More Pieces of Brixham Life — A Selection of Short Stories By Howard Binham
The Museum has arranged to republish Howard Binham’s engaging ‘Pieces of Brixham Life’, short musings on Brixham life and landscape interspersed with delicious descriptions of local walks taken with his dog. It’s a fascinating set of writings, including rather nice poems, which captures Brixham exceedingly well. This gentle work has been too long out of print but can now be purchased from the Museum shop.
Our volunteer, Mrs Mona Stock, has produced the revised edition of the book of ‘Short Stories’ that Howard wrote in 2001 – a wonderful tour of the area — with a literary slant! She has aided Howard in the revision, converted the text to an electronic version, and paid for the first 20 copies to be printed. They are selling like hot cakes!
Following the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, the duties on fruit schooners from the Azores and Mediterranean ports were removed. My ancestor Thomas Lakeman was not a seaman. He was however a businessman and recognised a good investment. This is why he owned three fruit schooners operating out of Brixham in the middle of the 19th century.
The boats were small, between 225-250 tons, with the combination of topsail and fore and aft schooner rig that meant they could go to the Azores, pick up cargo, and be back in Brixham within three weeks. The cargo consisted of oranges and lemons, pineapples, dates, raisons, currants, nuts and casks of wine. The larger boats ventured as far as the West Indies for sugar and Brazil for coffee. Often the markets were targeted so that a winter trip could provide fresh fruit for the Christmas market. The cargo though was vulnerable with fruit having to be wrapped and packed into crates and the total cargo was restricted to 150 tons in order not to overweigh the ship and impede speed. Every care was taken to ensure that the fruit arrived in top condition and the design of boat(s) included high hatch covers to be left open to ventilate the cargo except in extreme weather.
Their crews were kept to a minimum, normally five or six seaman, and records show that it was a dangerous business and in a bad year half the fleet could be sunk often with all hands.
The ships were run as companies with shares owned by numerous holders, fifteen or twenty being the average number per vessel. In the mid 1850’s Kelly’s Directory of Devon (1857) lists nearly eighty schooner ship owners in Brixham. A priority was to ensure cargo each way such as pilchard barrels and timber or building materials on the outward trip. Nothing was carried that would contaminate the fruit and great care was taken to ensure that the boat was dry at all times. Other West Country ports had their own boats, but Brixham was the main harbour used for the building of these vessels and their repair and servicing.
One of the first commercial steamships was built around 1881 “being 245 feet in length and suitable for cargo of any kind”. This was the start of the decline in the demand for fast sailing ships, and by 1900 there were no Brixham merchant schooners remaining in the trade.