Dartmouth Visitor Centre’s Newcomen Engine House has made it into Top of the Pops.
The museum in Mayor’s Avenue is featured in the top 20 most visited free attractions in the South West. According to a survey of visitor trends run by VisitEngland, the Newcomen Museum saw some 70,000 visitors during 2018 – making it the 13th most visited free attraction that year in the South West.
The Newcomen Engine beat such names as the Swanage Railway Museum, St Ives Society of Artists and Camel Valley Vineyards in the VisitEngland league table and came just below such attractions as the Clifton Suspension Bridge Visitor Centre and leaders Bath Abbey and The Donkey Sanctuary at Sidmouth, along with Bristol and Wells Cathedrals and Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery.
Dartmouth’s Newcomen Museum saw 17 per cent more visitors than in 2017, sharply bucking the average trend recorded by VisitEngland, which saw a drop of four per cent in visits to all heritage/visitor centres.
Karen Perrow, manager of the Dartmouth Visitor Centre, which houses the Newcomen Engine, said she was delighted by the results. “Without doubt the Newcomen Engine is the hidden gem of Dartmouth,” she said. “The atmospheric engine invention by Dartmouth ironmonger Thomas Newcomen in 1712 is highly significant in the history of the industrial revolution. “Our engine dates from around 1760 and is probably the oldest surviving in the world.
“Two year’s ago the engine was recognised as a mechanism of major engineering importance when she beat off contenders from around the world to be awarded the IMechE Engineering Heritage Award – the oldest original artefact so far to receive the accolade.”
Karen said over the past couple of years the visitor centre had been working to try and raise awareness of the engine house by opening the entrance to the Newcomen Plaza into the museum building. Supported by Dartmouth Town Council and members of the Newcomen Society based at the Science Museum in London, who hold regular workshops at the engine house, interest had steadily grown, she said.
One new initiative has been to introduce a paying slot machine whereby visitors can set the engine working. Karen said future plans included enhancing the Newcomen experience even further by opening up the visitor attraction with the creation of a glass screened viewing area.
“We have recently been granted planning permission for a major development scheme at the visitor centre and will shortly be launching a major fund raising campaign,” she continued. “Our volunteers are passionate about what they do and so many people have complimented us this year on the standard of what we are providing for the good of the town. “We hope everybody in Dartmouth will be able to get behind us on this project which will provide a lasting legacy for the town’s history and heritage.”
As well as high visitor numbers at the centre, it was a fantastic summer for the Discover Dartmouth website, run by Visit South Devon. During July, website sessions grew by 9.4 per cent with August seeing an impressive 12.1 per cent increase in sessions and 13.3 per cent raise in users. Over the summer, the team also welcomed the 6,000th ‘Like’ to the Discover Dartmouth Facebook page.
DVC chairman Hilary Bastone praised everyone involved with the centre for their hard work and commitment over the past two years. “Thanks to the hard work of the volunteers, staff, directors and valuable contribution of our subscribers the town as a whole has benefited tremendously,” he said.
Photo: Pictured is manager Karen Perrow (back row, third left) with volunteers and directors of the Dartmouth Visitor Centre wearing their distinctive polo shirts donated by Jack Speak, of Dartmouth.