Have you ever wondered how a museum is born? Well if you visit the Museum of Dartmoor Life in Okehampton you can see. On the top floor, in a large cabinet, lies a rather boring iron ball. You would probably ignore it, being attracted by more flashy objects in the collection, but if that lump of metal could talk, what a tale it could tell.
Our beautiful windswept moors saw the Royalist troops led by Sir Ralph Hopton in 1643 battle against the Parliamentarian Major-General James Chudleigh. It took at least four men to move and operate even the smallest cannons and they were not particularly effective. Our moor must have been littered with cannonballs then but they still occasionally turn up today so keep your eyes peeled when out walking.
In 1966 a seven year old Alan Endacott found this remnant of the English Civil War not far from his family farm of Clannaborough in Throwleigh. We will never know if it was a Roundhead or Cavalier cannon that the ball was fired from, but that moment of holding a tactile piece of history in his hands was enough to inspire Alan to learn as much as he could about the history of Dartmoor and to start collecting anything and everything people would give him. Alan’s love of historic artefacts soon filled up an unused cottage on the farm, transforming it into his own private museum. Further collection items came from farm sales and he absorbed tales of the past like a sponge, from every local he met.
Ten years later the spark lit by that cannonball led Alan to join the Okehampton and District Museum Association, led by John Young. They purchased the run down buildings that now make up the Museum Courtyard and set about raising money to do the conversion. In 1981 Alan offered his collection to the Museum to get it started and forty years later his collection is still on show.
Alan went on to help run and renovate the Museum and also gained an MA in Museum Studies, worked at Finch Foundry, became an area manager for English Heritage, trained as a stained glass artist, wrote a book about the history of Okehampton and continued with his interest in archaeological fieldwork. Alan himself said:
‘Whoever fired – or dropped- that cannonball all those centuries ago had no idea what amazing journeys it would send one young boy on.’