I was recently invited by the owner to review Bygones. I received no payment for this post and all views are my own.
Babbacombe and St Marychurch are really popular places for tourists to visit, so much so, that I had to educate some travel trade colleagues who thought that Babbacombe was a town in its own right, rather than an area of Torquay. Babbacombe has lots to offer visitors – hotels of varying standards including quite a few coaching hotels, a theatre (Blog post coming up in the next few weeks), the famous Cliff Railway to Oddicombe and Babbacombe Beaches, the famous downs which hosts several large events each year, the internationally renowned Model Village and Bygones. St Marychurch is famous for its Norman C of E Church, mentioned in the Doomesday book and the shopping precinct, which has lots of cafes and shops including several independent book shops.
A step back in time to the times of Mary Poppins and Queen Victoria is certainly what you experience when you visit Bygones Victorian Experience in St Marychurch, Torquay. Bygones began life as a 1920’s Cinema. Its now what started as one man’s hobby, a museum filled to the brim with all kinds of exciting and varied artifacts. Ken Cuming was a man with a passion for collecting railwayana, an interest that went a step too far for wife, Patricia when in 1986 he purchased a 27 ton railway engine from Falmouth Docks. Not wishing to see the engine on a preservation line and with no room in the garden, they decided to sell their post office and bought the nearby old cinema. So Bygones was born from a mans hobby and turned into a unique collection of Victoriana, railwayana, military history, toys and marketing.
I was met at the reception desk with a bright friendly smile by Richard, (Don’t you just hate it when you’re met at a reception of such like and the person is grumpy/bored/dis-interested??? sorry one of my bugbears!) one of the owners, given a guide book and a route to follow around the museum, which was full of really useful hints and tips, especially opening the broom cupboard, but I won’t spoil that surprise for you!
Once you enter through reception, you are in a life size Victorian street, complete with a host of shops, a forge, a model of Queen Victoria, a barrel organ and a roast chestnut stall. Each shop is full of relevant and interesting articles.
I went to visit on an overcast afternoon, out of season, and was pleased to see a number of tourists, from the UK and some of our European friends exploring the museum, as well as a class from one of the local primary schools – St Margaret’s.
The school children were split into two groups of 10-15 with a museum guide with each group, dressed in flat caps or pinafores and were really bringing the history to life for the kids. It was great to see them getting involved and obviously enjoying it. The guides took their time with the children and really explained about each shop and the item contained therein, giving the children comparisons of modern life.
Once you have explored the ground floor street, you make your way through the pub, complete with its Pearly King and Queen to the second floor with its display of rooms as they would have been in Victorian times.
You make your way past the nursery, bedroom, bathrooms etc, and there is so much to look at, I think you need more than visit to see it all. I have visited Bygones 3-4 times on Group Travel Organiser familiarisation visits as well as this visit, and I still see things I haven’t noticed on previous visits – its like the gift that keeps giving!
Upstairs you see what the Doctors, Dentist and Jail would have been like too, I’m not sure what was worse – the dentist or the jail!
Once you have made you way around the gallery second level you end up at the train station, with its full size steam engine and World War II Evacuee Children. Making your way up the stairs the welcome of the Station Cafe comes into sight for a well deserved cuppa and cakes. I can highly recommend the Devonshire Cream Tea. School groups start in the cafe where they are dressed in Victorian clothes or army clothes for a World War II guided tour, both which last an hour. The cafe can comfortably seat 56 people so can easily accommodate a coach full, and offers discount on refreshments and entrance to groups.
Once you have enjoyed some respite in the cafe, you can continue your exploration going into the railwayana section with its landscapes pictured below.
Its really interesting looking at the scale models that light up and model railways zooming around the tracks and the old amusement machines. Another journey through time and you are in the first and second world wars with the anderson shelter and the world war 1 trenches with officers dugout. The display cabinet afterwards shows you all the items that would have been found in the trenches and other displays full of military paraphernalia then artifacts from the 40’s and 50’s. As I descended the stairs to the shop and exit I was really struck by just how much they have fitted into the space, how well laid out it is to create maximum effect.
So this attraction has way more pros than cons as a group visitor. Pros include:
- indoor attraction for inclement British weather
- great value entrance
- discounted refreshments when you book as a group
- you can make it a quick hour stop on your tour, or spend a whole morning or afternoon exploring
- great location – close to coach park and public bus stops
- close to other attractions like the model village so makes a full day out
- appeals to all ages
- wide range of interests covered – victoriana, railwayana, military history, historical marketing, vintage fashion etc
The only con is the disabled access – as its a listed building, the owners are unable to put in a lift, but wheelchair users are given heavily discounted entrance and are taken around the victorian street so they still have a lot to take in, and whilst the rest of the group explores the upper levels they can enjoy a complimentary cuppa.
Final word – if you’re planning a trip to Torquay – make sure you add Bygones to your itinerary. Whlist I’m not sure I could handle my husbands hobby getting out of hand like this, I would also like to say a big thank you to Patricia, Ken, Richard and Amanda, the owners for saving all these important historical relics for us all to see
Bygones can be contacted on tel 01803 326108 or visit http://www.bygones.co.uk