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The artistic history of Bideford Bay and Hartland

The small stone artist cabin at Bucks Mills with sea in the background
The artist's cabin at Bucks Mills | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Perched above the sea in the ancient fishing hamlet of Bucks Mills, the Bucks Mills Cabin was the studio and summer residence of painters Judith Ackland and Mary Stella Edwards, from the 1920s until Judith's death in 1971. The interior and its contents have remained preserved, almost as the women left them, for over 40 years.

Judith Ackland and Mary Stella Edwards travelled widely on their painting trips, but Bucks Mills remained the place they loved the most. The two women spent most summers in Bucks Mills, painting coastal scenes, local landscapes and the village.

Judith Ackland

Judith Ackland (1892–1971) was born at Stowford House on Bideford Strand. Her father was a well-known doctor and from an early age she would accompany him on visits to treat his patients at Bucks Mills. She attended Bideford School of Art before going to the Regent Street Polytechnic in London where she met Mary.

In 1945, Judith invented a method of making tiny figurines from cotton wool, naming her process 'Jackanda'. She would make figures and objects for dioramas – theatrical scenes, often in miniature, that are brought to life with three-dimensional elements – with backdrops painted by Mary Stella.

Painting of Judith Ackland in an artist cabin in front of a fireplace with lots of objects.
Painting of Judith Ackland inside the Bucks Mill Cabin | © The Burton Art Gallery, Bideford

The subjects for the dioramas were often historical and this collaboration brought many successful commissions, including five dioramas which are on permanent display at the Windsor Guildhall.

Mary Stella Edwards

Mary Stella Edwards (1898–1989) chose to paint in watercolours but she was also a published poet and considered herself a poet first and painter second. Her poetry is filled with references to the sea and the sounds of the beach. She was born in Hampstead, where her father was an architect.

The Burton Gallery in Bideford holds a large collection of drawings, watercolours and dioramas featuring local subjects which were given to the gallery by Mary Stella Edwards. The Burton collection clearly shows the women's love of North Devon and of their cabin.

The Artist's Cabin on the beach slipway at Bucks Mills, North Devon. An artistic retreat for Mary Stella Edwards and Judith Ackland
The Artist's Cabin on the beach slipway at Bucks Mills | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

The studio

After Judith died in 1971, Mary Stella never used her seaside studio again, but set up the Ackland and Edwards Trust to take care of the property.

The Cabin was gifted to the National Trust in 2008 and is now used as a space in which to host residences for artists.

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