The spot where this photo was taken, Capstone Hill, was purchased by Ilfracombe Board of Health in the 1800s so that it could be used as a space for both local people and visitors to enjoy the fresh air, the views and to have some exercise.
It was a decision taken following a cholera outbreak in the town, says Dave Edgcombe, project officer for the North Devon AONB team. The Victorians didn’t want the disease to stop people coming to the new holiday resort, and they understood the importance of keeping the locals healthy, so creating a recreational site out of this coastal hill in the centre of town was essential. They also built a walk around its circumference, Capstone Parade, the route of which is still visible in the bottom left of the photo.
For Dave, and those who monitor the protected AONB environment, this photo holds an even deeper significance because they still do exactly what the girls in the photo are doing – but they use the stone pillar which is behind the iron fence in the background.
Just like the countless visitors before them, the girls are enjoying the views from the top of the hill. But when Dave looks at the same view, using a special 360 degree camera mounted on the pillar, he’s recording data which is used to monitor the environmental changes to the landscape.
Ilfracombe is surrounded by a belt of undeveloped land, so the skyline has altered very little, other than more noticeable tree growth due to less grazing, says Dave. But that could change, with increasing demands for housing in the town.
“This photo really resonates with us,” says Dave. He says it reflects the importance of this viewpoint, which has drawn people over the centuries, resulting in many drawn, painted and photographic records of the landscape. “We’ve got images going back to the 1880s,” he says. “Some which show the slopes lined with people in their Sunday best and looking out to sea.”
“The parade isn’t used as much these days, but everyone still goes to the top. It’s a fascinating place to look and see how Ilfracombe has evolved,” he says.