As she comes to the end of her internship (where did those 6 weeks go?!) Lisa has discovered an object from in the MERL collections which has special personal significance…
Being proud to call myself a Devonian (I moved to Reading for university), I was determined when picking out an object from the collections to find something relating to my hometown of Barnstaple in North Devon. Interestingly, I came across an oak sideboard made around 1905 by Shapland and Petter of Barnstaple. Shapland and Petter was a prominent furniture company and has been for over 100 years the town’s largest employer up until recently, with the company having quite a personal meaning to me which I will explain later.
The company was originally set up by Henry Shapland, a cabinet maker who joined forces in 1865 with Henry Petter. From manufacturing wardrobes to bookcases and chairs, the company’s products were sold both around the country and Europe. In addition, it also had a shop in London and even created furniture for the writer Edgar Wallace. Known for their high quality craftsmanship, they catered for the popular tastes of a burgeoning urban middle class and later merged to form Shapland Leaderflush in 1998.
This oak sideboard was acquired as part of the Museum’s Collecting 20th Century Rural Cultures project and was designed by William Cowie who had been a student at Barnstaple School of Art. Designed in the ‘Arts and Craft’ style that was popular at this time, it is a beautiful example of craftsmanship, with its focus being on rural romanticism. The relationship between the town and countryside can be seen with this object particularly; the farmhouse dresser at the beginning of the 20th century had become a fashionable piece of furniture for the urban Edwardian home. It has three glazed cupboards, along with decorative metal work, a geometric arch and cut out hearts.
The Shaplands factory in Barnstaple has a personal meaning to me as not only did both my parents work there for many years when I was younger, but also my grandparents. I even have vague memories of my mum dropping my dad off at the factory at 7:30 when he would start work. (I hated having to get up that early!) Sadly, the factory closed in 2012 due to the effects of the recession, with the company moving the manufacturing side of the business to Nottingham. Hundreds were affected by the factory closure, with many people having worked there their whole life.
Plans are already underway for the building of an Asda where the factory once stood. Along with a supermarket, a hotel, 350 houses, shops and cafes will also be built on this site. Whilst this will create more jobs, there is already a huge Tesco five minutes away from this site which raises the question, why do we need yet another supermarket? You can even see the Tesco in the background of this photo which shows just how close the supermarkets will be! Perhaps this is simply me not wanting my hometown to become a concrete jungle and my inner ‘countryness’ raging out of me, not looking at the positives that it will bring. But in all seriousness, is it right that the countryside is being inundated with more supermarkets that we don’t need at the expense of a town’s heritage and landscape?
Nonetheless, it was lovely to find an object in MERL’s collection that relates so much to me and where I am from, it’s just a shame that the factory is no longer standing.