Cornwall & The South: Pt 26 – Axminster

Heading towards Hampshire, we took the A30 through Devon. En route, we diverted slightly into the town of Axminster, for a look round the historic centre…

Axminster:

Status: East Devon, Devon, Town, England

Date: 08/08/2015

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Axminster Minster, War Memorial, Axminster Museum, Guildhall, Jubilee Fountain, Axminster Conservative Club, Thomas Whitty House, Old Court House, Trinity Square, Archway Bookshop, Axminster Carpets etc

What better place to begin than outside the Church that gave the town its name, the Minster Church of St Mary the Virgin. Combined with the River Axe which runs just West of the town, you get the town of Axminster.

The Church is by far the oldest building in the town, with the Chancel and the Tower dating back to the 13th century, however it is believed the Saxons built an earlier Church sometime prior to 786 AD.

Like any historic building, there have been numerous additions over the centuries, including the North Aisle of 1525, and the South Aisle of 1800.

Out in the Churchyard sits the towns War Memorial, erected after WWI to commemorate the fallen soldiers from the town.

If you look closely at the picture on the left, which shows the Memorial with the Church directly behind it, you can make out a statue of St George on the side of the monument, slaying a Dragon.

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The Church itself is the focal point for the town, with the Churchyard at its heart forming a large square adjoined by roads on all sides.

The Eastern edge of the square is home to the Axminster Conservative Club, shown above as the third building along to the right.

It inhabits part of the “Thomas Whitty House”, which was originally opened in 1755 as the Axminster Carpet Factory. The owner was the aforementioned Thomas Whitty (1713 – 1792) who was inspired by a large Turkish Carpet he saw on a visit to London. He used this as a basis for his own design, which became renowned the world over, with the company even creating a large carpet for the 30th Sultan of Turkey, Mahmud II (1789 – 1839) in 1800.

Sadly a fire swept through the Warehouse in 1826, and effectively bankrupted the company, which closed down. The building saw later used as a Hospital, before the Conservative Club moved into the Northern end. There are plans to turn the rest of the building into a Heritage Centre for tourists.

Axminster Carpets were given a reprieve in 1929 when Harry Dutfield from Kidderminster opened a new factory here which is still open today on the other side of town.

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The Southern edge of the square is home to the Old Courthouse, completed in 1864 on what was once the site of the Axminster Union Workhouse.

It contained it’s own Police Cells, which were in use until 1964, and the building as a whole had the distinction of being one of the first police stations to be built in the entire county. Today it has been turned into the Tourist Information Centre, and the Axminster Museum.

If you look past the Courthouse, to the third car along (a Fiat) you can just see the Archway Bookshop, which has a Blue Sign protruding from the wall above the main entrance.

The main door into the Shop is formed out of a large arch, which was originally in use in Newenham Abbey as a window arch until 1861.

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To the North of the Church, just outside the Churchyard you will find the Jubilee Fountain, completed in 1887 in honour of the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria (1819- 1901).

The area around the Fountain is known as Trinity Square, where the Axminster Market is held on Thursdays. The name comes from a devastating fire which occurred here in 1834 on Trinity Sunday, which caused widespread damage to the town.

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Our final stop was the Axminster Guildhall, on West Street heading South away from the central square.

Opened in 1931, it functioned as the Guildhall for the town for the next 15 years, until it was sold in 1946, and converted into a cinema. This would itself close in 1964, when it was then bought BACK by the Town Council, and promptly reopened as the Guildhall.

Axminster is a beautiful little town, with good transport links, as the A35 between Exeter and Bournemouth runs nearby, whilst the local railway station provides regular services to London Waterloo, Basingstoke, Salisbury and Exeter St Davids.

We pressed on, and entered Hampshire which would be our base for the next week. Our next stop would however be in Sussex, to the stunning Cathedral City of Chichester…

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