town’s rich history. It still retains a fishing fleet, and its popularity alongside Woolacombe as a family holiday destination grows annually as holidaymakers become exasperated with onerous air travel.

Dozens of sparkling costumes, bustled dresses and Edwardian headwear that saw the light of day during our Victorian and Steampunk Week, are now safely stowed away in cupboards, and what a success that glorious (mainly) sun-drenched week was, with more concerts and parades than ever.

Step forward Kevin Smith and Sandra Davies, who, along with their team, brought ITV’s national news cameras to Ilfracombe, publicising our famous little resort with two full minutes of airtime on its 10pm bulletin.

Queen Victoria (Rita Clews) is recovering, but she still looked regally radiant at last Wednesday’s Friendship Club. Meanwhile, ‘Dead Famous in Ilfracombe’ organisers are to reprise the popular sell-out event at Holy Trinity churchyard.

Long dead local personalities will recite entertaining accounts of their action-packed lives as they sit or stand beside their graves dressed in period fashion. Studio Theatre’s veteran actor Larry Fabian plays boatman Thomas Rudd, unfolding to each passing party of twenty spectators a mystery in the harbour, whilst Katy Ashford revives the mother of Titanic survivor Alice Phillips. Ralph Smith represents Harbour Master Captain Thomas Birmingham, who died in 1913.

There are six resurrections in all, and you can see them on You Tube. June’s ‘Dead Famous’ occasion was the third time that former mayoress and graveyard manager Erica Castle, had staged her unique show, which boosts funds for the upkeep of the grounds and monuments.

It will run again on Saturday, September 3rd, with a cheese and wine buffet afterwards in the parish church. One wonders which townspeople of today will come alive in a century’s time; in Ilfracombe, you only live twice.

Creamotherapy: Tea in the park is life-enhancing

At last, yet another post-Covid vote of confidence in Ilfracombe. The long-closed Mill Tea Rooms in Bicclescombe Park have reopened under the proprietorship of married couple, Lee and Gayle D’Arcy. In fewer than three months they have transformed the café, owned by North Devon Council, into a comfortable and inviting venue that now attracts daily both holidaymakers and locals, who make up 75 percent of the newly created band of regular customers.

There can surely be no more effective a blood-pressure lowering activity on earth than to relax beside the park’s stream with a traditional cream tea whilst watching the ducks waddle towards the ponds. In the background, the gentle click of tennis balls from the nearby courts reminds us that not everyone is watching Wimbledon, but actually playing.

Sipping tea in Bicclescombe Park is the very essence of summertime and weekly sessions should be prescribed on the NHS as a benefit to health, both physical and mental.

Tea for Two – Lee and Gayle D’Arc
Tea for Two – Lee and Gayle D’Arc

North Molton-born Lee and his wife have laboured with love to rejuvenate the premises, at which jacket potatoes, pasties and a wide variety of tempting cakes and flapjacks are on sale. The D’Arcy family are determined to make a success of their new business, and deserve support.

The quaint 18th century building, with its overshot water wheel - still intact thanks to volunteer maintenance - has been rewired, replumbed and refurbished. The interior dining area had been abandoned for thirty years but up to 50 patrons can now savour, both upstairs and down, home-made and locally sourced products in a clean and cosy ambience.

Lee D’Arcy once worked within London’s Shaftesbury Avenue night-club scene, but now commutes into Ilfracombe with his wife each morning. It must be for him, in terms of hospitality, a tremendous contrast.


The tea rooms are dog-friendly, and what pooch wouldn’t enjoy doggie ice-cream or a similar canine treat from the Mill’s menu?