A Literary Launch





At the beginning of the new season the Museum hosted the successful launch of Battling Onwards: The Brixham Fishing Fleet 1914-1918 by Samantha Little, Writer in Residence.

The book, written as part of the Museum’s Great War centenary commemorations and based on memoirs from the Museum’s archive with contemporary newspaper accounts, provides a fascinating and fast-moving narrative of life at sea and the constant danger to the fishery from German submarines, mines in the trawl and many other hazards.


bridge 001


The Museum was delighted to welcome Torbay’s Mayor, Gordon Oliver, a keen supporter of the Museum, along with Dr James Wallis, Associate Research Fellow at Exeter University; Katie Findlay from the Devon Remembers Heritage Project; Nigel Hyman, Curator of Sidmouth Museum with his wife, Aileen; Heather Roche, Deputy Curator of Teign Heritage  Centre and her colleague, Lou Bagnold.


IMG_5706 BO Mayor and SL


Samantha and her husband, Edwin Day, were also delighted to welcome family members, friends and many of the Museum’s volunteers and supporters. The Museum’s Fundraising Team provided a wonderful vintage tea with home-made cakes to rival those of Mary Berry, which greatly enhanced the book signing, socialising and general enjoyment of the occasion!

Angela Morgan, one of the Museum’s longest-serving volunteers, presented a huge bouquet of flowers to Samantha, who was also celebrating a milestone birthday!

John Risdon, local historian, author and President of the Museum, who wrote the introduction to Battling Onwards, talked about the importance of the Museum to the local community and beyond and introduced Samantha, who thanked everyone for attending and supporting her writing career. She also thanked the Mayor for his support of the Museum, including having provided a grant from the Mayor’s Fund – half the annual salary of the Mayor which is distributed to charities and communities throughout Torbay. She then spoke in depth about the Great War and signed numerous copies of Battling Onwards, which sold extremely well. The Mayor also spoke, commending the ‘impressive’ Museum on the hard work of its staff and volunteers. His attendance at the event despite a very busy diary was particularly appreciated.


8221.1_BM 161 Valerian Crew



is available from Brixham Heritage Museum and at a cost of £3.50 (plus p&p)

ISBN: 978-0-9545459-8-7

Exciting Times Ahead for Brixham Museum


Brixham Heritage Museum is celebrating recent awards from Arts Council England and Brixham Town Council! They will enable us to consolidate displays on the upper floor of the building. The refurbishment, which is currently taking place, will see redecoration of corridors and a new display about the centre of the town around Brixham Town Hall.




We are very excited about this new project, which explores heritage at the heart of Brixham. We are looking at the area from the days of the Naval Reservoir, which provided essential water to the Channel Fleet in the Napoleonic era to the development of Brixham Urban District Council in Victorian times.

The new display will also reflect the history of the Brixham Bank, which issued town banknotes and will feature information about local families, whose Coats of Arms will be part of the new visual experience. New text panels will complement photographs and artefacts.




The Museum will re-open on 26 January, when the work has been completed, but this is just the beginning of a programme of events for 2016.

We are also looking forward to the publication of a new book, ‘Battling Onwards: The Brixham Fishing Fleet 1914-1918’, by our Writer-in-Residence, Samantha Little. The book is an evocative account of the perils of the fishery, based on the memoirs of fishermen and local residents, held in the Museum’s archive.




Samantha’s book will be published in April and copies will be available to purchase from our newly-stocked shop.

We do hope that local people and visitors will pop into the Museum to see the new display and find out more about our role in the community. We welcome new volunteers and can guarantee that anyone joining us will really enjoy being part of the Museum.

We would also like to thank Brixham Town Council for their generous grant and their continuing support for Brixham Museum.


Forget John Lewis… Come and see our vintage shopping arcade!


Brixham Heritage Museum’s authentic shopping experience (well, you can’t actually buy anything, but you get the point), is complete but for a few finishing touches; in the meantime, it is well worth a visit…

Travel back in time within the cosy Arcade, to see our 1950’s Boot and Shoemaker, Leslie Lovell, in his workshop. A huge image of the cobbling craftsman is now emblazoned across two panels behind his bench, where a Coronation mug reposes among the footwear. Attached to this window you can also see ‘retro’ advertisements for other shops in the town. Do you remember Blackler Bros. (car hire), W.H. Hoskins & Son (mineral water manufacturers)




Brixham Co-operative Society, and Smardon’s Library with its original entrance? (Too young? I thought so, too, until typing this list!!) Re-live trips into town during the past, or find out afresh about the shops and firms that once supplied Brixham families.

Our Pharmacy features a unique collection of cameras from the shop of Reginald Fletcher MPS, (family and dispensing chemist, photography development and equipment). A fascinating display of first aid artefacts, medicine bottles, phials, ceramic containers, tins of lozenges and dyspepsia tablets (together with the mortar and pestle, and crushing board used to make pills before the advent of the NHS) illustrate the type of goods that Reg sold to his customers – and don’t miss the Slipper bed pan!

In the next display, rural implements remind us that Brixham also had a large farming community, which played an important part in the food supply of the neighbourhood.




None of you will recall – you really won’t, this time – items in the Victorian shop: a porcelain doll; a hairbrush; local glassware containers for ginger beer and jam; pipes; tobacco; paintbrushes and a watercolour box – all purveyed by James Williams in St. Mary’s Square (and what a lovely photo of the horse who made deliveries). Sharing this area is the Post Office display (complete with Box, but please don’t post any letters; if you love the Arcade and want to tell us after your visit, don’t pop a note in the tempting red wall slot, may I direct you to TripAdvisor, instead – thank you). Did you know the first Post Office in Brixham opened in 1795? Staggering…and in the early 1800s, the mail coach…no, I’m not going to tell you this riveting history here, you must come in and find out.

Sincere thanks are due to our wonderful ‘Monday Handymen’, whose skill and hard work is really beyond praise – you can be proud of your efforts. I should also mention that they have, for many weeks, worked to produce the creative vision of Christopher Carly-Macaulay with Louise Cresswell. Take a well-deserved bow, all of you!

We are extremely grateful to the Rotary Club of Brixham for their kind donation to support refreshment of these displays and to our Chairman, John Read, who sponsored the sound effects, which add wonderful atmosphere.


Curator’s Fascinating Focus on… Napoleonic Archaeology and Signalling at Berry Head


Our Curator, Dr. Philip L. Armitage, whose photograph has previously appeared on this blog revealing his unforgettable taste in woollen headgear, has recently given a new talk to the social group of St. Matthias’ Church in Torquay.

Enthusiastically setting the scene for his main theme, Philip vividly portrayed life on the wild promontory of Berry Head from early times to the Victorian era, his lively descriptions illustrated with superb slides, while the audience had the opportunity to handle ancient flints and a variety of artefacts discovered by the Museum’s ‘Time Team’ during excavations at the headland’s cottages over a number of years.

Philip then revealed that our celebrated ‘Pit Group’, which has been digging among the remains of the Headquarters of the engineers who built the Napoleon-era fortifications, has uncovered a plethora of domestic detritus, including wine bottles and tea bowls, which provides rare insight into the daily lives and routines of those engaged in the building of the crucial defences. As Philip emphasised, this is truly ‘a unique collection of items of one historic event’.

The group was interested to hear about the creation and journey of the Signalling Mast, a project collaboration between Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust and Brixham Heritage Museum, to mark 200 years since the arrival of the captive Napoleon Bonaparte in Tor Bay on 24 July 1815. Central to the project were the use of traditional methods and local craftsmen to construct and install such a mast as the one depicted in the famous painting of H.M.S. Bellerophon off Berry Head by Thomas Luny.

Felled from larches at Churston, the wood was horse-logged from the nearby Cove to Galmpton aboard the Optimist via Brixham Harbour, where trawler mast makers carved the 36-foot high replica, which was taken to Berry Head and erected at the Southern Fort, complete with a red flag and black balls, unique to the Brixham signal station. Signalling demonstrations took place throughout the summer, keeping alive important nautical knowledge and skills.

A full description of this remarkable project with an update and photographs is available on this website under ‘Special Projects’. Don’t miss it!


Monday, Monday…


…is the day when the Museum is closed to visitors and much work is done behind the scenes.

Our happy band of volunteers continues to refurbish and research with much happening, amid great excitement, on the days we have the Museum to ourselves. Our handymen (with Louise Cresswell giving orders, sorry, sorry, styling the scene) are making excellent progress with the Brixham Shops.




The 1950’s Cobbler’s Shop, which was run from the tradesman’s domestic premises, now has authentic wallpaper in place, a 1950’s radio on the shelf above the boots, a cobbler’s bench (special thanks to Otto Schneider for his hard work on this item) and the finishing touch – a piece de résistance – will be a Coronation mug next to the tools on the table. The Cobbler’s name board is in place above the display – W. Elliott, Boot Maker – known as ‘Welly’, perhaps?

Newman’s Chemist has been revamped to provide space to properly view the intriguing pharmaceutical items (not as scary as the instruments in our Medical Display) and the handymen have managed with sleight of hand to light the glass name plate from behind…OK, OK, they’re not magicians, but have cleverly incorporated two light boxes to do the trick…such ingenuity!

The General Store (don’t we have a lot of Oxo tins???) is also being restyled and, at last, we have a place for the original sign from the George Hotel. Louise is researching this establishment and some text with a photograph will appear below the sign to enlighten you, in due course.

Ooooh La La! We have received a letter from France in answer to our enquiry about the provenance of the stick purporting to belong to Napoleon…but, unfortunately, we are no further forward in our investigations. It may be that the stick was carved by prisoners-of-war on St. Helena, or it may have no connection and instead be the work of an Irish craftsman, as similar sticks have been discovered in the Emerald Isle. No matter, there is sure to be a fascinating story attached to it, one way or another.

Anyone out there found John Smart’s bottle?


Dr Brooking of Brixham

Following recent interest from the Brooking Society, our Curator and Writer-in-Residence have been researching the life of a Victorian physician and surgeon.

Dr. Charles Henry Brooking was a native of Brixham, who took a prominent interest in the local affairs and development of the area, and played a leading part in the Volunteer Artillery.

Born in 1822, he trained at Guy’s Hospital and the College of Surgeons in London, returning to the port to assist his father in practice, qualifying as MD on his retirement and taking over the surgery, where he provided patients with medical attention for a further 30 years. On his own retirement, he spent two years in Italy and then purchased a property in Paignton, the Brixham practice passing to Dr. George Clement Searle.

In 1859, he had ‘succeeded where others failed’ and raised a group of men to form No. 2 Company (Brixham) of the Devonshire (1st) Royal Garrison Artillery, initially commanding them. The Battery used guns ‘that had seen service in the Napoleonic wars’; Captain William Murche later led the Company, his duties passing in time to Captain Lord Churston. Dr. Brooking’s colleague, Dr. Christopher Green, also participated, while Rev. Elrington, Vicar of All Saints’ Church, performed the duties of Chaplain.


artillery band


By 1861, the unit had two 24-pounder guns, while drills took place at the Market Hall, Bolton Cross and outdoors at Berry Head. They also formed a band, marching to Lord Churston’s seat at Lupton, to play ‘a favourite air of the Yarde-Buller family’. During the same year, Dr. Brooking was present at the occasion of the extension of the railway from Paignton to Brixham Road (later Churston Station), stepping forward amidst the crowds on the platform to read a congratulatory address to those arriving on the new stretch of line.

Seven years later, he attended the further extension of the line to Furzeham Common, the Artillery Band one of three performing at the opening ceremony. Local entrepreneur, Richard Walter Wolston, had personally financed the new track; many people were waiting to see his party’s carriage pull in to Brixham Station and cheered when they came into sight.




After Dr. Brooking left Brixham in 1870, the Volunteers continued to meet, practising their rifle shooting and arms skills. Numbers were maintained and in 1903, when new regulations led to a wave of resignations across the country, the Brixham Artillery held firm; in 1904, 86 men were drilling. The requirements paved the way for the Volunteers to be disbanded and territorial units otherwise organised in the years leading up to the Great War. The Brixham Rifle Club was formed in 1909, opening an outdoor shooting gallery at Upton Quarry, while the Urban District Council purchased the Fishcombe Battery for use as a public space in 1910.

Dr. Brooking held the record for being the oldest Volunteer in the country. As such, he was invited to a ‘levee’ at St. James’ Palace, where King George V received him. Three months after his 100th birthday in 1922, Dr. Brooking died in Paignton, where his funeral was held.

More fascinating glimpses into Dr. Brooking’s life including an interesting connection to Isambard Kingdom Brunel have been found in local newspapers – see Website section: Research Reports.


Behind the Scenes at the Museum


Have you ever wondered just what happens when the Museum is closed to the public? Abandon thoughts of silent corridors, darkened displays and an eerie atmosphere…the Museum is full of life and laughter, as our staff and volunteers descend on the building to create and improve exhibitions and engage in fascinating research projects – there are a few of us here who would never go home, given the opportunity!




At the moment, a team of dedicated and extremely talented handymen are working to refresh the Victorian Arcade, specifically the Cobbler’s Shop, based on a real business in Brixham inside the craftsman’s home. The Street Scene is fascinating as it depicts local industry other than the fishery. It has been quite a task to deter our Museum Co-ordinator from putting up Cath Kidston wallpaper in the background…no, no, we must be authentic. We quite like the wallpaper covered with a repetition of cowboys on horseback with flying lassoes… you can get the pattern on a mug, too…where were we? Oh yes, this renovation will be a big improvement…do come and see it for yourselves.




Our Curator, Dr. Philip Armitage, has been researching the provenance of a hand fashioned walking stick, recently donated to the Museum and reputed to be the work of Napoleon, who arrived at Brixham on HMS Bellerophon exactly 200 years ago. Louise Cresswell is assisting him. They have discovered that similar sticks were constructed by prisoners of war on St. Helena, where Napoleon famously spent his last days in exile, so there may be a connection. They have written to the Societe Napoleonien in Paris (translation courtesy of our Writer in Residence’s husband, Edwin Day, M.A. (Oxon) with slight assistance from the Writer herself, who are both looking forward to translating the reply back into English)…watch this space for the response and see if we can uncover the mystery of the walking stick.

Stalwart Louise Lilli is spending hours looking at our database of photographs and cross referencing them with other sources to ensure that they are all accurately dated. She has so far checked over 1,000 of them and deserves commendation for her tenacity, especially when we interrupt her to admire an unusual view of Brixham or comment on some interesting picture from days gone by. Never mind, Louise, only another 5,000 or so to go…

Much is happening at the Museum as part of commemorations for the Great War – we will all be at a loss in 2019 when these come to an end. Several projects are being researched by Louise Cresswell and Writer in Residence Samantha Little, who are having a wonderful time looking through contemporary newspapers and correspondence from soldiers at the Front. Both freely admit to sitting up into the small hours in their respective homes continuing the search for information and photographs online; they hope to publish two books resulting from their research. We will promote them through social media in 2016…so don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

Congratulations Viv!


viv run 001


In January 2015, we told you about Viv Mifsud and about her plans to run a double marathon in order to raise money for the museum. We are now happy to report that Viv has successfully completed both her marathons. She crossed the finishing line of the London marathon with a time of four hours and forty four minutes, having completed the Malta marathon barely a month before.


viv medal 001


She has raised over £2000 for the museum. Thank you Viv!

William Hodges


william hodges


While researching the history of navigation for the museum’s new displays in our maritime room, we came across a interesting connection between the second voyage of Captain James Cook to the Pacific (1772-75) and a burial in St Marys Churchyard.

We were interested in Captain Cook’s use of navigation aids. In particular, in his scientific testing of Harrison’s chronometer (ship’s clock) and in how this invention revolutionised the ability of ships to safely navigate by pinpointing their longitude.




Cook’s voyage was illustrated by the artist William Hodges. His work was intended to record and document the discovery of new lands and cultures and to commemorate the voyage. Hodges also used his sketches, made on the voyage, to create imaginative artistic works, leaving us with a legacy of work which brings Cook’s second voyage vividly to life.




William continued to have a successful career up until 1794, when his exhibition in London was deemed to be to “radical” and was closed down after a visit by the Duke of York. The exhibition contained two large allegorical paintings, entitled “The Effects of Peace” and “The Consequences of War” and was seemingly a comment on the war with France.




William gave up painting and retired to Devon. Different sources report him as living in either Dartmouth or Brixham. What is certain is that upon his death in 1797 he was buried in St Mary’s Churchyard in Brixham.

Rumours of suicide surrounded William’s death, mainly prompted by his apparent near bankruptcy due to the collapse of his banking investments, but these suspicious have never been substantiated.

Louise Cresswell


A New Acquisition




Seventeenth-century cast iron fireback from the Old Customs House, Overgang Steps, Brixham

Mr John Jefferies, Proprietor of Temeraire Antiques (7 New Road, Brixham) recently kindly donated to the Museum a cast iron fireback originating from the Old Customs House, Overgang Steps, Brixham.

The panel is decorated with an inverted fouled anchor with a royal crown above, flanked on either side by the letters “C” and “R”. The letters denote the fireback dates from the time of King Charles I (c.1630s).

When the Museum’s hardworking display team have completed the Maritime Gallery refurbishments (a current major project), this fireback will be installed as a display item for viewing by visitors to the Museum.

The photograph was taken by the Museum photographer John Maule.