Social History

Social History

Our objects and ephemera relating to social history cover many themes: rural and folk history, games and pastimes, costume and accessories, musical instruments and militaria, to name but a few.

Over 8,000 items are kept in store and these may be viewed by appointment only. The biggest single collection is that of Charles Laycock, whose great passion for preserving all aspects of Devon's rural way of life, has provided the Museum with records of exceptional provenance of 19th and 20th century traditional life.

Charles Hey Laycock (1879 - 1943)

" I should like to point out the desirability of acquiring and preserving at least one typical example of the old Devon farm-house, with its furniture and utensils intact, before it is too late and they have all been swept away and forgotten. Or if this could not be conveniently done, the desirability of erecting on some suitable spot … a "life-size" model in lath and plaster, or better still in cob, of a typical old farm-house, complete with its furniture and household utensils, as they appeared up to about fifty years ago."

Laycock led a double life. In Torquay and London he was Charles H. Laycock, the Oxford educated son of a wealthy Huddersfield family, who used his wealth to dedicate his life to the furtherance of his personal interests. But at his Moretonhampstead home he was Old Charlie Laycock, Devon countryman, speaking its dialect and singing its folksongs.

From 1936 Laycock began to present various items to the Torquay Natural History Society. These joined collections already presented to the Museum by Mrs Marjory Fielden and soon a Devon folk collection began to grow. Following his death in 1943, Torquay Natural History Society found that he had left all the articles from his Moretonhampstead home and the sum of £10,000 to the Museum with instructions to build a gallery for the permanent display and preservation of his collection. In addition to these collections, numerous individuals have donated hundreds of items relating to traditional Devon life and together they form one of the finest regional collections to be found in any English museum.

Victorian Domestic Life

This part of the collection has many items that give a glimpse of life in the Victorian era. It shows how they decorated their homes, with ornamental lighting such as candle lustres and lanterns. The types of ornamentation and curiosities that they had on display, including ships in bottles and elaborate mantel clocks as well as furniture and textiles, amongst which are sewing tables and lace pillow covers. In addition, there are items that show how they maintained their houses, with a variety of objects including flat irons, crimping boards and pleaters for laundering and tea caddies, firkins and stoneware for storage. Finally there are objects which were used daily for cooking and baking, including pots and pans, trivets, recipe books and bellows.


Entertainment was a key part of Victorian life. The collection includes children's toys and games, dolls house furniture and a fine collection of animals (part of a set of Noah's Ark). More unusual objects include such as a huge collection of seals from Mr Hansford-Worth and some large models of famous British landmarks (including Tower Bridge) made entirely from matchsticks! There is also a fine collection of musical items, which include a music box and a mechanical bird in a cage. Finally there are objects that relate to writing, including pens, inkwells and a vast collection of card cases and greetings cards.


Clothing was a very important indicator of social status in the Victorian era and the Museum’s collection of clothes is representative of this, including men's, women's and children's clothing and accessories, parasols, shawls, hats, shoes and walking canes. There is a collection of items that were for personal adornment (some Victorian, some pre-Victorian), including a hair comb (said to have belonged to Elizabeth I), mourning jewellery, purses, spectacles and pocket watches and a vast collection of Victorian fans, made from all manner of materials.


Our collection of items of militaria covers a range of past conflicts and includes a large collection of medals and decorations awarded in many different campaigns, and items of uniform and equipment from the Second World War.

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