12: 30 years ago…

As we wait for the foundations to be finished and the steel to arrive (and oh! what a long wait it seems) I have been looking back at the Museum recent history.  The last time any major work was done to our building was in 1988-9 when the Council bought the old Athenaeum and began setting up the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon.

old museum 6This is Peter Longman, from the Museums and Galleries Commission, now long gone, unveiling a plaque at the opening of the new Museum.

Thirty years ago it was much more difficult to create graphics panels.  We had no inkjet printers, no way of printing at all bigger than A4, no scanners and no way of mounting things apart from glue and cardboard.  There was only one computer in the museum, and email  did not exist, so all the labels had to be typed out and send to printers to be printed, together with real photographs, blown up to whatever size was required.  This is why many of the original displays were rather lacking in any kind of information when the museum opened to the public!

old museum 3

This is now our Victorian gallery – and there is much more on display, as well as much more information to satisfy people’s curiosity.


Although many parts of the museum have changed alot over the years, some items are immovable.  The important 17th century kiln excavated from Tuly Street was originally displayed as excavated.

old museum 7

Twenty years later this had changed quite a bit – with the kiln reconstructed to show how it might have looked when in use, mostly thanks to Rob Brain and Roger Cole’s hard work.


These galleries won’t be changing very much in the new development – though perhaps we will be able to come back and refresh them in future years.  We are planning though to “bring our entrance hall back to its former glory”.  When the museum opened you could see the full grandeur of this space, but it has become very cluttered as we increased our museum shop to bring in income.

Our amazing carnival elephant will be relocated, and we will be hanging many of our oil paintings on the walls so that the hall becomes an elegant extension to our tea-room.  The tea-room itself started life as a temporary exhibitions gallery.

old museum 11

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis lovely room looks much better with its windows opened up, and the parquet flooring on display.   We are looking forward to welcoming visitors back to enjoy an expanded range of food and drink next year.

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