The Character of our Coast

The Character of our Coast is a new exhibition of rarely seen historic and contemporary photographs demonstrating the impact of people and climate change on North Devon’s coastal landscape over the past century. Beaford Arts and the North Devon Coast Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) have researched their photographic archives to illustrate the changes to present a “now and then” display, supported by funding from the AONB’s Sustainable Development Fund. The photographic exhibition can be seen from 2nd – 5th June at Holy Trinity Church, Westward Ho! as part of the Westward Ho! Festival. Beaford Arts and the North Devon Coast AONB will link the past with the present, to help us learn about and consider what we want for our coastal landscape in the future.

Beaford Archive background

The work of much loved photographer James Ravilious is widely known. For seventeen years James, who died in 1999, worked as a photographer-in-residence for the Beaford Centre, creating a detailed document of the landscape and communities of rural north Devon during the 1970’s and 1980’s. The James Ravilious collection is a body of over 70,000 negatives now stored in the Beaford Archive, only a small proportion of these have been digitised and are now publicly available through the Beaford Archive website. Working closely with his colleague George Tucker, James re photographed images dating back as far as the late 1800’s, building what is now known as the Beaford Old Archive. “James recorded the memories of the people who gave him the images,” says Kathryn Burrell, Archive Manager at Beaford Arts, “but those recollections were often partial, which has resulted in limited amounts of detail of many of the images”.

Contribute to our Coast

As part of the project, Beaford Arts has launched an online duplicate of The Character of our Coast exhibition to provide a platform for public discussion. “We want to invite people to tell us anything they may know about the Archive images, so that we may build a more detailed historical resource of our unique coastline” says Kathryn. As a test case for this, the Beaford Old Archive image ‘Seaweed Gatherers at their work, Appledore, date unknown’ was posted on the Beaford Archive Facebook page. The only information held was that given in the image title. Thanks to over 30 comments it is now known that the photograph was taken at Badstep at the top of the Appledore Lifeboat Slipway and that the ladies in the image were named Mary Duck, Hester Screech and Mary Tune. One contributor also informed the Beaford Archive that the laver the ladies would have been carrying in their sacks goes rather nicely with fried bread and crispy bacon! The Beaford Archive would love to hear from anyone who can contribute further knowledge or information to the images and comments can be added to the photographs in the Contribute to our Coast album at:

The AONB perspective

The special qualities of the AONB’s coastal landscape have been under recent scrutiny with the completion of a formal Seascape Character Assessment. This considers the natural and human interactions with land and sea, to create the distinctive character of the coastline. The photographs and descriptions produced for this work highlighted to the team some significant changes to the landscape during the 50 years since its designation.

“I was looking for a way of starting a wider conversation with the people who live and work along the North Devon and Torridge coasts about the future of our coastline,” said AONB manager Jenny Carey-Wood. “Technical documents aren’t for everyone and planning discussions can be contentious, but people love images of places they know and many would be surprised to see what has changed and why over the last 20, 50 or 100 years.” From his work on the Seascape project and liaising with the Beaford Arts team to identify key coastal photos, Dave Edgcombe, AONB Project Officer noticed two distinct changes over the last century, “Whilst in many places little may have appeared to have changed, in some areas such as the coastal resorts, there has been significant landscape change as these settlements have literally sprung up. Natural changes due to climate effects such as storms, cliff falls and sea level rises can be clearly seen from the images in the James Ravilious Collection and the Beaford Old Archive compared with today’s images.” “The James Ravilious Collection is a valuable heritage resource. Whilst it is very much about people in the landscape, rather than a study of landscape with people, it provides a good ‘snapshot’ in time about how we used and enjoyed the coast of North Devon some 30 to 40 years ago. Some people will notice little change, whilst for others a whole way of life and work has changed.

Exhibition Partners

Beaford Arts is the UK’s longest running rural arts organisation and in 2016 it is celebrating 50 years of supporting rural creative development across northern Devon. Through a programme of touring events and education projects, Beaford Arts works with communities across 1350 square miles of rural north Devon bounded by the Atlantic sea and moorland, providing access to high quality arts experiences. Work developing the Beaford Archive aims to further support the culture and heritage of rural communities throughout the region. Visit the James Ravilious Beaford Archive online at and the Beaford Old Archive at North Devon Coast AONB has been a designated ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ since 1959 in recognition of the spectacular coastal area and special qualities within it. The area covers 66 square miles and stretches from Combe Martin on the Exmoor coast to Marsland Mouth on the Cornish border. The work of the North Devon Coast AONB team is guided by a 5 year Management Plan overseen by the AONB Partnership, which includes representatives from national, regional and local agencies, local authorities, voluntary organisations and local community representatives. For further details see:

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