Museum History

Built on the site of Mary Anning’s home

Lyme Beach (1900s). Looking towards the site of the Museum

Lyme Beach (1900s). Looking towards the site of the Museum

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.

Mary Anning's House, by W.H.Prideaux and Edward Liddon 1842

Mary Anning’s House, by W.H.Prideaux and Edward Liddon 1842

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.

The building of the Museum 1901

The building of the Museum 1901

Caroline Philpot

Caroline Philpot

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. For more information see the detailed History of Lyme Regis Museum by Richard Bull.

The Museum after regeneration

The Museum after regeneration



Lyme Regis Museum completed the building of the new Mary Anning Wing, the museum’s much needed £1,500,000 extension, in July 2017.

The Mary Anning Wing provides our museum, which is predominantly housed in a period building, with the services it needs to bring it into the 21st century:

  • An accessible, interactive geology gallery telling the story of Mary Anning and Lyme’s fantastic fossils
  • A state-of-the-art Fine Foundation Learning Centre where we welcome and accommodate families and schools, and run exhibitions and events
  • A lift, ensuring all our visitors can visit the museum’s first floor, plus accessible visitor toilets
  • An extended shop selling a range of ethically sourced products
  • Absolutely stunning views across Lyme Bay – the only public building in Lyme to offer this.

What does the Mary Anning Wing look like?

The Mary Anning Wing stands on the museum’s small terrace, on the seaward side of the building. It looks different from the original building and is contemporary in design. It is constructed of zinc and glass. Zinc is an ideal material for coastal locations, it doesn’t slowly dissolve like the local limestone nor does it rust, as it has no iron content. Our zinc is the colour of the ‘blue lias’ the local stone visible in the cliffs that dominate Lyme Regis. The colour was also chosen to reflect the dark slate roofs of the town. And glass? Well, we wanted to ensure that as many people as possible can enjoy the fantastic open views of Lyme Bay.

Lyme Regis seafront is a combination of old and new, of traditional and contemporary, and the Mary Anning Wing is a fascinating addition to the varied architecture of the town.

Mary Anning Wing