Past Remains

A view of yesterday from today

Town Hall & Seaton Museum, Seaton, Devon

The long-time social centre of the town, Seaton Town Hall was opened on 27th July, 1904, and further extended during the 1930s. This lovely front elevation, however, is all that remains of it's decorative past. Most of the building was destroyed during a fire on 22nd January 1945, leaving a shell, apart from the front offices and the rear caretaker's rooms. It was eventually rebuilt and subsequently reopened in 1952.

Built with a mixture of Beer Stone (limestone specific to the quarries above the village of Beer) and an infill of chert, it's typical of many local buildings where these readily available materials have been utilized.

A  few years ago, East Devon County Council had plans to sell the Town Hall...which was originally given to the people of Seaton...and which, quite rightly so, had everyone up in arms.  This is one of those times when I wish I'd kept cuttings from the local newspaper, as I can't find anything now about the sequence of events. However, the outcome was that a group called Seaton Voice took over the running and management in partnership with the council, with the eventual intention of handing it back to the community by means of their Asset Management Transfer policy. Since then, there have been a huge amount of events hosted at the hall...tribute groups, other musicians, concerts, plays, films, shows, etc, and by all accounts they've been very well attended, many of them a complete sell out.

More community groups and facilities are also available, such as the Youth Cafe, and the Memory Cafe for residents with dementia, as well as long standing events such as the Christmas Bazaar, craft fayres and art exhibitions. One Art event early in 2011 was a wonderful fun day with many artists and crafts practitioners holding demonstrations and allowing visitors to try their hand at making things.

As well as the main ground floor hall with bar and kitchen facilities, the first floor comprises a lounge and committee room for functions and training days. One of it's many functions in the main hall is the monthly Farmer's Market. The photo below shows plants for sale.

The top floor houses the Seaton Museum, ran by volunteer stewards from the Axe Valley Heritage Association. An incredibly interesting array of displays and artefacts, it charts the local history from prehistoric times up to the last century, and is a great source of information for historians and serious students as well as a delight for visitors alike. Some of the Heritage Association's special events are also held in the Town Hall main room.

Although there are artefacts to be seen, Seaton Museum mostly contains photographs documenting people and events. Although I prefer things to people (history wise, that is), the photos give an amazing glimpse into times past.

There is also a very good timeline of Seaton from Prehistoric and through Roman times showing how certain industries and occupations came into being. The thing I love about history is how the landscape and actions upon it evolved, such as the Romans occupying the area and quarrying in the nearby village of Beer, and how that impacted upon successive generations in both Beer and Seaton.

Above, a case with lace making implements, which was an important industry amongst the women of Beer and Seaton. It's often called Honiton Lace but that's a bit of a misnomer, as Honiton was actually the nearest town on the highway to London where the lace was transported from, whereas the lace came from several towns and villages in East Devon.

And smuggling was also an important part of the landscape. Above, a gorgeous spanish shawl brought back by a local smuggler. 

In this day and age of leisure facilities closing due to a bleak economic climate, this just goes to show how communities can pull together and create a vibrant social life for their own town. As Seaton Voice say on their website...ran by the people for the people. All in all, a fabulous success.

And finally, a photo taken from the top floor Museum, overlooking Cross Street and  Windsor Gardens.

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

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