Past Remains

A view of yesterday from today

The Old Courthouse, Axminster, Devon

A delightful building, I first took photos of the frontage some ten years ago, long before I knew anything about it's history. The photos I took then show the front of the building better, but look quite different to those taken on a recent visit in 2012, so for the sake of uniformity I've only put the latest and more comprehensive photos on this page.  

Built in 1864 upon the site of the Union Workhouse, the building comprised the first purpose-built police station in Devon, along with cells, a police house at the back and the courtroom on the first floor.

The Old Courthouse was built onto this much older building, now Archway Bookshop, in a manner to suggest that it's part of the same building. However, even though it's separate, it's well worth a mention.

Circa 13th century, the ground floor was open to allow access for carts and the original arch, now in-filled, can be seen above the window. Another arch can be seen inside the shop. It was converted into a private residence during the 1700s. What is really interesting though, is the doorway, which is thought to be a window from Newenham Abbey. Dismantled during the reign of Henry VIII, stone from the Abbey was used for several buildings in Axminster.

Just inside the arch to the courthouse complex is this fabulous studded oak door, leading to the upstairs courtroom, which housed Axminster Museum (since moved to the original carpet factory in 2016). This was used for the County Court and the Court of Petty Sessions.

I only had time for a whistle-stop tour of the museum, but it's fascinating and well worth a further visit. It contains a lot of artefacts, including a wonderful, large scale model of Weycroft Mill. I didn't take a photo of that, but will on my next visit.

Below, the archway from the inside of the courtyard, looking towards the street with a view of the church green. On the far left inside the arch is the door to the then museum, the right part of the building holds the Senior Citizens Centre and the near left houses the Tourist Information Centre.

On the left hand side is an adjacent building which was once the home of the police sergeant and his family. Now the Arts Cafe, it still contains the original police cells. The photo below shows the cell doors with their hatches and the old water cisterns above. 

The courtyard at the rear is thought to have been the exercise yard. For fans of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, it may come as no surprise that when I read about it I immediately thought of the Treacle Mine Street station with it's exercise yard complete with straw dummy for sword practice...although in this case it was probably used to give the prisoners some exercise in the fresh air. ;)

Now a courtyard garden with outside tables for the Arts Cafe, a section has been designated the 'Weaver's Garden'.

The Weaver's Garden contains plants used for vegetable dyes and soft running water, both of which were important in the dyeing and fulling process, which was used in carpet making. The photo below was taken several years ago, showing a border made from loom reels, sadly no longer there.

Interestingly, when I made a visit to Kilmington Quarry there was a huge pile of reels like this in a heap, many of which had been burnt in a fire. I would love to have taken a couple, as they'd obviously been chucked, but the rule for most Urban Explorers is to 'take nothing but photos and leave nothing but footprints', and it would have changed my explore from trespass to criminal activity...so I didn't.

Some of the stone brickwork, below.  A shame that the pvc windows look so out of place, but the original arches and lintels have been retained.

I have to say, that this has got to be the most difficult building I've ever tried to photograph. Narrow pavements on a busy street, several usages with people coming and going, awning and other modern trappings making it impossible to photograph the Arts Cafe building and courtyard, and awkward, twisty stairs and narrow corridors inside. It was incredibly frustrating.  Apart from that it's fab place to visit, and I often enjoy a coffee at the Arts Cafe whenever I'm in Axminster. :)

More photos, along with these, can also be seen in the Photo Gallery album.

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