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Our Collections

The Museum was established in 1989, bringing together the museum collections of the North Devon Athenaeum and the Borough Museum in St.Anne’s Chapel.  Since that time we have developed our collections, displays and activities to care for and make accessible North Devon’s natural and human heritage.

The museum building on the Square was built for William Thorne, in 1872. In 1887 it was bought by William Rock, Barnstaple’s benefactor to house the North Devon Athenaeum, a free library and Museum, which opened the following year.

The North Devon Athenaeum inherited the collections of the Barnstaple Literary and Scientific Institution and continued to accumulate a wide variety of objects, manuscripts and books, especially geology, natural history and archaeology. From 1956, the Athenaeum shared the building with the local branch of the County Library Service.

In 1923 the Barnstaple Borough Museum was established in the 14th century St. Anne’s Chapel.  The museum gathered objects relating to the history of the Borough and its inhabitants, including parts of demolished buildings, paintings and prints and John Gay’s chair.  In 1974 the museum became part of the new North Devon Council.

In 1988, North Devon District Council bought the Athenaeum building and established the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon. The Athenaeum moved with its collection of documents and books to the North Devon Local Studies Centre in the new Barnstaple library in Tuly Street.  Many of the Athenaeum’s objects remain in the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon together with the Borough museum collections and more recent acquisitions.