The Axminster Heritage Centre
More than just a museum…
Take a trip through time to learn what has made Axminster and the surrounding area what it is today. Children can enjoy their own trail with dressing up points and interactive activities.
Explore Axminster, its origins in the Bronze and Stone Ages, then as a crossroads on the Roman Fosse Way.
Learn about the abbey built at Newenham by the Cistercian monks after they were given the Manor of Axminster in 1246.
Discover how Axminster became a busy agricultural market town developing a strong rural economy over many years.
World famous Axminster carpets…
Thomas Whitty started making carpets here in 1755, whilst William Harry Dutfield established his modern factory in 1937.
See a beautiful 1769 Whitty carpet. Compare our original 18th century loom used by Whitty with a 1930s Crabtree loom used in the Axminster Carpets factory. We occasionally run the Crabtree loom which is fully working.
The town has attracted all sorts of craftsmen and women, a foundry, two brush factories, both famous for their toothbrushes. A series of precision engineering companies have flourished and examples of some of their innovative products are on display.
Learn how individuals like Thomas Whitty and William Buckland put Axminster on the map. Others like James Davidson and George Pulman recorded Axminster’s history, and Emily Conybeare helped the sick of the town.
All this is housed in a factory built by the Whitty family, which subsequently served the town as a court-house and a hospital.
At the rear is the Dye House and garden with plants that would have been used for dying the wool in Thomas Whitty’s day.
Axminster Heritage – Our Vision
“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.”
Creation and Development
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.
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:
- complete the restoration of historically important buildings
- improve conditions for the display, care and interpretation of collections
- increase the number and range of people engaging with the Centre
- improve the visitor experience and enable local people to better understand their heritage
- create new and more rewarding opportunities for volunteering and local partnerships
- contribute towards the regeneration of Axminster.
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.
Trustees of Axminster Heritage
Laurence Hitchcock (Vice-Chairman) EC
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. He was involved in the Heritage Project from the beginning and is a member of the Executive Committee and Chairman of the Collections Committee
Phil is a Chartered Accountant qualifying with Deloittes in 1967. then joining Unilever in 1975. He has been involved in the Axminster Heritage project since 2012 and lives in Sidmouth. He is a member of the Finance Committee.
Andrew was born in Axminster, educated locally and directed his own company in Axminster for 24 years. He is a District Councillor and was formerly the Devon County Councillor for Axminster. Andrew is Chairman of the Fundraising Committee.
A Graduate Engineer, Steve held many senior roles working across Europe, the Far East and finishing his working career as Supply Chain Director for a global food company in the USA. He and his wife returned to the UK in 2009 and then to All Saints just North of Axminster, in 2010. Steve set up a business consultancy business supporting SME’s and also became a Trustee for the Axminster Hospital League of Friends as their Honorary Treasurer. He is also a Town Councillor for Axminster.
David was brought up on a farm a mile and a half outside Axminster, and after gaining degrees in Agriculture and Agricultural Economics from the University of Reading he moved away from the area to work in the agricultural industry and then as an environmental consultant, both in the UK and overseas. He visited Axminster regularly, and when he retired in 2014, he moved back here to live. Having developed an interest in Devon’s social history as the setting for his own family’s history, he has used those same research skills as a volunteer at Axminster Heritage to flesh out the history of Axminster and the surrounding area. In 2018 he was involved in putting together the displays and supporting information when the Heritage Centre was re-furbished and re-launched, and in 2020 he published a History of Axminster covering the period from 1700 onwards.
Stuart Courtman (EC)
Stuart worked for British Telecom for 25 years as an engineer and manager before leaving to start his own landscape gardening and maintenance business. In 2012 he retired and moved to Axminster and began volunteering with Axminster Heritage in 2015 – becoming its Building Manager in 2016. As well as his role as a Trustee, Stuart is also Chairman of the Executive Committee and works alongside both the Collections and Fundraising Committees repairing/restoring items and volunteering at events.
Rebecca Green (EC)
A former journalist, originally from Kent, Rebecca moved to Devon around 30 years ago and has lived in Axminster for the past 16 years. Alongside her role as a trustee, Rebecca is also volunteer coordinator here at Axminster Heritage Centre and serves on our collections and executive committees. She is currently self-employed as a heritage consultant and oral historian
Executive Committee members who are not Trustees
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. He is also a member of the Executive Committee.
David moved to Axminster in February 2019 and became involved with Axminster Heritage in April 2019. He is the Systems and IT Manager, Membership Secretary and members Newsletter Editor. Before Retiring He worked in business sales as an executive account manager and managed customer services, technical support, Solving computer Issues including on-site installation.
Currently the Treasurer, Stephanie’s background is in medicine, data and information management and business. Originally from the US, Stephanie has lived in the UK for more than 30 years auditing health records, data and information standards for NHS Trusts and in Europe. After retiring, she managed a High Quality Tartan and Cashmere shop in Windsor before moving to Axminster.
Grants and Donations
Axminster Heritage is very grateful to the following organisations for their generous support in helping to fund the Axminster Heritage Centre:.
- The Heritage Lottery Fund
- Making it Local (EU LEADER funding)
- The Architectural Heritage Fund
- Devon County Council
- East Devon District Council
- The H B Allen Charitable Trust
- Garfield Weston Foundation
- The G F Eyre Charitable Trust
- The Axe Vale Festival
- The Mercers Company
- Axminster Care Service
- Mr & Mrs Peter Bradshaw
We are also very grateful for the generous support received from the Worshipful Company of Dyers, the Charles Hayward Foundation, the Norman Family Trust, the Association of Independent Museums, Axminster Masonic Lodge, The Dutfield Family Charitable Trust, the Belgae Trust, East Devon AONB, Mr Michael Teale, Axminster Carpets Ltd., and Axminster Tool Centre Ltd.
Milestones in creation of the Axminster Heritage Centre
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.
November 2018 Building work to complete the restoration of Thomas Whitty House and prepare the infrastructure for the installation of the new displays is completed and the builders hand back the Gallery.
April 2019 The new extended gallery with a modern interactive exhibition display is officially opened to the public by Peter Bradshaw descendent of Thomas Whitty. A celebration event is held in Trinity Square and the Minster Bells ring out to announce the occasion.