Tag Archives: archeaology

Toad archaeology!


Rescue of a toad helps Museum archaeologists find missing piece of an 18th-century Delftware plate at Berry Head.




Archaeological excavations carried out by Brixham Heritage Museum in 2012, at a site on Berry Head adjacent to the air traffic control beacon, lead to the discovery of a pit filled with broken crockery, wine bottles and drinking glasses. Working their “jigsaw magic”, the Museum team managed to re-assemble complete plates, cups, wine glasses and bottles; the majority of which date from the 1790s/early 1800s and are believed to be from a clearance of the old officers’ mess and office of the Engineer (who was in charge of building the Berry Head  forts). These buildings occupied the site prior to the later construction of two Victorian cottages (demolished 1908). Excavation of the pit also produced shards of an earlier, rather splendid English Delftware charger (large plate) dating from c. 1780s (possibly a prized heirloom of either one of the officers or of the Engineer). When re-assembled it was a disappointment for the Museum team to discover that one small section was still missing from the otherwise complete plate.

Fast forward to two weeks ago this year and the same pit was the focus of further investigation. However, just as the digging out of the earth backfill to the pit started, a toad, startled by the activity, was seen to dart down its burrow inside the pit. Not wishing to cause injury to this animal, the Museum archaeologists then had to very carefully remove the earth a few centimetres at a time using a trowel rather than a spade. Whilst this caused a considerable delay in the excavation procedure the toad was finally located (uninjured) towards the bottom of the pit and, amazingly, next to the animal was the missing piece of the Delftware plate!!  Had a spade been used instead of the trowel the small piece of pottery might have been overlooked.




The missing piece has now been re-united with the rest of the plate, now complete. As for the toad, the animal was relocated to a much safer place away from the area being excavated and hopefully will dig a new burrow.




…and after the dig we had a party.



Children from Brixham C. of E. Primary celebrated their part in the “All Our Stories” project by holding a party.

As a souvenir of the sunny day at the archaeological dig the children received a copy of the leaflet “Victorian families and soldiers at Berry Head” with its accompanying activity pack and teacher’s notes .

You can hear their enthusiastic involvement in the previous entry of this  blog.


Brixham kids go ‘digging’ on Berry Head



This feature was recorded at Berry Head as part of a Heritage Lottery Funded project by Brixham Heritage Museum to tell the stories of the Victorian and early Edwardian families who lived on Berry Head, Brixham with special focus on the Shrives families and their close association with the Rev. Henry Francis Lyte (author of the hymn “Abide with Me”).

The project involved staff and volunteers from the museum, Class 4 from Brixham Church of England Primary school and young people from Brixham Youth Enquiry Service (YES), a local charity which supports young people in the local community.

Training and advice in interviewing, recording and editing was provided in a short series of workshops by Sound Communities of Totnes.

The recordings were made on 19th June 2013 when class 4 visited an archeaological dig on a site near to the Napoleonic forts on Berry Head.

For several years the museum has organised archaeological digs undertaken by a skilled and knowledgeable band of volunteers led by museum curator Dr Philip Armitage. Some of these volunteers feature in the recording.

Interviewing and collecting of the recordings was by Rhiannon More, Kesley Harding and William Wade, from YES.

The feature was edited and produced by Janet Pettit, education officer at the museum.


Learning about flintknapping at the museum




Karl Lee is a master flintknapper and archaeologist with over 20 years experience of teaching the manufacture and use of stone (“lithic”), bone and wooden prehistoric tools.




This free session, funded by the Museum fundraisers, gave 14 children, including 11 Young Torbay Careers, the opportunity to make a prehistoric tool.




You can learn more about Karl’s skills at the Primitive Technology website.




Torbay Young Carers Go Digging


Twelve young Torbay carers had a change from their normal routine when they took part in an archaeological dig with museum staff at Berry Head on April 3rd.

All the young carers are under the age of 18 and all have caring responsibilities for a parent or sibling. This dig was their first session with the museum but we hope that they will be joining us again for flint knapping and bootcamp later in the year.













Prehistoric worked flints from Berry Head



BH Neolithic 3 arrowheads


Grants received from the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) Challenge Fund and Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust (TCCT) are currently enabling Brixham Heritage Museum to carry out a detailed study of a collection of over 1,360 prehistoric worked flints with the assistance of archaeological consultant Tim Gent (Archaedia, Winkleigh, Devon).

These ancient flints were recovered from Berry Head during excavations last year (2012) carried out by the Museum’s volunteer archaeological team directed by Museum curator Dr Philip Armitage. Assistance in digging at the site during the summer was provided by TCCT Berry Head Rangers and Torquay Museum Young Explorer Club members. Also participating were groups of preschool children; possibly the youngest children ever in Britain digging at an actual archaeological site! The digs for preschoolers formed part of the programme organised by Brixham Museum for the Torbay Childminders HLF-funded Mini-museum project.

In the earliest stages of excavation, the recovered flints were believed to be debitage (waste products) of flint knapping (tool making using locally sourced beach pebbles) during the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) around 8,000 years ago. However, the discovery towards the end of the excavation of three leaf-shaped arrowheads, a rubbing stone from a saddle quern and pieces of pottery lead to revision in the dating of the site, now thought to have been occupied by an early Neolithic (New Stone Age) hunting farming community around 5,000 years ago.

Prompted by last year’s exciting discoveries, the Museum hopes to be able to continue to investigate the Berry Head site this year and to publish a full report on the finds.


The King Street Skeleton





In January 1958, a nearly complete skeleton (now displayed in the museum) was discovered during road works for a new sewer in King Street.  The press dubbed the skeleton ‘Kate’ based on identification of this skeleton as that of a female, by a local physician.




The discovery caused widespread public interest due to the positioning of the bones, apparently resembling a Kist Bronze Age Crouched burial. These observations led to the bones being regarded as ‘ancient’ and consequently the Home Office ruled that no inquest was required.

Following the ruling, the bones were presented to the newly formed Brixham Museum and History Society, with the intention of undertaking scientific examination and eventual display.

In 2012, the museum’s curator, Dr Philip Armitage, re-examined the skeleton and identified the remains as those of a male between the ages of 17 and 25 years old and 1.64m in height. Radiocarbon dating undertaken by the British Museum indicated a date for the skeleton as being between 1670 and 1780 AD.

The location and date of the King Street skeleton fit in with the pre 1808 practice of shoreline burials of those cast ashore. Historically, fishing and merchant seafaring were the most dangerous of all professions and each year many fishermen, mariners and ships’ passengers lost their lives at sea and were washed ashore.

Uncertainty over the religious faith of those washed ashore, the considerable financial burden of burial placed upon the parishes and the fishing communities’ pragmatic response to these losses, resulted in the widespread practice of shoreline burials in all coastal communities. The ‘Burial of Drowned Persons Act’ introduced in 1808 ended shoreline burials, requiring parishes to bury those washed ashore in consecrated ground.


Telling Our Story


Discovering the lives of Victorian and early Edwardian families on Berry Head, Brixham (Torbay, Devon)


Brixham Heritage Museum celebrates £4,500 Heritage Lottery Fund grant

Brixham Heritage Museum is one of the first groups in the UK to receive a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) ALL OUR STORIES grant, it was announced today. This exciting project has been given £4,500 to tell the stories of the Victorian and early Edwardian families who lived on Berry Head, Brixham (Torbay, Devon) with special focus on the Shrives families and their close association with the Rev. Henry Francis Lyte (author of the hymn “Abide with Me”).

All Our Stories, a brand new small grant programme, launched earlier this year in support of BBC Two’s The Great British Story – has been designed as an opportunity for everyone to get involved in their heritage, With HLF funding and support, community groups will carry out activities that help people explore, share and celebrate their local heritage.

The popular series presented by historian Michael Wood and supported by a programme of BBC Learning activities and events got thousands of us asking questions about our history and inspired us to look at our history in a different way through the eyes of ordinary people.

The programme and HLF All Our Stories has proved a real hit and now Brixham Heritage Museum’s project “Discovering the lives of the Berry Head families” is one of hundreds of successful projects around the UK to receive a grant. Brixham Heritage Museum will work with young people and volunteers from the local community to help them to develop media and communication skills. Using excavated archaeological finds, census returns, historical documents, old photographs and information gleaned from talking with descendants of the
Shrives, participants in the project will aim to reconstruct the stories of the Berry Head families. Two open house excavation days in the summer of 2013 will be organised for families to participate in an actual archaeological dig at the site of the cottages on Berry Head where the Shrives and other families lived from 1841 to c.1908. Young people (including Torquay Museum Young Explorers Club members) and Brixham Museum volunteers will be involved in assisting the study of archaeological finds and historic documents, and will receive training. Presentations about the Berry Head families will be made to schools and
community groups and school children will be invited to write their own poems and stories about the lives of people who lived on Berry Head in Victorian times.

TV presenter and historian Michael Wood said “We British love our history, and no wonder: few nations in the world, if any, have such riches on their doorstep, and so much of it accessible to all of us. It is really tremendous that the people of Brixham and Torbay have been inspired to get involved to tell their own story and to dig deeper into their own past. It’s brilliant that so many people are being given the chance to get involved through All Our Stories grants. Having travelled the length and breadth of the British Isles this last year filming The Great British Story, I am certain that fascinating and moving stories will be uncovered which not only bring to life the excitement of local history, but will illuminate and
enrich every community’s connection with the national narrative”.

Dr Philip L. Armitage (Curator, Brixham Heritage Museum), commenting on the award said: “We are extremely pleased and honoured to have been awarded this grant, which will enable us to share with local people little known personal stories of ordinary families who lived on Berry Head in past times, reconstructed using archaeological and historical resources”.

Richard Bellamy, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund South West, said: Clearly the success of All Our Stories has reinforced the fact that we are indeed a nation of story tellers and that we want to explore and dig deeper into our past and discover more about what really matters to us. This is exactly what the grant will do for the Brixham Heritage Museum’s project ‘Discovering the lives of Victorian and early Edwardian families on Berry Head, Brixham (Torbay, Devon)’ as they embark on a real journey of discovery”.

For further information, images and interviews, please contact
Dr Philip L. Armitage (Curator) Brixham Heritage Museum
Telephone: 01803 856267
Email: mail@brixhamheritage.org.uk



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?



























Opening of the Bone Caverns Display

By Philip L. Armitage

During the Victorian period Brixham’s three principal fossil “bone” caverns (Windmill Hill Cavern, Ash Hole Cavern and Bench Cavern) attracted much scientific attention, but are now largely forgotten, especially since the closure of the Windmill Hill Cavern in 1977 (a very popular show cave with locals and visitors alike). The Museum exhibition therefore aims to “reinstate” the importance of the caverns, explaining the circumstances of how each cavern was discovered, explored and how the fossil discoveries made in them contributed to our knowledge of extinct prehistoric animals that once roamed Brixham during the last ice age.

It was during pioneering scientific excavations at Windmill Hill Cavern (also known as The Brixham Bone Cavern and Philp’s Cavern) carried out by the eminent palaeontologist William Pengelly in 1858 that irrefutable evidence was uncovered proving the great antiquity of man, a contentious question in Victorian times.

The display comprises ice age fossil mammal teeth (dating from 56,000 years ago) donated by the Thyer family. In 1945 a young teenager Dennis Thyer lived with his family in the house above the Windmill Hill Cavern (Mount Pleasant Road) and although the cavern was officially closed to the public he managed to find an alternative “entrance” in the nearby quarry. Exploring the cavern system he discovered and collected fossil teeth which have been recently identified by Dr. Armitage, Curator of Brixham Heritage Museum as teeth of spotted hyaena, woolly rhinoceros, brown bear, reindeer and wild horse. Dennis carefully wrapped the fossils in tissue paper inside a Jacob’s Cream Cracker tin. Sometime after his death, Dennis’s sons and daughters decided to return the fossils to Brixham and allowed the Museum to research these specimens and place them on display. A scientific article on these fossils written by the Museum Curator will be published next year in “Studies in Speleology”.

Other material on display includes prehistoric pottery and a stone axe head collected by Museum volunteer Graham Head during his exploration of Ash Hole Cavern in the 1960s. There are also four explanatory panels and a full-size cut out of a female cave bear created by Museum volunteer Louise Cresswell. We are inviting children to suggest a name for this bear.


Opening of the Bone Cavern Display

Opening of the Bone Cavern Display


The display was officially opened by Mrs. Yvonne Hunt and Mrs. Yvette Stock, Dennis Thyer’s daughters. Brixham Town Council members were in attendance as was the Former Torbay Mayor Mr. Nick Bye. The Museum Curator presented Mrs. Hunt and Mrs. Stock with flowers and commemorative mugs printed with a colourful scene of ice age animals that once roamed Brixham – the work of local artist Rose Coulton who also produced illustrations featured in the display panels. A special presentation of an engraved plate was also made to Graham Head for his contributions to the Museum’s archaeological researches.