Ilfracombe Harbour and Hirst’s ‘Verity’
4th November 2018
I spent my final day in Ilfracombe exploring its wonderful working harbour. And, although I’m not much of a Damien Hirst fan, I absolutely loved his magnificent statue of ‘Verity’ at the harbour entrance.
From Domesday Book to Holiday Resort
Ilfracombe is now actually north Devon’s largest holiday town and seaside resort. But it had its origins in Saxon times and is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. In medieval times, the town was centred around the church and the harbour. There was a quay here in the Middle Ages and Ilfracombe was an important fishing and commercial port at least as far back as the 12th century.
Ilfracombe began to develop as a holiday resort in the early 1800s, although the coming of the railway in the 1870s was really the beginning of the town’s large-scale expansion. It’s a town dominated by Victorian architecture, though there are also lovely examples of Georgian architecture, like the B&B where I stayed.
I found Ilfracombe’s harbour the most fascinating part of the town. Although today it’s predominantly used for leisure and tourism, it’s still a working harbour with boats going out for the daily seafood catch and returning with the tide.
The ferry to Lundy Island goes from here and there are coastal cruises, fishing and sea-life safaris. As I mentioned in my previous post, the weather turned so foul that no boats were going from the harbour at all while I was there. Still, I really loved wandering around the harbour. Along the quay and in the nearby streets are restaurants and cafes, tea rooms and pubs, as well as small shops selling everything from tourist tat to local crafts. And what seaside resort would be complete without its take-away fish and chips shops and ice creams!
I actually wandered over to the far side of the harbour, opposite the quay, past the RNLI boathouse and ramp down into the harbour itself, near the Long Stay car parking. There are wonderful views both out towards the mouth of the harbour…
…and back towards the town.
But it’s on this far side of the harbour that you’ll find all the working accoutrements of harbour life, from coiled ropes and netting…
to stacks of traps and pallets…
and all sorts of shapes and textures and angles that are a photographer’s paradise.
Originally built in 1361 as a place of worship for those living and working around Ilfracombe’s harbour, it’s thought to be the UK’s oldest working lighthouse.
It’s not known when the chapel closed but it’s served various purposes over the last 200 years, including being used as a lightkeeper’s house, a reading room and a laundry.
And there’s a terrific perspective of Verity and the surrounding hills from the chapel entrance.
Damien Hirst’s ‘Verity’
Damien Hirst’s ‘Verity’ is a 20m (66 foot) tall stainless steel and bronze statue of a pregnant women standing on the pier overlooking Ilfracombe’s harbour entrance. She’s holding a sword high in the air and standing on a base of legal books. Hirst describes her as ‘modern allegory of truth and justice’.
It’s an astonishing work of art. What you don’t realise until you walk around the statue onto the lower part of the pier is that half the statue shows the internal anatomy of the woman, with her womb and foetus clearly visible, as well as her skull, ribcage and ligaments, and with her skin peeling away from her arms and legs.
Hirst has loaned the statue to Ilfracombe for 20 years and when it was installed in 2012 it was extremely controversial, with polarised local reaction. And I can see why. It’s stunning and disturbing all at the same time. I found Verity extremely powerful, defiant in the face of the elements. It’s worth a trip to Ilfracombe just to see this statue.
You can see more photos of Verity and the harbour in my Ilfracombe, Devon Photo Album