Sidmouth; Literary Connections shows the association of some authors and poets with the town. Jane Austen is thought to have had a romantic attachment here. Elizabeth Barrett lived in Fortfield Terrace and found the noise of the waves helped her to sleep. HG Wells wrote a horror story based at Jacobs Ladder. Rupert Brookes came under sufferance but wrote a love poem. John Betjeman was a regular visitor as was JK Tolkien who was writing Lord of the Rings.
In the Gallery flat case is an attractive Victorian jacket with its ribbed inner side shown and described. The Costume display includes our last Town Crier and the Dress Uniform of our last Lord of the Manor. However neither is the most valuable costume. Which one would be your guess?
In the same room are oil paintings by a Victorian artist with the improbable name Hopkins Horsley Hobday Horsley.
On the landing is a pull-up display showing the role of inshore fishermen in WW1.
The Breweries of Sidmouth is an important piece of research. At one period the Marsh, Town and Vallance’s Breweries were all competing with one another. The text, photographs and Museum items make a compelling display.
The Sikes hydrometer was used to test the strength of beer. This instrument was presented to the Museum by Councillor Frank Lock, who worked for Vallances Brewery for 50 years.
The story of the medieval building Sand in Sidbury is running for a second year. The history, photographs and artefacts should encourage visitors to see the building itself.
In front of one of the windows is a stained glass depiction of the foundered MSC Napoli incident exactly 10 years ago. This beautiful and unusual work of art shows especially well when the sun is shining.
The Lace Room contains a display of the best of the Museum’s collection of fine Sidmouth lace, some of it the work of Miss Barnard. A weekly demonstration takes place on Thursday morning throughout the season.
The Jurassic Coast display is a special presentation by the Jurassic Coast World Heritage site. Despite its name the objects are mainly from the Triassic era relevant to Sidmouth’s position on the coast.
The Caravette display outlines the remarkable period after the war when Sidmouth was the base for VW Caravette conversions which are now much sought after models. Prince Rainier of Monaco was an unlikely enthusiast.
The Railway display board summarises, with various items in the flat cabinet, the era of steam travel in Sidmouth from 1874 to the closure of the line in 1967. It includes the recent ongoing renovation of the steam engine ‘Sidmouth’.
The early Victorian Old Eagle Printing Press was the one used at Culverwell’s printing press in Fore Street (now McColls). It is a magnificent machine and in use as recently as 1969.
In August 1934 the pleasure steamer, the Duchess of York, foundered on Sidmouth beach. The ship’s telegraph was salvaged. Such an instrument was on both the bridge and in the engine room and the position of the lever allowed communication with respect to the captain’s orders.
The panorama of Sidmouth, the so-called Long Picture, is an 1815 First State engraving, produced a year after the original watercolour was painted (see Lace Room). Can you see that the Fort Field was used for grazing animals rather than playing cricket?
Underneath is a cross stitch prepared by Phoebe Holley. She took three and a half years to complete this remarkable piece of craftsmanship. The magnifying lens allows visitors to examine the skilled work.
The Victoriana display case contains a mixture of items connected to that era. Can you find the Beatrix Potter drawing and the Antiques Road Show doll?
The Gallery has a cabinet on the right which contains the sketches for the watercolour Long Picture on the first floor. We are very fortunate to have them as they were in private ownership, then they were stolen and only recently retrieved and kindly donated by the family to us. Also there is information about the Cornish family; Hubert Cornish painted the Long Picture.
At the top of the stairs on the right are high quality photographs of some of the well-known local fishermen of a previous generation.
On the landing, look up and see a nasty man-trap for catching and maiming poachers. Also, sitting down, a fisherman; sadly there is no longer fishing from our beach. Just beyond is a collection of unusual industrial and household items. Have you ever seen a mattress stuffer?
The Dr Bob Symes Room contains an excellent wall display explaining the Red Cliffs and the time when this location, which is now Sidmouth, was below the Equator. Elsewhere, see if you can find the fossilised wood. Also, rather hidden, are the town stocks which were designed to take four legs. The extraordinary reptile footprints, in the far corner, were very recently discovered but date back 225 million years.
The main front room, the Print Room, tells the stories of four eminent scientists who were all Fellows of the Royal Society and who lived here. All were physicists and include one whose invention paved the way for the radio; another, who never went to university, discovered a new element in the Sun’s spectrum which he named helium; a third, whose inventions included a loudspeaker and earphones. Finally, a physicist with the nickname ‘The Prof’, who was Winston Churchill’s closest associate and friend in WW2.
There is also the story of the fisherman/author Stephen Reynolds who wrote a best seller, A Poor Man’s House, in 1908 based on living with the Woolley family in their house behind the Bedford Hotel. In WW1 he was an inspirational District Inspector of Inshore Fisheries covering the entire south west coastline of 750 miles. He lived and worked in Hope Cottage (now the Museum) and his office was in this room.
On the other side of the same flat case is a description of the life and work of our most famous antiquarian and historian, Peter Orlando Hutchinson. There is a cannon, under the case, which was captured in a 1845 sea battle in Borneo by his cousin.
Against the wall is a recently restored Regency Table with an extraordinary story described in the laminated cards. The table is delicate and we would be grateful if it is not touched.
The adjacent Lace Room contains some beautiful examples of Honiton Lace, so named as most lace made in East Devon was collected in Honiton. Sidmouth was an important contributor.
In the cabinet on the right is a selection of historic playing cards. We understand that few museums have such items.
Don’t forget to look at the famous Long Picture watercolour but please close the curtains when you have viewed it as we are anxious to prevent fading.