Out and About – The Heritage Trail in Axminster
It is very easy to live in a place and never really take time to look at it properly.
My birth was registered in Axminster Registry Office which is just opposite the Minster Church. This lovely old building now houses the social club and is just one example of what you see when you take the time to step back and look up and around, rather than busily focusing on the next stop on the shopping list.
My little stroll around Axminster with my mum and the girls was surprisingly interesting as we discovered our local town through new eyes.
A Little History
Axminster was an important coaching stop on the Dorchester to Exeter route – 16 coaches a day would pass though in the mid 1700’s. I am sure there would have been a great deal of activity in the town. The chance to step back in time to see and hear the hooves clattering on the cobbles in the courtyard of the George Hotel, the shouts and cries of market traders and hawkers when the coaches stopped and wealthy people picking their way through the litter would be fascinating.
We started our trail at the tourist information office on Church Street (a very useful place which is not just for visitors) and picked up a copy of the Blue Plaque Heritage Trail as our guide to discover new things around the town.
We took each plaque in turn following the map, reading and learning something new in a number of locations, including finding the grave of Thomas Whitty. At one point there are some steps, but these can be avoided if needs be, you just carry on round the slightly longer road route.
“We never new that one of the buildings in Axminster was once a training college for priests or that there used to be a cinema in the town”
The fortunes of the town were sealed by Thomas Whitty. His original business was cloth weaving, but it was a trip to London that changed his future and that of Axminster. He spotted some large carpets imported from Turkey in a warehouse and after some time, trial and error and a little bit of industrial espionage, he worked out a way of making them – and so the Axminster Carpet was born.
His large patterned carpets became world renowned, adorned many famous buildings and even warranted a visit to his factory in Axminster from King George III himself.
So that leads me onto the other reason for doing this trail, which was to visit the newly opened and very interesting Axminster Heritage Centre. Developed on the site of the original carpet factory, the vision of turning the building into a museum to commemorate Axminster’s carpet history has finally come to life thanks to an enormous amount of hard work and determination by the Trustees and numerous volunteers. The building has been lovingly restored. The museum mainly focuses on the carpet making story (including a well put together video), however there are other local history exhibits from around the area featuring the Roman times to the present day. There was enough to keep adults and older children engaged for about 20-30 minutes.
Excellent recent news is that the Heritage Centre has been successful in securing funding for the next phase of the project, which will include interactive displays, a working loom, more restoration of the site, a small cafe and shop as well as facilities to offer courses on design, spinning a weaving. This really will be a great asset for the town. The museum is currently open Tuesday – Friday 10am – 4pm and Saturday 10am-1pm until the end of October. Admission is free although a donation is appreciated.
Now the good news about a walk around Axminster is that there are no shortage of places to stop for a decent cuppa or a bite to eat.
The most well known food stop in Axminster is the River Cottage Canteen in Trinity Square with it’s lovely airy dining hall and open plan kitchen. Other cafés popular with locals are Gilly’s on Castle Hill, Sublyme Café tucked away behind the post office (access via the walkway up from Tesco) and The West Country Higgler on South Street.
Our little outing ended up back by the tourist information office and into the lovely Arts Café. Set inside what was the Old Courthouse and Police station this is a fascinating little place to look around. The café has lovely arts and craft displays and exhibitions from local artists with items for sale. You can even enjoy your drink in private sat in one of the old prison cells!
The real bonus of this café is the lovely secluded garden where you can relax in the peace and quiet. However if you like a bit of music then on most Saturday’s from the end of May to September you can enjoy music in the garden from 11am. Next up on 27 Aug are Karl Taylor and Danny Sumblar, followed on 3 Sept by two folk artists.
So anytime you have an hour or two to spare or just like the idea of leaning a bit more about this historic local town then take a wander and see what you can discover. It’s free and surprisingly interesting with a great coffee or cup of tea never far away!