Tag Archives: Berry Head

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!


Horse Power!



Mauritz Elmar


You may have read about the Berry Head Signalling Mast in the Special Projects section of our website.

Felled logs for the mast were moved from the woods to the beach with the heavy work being done by Mauritz Elmar (otherwise known as ‘Mo’!).  Mauritz Elmar is a Norwegian Noriker  and belongs to Dan and John Fisher of Noriker Horse Logging.














…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.


Napoleonic Activity Day


Here is a  selection of photographs from our Napoleonic Activity Day which took place at Berry Head on 27th May. The event was aimed at youngsters from toddlers  up to 12 years of age.












Special thanks must go to our  ‘pancake ladies’ Janet and Jackie for all their hard work keeping the troops fed!




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.


Shako plate


Object of the month – highlighting items on display in the museum





During the late 18th and early 19th century British infantrymen wore the regulation ‘stovepipe’ shako, made of strong felt and leather. Fixed to the front of this headdress was an embossed shako plate, bearing either the regimental insignia or the universal pattern of royal cypher and crown.

This shako plate is identified as a rare (possibly the only) surviving example of the type worn by the drum major of the 28th (North Gloucestershire) Regiment of Foot.



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?