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A family day out to Bygones

Torquay is very good at satisfying nostalgia-hungry visitors.

The town itself is a bit of a throwback to a forgotten era and I mean that in the nicest possible way.

Having lived here for a couple of years now, I love the fact we’ve got fish and chips, a pier, amusement arcades, crabbing buckets and ballroom dancing, as well as loads of huge, grand buildings that remind us that Torquay was once the playground of the Victorian gentry.

       

It’s no surprise then that family-run Bygones in St Marychurch is one of the area’s most popular attractions, with three floors of British history designed to take visitors back through time.

We left 2017 well and truly behind and stepped straight into a cobbled Victorian street, complete with sound effects from paper boys shouting out the headlines, babies crying and people going about their daily 1800s-type business.

I can’t begin to describe the sheer amount of detail present in this and indeed all of the Bygones displays. There is just so much to look at. Every authentically-re-created shop is stocked full of memorabilia and curiosities, from old-fashioned sweets to dolls, tins and toys.

    

    

You cannot hope to see it all in one go but we did our best to look in most of the shop windows, buoyed along by the occasional rousing rendition of the national anthem, which sounded out from the speakers over our heads.

The kids had a quick pic next to Queen Vic before we headed upstairs to explore the ‘period rooms’, displays created to mimic the bedrooms, kitchen, living rooms and bathroom of Victorian families.

Behind us were more fabulously full cabinets choc-full of artefacts, homeware, toiletries, shoes and equipment. If the Victorians used it, it was in there somewhere.

We scuttled past the scarily authentic nineteenth century dentist getting to grips with his horrified patient’s teeth. It seemed a good opportunity to explain to my two the importance of maintaining good oral hygiene but they had already zoomed off into the distance, hands tightly over their eyes.

      

On the way to the third floor, we found a train. An actual, real 27-tonne steam engine. Bygones founder and railway enthusiast Ken Cumings (who sadly died in June) purchased the engine back in 1986, much to the astonishment of his wife, Patricia.

The train became the centrepiece of the couple’s new business venture when it was hoisted into the old cinema building in St Marychurch by two enormous cranes - and Bygones was born.

The kids played at being train drivers while I read about the logistics of lowering a full-size steam engine into a residential area. Fascinating stuff.

Then it was onwards to the penny arcade games, with me explaining to Alice, seven, and Jake, nine, that this is what people did for fun before iPads came along.

Finally, we made our way through the rather sobering World War One trench experience and to the displays showing military memorabilia from the Second World War and other conflicts.

Families have donated precious medals, photos and other possessions from their heroic loved ones, some of whom, like Samuel Leslie Whillis, 617 Squadron RAF was killed in action during the Dambuster raid in 1943.

I could have stayed and looked at all of this for hours but the kids wanted to me to join them as they watched the magical Fantasyland, a gigantic display of miniature mechanical models that light up and play music.

See? It’s still the simple things in life that bring us pleasure.  Sometimes, it takes a trip back through the ages to remember that.

By Chrissy Harris

 

Read more about Bygones here


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