Victorian craftswomen in Dunkeswell

Victorian craftswomen in Dunkeswell

HAP are currently working on a project called Understanding Dunkeswell Abbey Church. This Victorian Church, hidden away amongst the ruins of Dunkeswell Abbey in the Blackdown Hills, has a very unusual history.

It was built by a family of women who poured their time and energy into mastering the craft skills needed to create architectural fixings. Using a large drawing room at their home as a workshop they produced stained glass windows, altars, reredoses, a font, a pulpit, a reading desk, capitalscorbels and furniture reconstituted from antique carvings.

For Women’s History Month we’ve written a blog for the Blackdown Hills AONB about these remarkable women: The Simcoe sisters: Victorian craftswomen in Dunkeswell.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the women of the Simcoe family, come along to our open day on May 7th.

Dunkeswell Abbey Church with the Abbey Ruins in foreground
Dunkeswell Abbey Church with the ruins of Dunkeswell Abbey in the foreground
Do you have Memories of Dunkeswell Abbey Church?

Do you have Memories of Dunkeswell Abbey Church?

HAP are delighted to be working on a project with Dunkeswell Abbey Church Trust, called Understanding Dunkeswell Abbey Church. The project, funded by The Pilgrim Trust, will explore the history, current state and heritage significance of the former church at Dunkeswell Abbey, created by the women of the Simcoe family in the C19th.

As part of the project we are asking people to share their memories of Dunkeswell Abbey Church to help form a new archive. Whether you live in Dunkeswell, Hemyock, Exeter or further afield we’d love to hear your stories and anecdotes of Dunkeswell Abbey Church (Holy Trinity) and to see any photos you might have.

Please get in touch with with your stories, memories or photos. You can also say hello at our Community Open Day on Saturday 7th May 1-4pm at Dunkeswell Abbey Church. Keep an eye on our blog for more info about the open day and also the community website for Dunkeswell Abbey.

Celebrating World Book Day with Mini Mincinglake Books

Celebrating World Book Day with Mini Mincinglake Books

We had a great time on World Book Day 2022 working with a group of children in Beacon Heath, Exeter to help them discover more about Mincinglake Valley Park and create their own book.

Our heritage educator Catherine Farnell helped the children visualise Mincinglake today, and to understand the history behind it, by creating ‘archaeological layers’ which the children could ‘excavate’ and discover finds from the past, each with their own story.

Once we’d got the group thinking about Mincinglake Valley Park and inspired them with natural objects, archaeological finds and ideas, they were each given their own Mini Mincinglake Book. The children could create whatever they wanted in their books – drawings, writing, sticking, rubbings or anything else which appealed to them. We wanted to embrace all sorts of books for World Book Day – fiction and non fiction, written books and picture books, published books and self created books. For our Mini Mincinglake project we wanted the children to express themselves and explore their thoughts and ideas in their own personalised way.

The session went really well and was great fun. We’d love to develop more ways of helping children to understand and explore their local area and to express their thoughts and ideas.

The Archaeologists gave us an inspiring session. We appreciated the excellent preparation, for keeping to our timing, producing something that engaged the different ages. And generally being very easy for the children to relate to. Great work they are doing! 

Di, Elfins group leader

Many thanks to the Woodcraft Folk’s Elfins group and to Tesco Bags of Help for their community funding.

Education Outreach at St Nicholas Priory

Education Outreach at St Nicholas Priory

It was great to be part of a team that worked with 120 school pupils from Sticklepath Community Primary Academy, Barnstaple last week. The school visited St Nicholas Priory in Exeter to learn about what life was like during the Tudor period.

HAP’s Education Specialist Catherine Farnell ran a mini museum activity, where the children got to handle reconstructed historic artefacts. Catherine said..

“It’s always a privilege to work in such a historically significant building with enthusiastic children. It was wonderful to give them the opportunity to have a hands-on exploration of the Tudor period. The children were full of enthusiasm and interest.”

Other workshops included exploring the Tudor kitchen, trying on Tudor clothes and learning about history and climate change.

St Nicholas Priory is Exeter’s oldest building. It was founded in 1087 as a Benedictine monastery and was home to monks for over 400 years. The church, Chapter House, dormitory and cloisters were pulled down following the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536. The Northern and Western ranges survived and became the home of wealthy Tudor merchants. When you visit the Priory today it is presented as a Tudor town house, home of the wealthy Hurst family. With replica furniture, artefacts and painted in the bright colours used at the time, it gives a unique insight into Tudor life.

If you haven’t yet discovered St Nicholas Priory, it’s a wonderful venue and well worth a visit. Explore the Tudor kitchen (look out for period cooking demonstrations), bedroom, parlour and the Great Hall. Visit the St Nicholas Priory website for opening hours and events.

If you are a teacher and are interested in arranging a visiting to St Nicholas priory, please email

St Nicholas Priory is run by Exeter Historic Building Trust. You can find out more about the excellent work they do in Exeter here.

Torbay Heritage Strategy Finalist for RTPI Award

Torbay Heritage Strategy Finalist for RTPI Award

We’re delighted that Torbay’s Heritage Strategy, developed by HAP consultant Katherine Findlay in partnership with Torbay Council and Torbay Culture, has been shortlisted for an award from the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). The strategy is a finalist for the RTPI South West Award for Excellence in Plan Making Practice. The Awards champion the very best examples of planning and planners in the South West and demonstrate the positive impact planning has on our quality of life and celebrate professional expertise.

I’m absolutely delighted that we have been shortlisted for this award. Our clients on this project, Torbay Council and Torbay Culture, have supported a creative and collaborative approach that integrates planning in a historic environment with economic, social and cultural development. It’s very pleasing that RTPI has recognised that vision and the work that has gone into bringing it to fruition.

Katherine Findlay, HAP Consultant

To develop the strategy, HAP carried out consultations with over 800 people and numerous organisations and partnerships – including local museums, heritage organisations, National Trust and the English Riviera UNESCO Global Geopark. We also worked closely with Historic England. HAP consultant Katherine Findlay has also been carrying out follow up work including a recently published Heritage Interpretation Framework, and ongoing action-planning which was supported by the government’s Culture Recovery Fund award to Torbay Culture from the Heritage Fund.

Decisions on the RTPI awards will be made during November. You can read more about the RTPI awards here.

The Torbay Heritage Strategy can be viewed and downloaded here.