4 fascinating museums in South Devon

By Ross Purdy on November 19, 2017

A pirate cutout at Salcombe Maritime Museum
This not-so-friendly-looking pirate welcomes visitors to Salcombe Maritime Museum.

History is all around in South Devon, from the ruins of Fort Charles off North Sands to the many lime kilns found on the banks of our rivers and estuaries. Pay a visit to one of these museums in South Devon to get under the skin of our region’s fascinating past.


Here are four South Devon museums, all well worth a visit during your stay.

Please note that some of these museums in South Devon have irregular opening times or may close during the off-season. Please check directly with the museum before planning your trip.

Kingsbridge Cookworthy Museum

Fore Street, Kingsbridge

Named after porcelain pioneer, William Cookworthy, Kingsbridge Cookworthy Museum opened in 1972 in a formerly derelict grammar school building. Highlights include artefacts from Kingsbridge’s early and modern history, 16,000 photographs dating back to the 1870s, and costumes from the 19th and 20th centuries. The special exhibition area on the first floor, known as the Lorenz Room, hosts regularly changing displays, meaning there’s always something new to see from their collection of around 20000 items.

Find out more at: http://www.kingsbridgemuseum.org.uk/

Dartmouth Museum

Duke Street, Dartmouth

Housed in an atmospheric 17th century merchant’s house, Dartmouth Museum was established in 1949. There are six exhibition rooms, which bring some of the harbour town’s mercantile, maritime and military history to life. The Henley Room also contains interesting natural history specimens, reflecting the interests of avid collector William Cumming Henley (1860-1919), who bequeathed them to the local council upon his death.

For history buffs visiting Dartmouth, it’s also worth popping over the road to the Dartmouth Tourist Information Centre, where you can see a model of Thomas Newcomen’s ‘atmospheric steam engine’, which dominated the industry for 70 years and paved the way for James Watt’s famous innovation.

Visit the Dartmouth Museum website for more information.

Salcombe Maritime Museum

Market Street, Salcombe

Open April – October

Models, paintings and photographs abound in this little museum, a hidden gem for those with a love of maritime or local social history. The Ship Room contains 30 paintings of vessels built in Salcombe in the 19th century, a collection of traditional tools, World War II mementoes and more. Kids will love the Young Sailors’ Corner, where there are hands-on models, interactive equipment and costumes. Finally, the Wreck Room is devoted to the many boats and ships that have met their tragic end off the South Devon coast.

Look out for regular exhibitions and talks, and find out more at: http://www.salcombemuseum.org.uk/

Totnes Elizabethan Museum

Fore Street, Totnes

See for yourself a little of what life was like for the family of an Elizabethan merchant at this atmospheric museum in the centre of picturesque Totnes. Explore the Elizabethan kitchen, appreciate the Jacobin furniture and marvel at the collection of Victorian pills and potions.

There’s also a section dedicated to Charles Babbage, inventor of the first mechanical computer.

Learn more about Totnes Museum here.

Other ways to delve into the history of South Devon

In addition to these museums in South Devon, there are several other attractions and sites of interest which are well worth a visit for those seeking to step back in time.

Historic tours

Why not book a guided tour of Dartmouth, led by the Town Crier and Consort of Dartmouth? These 60-90-minute strolls are a great way to discover some of the stories behind Dartmouth’s historic buildings.

Find out more here.

You can also tour the historic Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, which towers over the town and estuary off College Way.

Learn more and book on the official Britannia website.

English Heritage castles

Totnes Castle, standing tall over the town

Another way to discover the region’s past is to visit our three English Heritage-owned castles. These fascinating constructions are each completely unique, from the classic Norman Motte and Bailey castle that towers over Totnes, to Dartmouth’s 600-year-old coastal ‘fortalice’, to the ‘haunted’ remains of a grandiose project that will remain forever unfinished in Berry Pomeroy.

Find out more about South Devon’s castles here.

National Trust properties

Greenway House

We’re lucky in the South Hams to have three stunning National Trust houses and estates within our beautiful region. Overbeck’s House, which stands tall over South Sands in Salcombe, is a treasure trove of quirky collections and unique gardens. Greenway is the former home of Agatha Christie – the perfect place to learn more about the world’s best-selling novelist and enjoy special views of the River Dart. Finally, Coleton Fishacre near Kingswear is an Art Deco retreat that will transport you back to the Jazz Age.

Read our article on National Trust properties in South Devon for more information.

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