Axminster’s Heritage Centre is fittingly housed in carpet pioneer Thomas Whitty’s rebuilt factory building – Thomas Whitty House. Set over two floors you’ll find:
The Gallery at ground level is the central focus for visitors. Entry is Free. Here we tell the story of our town. Naturally, Axminster’s world famous quality carpet-making business is at the heart of our story which spans some 250 years .
From origins in the Bronze and Stone Ages, then as a major crossroads on the Roman Fosse Way, the town became a busy agricultural market town post its 1210 charter with a Cistercian monastery and a strong rural economy. Later the town became an important centre for different industries including brush-making, notably toothbrushes, and light engineering. Today the town is a hub for the local villages and for visitors from further afield.
The Gallery also features temporary displays on subjects and places of specific local interest as well as a small shop selling Axminster-related books and souvenirs. The Tourist Information service point is on our ground floor.
During 2018 the Heritage Centre will be open from 26th March until the end of October but with a smaller display whilst building work is underway. New visitor displays will then be installed by February 2019 to create a modern interactive attraction with wider appeal in time for the Centre to open at the end of March for the 2019 season.
Upstairs is the Bradshaw Meeting Room. This community space is available for hire.
“Our vision at Axminster Heritage is to delight and entertain visitors through interactive and innovative displays. We hope to exceed expectations by creating both an online and a ‘hands on’ experience that young and old can touch and interact with. In addition, we have a unique collection of original Axminster carpets artefacts and aim to tell the story, from fleece to floor, of this world famous ‘brand’ name in an enjoyable and educational way.”
Axminster Heritage Ltd was formed in 2005, acquiring charitable status in 2006 (reg No 1113818). It is owned by its Members and managed by a Board of Trustees. The Trustees appoint an Executive Committee to oversee the day-to-day running of the Centre and will appoint a Project Delivery Group to oversee the project during its Delivery Phase. The Executive Committee make all appointments to all committees.
Today’s Axminster Heritage Centre exists thanks to the successful completion of a multi-stage project by a team of dedicated volunteers. The project aimed to:
Today’ Axminster Heritage Centre is the culmination of work going back to 1982. It has been made possible through the award of numerous grants and donations for which AH is very grateful.
John Church (Chairman)
John was a Doctor in Axminster for 31 years before he retired. He and his wife Diana are involved in many community organisations in Axminster and Kilmington. He is the Chairman of both the Board of Trustees and Executive Committee and was one of the prime movers in getting Axminster Heritage going.
Keith retired to Axminster after a career which included teaching Spanish and French, church ministry and being National Director of a network of churches. His lifelong interest in travel and transport led him to volunteer for the Tourist Information Centre in Axminster, where he served on the organising committee before it merged with Axminster Heritage in 2017.
Laurence Hitchcock (Vice-Chairman)
Laurence was born in Axminster and worked for Axminster Carpets Ltd. for 42 years, retiring in 2011. He joined the Axminster Museum Committee some 20 years ago, serving as Chairman for many of those years. Involved in the Heritage Project from the beginning, he is Vice-Chairman of the Board of Trustees and Chairman of the Collection Committee.
Chris was Treasurer of Axminster Museum and is now Treasurer of AHL and a member of the Finance Committee. Chris is responsible for budgeting and cash flow and looking after insurance issues.
Phil is a Chartered Accountant qualifying with Deloittes in 1967. He is a member of the Finance and Fundraising Committees and Head of Fundraising.
Gary has been involved in the carpet industry all his working life. Now responsible for a team of highly creative designers, he ensures they meet the challenge of all aspects of carpet design with the highest standards. Gary has been very active in the digitisation of AHL’s collection of research data on the known historic Axminster carpets.
Douglas joined as a Trustee in 2016. Previously Mayor of Axminster and District Councillor for Axminster Town, he was a founder member and long-time Trustee of Axminster Museum. He is a member of the Collection Committee.
Andrew was born in Axminster, educated locally and directed his own company in Axminster for 24 years. He is a Town and District Councillor and was formerly the Devon County Councillor for Axminster. Andrew is Chairman of the Fundraising Committee.
Julian qualified as a Chartered Accountant in Manchester before moving to one of the large firms of Chartered Accountants in London. He has been associated with several local societies, serving as treasurer to many of them. He has been working with Axminster Heritage since the early 2000s.
Shelagh’s main role is coordinator of the collection accreditation application. She serves on the Fundraising Committee applying for small grants, helping to arrange and run community fundraising events. Living in Dalwood, Axminster she is also on the management team of Dalwood’s community shop.
For 24 years Stuart worked for the GPO then British Telecom (BT). In 1994 he started his own landscaping and garden maintenance business before retiring and moving to Axminster. Stuart became a volunteer and was then appointed Building Manager in 2016.
A retired head teacher, living in Dalwood, Axminster, Jane is the Volunteer Coordinator managing the volunteer pool and ensuring their training requirements are met. She is a member of the Marketing and Collections Committees and an energetic member of the Heritage Alive and Life Long Learning teams.
Trevor is a retired teacher living in Axminster who assists in managing Thomas Whitty House. A member of the Marketing and Public Relations Committee, he has particular expertise in information technology. His knowledge is of major benefit in developing interactive aspects of the Gallery displays and in the further development and maintenance of the AHL website and social media sites.
Axminster Heritage is very grateful to the following organisations for their generous support in helping to fund the Axminster Heritage Centre:.
The total raised from these sources is in excess of £1.5m.
1982 Founding of Axminster Museum by local enthusiasts who wanted to record some of the long history of Axminster. The Town Council purchased the Grade II listed Old Court House and former police station and let part of it to the museum.
2002 Start of the Axminster Heritage project. The Weavers’ Tales Committee was formed to explore ways of marking the 250th anniversary of the first carpet being made in Axminster.
Midsummer’s day June 2005 A series of events culminated in a parade through the town of a specially- woven Whitty replica carpet to celebrate the identical event held in 1755.
After tremendous support and feedback it was decided to create a permanent legacy by expanding the Axminster Museum collection to include a strong focus on Axminster’s enduring legacy of carpet production.
2005 Axminster Heritage Ltd (AHL), a company limited by guarantee, was formed to take the project forward.
2006 AHL achieved charitable status.
2006 – 2012 Axminster Museum continued to operate in premises too small for expansion and with access that did not meet legislation standards for disability. Alternative premises were sought and a Site Option Appraisal commissioned.
May 2012 Thomas Whitty House, the location of the original carpet factory, was found to be the most suitable. It was purchased with a grant of £200,000 from Devon County Council and a scheme devised to develop the site as a Heritage Centre.
Early 2013 The scheme failed when one of its major sources of funding, Axminster Carpets Ltd, went into administration.
Mid 2013 To keep the project alive, the Trustees, with the financial backing of Making it Local and other funding support from the Axe Vale Festival and The H B Allen Charitable Trust, went ahead to renovate the first and second floors to of Thomas Whitty House. This provided a Community Room (now called the Bradshaw Meeting Room) and a number of small offices for letting to start-up businesses. These generated an income to cover the running costs of the building whilst raising funds for the major task of creating the Heritage Centre. Fresh proposals for the new Heritage Centre were developed.
January 2014 Funding from the Architectural Heritage Fund enabled a Market Appraisal, compilation of outline costings for the building works and engagement of a mentor for an HLF application. A Design Options Appraisal and Brief, Fundraising Strategy and Viability Study were prepared by members of the AHL’s Executive Committee.
April 2014 Official merger of Axminster Museum into AHL
By 2015 Sufficient funds had been raised, including from the Heritage Lottery Fund, to carry out the complete restoration of the ground floor of Thomas Whitty House, the provision of additional museum space in part of the Drill Hall behind, the relocation of Axminster’s museum collection to the restored building and the setting up of displays.
2015 Lift installed giving disabled access to the Community Room
January 2016, the BBC TV programme Great British Railway Journeys with Michael Portillo featured the Heritage Centre.
Easter 2016 The Centre was opened to the public. Over 4,600 visitors visited in the first season. At its previous location the museum rarely received more than 1,800 in a year.
Early 2017 Axminster Heritage was approached to act as the new home for the Axminster Tourist Information Centre (TIC). Funding by East Devon District Council was withdrawn in 2004 as a result of cut-backs in council expenditure.
April 2017 Official merger of the former TIC with AHL as a Tourist Information Point. The museum opened for its second season and attracted over 7,200 visitors
May 2017 A restored Dye House and new toilet block were opened to the public, made possible with further funding from Making it Local.
January 2018 The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) awards a National Lottery grant of £520,000 for the final phase of the restoration to Thomas Whitty House and the creation of a modern interactive display exhibition.