Celebrations as mini Museum officially opens in Tavistock: ‘It is fantastic that Devon and Cornwall’s policing heritage is being preserved in this way’

Policing museum Tavistock

Decades of policing history in Devon and Cornwall was celebrated with the official opening of a new museum in Tavistock.

The Museum of Policing in Devon and Cornwall (MOPIDAC) unveiled its mini premises on Tuesday, March 5.

Alison Hernandez, Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony, at Tavistock’s Court Gate building, in Bedford Square.

The mini museum is the result of years of perseverance to find a premises where artefacts, documents and photographs charting Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly’s policing history and heritage can be displayed to the public.

After the official opening, a short dedication was held inside the building to honour Trustee Bill Tupman, who played a pivotal role in founding the museum. Bill, 74, died in March 2023 just weeks before the Court Gate lease was signed.

Bill Tupman
L to R: Standing in front of the plaque dedicated to Bill Tupman (inset) is Bill Skelly QPM, a founding Trustee of the South West Police Heritage Trust (now MOPIDAC), Ulrike Richards MOPIDAC Vice-chair, Cathy Tupman, one of Bill Tupman’s daughters, MOPIDAC Chairman Steve Pearce QPM DL. Photo: MOPIDAC.

Pam Giles, museum volunteer and trustee, said: “I found it quite an emotional day, seeing the mini museum finally come to fruition after so long.

“I have been with the museum for 17 years since the beginning. There were six of us when we started and there’s no one left from that group now, apart from me.

“It was a very long time ago I sat in the conference room at Middlemoor and was part of discussions about what was going to be done with the collection.”

Jim Colwell, Acting Chief Constable of Devon & Cornwall Police, said: “I was delighted to be invited to the official opening of the mini museum in Tavistock and see for myself the hard work that has gone into the project.

“I applaud the efforts of all the volunteers, trustees and others over the years who have got the museum to this point.”

He added: “It is fantastic that Devon and Cornwall’s policing heritage is being preserved in this way and we can celebrate the new public accessibility which means more people in our communities can enjoy the artefacts and memorabilia on display, as well as learn more about the history of the force.”

police museum Devon
MOPIDAC Chairman Steve Pearce QPM DL with MOPIDAC Trustee, Supt. Sara Crane. Photo: MOPIDAC.

Pam, who retired from the force in 2003 and was Devon and Cornwall’s first resident female police motorcyclist, said the search for a space where the public could see the collection had been on the wish-list for almost 20 years.

She said: “When I think back to those days, and what we are now, it’s just unbelievable. I was overcome, because people don’t know where we have been, what it’s taken to achieve, and what we have accomplished. It’s fantastic.

Police museum Devon
L to R: Keith Tester MOPIDAC volunteer, MOPIDAC volunteer Jane Mahany, MOPIDAC CEO Greg White, Ulrike Richards MOPIDAC Vice-chair, MOPIDAC Chairman Steve Pearce QPM DL, MOPIDAC Patron John Casson MBE, PCC Alison Hernandez, Acting CC Jim Colwell, Museum Curator Alison Holmes, MOPIDAC volunteer Sue Crowley, MOPIDAC Trustee and volunteer Pam Giles, Sandy Goscomb D & C Police Director of Finance and Resources, MOPIDAC volunteer Derek Crowley, MOPIDAC Trustee Bill Skelly QPM, MOPIDAC Trustee Irene Andrews. Photo: MOPIDAC.

“To see everybody in the museum was just wonderful, and I thought of all the incredible people, past and present, who got it to that point.”
She added: “The museum is yesterday’s history and tomorrow’s future, keeping the past in the present, and that’s why we have got to keep it going.”

Pam said securing a premises had been on the agenda for the last 18 years, revealing previous curators searched for suitable premises for more than a decade.

“This is the first time the public will have unrestricted physical access to a section of the museum,” said Pam.

“It’s something we’ve wanted to have for as long as I can remember. Seeing it open brought tears to my eyes.”

policing museum Devon
L to R: MOPIDAC Trustee Richard Ward, volunteer Jazmine Montier, MOPIDAC Trustee Andrew Bickley, MOPIDAC Patron John Casson MBE, Ulrike Richards MOPIDAC Vice-chair, Martin Laver MOPIDAC Trustee. Photo: MOPIDAC.

Pam, who joined Devon and Cornwall Constabulary in 1975, added: “I spent 30 years in the job and so that’s why it’s important to me to see it preserved.

“It’s part of my life and it makes me emotional because I know what’s in the collection, and now the public has the chance to see it.”

The museum stores its vast collection of artefacts at Okehampton Police Station. Its archive of thousands of documents and photographs are kept at the Devon Heritage Centre, in Exeter.

“A lot of the archive and collection has been saved from skips and tips, and it’s important it is protected,” said Pam, who served as a District Inspector in south Devon.

“When people started forming the collection, they didn’t realise the importance of what they were doing.

“My hope now is for a permanent space for the collection and to see the digitisation project develop so more people have access to the archive.
“And I hope those who visit will continue to support the museum by becoming members.”

Police museum Devon
L to R: MOPIDAC Trustee Richard Ward, MOPIDAC Chairman Steve Pearce QPM DL, Acting CC Jim Colwell, Tavistock County Councillor Debo Sellis, PCC Alison Hernandez. Photo: MOPIDAC.

The museum first set its sights on the Tavistock Court Gate building in 2021, then secured funding through a grant to sign a long-term lease.

It is currently working towards achieving Museum Accreditation, where it must follow national standards in managing the collection.

Planned exhibits for 2024 include personal stories charting the history of the region’s women in policing.

Greg White, MOPIDAC CEO, said: “I am always aware we can only build when foundations are well-laid. We are building on what has happened in the past.

“Times have not always been as sweet or straightforward for the museum, so the team is grateful to the day-in, day-out commitment of trustees over years, plus our volunteer team. We couldn’t have accomplished half of what we have without them.

“The mini museum might be small, but it’s significant. The contents inside are but a tiny fraction of the collection and archive we look after.
“Now we have premises that are open to the public, we can look ahead to accreditation and fundraising partnerships, which have always been long hoped ambitions for the museum.”

The Museum of Policing in Devon and Cornwall is a registered charity supported by the Office of the Police & Crime Commissioner to collect, preserve, and share the history of policing in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

Bill Tupman
L to R: MOPIDAC Trustee Irene Andrews, Acting Chief Constable Jim Colwell and Bill Skelly QPM, a founding Trustee of the South West Police Heritage Trust (now MOPIDAC) who paid tribute to Trustee Bill Tupman, who died in 2023, with a plaque dedication Photo: MOPIDAC.
Police museum Tavistock
L to R: Dr Brendan Brookshaw University of Plymouth lecturer in policing, MOPIDAC Chairman Steve Pearce QPM DL, MOPIDAC Trustee Supt. Sara Crane. Photo: MOPIDAC.