Illustration by Victorian naturalist and illustrator Philip Gosse.

Science at the Seaside: Pleasure Hunts in North Devon

'Science at the Seaside' was a collaborative project with Professor John Plunkett, Dr Kyriaki Hadjiafxendi (Bath Spa University) and Ilfracombe Museum. It was funded by North Devon Fisheries Local Action Group [FLAG] and ran from 2013 to 2015.

'Science at the Seaside' sought to engage local communities with a neglected aspect of their heritage; namely, the growth of seaside science and environmental tourism in North Devon during the Victorian and Edwardian periods. The North Devon coast attracted many literary and scientific visitors, local and distinguished, professional and amateur; these included well-known figures such as George Eliot, George Henry Lewes, George Tugwell and Philip Gosse, who explored, collected and displayed scientific specimens, as well as published accounts of their visits. There is a rich history of writing about the North Devon coast, which deserved to be better known as it played an important national role in the growth of Victorian popular science.

The key objectives of this collaborative project were:

  • Increased public awareness of, and engagement in, of the rich history of literary and scientific writing about the North Devon coast and seascape;
  • To improve the visitor experience at Ilfracombe Museum and to encourage increasing number of attendees from both the local community and tourists, resulting in both economic and cultural benefits;
  • To create a legacy of web resources, learning ideas and physical resources that will continue to inspire curiosity and interest in the coastal and fishing heritage of North Devon.

The outputs of the project included a new permanent exhibition on 'Seaside Collecting' at Ilfracome Museum together with an accompanying booklet, digitisation of items from the museum collection and an ongoing range of family activities (including Victorian rockpool rambles and a writing competition).