Built on the site of Mary Anning’s home
The museum has a very interesting history. It stands in one of the older parts of Lyme Regis, formerly crowded with houses like those which can still be glimpsed up alleyways in Bridge Street and Coombe Street. One of them was the house where Mary Anning was born and where she sold fossils before she moved to Broad Street in 1826.
Built by Thomas E D Philpot in 1900-1 the museum stood empty and unused for nearly 20 years, and during the First World War, it served as a Red Cross depot. In 1920 Philpot’s niece, Caroline, gave the museum to the Borough of Lyme, and in March 1921 two rooms were opened by Dr Wyatt Wingrave, the first honorary curator.
1939 to 1969
However, from 1939 the museum suffered a severe decline. The Borough took over the building during the Second World War, using the ground floor as an ARP report post and the cellar as an air raid shelter.
Rather neglected, it wasn’t until the early 1960s when a group of people, including glass engraver Laurence Whistler, took a new interest in the museum, which gradually revived. But by this time the building was deteriorating badly; the exposed east wing had to be demolished due to dilapidation, its utilitarian replacement completed in 1969.
Author John Fowles became Honorary Curator from 1978 – 1988. He set up and funded the Friends of the Museum who provided the volunteers to man the desk and welcome visitors.
But sadly, the Museum’s structure was by this time very nearly unsafe. In 1993 the trustees cleared the museum for work to start on its regeneration. The first gallery was officially opened in 1997 by John Fowles. The redevelopment culminated in the museum winning the top national museum prize, the Gulbenkian, in 1999.
This article is based on a leaflet A Brief History of Lyme Regis Philpot Museum by Amy Blacklock & Cate Bennett.