Barnstaple & North Devon Museum Development Trust

Supporting the Museum that Barnstaple deserves

North Devon in One Hundred Objects

We are  passionate about the Museum and fascinated by the thousands of artefacts it cares for.  Working with the North Devon Journal we are highlighting just one hundred of these objects which we feel will interest others.  These are being published on a regular basis in the newspaper and following publication will be added to this page.

The straight-tusked elephant  (Barney)

As you come into the Museum you can’t miss the paper and wood framed elephant hanging from the ceiling. There is a more lifelike model in the first gallery on your left. The elephant has come to be known as Barney and has been adopted as an emblem of the Museum.  The straight-tusked elephant

The Daily Mail Aviator at Westward Ho!


In the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon lies a black and white souvenir postcard showing  a confident young man sitting in the cockpit of an early aircraft. Daily Mail Aviator

Glove Industry in Barnstaple

“A lady should never be without her gloves” Anon

Not currently on show, but waiting in the attic to become part of a new display in the projected Social History Gallery are beautiful examples of North Devon’s lost glove making industry. Glove Industry in Barnstaple


In the Victorian Gallery in Barnstaple Museum you will find a navy frock coat with brass buttons on the front and cuffs. It belonged to Dr Simon Gage Britton who was born in Bristol on 5th  November 1782. From the 1830s to the 1850s he was a surgeon at the Barnstaple Infirmary which had been established in 1825 at the junction of Litchdon Street and Barbican Terrace. THE NAVAL SURGEON’S COAT

A Snapshot in Time

A favourite item from the Athenaeum collections is the 18th Century oil painting of Barnstaple which can be found hanging on the wall overlooking the staircase in the Museum. The view from Sticklepath Hill is by an unknown artist. It is believed to have been painted around 1730 or 1740 and depicts Barnstaple.  A snapshot in time

First Farmers in North Devon

If you enter the Museum and go into the gallery on your left you will find facing you an array of objects representing North Devon’s prehistory. The focus this week is on the Neolithic period. First Farmers in North Devon

Bowden’s Indian Balm




A Victorian advertising board, and both the product and the supplier would have been well-known to Barnstaple people not just in the nineteenth century but well into the next.   Bowden’s Indian Balm sign

Silver Spoons

Were you born with a silver spoon in your mouth? No? Me neither.  Only royalty and the very wealthy could afford silver until the end of the 19th century.  In Tudor times, the rich had silver and pewter spoons, while the poor had wooden spoons or possibly copper or brass. Barnstaple silver spoons

A Barnstaple Penny  Coin of Cnut (Canute)

At a recent coin auction a one thousand year old coin came into private hands and was gifted to the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon.  A Barnstaple Penny

Cnut Coin Obverse    

Cnut Coin REverse


As you pass out of the Victorian Gallery you will see on your right standing upright and chained to the wall two very grey and generally unprepossessing Wooden Pipes from Joy Street


Upstairs in the Museum in the display devoted to furniture manufacturers Shapland and Petter, is a rather unprepossessing metal object, seemingly lost amidst the fine carpentry and business records.  This was possibly the best known feature of Shapland’s for much of the twentieth century and familiar to Barumites for its shrill cry that sounded every working day over Barnstaple. THE Shapland and Petter WORKS HOOTER


The Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon celebrates not only our history, but also the wildlife of our beautiful countryside. Prominent in one of the displays in the Natural History Gallery is a The Buzzard






Braunton Cubs are intrigued by a typewriter Braunton Cubs on the typewriter



 The  Museum’s furniture collection is mainly pieces by Shapland and Petter, but in a corner of the pottery room is a rather shabby chair with hinged writing-ledge and inkwell… Read the full article John Gay’s Chair

Roman Finds in Brayford


dscf4425 bottle-tuyau



People in Brayford had known for years that when they dug their gardens they turned up lumps of heavy, knobbly material that they called ‘black ram’. Examination by experts from Exeter University identified this as slag resulting from the smelting of iron.   Its association with Roman pottery and the widespread occurrence of this industrial waste.  Read the full article romans-at-brayford

Rocks of North Devon

quartz-1 wavellite-1

In the Natural History Gallery there is case with specimens of rocks and minerals found in North Devon.  There are two minerals worth more than a second glance.  The first is Wavellite, a relatively uncommon mineral and the other is quartz, commonly encountered in North Devon. Read the full article. rocks-of-north-devon-in-the-natural-history-gallery

The Phrenology Head

phrenology-notice  phrenology-head-1 phrenology-head-2
In the museum’s Victorian Gallery you will find evidence of early 19th century thinking on human nature. As you are about to leave the gallery you will see to the left of the exit a pair of opening doors with on the outside a diagram of a human head and on the inside a porcelain head similarly marked out with labelled ‘parts’.  Read the full article the-phrenology-head

The Barn Owl


Perhaps one of the more appealing of the stuffed birds in the Natural History Gallery is a barn owl.  The barn owl is one of the more charismatic of North Devon’s birds, but may be quite unfamiliar to many people as they tend to fly from dusk until dawn and rarely venture out in broad-daylight.

Read the full article barn-owl


Shapland and Petter Lady’s Writing Desk


Located somewhat incongruously in the upstairs room dedicated to North Devon’s involvement in the First World War , is a 19th century product of Shapland and Petter, a Victorian lady’s writing desk. Helen Blackman, a volunteer at the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon has written about it.

Read the full article  the-ladys-writing-desk

The Downend Skeleton

downend-skeleton One thing that you can’t miss, as you walk through the Museum, is the skeleton that greets you almost as soon as you enter. These human remains were excavated from the cliff edge at Downend, Croyde Bay in the 1990s  and represent one of four unusual burials

Read the full article the-downend-skeleton

Dragons in the Pottery Gallery


In the Museum, go up the stairs, continue straight ahead and on your left you will find the pottery gallery. Here you will see displayed the work of Barnstaple’s 19th century art potters who let their imaginations run riot as they moulded clay into fantastical designs.

Read the full article ….dragons-in-the-pottery-gallery

The West Down Inscribed Stone

west-down-stoneTrust Chairman Terry Green, who has researched extensively into the early medieval period has contributed this article.

In 2012  fourteen year old Jack Lawrence, noticed a large stone it in his cottage garden at West Down had some unusual lettering on it  and reported it to the Museum. Subsequent research has shown shown that this is a very early personal memorial stone and is of major significance for the area.         Terry Green, Chairman of the Trust researched to object.  Read the full article:  the-west-down-inscribed-stone

The North Devon Prayer Book

prayer-bookAmong the many things that the late Dave Butt did, was to prompt the formation of a trust for the development of the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon and it is fitting that his article was the first one to be published.

As a young boy I remember many stories where the hero was shot…only to rise again as the bullet hit his sheriff’s  badge or the tobacco tin in his top pocket and he survives to fight and win  again! So imagine my joy when I saw the real thing at the local museum.

Read  the full article   the-north-devon-prayer-book

The Three Tuns Pub Sign

the-three-tunsTerry Green writes “If, on your next visit to the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon, you turn left from the entrance hall and head on, you will find, attached to the wall above your head just before you pass into the Natural History Gallery, the sign that used to hang outside the Three Tuns Inn (now Pizza Express) in Barnstaple High Street. The sign, which was made by William James Norman of Pilton early in the last century or in the late 19th century, comprises three miniature tuns or barrels suspended one above the other.”

Read  the full article the-three-tuns-pub-sign

The Seventeenth Century Pottery Kiln from Barnstaple

Pottery Kiln Chamber stacked with reproduction pottery
Pottery Kiln Chamber stacked with reproduction pottery

The largest artefact in the Museum, and the most evocative of life in seventeenth century Barnstaple, is the pottery kiln excavated in 1987 on the site of the future library. It had a stoking pit with a cobbled floor and twin flues which channelled the intense heat into the main chamber where the pottery was stacked for firing.

Read  the full article 17th Century Pottery Kiln

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