Topsham Museum

Topsham Museum
25 The Strand
Topsham, Exeter




01392 873244

All information is drawn from or provided by the venues themselves and every effort is made to ensure it is correct. Please remember to double check opening hours with the venue concerned before making a special visit.
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Topsham Museum is housed in one of a group of late 17th century buildings overlooking the Exe Estuary. Following completion of a stunning new River gallery, the Museum was 'long-listed' for the Art Fund Prize in 2008.

Part of the Museum's focus is on Topsham's maritime history - one particular showpiece is the River Gallery, completed in 2007, featuring unique historic river craft. Visitors can also enjoy the furnished period rooms of the original house and the Sail Loft with its historical timeline of the town's general history. Other interesting exhibits include wildlife of the Exe Estuary, local trades and organisations and memorabilia of the film star Vivien Leigh.

Topsham's position as a sheltered harbour enabled it to thrive as a port, a centre for fishing and shipbuilding. In a largely forgotten period the Exe was thronged with sailing vessels and its shipyards were major employers in the town and the trade at its height rivalled that of London.

The Museum incorporates pleasant gardens and a tearoom.

Venue Type:


Opening hours

31 March - 30 October
Sun Mon Wed Thu Sat (and Tuesday through August) 14.00-17.00

Group visits at other times by prior arrangement.

Closed: 31 October - 31 March

Admission charges


Collection details

Archaeology, Archives, Natural Sciences, Costume and Textiles, Decorative and Applied Art, Fine Art, Personalities, Social History, Land Transport, Maritime

Exhibition details are listed below, you may need to scroll down to see them all.

HMS Terror: a Topsham boat

  • Until 30 October 2014 *on now
  • From 30 March 2014

Built at one of the Davy Yards on the river Exe, we were delighted to be given a model of the ship as she was constructed at Topsham, made by the model maker Geoff Harvey. The model was presented to the museum in 2013 to mark the 200th anniversary of the launch of HMS Terror in 1813. The ship's story is fascinating - from forming part of the fleet who bombed Baltimore in 1815 (giving rise to the words for the US national anthem) to exploration in the Antarctic to ultimately forming part of the ill fated Franklin expedition to the Arctic. HMS Terror was one of the few ships seeing service in both Arctic and Antarctic and was specially strengthened for this role, having a former railway steam engine fitted and capable of doing 4 knots. She has an extinct volcano named after her in the Antarctic. On May 19th 1845, under the command of Rear Admiral Sir John Franklin, the largest and most well equiped Arctic Expedtion of its time set out in search of a prize that had claimed the lives of countless others before: The Legendary Northwest Passage, a trade route around the frozen wastes of the North American Arctic. Equipped with the latest charts, equpment, three years worth of provisions, packed within tinned food cans, and 129 Officers, Sailors and Royal Marines from the Woolwich Division's Light Infantry, few doubted the expedition would be a success and for those who set out it was to be the adventure of a lifetime, another triumph of British science over nature. Yet as the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror entered the frozen wastes of the Arctic, the great adventure became a living nightmare when the ships became trapped in the ice off King William Island and the men soon discovered their food had become poisoned by lead from the cans it was kept in. The trapped men would slowly succumbed to the toxic food, disease, starvation, madness, the elements and desperate attempts to reach safety. By the time rescuers found their camps, the Erebus and Terror had vansihed and scattered across the frozen Arctic wastes. 130 Officers, Sailors, and Royal Marines, including Sir John Franklin, lay dead,, The Canadian government are still searching for her resting place but there have been various theories and books written about the fate of her crew. Her full story is told in displays in the Sail Loft and the fine model makes a tremendous asset to the Museum's collections.

The Vigilant Story

  • Until 30 October 2014 *on now
  • From 30 March 2014

The Vigilant is a Thames sailing barge currently undergoing restoration at Topsham Quay. There have not been many days when a small crowd has not gathered to watch, and sometime lend a hand, to the remarkable project being undertaken in the town's quay. Benjamin Squirrell and boat builder David McCabe admit there is more than a touch of madness in their efforts to bring a piece of Britain's maritime history back to life. The Vigilant, which is on the Historic Ships Register, was built in 1904 and was once used for transporting cargo and also for racing. Despite being flat-bottomed bath tubs, these boats were capable of travelling across the channel and over to Ireland with payloads exceeding 120 tonnes. As well as being workhorses they were fast and were frequently sailed with just two crew. She has spent the past twenty years in a state of neglect and was rotting in an Essex boatyard, sinking into the mud. Benjamin Squirrel decided to buy it and restore the barge to her former glory. The bow and stern have been rebuilt and a new engine fitted to get her down the English Channel to Topsham &ndash
a journey which some said wouldn't be possible. The barge has brought a vast number of people down to Topsham Quay and a number of the community volunteered to help with the rebuild - still more have voiced their support for the project. Relatives of the family who commissioned the barge and sailed her have been in contact, and a captain who used to sail her in the 1970s has offered advice. It is hoped the project will take about 18 months.

Shipping the Serge Topsham and the woollen cloth trade

  • Until 28 July 2014 *on now
  • From 31 March 2014

A joint exhibition with Tuckers Hall, Exeter, This exhibition is a collaborative research project between Tuckers Hall in Exeter and Topsham Museum. It focuses on the production of woollen cloth in Devon and the extraordinary success in exporting it to most of the known world for over 300 years. Topsham, the port, was the key to this export trade. It had good access to the English Channel and deep tidal water for ocean going vessels. Its location in the Lower Exe Basin ensured that woollen cloth from the fulling mills in most of Devon and western Somerset could access the major trade routes around the world. Background:, Around 1615 a fine cloth, known as serge, was introduced and quickly became the main product of Exeter's fulling mills. Serge is a cloth that is best suited to wool that was available from Devon and Somerset. It was made from a combination of long fibre wool that traditionally produced worsted, and woollen yarn which is made from a shorter and softer fleece. The surface of serge is diagonally ribbed from its twill structure, giving a front and back. After the Civil War the woollen merchants of Exeter controlled the whole process
purchasing the fleece at the local markets, sending it for carding and combing, and having it spun into yarn. The yarn was then woven into cloth before it was transported to the fulling mills on pack animals. The merchants were freemen who belonged to the Guild of the Fullers and Tuckers. Guild members in the 18th century were known as the 'Golden Tuckers' because their wealth allowed them to clear the market of the most expensive items. They were also noted for their green baize aprons with red strings. The Guild originally met on the premises of the Bishop Blaize pub, but in 1471 they built Tuckers Hall in Fore Street, still used by the Guild of Weavers, Tuckers and Shearers. They were a powerful elite in the city and many of the 24 members of the City Chamber, the equivalent of our City Council, were Guild members. Almost half of those admitted as freemen into the guilds in the 16th Century were engaged in one aspect or other of the cloth industry.

Exploring our collections: pictures from the Museum Reserve Store

  • Until 31 July 2014 *on now
  • From 1 June 2014

We are exhibiting pictures from our reserve store collection which have not been shown for some time - so please do come and take a look!

Interpreting Flowers: Anna Donovan and Sue Thompson

  • Until 30 July 2014 *on now
  • From 1 June 2014

In June and July we will be exhibiting work from two local well-known artists - Anna Donovan and Susan Thomson. Pictures will be for sale. ANNA DONOVAN, My father was a farmer and I was lucky enough to spend my childhood in Cornwall in idyllic surroundings with parkland stretching to the shores of the River Fal. At the age of nine I won a scholarship to the Royal School of Ballet and found myself in equally beautiful surroundings &ndash
White Lodge in the middle of Richmond Park. My time there was intensely stimulating, exciting, often difficult and very hard work. I grew tall, and after ten years I left the Royal Ballet and went to study at Falmouth School of Art. I graduated four years later with a BA (Hons) in Fine Art. My earliest childhood drawings and paintings often reflected the landscapes which I had grown to love and respect. Nature, with its beauty, as well as its tragedies, still colours my art work today. In 1990 I moved, with my family, to Exeter. I was offered a place at Exeter University where I studied in the School of English. I graduated in 1991 with an MA in Critical Theory. For a time my art practice took a back seat to challenging theoretical concerns. My focus was, however, still very much on the visual. I continued my studies and worked towards a Phd which I was awarded in 2000. Entitled Virginia Woolf: A Language of Looking, my Thesis was an exploration of the complexities and nuances to be seen in Woolf's use of various visual devices. Woolf uses Nature, and frequently flowers, in all their guises, to focus the way we look at and represent our surroundings. Her intricate network of looks' adds another dimension to her enigmatic and poetic prose. During my time at Exeter University I had three exhibitions of paintings and drawings related to my research. Six years ago I decided to reduce my academic studies in order to concentrate on painting. The inspiration for most of my flower paintings comes from the walled garden that I have created over many years. I delight in the ever changing beauty of nature which I try to convey in the rich and vibrant colours of oil paint. SUSAN THOMSON, Susan trained as a graphic artist and worked in advertising but went on to study botanical art at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. &ldquo
It is very gratifying to take an image that is going to fade and capture it perfectly, in its prime for everyone to enjoy, long after the flower has withered and died. &rdquo
, Susan now lives in Topsham where she teaches Botanical Watercolour Workshops. Her watercolour painting incorporates detailed work as well as a more personal freer style. She has added birds to her portfolio inspired by the bird sanctuaries locally and has experimented with silk painting and print making to give less controlled pieces. She has exhibited widely in the UK including the Royal Scottish Academy and the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh and the Royal Academy of Arts &ldquo
Summer Exhibition&rdquo
, the Llewellyn Alexander Gallery &ldquo
NOT the Royal Academy&rdquo
and the Westminster Gallery in London. She also exhibits her work and teaches workshops at the Majlis Gallery in Dubai, UAE and will be there in January 2014.

Topsham Maine, USA

  • Until 30 October 2014 *on now
  • From 5 July 2014

Our sister town, Topsham, Maine (USA) is celebrating its 250th Anniversary this year (thes sestercentennial). They are commemorating their anniversary with a year of celebrations. Follow them on Facebook!

Mapping Topsham

  • Until 30 October 2014 *on now
  • From 2 August 2014

Topsham Museum has issued a challenge to create a new map of Topsham town or a section or aspect of the town. 2014 year will see the start of a community project to create new maps of Topsham. We are hoping that many people will be involved in making their own map of the town and these will be exhibited between August and October. Maps can be made from many materials and it could be a winter project to create and illustrate a map of Topsham. We can supply a map of the town for you to use as a guide or you can illustrate your own street, your dog walking route or even your boat trip down the estuary. It will be fun to see what is depicted and perhaps your entry could be used in our town publicity.