THE DYEHOUSE OPENED
Derelict for many years, the Dye House has been transformed over the Spring to provide additional space for the Centre to host displays, workshops and other events. Brick-built with a newly-slated roof, it incorporates a well, a substantial brick fireplace with cast-iron fire grate (probably Victorian) and water boiler.
The Dye House was declared open by George Eyre of the George Eyre Trust, a major supporter of Axminster Heritage.
The Chairman of Trustees, Dr John Church, told the guests attending: “The building belongs to you, it belongs to all of us, and today is an opportunity to say how grateful we are to Making it Local for the grant that has made this possible.”
While the weather could have been kinder it did not dampen the enthusiasm of the guests who enjoyed a talk on the history of the building by historian David Knapman as well as the live music, buffet food and drink and the chance to see the finished building.
As part of the future development plan, the Heritage Centre aims to replant the garden space outside the Dye House with plants the dyers would have used.
Substantial grant enables further Axminster Heritage Centre restoration
Axminster Heritage can begin the next exciting stage of restoration to their Centre thanks to a grant from Making it Local for LEADER funding.
The work will restore the Dye House of Thomas Whitty’s original carpet factory, together with its surrounding boundary walls and the Dye Garden will be cleared. The Dye House is the only part of the original factory that survived the 1828 fire which started on 23rd January in an adjoining Malthouse, destroying most of the premises. Thomas Whitty set up his cloth-making business in 1737 in what is now Silver Street. He started to weave carpets in 1755 on the same site. After his death in 1792, his son and grandson continued the business which later became known as Axminster Carpets.
Chairman of the Trustees, John Church said ‘The Dye House has been derelict for many years. Now 300 years from the date of Thomas Whitty’s birth (1716) it seems very appropriate that, thanks to this Making it Local grant, we can start its restoration’
This first part of the final phase of the Axminster Heritage Centre project will now start this winter – ahead of schedule. The work will also see the old toilet block demolished and new toilets/kitchenette constructed, the rear windows of the Drill Hall will be restored and the large double doors to the garden replaced and repositioned.
The Heritage Centre Exhibition Hall will reopen in the spring incorporating the new extended space for the collection, as well as the Dye House and garden. Meanwhile the Bradshaw Meeting Room continues to be used for events and is also available for hire.
Positive year for Axminster Heritage Limited
Record visitor numbers, major building renovations and significant grant funding secured were just some of the achievements of Axminster Heritage Ltd. over the last year. Speaking at the AGM, Chairman John Church said the Centre is a community asset which is now well on its way to success. The outstanding results over the last year were testimony to, and in no small part due to, the efforts of the many local volunteers, supporters and stewards who had given their time and talents.
Over 4000 visitors have been welcomed since the Gallery opened at Easter – from Michael Portillo, bringing the Centre national TV coverage to local school children enjoying a variety of activities. All the artifacts from the old Town Museum were now at the new Centre and their cataloguing well on the way to achieving the important Arts Council Museum Accreditation.
In the Gallery a temporary exhibition had been very popular, several talks about the history of Axminster sold out and outreach activities such as ‘By the Loom’, a monthly spinning and weaving group, had been busy.
A new lift installation to The Bradshaw Meeting Room now provides improved access for its hire to residents, clubs and business all year round.
On the money front, Round One Heritage Lottery Funding was awarded and the busy calendar of community fundraising events continued with the Axe Vale Community Choir concert in the Minster, an evening with The Two Rivers Band, a Race Night and various coffee mornings. Many other evenings and activities were now being planned as around £200k has to be raised because grants, such as those from Heritage Lottery Fund, are conditional upon Axminster Heritage raising additional funds. News of other bids is awaited which, if successful, would allow work this winter to rescue the old dye house and provide a new toilet block.
In his AGM address John Church paid tribute to the late Sir Neville Marriner who was Patron and had generously given his time and talent to make the Heritage Centre a reality. He also expressed his delight at the recent appointment of a new President, David Fursdon, Lord Lieutenant of Devon.
He went on to say, ‘Looking forward we still have a huge amount to do to continue building on our success. We’d therefore welcome new volunteers to join us and help realise the potential of Axminster Heritage for the future of the town’
By the Loom
A group of enthusiastic weavers and spinners meet in an informal atmosphere at the Heritage Centre on the last Friday of each month between 10am and 1pm. Producing Peg Rugs or Spinning wool, each member is working independently on their own project. With between 8 and 12 attending each month they hope to exchange ideas and offer mutual support. A small charge of £1 covers tea or coffee costs and members bring cakes too!
We are Open!
Christine Channon, Chair of Devon County Council, opened the new Heritage Centre on Thursday 24th March. The following day, Good Friday, the public were able to see the results of all the hard work put in by all our Volunteers. Many hours have been spent packing up artefacts at the old Museum and carrying them across to the Heritage Centre. Cabinets have been cleaned, items arranged and labelled. We are very grateful to all our volunteer team and feel justifiably proud of the results – Well Done!
Historic Loom Returns Home
A 1700’s loom has been restored and returned back to the original Thomas Whitty factory in time for the launch this Easter of our new Axminster Heritage Centre and Museum. A huge amount of fund raising and volunteer work has allowed the renovation of Thomas Whitty House, the home of Axminster Carpets.
This impressive loom, just one of the historical displays on show, would probably have been operated by a group of nimble fingered young girls. They would have worked in harsh conditions putting in the very small knotting required to produce the finest carpets for wealthy aristocrats and royalty. The loom was restored by Mike Rowlands Wheelwrights and Coachbuilders of Colyton. Whilst working on it Greg Rowland discovered the name of one of his ancestors inscribed on one of the large gear wheels which would suggest their company had a hand in its original manufacture!
Through the kind efforts of some of the Axminster Tools workforce, the loom has now been moved back into the Heritage Centre for all to see. And you can also see one of those fine carpets from around that time, the famous ‘Rockbeare’ Axminster carpet which was made in 1769.
The new Axminster Heritage Centre and Museum opens the first phase of its renovation to the public this Easter. Admission is free and it will remain open until October.
BBC TV visits Axminster
Heritage Trustee Laurence Hitchcock with Michael Portillo
The latest series of Great British Railway Journeys featured Axminster. Michael Portillo is well known for journeying the length and breadth of Britain by train for his BBC television documentary travel series. Referring to a Victorian guidebook written by George Bradshaw, he describes how the various destinations he visits have changed since Victorian times.
Now in its seventh series, the TV crew recently arrived in Axminster and met with members of Axminster Heritage to learn more about the town. Quite naturally Michael was very familiar with Axminster Carpets and was delighted to take a tour of Thomas Whitty House to see the extensive refurbishment of the original factory for the future museum. And he just had to try his hand at carpet making! Watch on Thursday evening to see how he got on.
Also in this programme he explores Lymington and Dorchester’s literary landscape, finding out how the coming of the railways inspired the work of the region’s greatest writer – Thomas Hardy. His last stop is Exmouth, home to Francis Danby, a forgotten Victorian landscape artist.
Over the summer, building contractors have been in Thomas Whitty House refurbishing the ground floor, following the successful Heritage Lottery bid.
By October, they had put in a lift to the first floor so that the Function Room has disabled access, refurbished the original carpet factory area and part of the Drill Hall behind, and created an office and storage area. The Function Room has been re named the Bradshaw Room to recognise the generous financial help given to us by Thomas Whitty’s great, great, great, great, great grandson – Peter Bradshaw, who lives in Vancouver.
Thomas Whitty loom
The Thomas Whitty loom came with the building bought from Axminster carpets. Over the summer it has gone to Master Wheelwright and Royal Warrant holder, Greg Rowlands in Colyton, to be restored. During that process, Greg has discovered that it was one of his ancestors in the same firm who made the loom originally in the 1700s.
One of the iconic original Axminster carpets was made in 1769 for Rockbeare Manor and it has been there ever since. Rockbeare Manor has now been leased on a 50 year lease and is to become a conference centre. Owner, Gerald Noel has generously loaned the carpet to Axminster Heritage and says that since it can no longer be in the room it was made for – he wanted it to ‘come home’ to Thomas Whitty House. It will be on show when the Heritage Centre opens to the public next spring.
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