Third Progress Report on the HLF Funded “All Our Stories” Project
Dr Philip L. Armitage (Curator)
4th December 2013
Talk and workshop organised for Torquay Museum Young Archaeologists
At the request of the Torquay Museum Young Archaeologists Club, Brixham Heritage Museum’s Curator organised an afternoon talk and workshop in the main gallery at Brixham Heritage Museum, 24th November 2013. The introductory talk given by the Curator explained to the Young Archaeologists present how the artefacts they had helped recover during the dig at Berry Head on July 27th (see Progress Report 2) contributed to our knowledge of the lives of the inhabitants of the Victorian Cottages that had once occupied the site. Illustrating the talk were photographs taken of the Young Archaeologists digging at the site together with pictures of a selection of their finds after removal to the museum for cleaning, identification and cataloguing. Photographs of finds made by the Brixham Museum’s archaeological team subsequent to the July 27th dig were also shown, including a nice (although broken) example of a Victorian clay tobacco pipe with its bowl decorated with the design of a bearded man.
On display in the room was a selection of late 18th-century plates, teabowls and jugs discovered in a pit excavated in 2012. These items were displayed to explain to the Torquay Young Archaeologists the different pottery fabrics and forms. However, as they had found when digging at the Berry Head site last July, much of the pottery recovered were small fragments and it was rare to find such complete wares. The workshop organised for them therefore was intended to allow them to handle the fragments they had themselves recovered in July and to receive instruction/guidance as to how these may be identified. Assisting in working with the young people were Brixham Museum volunteers Liz Wilkins, who explained how to recognise stoneware, porcelain etc., Kate Armitage who demonstrated how to recognise vessel typology (i.e. the different forms: cups, saucers, bowls, chamber pots, dishes, basins etc.) and Otto Schneider, who showed how to identify transfer printed patterns and manufacturers marks. Towards the end of the workshop, there was a quiz to see if the young archaeologists could identify a range of small finds (drawer handle, ink bottle, Victorian rifle cartridge etc.) from the dig.
Booklet now ready for printing
In addition to the family open-house digs on Berry Head and involvement of pupils from Brixham Church of England Primary School (see Project Progress Reports 1 and 2), a major part of Brixham Heritage Museum’s “All Our Stories” project has been the creation of an eight-page (A3 size) illustrated booklet titled “Victorian families and soldiers at Berry Head”. Based on historical and archaeological sources, the booklet portrays the lives of the inhabitants on Berry Head (Brixham) during the Victorian period. This was after the forts and barracks had been decommissioned and the soldiers and their families had moved away, leaving only a retired or invalided army veteran as caretaker in case the forts were needed again to defend Torbay in a future war. One of the caretakers, George Frederick Williams (invalided from the Royal Cornwall Sappers and Miners Regiment), lived in the former guardhouse in the northern fort from 1860 to 1886. His wife Priscilla had previously lived in one of the cottages at the edge of Berry Head Common as a child with her father, Samuel Shrives (Reverend Henry Francis Lyte’s coachmen and handyman), mother Susanna, seven sisters, two brothers, and her uncle James Shrives.
The booklet is the result of a considerable amount of detailed research throughout the year, involving the efforts of (among others) the Museum Curator, Museum Education Officer, Museum Team of Family History Researchers, and the Museum’s Team of volunteer archaeologists. Rose and Nigel Coulton were commissioned to produce the illustrations, photographs and design of the booklet. When printed, copies will be distributed free to local schools and also made available to visitors to the Torbay Coast & Countryside Trust Visitor Information Centre (located in the old guardhouse in the north fort) as well as at Brixham Heritage Museum. The booklet we feel is a good way to share with local people and visitors the fascinating story of the fortunes of a Victorian family whose lives were linked to Berry Head which today is one of the gateway sites to the English Riviera Global Geopark, and whose spectacular scenery was voted in the top 10% of global attractions by visitors on the website TripAdvisor (August 2013).
As the story of George and Priscilla Williams, depicted in the booklet, features their life in the old guardhouse, the Museum Curator thought it would be nice to produce a cut-out model for children to recreate the guardhouse – and commissioned Nigel Coulton to design this. Before making the cut-out sheets available to school children and young visitors to Berry Head, it was decided that the prototype sheets should be “tested” during the workshop organised for the Torquay Museum Young Archaeologists (see above). The prototype model proved popular and the young archaeologists produced some good models. Printing of the sheets will now go ahead.