Looe Museum

Looe MuseumOld Guildhall Museum & Gaol
Higher Market Street
East Looe

Opening Information

Open 11:00 to 16:00 daily late March to mid October


Adults £2.00, Children £1.00, Families £4.50

Disabled access is very restricted due to the design of the building. However, the curator has collated files of information on displays on the first floor for the use of those who cannot manage stairs.

Museum News

All the volunteers were saddened by the recent death of Neil Birchwood-Harper who was the archivist at the museum and with his wife Barbara, the curator, had developed the museum to what it is today. Although they resigned due to ill health last year they laid the foundations for the recent Full Accreditation of the museum by the Arts Council and enabled us to receive a grant for database software to enable us to catalogue our collection on the new computer which was bought for Barbara and Neil by the ELTT and passed directly to the museum.

Looe Museum is now being managed by a small committee of volunteers together with external support from a professional museum mentor, a representative of the ELTT and Mark Camp from the Tourist Information Centre. The volunteers are keen to keep up the good work of Barbara and Neil and we plan to be open for the season on the 21st of March. We hope to open each day between 11am and 4pm through until the end of October. This does require good supply of volunteers and we are keen to attract more in order to undertake the programme of work that accreditation entails and to develop the computerised catalogue of objects in the museum. We are particularly interested to hear from people with computing, digital photography and social media skills in order to progress this work. Training and support will be given to those who would like to learn new skills in conservation and museum related activities.

However we also need new volunteers to help to welcome the many visitors during the season. The work is very rewarding meeting, greeting and conversing with the wide cross section of visitors many from abroad and many who have family connections in the area.

This is an opportunity to develop your own knowledge of the town and locality.

In the coming months the museum will be participating in the Festival of the Sea on the 1st May and in the West Looe May Fayre on the 7th May. We look forward to meeting you all.

For those interested in Family History Looe Museum will be participating in the Family History Day in Liskeard Public Hall on Saturday 21st May 10.00am to 3.00pm, organised by the South East Cornwall Museum Forum. Nine Museums with exciting research material, together with representatives of many active family history groups. Trace your ancestors and your heritage in Cornwall and beyond. Lots of friendly advice will be available. Entrance to the Family History Day is free of charge.

Looe Museum has a new display based on ‘Holidays by the Sea’. We are still seeking any items that you may have and are willing to loan to the museum in order to enhance this display. Please bring them along to the museum.

2016 is the 150th anniversary of the lifeboats in Looe and the museum will be loaning some of its objects to the RNLI for the exhibition that will they will be launching during the year. Looe Museum will also be placing special emphasis on the Life Boats in Looe to complement the RNLI display.

A reminder; some 566 years after it first opened, the Old Guildhall will have a grand opening again on the 21st March.

Old Guildhall

Looe GuildhallThe 15th Century listed Ancient Museum is in the main street to East Looe sea front.

It has a fascinating display of Looe’s history, especially fishing, boat building and, of course, smuggling.

The building itself is a marvellous exhibit as it retains many of its 550 years old original features with ancient cells (complete with prisoners) and the very old, raised magistrates bench complete with the Royal Coat of Arms.

All sorts of toys, domestic equipment, porcelain, regalia, model boats and much more besides provide interest for all the family.

History of a Town

As you walk into the upper floor of the building, you are entering the room which, from 1587 to 1878, was the East Looe Town Hall and Magistrates Court. Beneath the magnificent timber-framed roof, laws were made and enforced and the town was administered by the Mayor and Corporation, known as Burgesses. The weights and measures used to enforce fair trading are displayed in this area, as are a growing number of local wills and deeds.

It’s People

Inside the Looe MuseumInside Looe MuseumThe fireplace around which the worthies gathered now houses an 18th century grate, the heart of a home. Children can handle objects from the 19th and 20th centuries that are displayed in the hearth and on a table.

Looe museum covers the social and economic history of Looe from early times to the present day. On the lower floor there are also several prehistoric artefacts from the area, notable a tooth from a Mastadon, similar to a mammoth, over two million years old, plus a collection of crystals and minerals.

And their Daily Lives

Fishing has been a mainstay of the town for centuries and we have several displays of artefacts, model boats and even a pilchard press. In addition, there are a number of easy to follow folders on a range of related topics about the industry and the sea. We even have a “cat o’9 tails”. The area behind the museum is the old town, sometimes called the “back streets”. This dates from medieval times and, as part of our extensive photographic archive, we have images of the area from c 1870 as well as photos of West Looe, boats, ships and local people. We even have the old town stocks from the 18th century.

Looe Island

Looe IslandLooe Island is a place of mystery and legend and the place which is most popular with museum visitors. In the early centuries, there was a Celtic Christian chapel here linked with the mainland Priory of Lamanna. Later, it was at the centre of smuggling in the 18th and 19th centuries and from the 1960’s until 2003, the Atkins sisters lived busy and well documented island life.

Family History at the Museum

Researching family history is a popular hobby and many visitors, having begun their trees, want to explore the locality where their ancestors lived. Those with roots in Looe area can search 13 local Parish Registers by microfiche in the museum, and can see their forebears’ signatures or marks. Also, we hold some local Victorian Census listings which will give clues to wider family groups. Our staff can help with advice on how to start or continue your research and in addition, some local family tree information is already on our files and you may even find images of ancestors or their neighbourhood, in our archive of over 400 old photographs.

We have details of some old deeds & wills & much, much more so contact us if you'd like further information.

Reviews from our community:

'How many museums are there like this? The range of artefacts and 'props' is amazing for such a small building. Virtually the whole historic period is covered and with special emphasis on some aspects, e.g. family history and the Second World War. Just as importantly, the staff (who I suspect are volunteers) are superb. For £1.80 (now £2) admission you could while away one or more hours.'

'I know it is a museum but I really felt I was going back in time. Not like a modern museum but more like you are close to the real Looe of old. They seem to be volunteers sharing what has been collected from the local people. Thank you.'

'A huge mine of information, and extremely interesting if you have the time to look and learn. Worth visiting more than once as you will see different things each time.'

'This stone-built building in the centre of Looe has at various times been the local gaol, the Magistrates Court and the town's Guildhall; now, it is the Town Museum and a good one it is as well. The entrance is guarded by a cannon and once inside, you realise what a treasure-trove of objects and exhibits are on show. You enter up a flight of exterior steps directly into what used to be the offices of the East Looe Town Hall and the Magistrates Court, this being on the upper floor.

There are also displays of all manner of domestic tools although the museum does concentrate, rather unsurprisingly, on the three occupations most closely associated with the town, namely boat-building, smuggling and fishing.

On the lower floor are displays of minerals, ancient finds and a few bones of ancient mastodons. The old cells are still in evidence and generally, throughout the museum, if you stroll around for a second time,you will inevitably "see" objects that you missed first time around.

A great little museum, well worth a visit, especially on a cold or wet day. I had left my camera behind when we visited, so I returned later on in the day to take the photographs when the museum was closed'