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Our story

The story of Bishopsteignton Heritage is rooted in an obsession with local history stretching over 100 years into the past. One inspired villager became our greatest benefactor: Molly Coombe, whose generosity has enabled us to continue the work of local historians and go the extra mile to engage the local community in our rich shared heritage.

Several local historians recorded the story of Bishopsteignton in the 20th century and others had collected records even before them. One notable village historian, W. D. Cleland, wrote ‘A Short History and Guide’ to Bishopsteignton, exploring the village and lanes, in around 1900. Later, a group of local residents indulged their interest in the history of Bishopsteignton’s people, places, events and environment by creating the village Museum, housed in the oldest part of the Community Centre. 

Bishopsteignton Museum c.1980

Bishopsteignton Museum of Rural Life in around 1980.

w d cleland in around 1900

W. D. Cleland, around 1900.

The popular museum was cherished by the local community and many locals made significant contributions to the collection and to the every-day running of the museum. Philip Coombe (1891-1970) was one such and donated lots of memorabilia and records from his time with the 20th Canadian Battalion during the First World War.

Several local historians recorded the story of Bishopsteignton in the 20th century and others had collected records even before them. One notable village historian, W. D. Cleland, wrote ‘A Short History and Guide’ to Bishopsteignton, exploring the village and lanes, in around 1900. Later, a group of local residents indulged their interest in the history of Bishopsteignton’s people, places, events and environment by creating the village Museum, housed in the oldest part of the Community Centre. 

w d cleland in around 1900

W. D. Cleland, around 1900.

The popular museum was cherished by the local community and many locals made significant contributions to the collection and to the every-day running of the museum. Philip Coombe (1891-1970) was one such and donated lots of memorabilia and records from his time with the 20th Canadian Battalion during the First World War.

Bishopsteignton Museum c.1980

Bishopsteignton Museum of Rural Life in around 1980.

Philip Coombe around 1918

Philip Coombe, around 1914.

Molly led a quiet life and is known to have greatly enjoyed caring for her beautiful garden and beloved pets. Molly maintained ownership of several homes in Bishopsteignton and was well-known in the village as a landlady, having inherited much from her industrious builder father, Philip.

Upon her death in 2007, Molly bequeathed her house and wealth, amounting to £1.5m, to the village to be used for the good of the community. Molly’s idea was to create a new museum in her house to replace the village’s Museum of Rural Life which had occupied the first floor of the former village school, now the Community Centre, since 1980.

Inspired by her father Philip, our benefactor Molly Coombe (1929-2007) left her home, possessions and savings to the Museum in her will. Managing Molly’s incredible bequest took some years to come to fruition, mainly due to the Museum’s unofficial nature, it was not a registered charity or business so could not legally accept it. After some years and deliberation amongst the local community, Bishopsteignton Heritage was registered as a Charitable Trust and has been investing and growing Molly’s bequest, securing it for future generations. Bishopsteignton Heritage built two houses on the plot of Molly’s home, these are let providing a constant and growing income for the charity. This means Molly’s bequest is still helping to preserve and provide access to the collection, employ experts to help future-proof the charity and even help keep the Community Centre open by using the Wilson Room for our Heritage Hub.

Photograph of Philip and Molly Coombe with cats, c. 1935.

Philip and Molly Combe around 1935.

Philip Coombe around 1918

Philip Coombe, around 1914.

Molly led a quiet life and is known to have greatly enjoyed caring for her beautiful garden and beloved pets. Molly maintained ownership of several homes in Bishopsteignton and was well-known in the village as a landlady, having inherited much from her industrious builder father, Philip.

Upon her death in 2007, Molly bequeathed her house and wealth, amounting to £1.5m, to the village to be used for the good of the community. Molly’s idea was to create a new museum in her house to replace the village’s Museum of Rural Life which had occupied the first floor of the former village school, now the Community Centre, since 1980.

Photograph of Philip and Molly Coombe with cats, c. 1935.

Philip and Molly Combe around 1935.

Inspired by her father Philip, our benefactor Molly Coombe (1929-2007) left her home, possessions and savings to the Museum in her will. Managing Molly’s incredible bequest took some years to come to fruition, mainly due to the Museum’s unofficial nature, it was not a registered charity or business so could not legally accept it. After some years and deliberation amongst the local community, Bishopsteignton Heritage was registered as a Charitable Trust and has been investing and growing Molly’s bequest, securing it for future generations. Bishopsteignton Heritage built two houses on the plot of Molly’s home, these are let providing a constant and growing income for the charity. This means Molly’s bequest is still helping to preserve and provide access to the collection, employ experts to help future-proof the charity and even help keep the Community Centre open by using the Wilson Room for our Heritage Hub.

Molly Combe and her cousin Robert Seear c1965

Molly Coombe and her cousin Robert Seear, c. 1965, aboard the Cruise Ship Q.S.S Arkadia.

Since her death, the community worked towards realising Molly’s vision, including trying to build a surgery in the grounds of her former home and using the rent to support a museum. However, the Museum had no real legal status so, alongside the vagaries of probate and planning, these ideas never came to fruition.

After years of legal wrangling, the Museum came to rely on a shrinking number of volunteers and, with few visitors, closed in 2014. The bulk of the bequest has been protected for the community in perpetuity through 2 houses built on Molly’s land. The income from these is invested in our Heritage Hub room at the Community Centre which you can read more about in What we do.

Thanks to Molly’s generosity, Bishopsteignton Heritage has established and maintains a heritage facility in Bishopsteignton in the form of our Heritage Hub. Among our greatest achievements, the Heritage Hub is not only a store for the Bishopsteignton Archive but is also a place where local people can gather to explore their heritage. 

Bishopsteignton Heritage Trustees May 2022

Bishopsteignton Heritage Trust is governed by a board of Trustees. They are Ken Irvin, Jess Gibby, John Parkes, John Reynolds, Liz Kirkland, Surya Patterson, Nigel Edwards and Nigel Woollen. The Trustees are lead by Chairman John Parkes and fulfil a variety of roles such as finance, property management and project oversight.

The Heritage Hub provided us with a space to work in together for over 3 years. From 2018 to 2021, Trustee Ken Irvin lead the organisation as Chairman with help from Creative Consultant, Yvonne-Hellin-Hobbs. During this time the organisation was developed into the centre and focal point for history and heritage in the village that it remains and, with the help of a large group of volunteer researchers, over 200 histories were created and published!

From the Hub we have catalogued and digitised a significant portion of the archive, enjoyed school reunions, managed anniversary projects such as the First World War centenary and VE75 and created opportunities for locals and young people to volunteer and gain work experience in the heritage sector. We have achieved all this alongside learning and sharing more than ever before about the story of our special village.

Photograph of Bishopsteignton Heritage Hub Team

The Bishopsteignton Heritage Hub Team in April 2022: Imogen Smith, James Hooper and Dawn Rogers.

The Heritage Hub provided us with a space to work in together for over 3 years. From 2018 to 2021, Trustee Ken Irvin lead the organisation as Chairman with help from Creative Consultant, Yvonne-Hellin-Hobbs. During this time the organisation was developed into the centre and focal point for history and heritage in the village that it remains and, with the help of a large group of volunteer researchers, over 200 histories were created and published!

From the Hub we have catalogued and digitised a significant portion of the archive, enjoyed school reunions, managed anniversary projects such as the First World War centenary and VE75 and created opportunities for locals and young people to volunteer and gain work experience in the heritage sector. We have achieved all this alongside learning and sharing more than ever before about the story of our special village.

Photograph of Bishopsteignton Heritage Hub Team

The Bishopsteignton Heritage Hub Team in April 2022: Imogen Smith, James Hooper and Dawn Rogers.

Dawn Rogers – Hub Manager

Dawn started volunteering with Bishopsteignton Heritage in 2018, helping with research, collections management, events co-ordination and outreach. Since then Dawn has published several histories on this website as well as become a fully trained cataloguer and digitiser. Having become Hub Manager in 2022, Dawn is now the first port of call for inquiries, visitors and donations as well as still working on collections management, events and outreach.

James Hooper – Digital Assets Manager

James was introduced to the project in 2018 to help the organisation learn about GDPR compliance but was quickly enticed into creating a beautiful new website to showcase the work of the Creative Consultant and Volunteers. James was the software-development lead on the ODIN project which sought to create a custom collections management system suited to the mixed community archive collection. James works on maintaining and improving this website and developing new and improved versions of the ODIN database.

Imogen Smith – Archivist

Imogen began volunteering for Bishopsteignton Heritage in 2018 while she was studying Archival Practice at the University of Plymouth. Before graduating her Master’s in 2019, Imogen helped to establish professional collections management procedures and helped with the ODIN project, protecting and cataloguing the collection so that it can be preserved and accessed. Imogen works on maintaining collections management and training colleagues and volunteers to help with cataloguing, digitisation and much more.

If you would like to know more about Bishopsteignton Heritage’s history, please don’t hesitate to get in touch by using our Contact page! Otherwise, if you want to know about the services we provide, or are interested in volunteering, check out Can we help you? and Join the team.

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