The Heritage Trail Walk in Axminster

It is very easy to live in a place and never really take time to look at it properly.

My birth town is listed as Axminster, although the Registry Office, which is just opposite the Minster Church, changed it’s use well before my birth.   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.

A relaxed stroll around the town with my mum and the girls was surprisingly interesting. We discovered our home through new eyes and the Heritage Trail Walk in Axminster is the prefect way to explore.

Heritage Trail Walk in Axminster East Devon Register Office

A Little History

Axminster was an important coaching stop on the Dorchester to Exeter route. In the mid 1700’s up to 16 coaches a day would pass through.  There would have been a great deal of activity in the town. 

It would be amazing to step back in time to experience the hooves clattering on the cobbles in the courtyard of the George Hotel.  Imagine the shouts and cries of market traders and hawkers. Then when the coaches stopped, watch wealthy people picking their way through the litter as they stretched their aching bodies.  It would be fascinating.

Heritage Trail Walk in Axminster East Devon

We started our trail at the tourist information office, now located in the Heritage Centre just off the main square. This is a very useful place for information and is not just for visitors. Here you can pick up a copy of the Blue Plaque Heritage Trail which we used as our guide to discover new things around the town.

Following he map we took each plaque in turn. Reading about 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.

Axminster East Devon Rose Cottage
Heritage Trail Walk in Axminster East Devon Blue Plaque Trail

“We never knew 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”

Thomas Whitty the founder of Axminster Carpets

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.

Heritage Trail Walk in Axminster East Devon Oak House
Heritage Trail Walk in Axminster East Devon Museum sign

Axminster Heritage Centre

So that leads me onto the other reason for doing this trail, which was to visit the 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. It has been made possible 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), as well as 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.

The Heritage Centre has been successful in securing funding for the next phase of the project. This 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.

In May 2017 the Dye House was officially opened and host displays, workshops and other events. This really is a great asset for the town. Check the Heritage Centre website for opening times.  Admission: Under 17 Free, Adults £3 (updated 2020)

Heritage Trail Walk in Axminster East Devon Heritage Centre display

Take  a Break

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 The Community Waffle House at Trinity House,  Ric’s on Castle Hill and  The West Country Higgler on South Street.

Our little outing ended at 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 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 other real bonus of this café is the lovely secluded garden where you can relax in the peace and quiet.

Axminster East Devon Arts Cafe

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. The Heritage Trail Walk in Axminster East Devon is free and surprisingly interesting with a great coffee or cup of tea never far away!