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The Ilfracombe Hotel Laundry

The Ilfracombe Museum

In recent years, architectural critics have, in their surveys, considered industrial and service buildings as equally worthy of mention as say, churches and public buildings. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that in Bridget Cherry's revision of Pevsner's "Devon" we have the entry: GASWORKs: Hele. Handsome buildings of 1905, of grey rubble with round arched openings in yellow brick. (Before that the gasworks were in Wilder Road where the car park now stands) So this month, Focus looks at the Ilfracombe Hotel Laundry which now houses our museum.

9K line-drawing

The sketch was made from a photograph of 1932 when the museum was first opened, and a model made by the first curator and founder, Mervyn G. Palmer. Although the sign announces it as the Museum, the building retains the features it had as a laundry, including the petrol pump which served the needs of those staying at the hotel.

It was set in a hollow and designed to be discreet and inconspicuous, like those who served in the hotel, but this did not prevent the builder (who no doubt was architect as well) from putting up a thoroughly decent and well-mannered ancillary building. The gabled facade has been painted, but one can still discern the brickwork which was in contrasting colours (red or black and buff), with stepped patterns under the gables, courses along the front and arches over the windows. The doorway replaces a double window providing the entrance to the Museum. A date slab in a cartouche in one gable gives us 1885 (some 19 years after the opening of the hotel in 1867), a monogram IHC in the other gives us the owners, The Ilfracombe Hotel Company.

Little did they think that one day this would be the only evidence of their existence. Their grand hotel was demolished in 1976 after serving as council offices and an entertainment centre from 1930. Now its site is to be used for the Ilfracombe Theatre and Winter Gardens.

Inside the rooms are high and well lit by large windows and conservatory style skylights, which could have been opened for ventilation in the steam filled laundry. Now both windows and skylights have been blocked to control lighting and add space for displays. Apart from this, the original part of the museum remains much as it was, simply utilitarian, and this adds to its charm. Even the tunnel by which laundry was conveyed discreetly to and from the hotel has been converted into a replica of a Victorian kitchen. One question arises: where did they dry the washing? Were there dryers, or was it hung out on the Southern slopes, which at that time was a kitchen garden for the hotel?

Major extensions have taken place during the 64 years of the Museum's history. The maritime room was added in 1956, and in 1982 a two bay extension to the west. Both followed the style of the original laundry, producing a range of gables with window shaped recesses illustrating the treasures within through paintings by the local artist, Robert Turner.

A further extension is now planned to house Heritage material and a Lundy collection for which at present there is no display room. This is our Museum, "one of the finest in the West" and provides Ilfracombe with a major attraction, both for local people and visitors. It depends entirely on entrance fees, shop sales and your support. We are asking for donations for "The Heritage Extension Appeal", which should be sent to the museum treasurer at Ilfracombe Museum, Wilder Road, Ilfracombe. EX34 8AF.
Thank you for your help.

Jim Bates - November 1996

Created 18/4/99