Saturday, 23 August 2014

Maine exhibition at Topsham

Devon's Topsham celebrates its US link in the Entwhistle Room

Yes, as far as Friends of Fairlynch Mike and Margaret Wilson are concerned, ‘Celebrating Topsham Maine’ is probably the big exhibition at Topsham Museum. The Entwhistle Room is small, but Margaret, who has done the research, has managed to convey a massive amount of interesting information about the Devon port’s sister-town. All displayed on attractively designed panels.

I first met Mike and Margaret when we were involved with former Fairlynch Chairman Roger Kingwill a few years ago in designing the Budleigh museum’s ‘Survival!’ exhibition to mark the centenary of Scott’s last Antarctic trip. 

I knew nothing about Dr Murray Levick, the expedition's doctor and zoologist who had come to live near Budleigh, and not much more about Antarctica and Scott's ship, the Terra Nova. But I learnt a lot from Roger, Mike and Margaret about planning a museum exhibition. ‘Celebrating Topsham Maine’ is characterised by the same authoritative and well structured approach to the subject.

A scroll of greetings to the town of Topsham, Maine, USA, from the Topsham Community Association, the Topsham History Group, the Topsham Society and Topsham Museum

Topsham, in the State of Maine, USA, became a town in its own right only in 1764 and consisted then of only 12 uninhabited buildings. This year the town is celebrating 250 years of incorporation, and the displays trace its development from a small frontier town to today’s community of around 7,000 inhabitants.  

Pejepscot Paper Mill, Topsham, Maine (also known as Bowdoin Mill)
Image credit: Marc N. Belanger

A good insight is given into the way in which the fortunes of the American town stemmed from its importance in industries such as lumber, paper, fishing and furs, including ice. The unhappy side of its origins is not forgotten, with mention of the  way in which the indigenous peoples of the region suffered with the arrival of Europeans 400 years ago.

Conflicts broke out between these two civilisations who, as we read, could have been living on different planets. Many merchants among the settlers were eager to exploit the region’s riches. “These wily operators often extracted land from the unworldly Indians after plying them with alcohol and other devious ploys.”  

A visit to Topsham, just under ten miles from Budleigh Salterton, is always a pleasure, offering something new to admire or wonder about on each occasion, including those gabled merchants’ houses in the Strand.  


Attractively designed wall panels provide plenty of information 

I hadn’t realised that within half a century of John Cabot’s discovery of Newfoundland in 1497, European fisherman were crossing the Atlantic to exploit the great fishing banks and that Devon’s Topsham had the largest fishing fleet in England apart from London.

So, do call at our fine sister-museum when you next visit the town, and make sure you see ‘Celebrating Topsham Maine.’ The exhibition runs until 30 October. The Museum is open from 2.00 - 5.00 pm daily, except Tuesdays, but is open on Tuesdays during August. Admission is free. 

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