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

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