Winner of the Telegraph Family Friendly Museum Award 2013

Dedicated to the history and heritage of the town of Brixham in Devon

Progress Report on the HLF Funded "All Our Stories" Project

Dr Philip L. Armitage (Curator)

16th July 2013

Supported by a grant awarded by the HLF All Our Stories Fund, the Museum began last year an investigation into the lives of the Shrives families on Berry Head (Brixham) and beyond, 1841 to 1918. The focus is on two female members of the Shrives families: Priscilla Shrives whose life story encompasses the Victorian era and Nellie Shrives, a later descendant of Priscilla’s uncle, James Shrives. Nellie’s story takes us into the Edwardian era and the First World War.

Image of Bery Head Guardhouse

This ongoing project has involved (among many others) the Museum’s team of family history researchers who traced through census records and marriage/death certificates, the life of Priscilla Shrives from the time when she was living as a teenager in one of the cottages on Berry Head Common (where she wrote the poems in the note book now held in the Museum archives), through her married life in the old guard house in the north fort, when she was working as a laundress (1858 to 1886), and later, as a monthly nurse in Devonport. Military records revealed that Priscilla’s husband George Frederick Williams in the years prior to his marriage had enlisted in the Royal Sappers and Miners Regiment, serving in the Kaffir War of 1851 – 1852. In 1855, three years before his marriage to Priscilla, he had been discharged from the army owing to chronic rheumatism and received a pension of 6d per day. Descendants of the William’s family visited the Museum and were pleased to learn of this research.

Image of old postcard

Quite by chance the Museum Curator came across a large collection of Edwardian and WW1 postcards at a local car boot sale which have proved invaluable in providing fascinating insight into the life of another member of the Shrives family, Nellie Shrives. These postcards revealed Nellie had served from 1915 to 1918 as one of the 947,000 women munitions workers (nicknamed “canaries” owing to yellowing of their skin from exposure to TNT dust). Information on the war time service of one of Nellie’s brothers (Wilfred Shrives) came from Museum volunteer Steve Soper (Shrives Monumental Masons, Brixham), a descendant of James Shrives, the grandfather of Nellie. Wilfred served in the Royal Garrison Artillery and an entry in the Brixham Western Guardian Newspaper (held in the Museum archives) dated January 31st 1918, recorded that “Gunner W. Shrives, R.G.A., the youngest son of Mr C. A. Shrives of Drew St., Brixham, is home on special furlough from the front. He has been wounded and gassed while on active service”.

Image of children digging at Berry Head

An important aspect has been to involve one of the local schools in the project, under the guidance of the Museum’s Education Officer and the Museum Curator. Brixham Church of England Primary School responded to the invitation to participate. Three sessions with class 4 of the school were planned: 1) visit by the children to the Museum for an introductory talk/workshop introducing the lives of the Shrive families at Berry Head in the Victorian period, 2) a visit by the Museum’s Education Officer to the school, organising the children to produce storyboards and poems for inclusion in a booklet, and 3) class visit to Berry Head to join the Museum’s volunteer archaeological team in investigating the site of the Victorian cottage where Priscilla and her family lived (1841 to 1851) and the former guardhouse in the northern fort where Priscilla lived after her marriage.

Image of museum staff

Training in recording and editing interviews was provided by Kate Rudman of Sound Communities (Torquay) for the Museum Education Officer and several volunteers, as well as young people from Brixham Youth Enquiry Service (YES). Recordings made during the Berry Head site visit include the children's excitement at finding pottery, archaeology volunteers giving advice about finds and digging techniques and interviews with the children by YES volunteers about life on Berry Head in Victorian times. These recordings will form the basis of a 15 minute radio feature.

Click here to read the second progress report on the 'All Our Stories' Project