Category Archives: Talk

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!

SAMANTHA LITTLE

Latest Archaeological Discoveries on Berry Head

 

Talk at Brixham Heritage Museum, by Philip Armitage, 5th November 2012

 

 

On Monday 5th November, Brixham Heritage Museum’s Curator Dr Philip Armitage gave his annual update on the latest archaeological discoveries at Berry Head, to an overflowing crowd.

He said that this had been an exciting year which saved the very best discovery until the very end of this year’s “digging season”.

Despite the often atrocious weather during the summer, there have been family digs and also “MiniMuseum” digs (for preschoolers) to involve others in what the Museum’s Field Research Team do all year, enabling participants an opportunity of hands-on experience of an actual archaeological dig. The digging area on the edge of Berry Head Common was the site of demolished Victorian cottages but also has produced evidence of prehistoric (Mesolithic) flint-tool manufacture and a very nice leaf-shaped Neolithic arrowhead. In total over 1,360 flints were recovered.

The most amazing finds only came when Gerry and Heather Perkins (two of our volunteer archaeologists) were asked to investigate a new area. They found a padlock and a pistol bullet mould, which encouraged further digging by Steve Soper and Gill Bedford (two other members of the archaeological team) leading to the discovery of a pit entirely filled with virtually complete tableware, possibly from clearance of the officers’ mess on the site when the mess was moved into the northern fort circa 1805. Perhaps they discarded the old crockery when new was supplied. Although found in broken pieces, the archaeologists have worked their jigsaw magic and re-assembled complete plates, wine bottles, drinking glasses, and even a large bowl possibly used in making beer. There is also a very splendid English Delftware charger dating from c.1780s but the overall date for the assemblage is around the 1790s. Food debris (beef, sheep and fish bones) recovered from the pit will reveal the diet of the soldiers. The whole contents of this pit will be of great interest nationally, when the post-excavation work is completed and the recovered items published. But where can we display all these wonderful finds in the already packed out Museum?