There was a party atmosphere in the centre of Axminster for the opening celebrations of the new Axminster Heritage Centre. Several hundred visitors enjoyed their first exploration of the extended museum gallery and its interactive exhibits, which tell the story of Axminster and the Axe Valley. The informative displays, children’s fun trail and the working Crabtree carpet loom were all enthusiastically received. In the town square visitors were welcomed with a colourful Saturday street market, music from Sidmouth town band and characters dressed in period costume. There was even a “King George and Queen Charlotte” mingling with the crowd.
The Minster bells rang out across the town to announce the official opening ceremony, a tradition which goes back hundreds of years as when Axminster’s original carpet maker, Thomas Whitty, finished a major commission it would be paraded through the streets and the Minster bells would be rung in celebration. At noon, the smaller hand bell of Axminster’s Town crier Nick Goodwin very effectively gained the attention of the crowd. He called visitors to the entrance of the Heritage Centre, which is fittingly housed in a carpet factory built by the Whitty family, which subsequently served the town as a court-house and a hospital.
John Church, Chairman of the Trustees addressed visitors, ‘Welcome to this celebration of the opening of your new heritage centre and a special thanks to all those who have generously supported the project enabling us to bring it to fruition. In particular, thanks to the many local residents who have helped create and will now be running our new town centre attraction.’
The new Centre was then officially opened by Peter Bradshaw, who had travelled from Vancouver, Canada and is a direct descendent of Thomas Whitty, the first carpet maker in Axminster in 1755. Peter proclaimed his honour at being associated with Axminster and its fine craftsman through hundreds of years.
On behalf of Axminster town, Mayor Jeremy Walden expressed his gratitude to all those involved with the project and paid particular tribute to John Church for his vision and tenacity in delivering what was a fabulous New Heritage Centre and tourist attraction to the town. On Sunday afternoon a Mayoral Civic Service was held in the Minster.
In addition to the museum gallery, courses and workshops are regularly held and a small gift shop and the town’s Tourist Information Point are located in the new reception area. All this is open Monday to Friday 10am to 4pm and on Saturdays from 10am to 1pm. Entry is free until April 18thso take a look and discover the history of the Axe Valley.