CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Devon Life today CLICK HERE

Meet the new museum director of the Burton at Bideford

PUBLISHED: 12:07 01 May 2018 | UPDATED: 12:07 01 May 2018

The Burtons new executive director, Chris Kirby

The Burtons new executive director, Chris Kirby

image copyright © guy harrop

From the deserts of Egypt to the beaches of North Devon, there’s a new face at the helm of a Devon art gallery and museum, as CATHERINE COURTENAY discovers

It’s hard not to think about mummies’ curses or Indiana Jones adventure films when meeting the new executive director of the Burton at Bideford.

Why? Because Chris Kirby is an Egyptologist; he spent 20 years visiting the country and can recount tales of long lost tombs and mysterious legends of healing serpents.

Yet Chris is now firmly ensconced in the heart of North Devon, leading Bideford’s art gallery and museum into a major new phase of its development.

The Burton has become an Arts Council National Partner Organisation, which gives it secured funding of around £80,000 pa for four years.

It’s a major boost for what is recognised as a regional cultural centre.

“I was excited to come here,” says Chris. “I felt that it was at a pivotal point and had earned its stripes to get here.”

The Burton stands in a prime position in BidefordThe Burton stands in a prime position in Bideford

Having the extra funding means: “We can go beyond being safe and experiment more.”

Sitting in his office, looking out at the sleeting rain, he comments on how wet the winter has been. “I now know why Devon has so much lush vegetation!” Moving from Coventry to Devon last September, he and his wife are living near the beach at Instow where they both revel in watching “the ongoing seasons, the skies and hills and wonderful wildlife”.

He reflects: “I get a sense that people are a lot more outdoorsy here than in the Midlands. It is such a beautiful place to be.”

The Burton has a great position, on the edge of the town’s Victoria Park, close to the waterside. The museum is on the upper floor with the gallery rooms downstairs along with a shop and craft gallery and popular French bistro, Café du Parc.

Visitor numbers have been rising in recent years, no doubt due in part to the programme which includes national shows by major artists like Antony Gormley and popular ‘family shows’, like The Clangers, the BFG in Pictures show and the forthcoming Peter Rabbit show.

Ceramics are a major feature at the BurtonCeramics are a major feature at the Burton

“We can bring in the big name artists that people would have to go to London to see otherwise,” says Chris. “But we also need to create a local response to connect to it.”

He wants exhibitions to become a catalyst in the community. “Will there be a legacy; will it resonate with people?”

Forging links with the 13 to 25-year-old age group, at the same time as keeping its loyal older support base, is crucial says Chris.

Art and culture has an important part to play. “It gives confidence and the ‘soft’ skills that are integral to society, the ability to communicate is the most important tool in all parts of our economy,” he says, before highlighting the annual schools’ exhibition.

“The confidence that comes with seeing your work displayed here and seen by so many people, that must stay with you for life.”

The seeds of Chris’ own career were sown at an early age.

The craft shop at the BurtonThe craft shop at the Burton

“I was brainwashed by my mother who was, and is even to this day, obsessed with Egypt. Her father used to take her to auctions. When she was about seven there was a mummy case which she wanted for her bedroom.”

He adds: “I grew up wanting to be an Egyptologist and dig in Egypt – and I did!”

After researching notebooks written in the 1830s, Chris found the site mentioned by the author and eventually spotted something sticking out of the sand…he’d found a tomb.

On another occasion he tracked down the place where up to the 1850s there were countless traveller reports of a famous snake with healing powers which came out of a hole in the cliff near where a sheik was buried. No-one had mentioned it since, no-one living locally would speak of it, until Chris met an elderly man who pointed to the place.

“It was the first time in 120 years that the story of the haridi snake was heard. I love the way the whole folklore thing mixes in with archaeology.”

These days, Chris has swapped the sands of Egypt for that of North Devon’s beaches – but the discoveries haven’t stopped, as is revealed on his low-tide rambles.

“As an archaeologist you’re always looking down. I’ve found bits of pottery and got very excited about it. People don’t think of Bideford as Medieval, but there it is, in the ground.

“The thing that sends a shiver down my spine is when I find fingerprints in the clay. That for me is quite something,” he says.


Follow Devon Life on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram


Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Devon Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Devon Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Devon Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from People

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Devon’s Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, also known as The Black Farmer, tells KATE WILLIAMS about his new book, Jeopardy, encouraging the embracing of risk to enrich life

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

As five members of Dartmoor Search and Rescue Ashburton celebrate 125 years of collective volunteering, we look back on their time with the organisation

Read more
Tuesday, September 25, 2018

CAROLYN SEAGER reveals how long after her mother’s death she discovered her amazing career in the service of her country

Read more
Tuesday, September 18, 2018

An author known for her novels depicting life on the Channel Islands is nonetheless happiest writing from home here in Devon

Read more
Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Fig Tree Court is a development of 14 apartments in Tiverton for retired and semi- retired over-55s with gorgeous views over the Grand Western Canal

Read more
Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Alex Green goes behind the scenes on the Dartington Hall Estate to find a community of artists, makers, farmers, and social entrepreneurs living out the legacy of its founders

Read more
Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Many people know of award-winning Roly’s Fudge, but do they know how much hard work and business insight goes into making it?

Read more
Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Topsham businessmen Steve Williams and Pete Woodham-Kay take an ethical stance on eating meat | Photos: Nick Hook

Read more
Tuesday, August 28, 2018

As llama love grips the nation, we meet a Dartmoor couple who have spent the last 11 years making them their livelihood | Words: Lydia Tewkesbury

Read more
Friday, August 24, 2018

Aimee Pagliari is the Teignmouth Life Coach and she can help you achieve your personal, career or business success through a variety of holistic methods

Read more
Friday, August 24, 2018

Although doulas are relatively unknown in the Western world, they have been supporting mothers around the world since biblical times. We’ve met Aimee Pagliari, the Teignmouth Doula, to find out more

Read more
Friday, August 24, 2018

Aimee Pagliari of Teignmouth Counselling has been working as a counsellor for 10 years and we’ve spoken to her to find out who can benefit from such therapy

Read more
Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Gill Heavens salutes a long-standing North Devon club whose members love to explore the depths of our offshore waters

Read more
Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Cantering up the gently sloping, springy turf of a Dartmoor tor is a million miles away from the noise, pollution and hubbub of Sara Cox’s life in London – and that’s exactly why the 43-year-old radio and TV presenter keeps coming back to ride there.

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search