Tag Archives: fishing heritage

A Literary Launch





At the beginning of the new season the Museum hosted the successful launch of Battling Onwards: The Brixham Fishing Fleet 1914-1918 by Samantha Little, Writer in Residence.

The book, written as part of the Museum’s Great War centenary commemorations and based on memoirs from the Museum’s archive with contemporary newspaper accounts, provides a fascinating and fast-moving narrative of life at sea and the constant danger to the fishery from German submarines, mines in the trawl and many other hazards.


bridge 001


The Museum was delighted to welcome Torbay’s Mayor, Gordon Oliver, a keen supporter of the Museum, along with Dr James Wallis, Associate Research Fellow at Exeter University; Katie Findlay from the Devon Remembers Heritage Project; Nigel Hyman, Curator of Sidmouth Museum with his wife, Aileen; Heather Roche, Deputy Curator of Teign Heritage  Centre and her colleague, Lou Bagnold.


IMG_5706 BO Mayor and SL


Samantha and her husband, Edwin Day, were also delighted to welcome family members, friends and many of the Museum’s volunteers and supporters. The Museum’s Fundraising Team provided a wonderful vintage tea with home-made cakes to rival those of Mary Berry, which greatly enhanced the book signing, socialising and general enjoyment of the occasion!

Angela Morgan, one of the Museum’s longest-serving volunteers, presented a huge bouquet of flowers to Samantha, who was also celebrating a milestone birthday!

John Risdon, local historian, author and President of the Museum, who wrote the introduction to Battling Onwards, talked about the importance of the Museum to the local community and beyond and introduced Samantha, who thanked everyone for attending and supporting her writing career. She also thanked the Mayor for his support of the Museum, including having provided a grant from the Mayor’s Fund – half the annual salary of the Mayor which is distributed to charities and communities throughout Torbay. She then spoke in depth about the Great War and signed numerous copies of Battling Onwards, which sold extremely well. The Mayor also spoke, commending the ‘impressive’ Museum on the hard work of its staff and volunteers. His attendance at the event despite a very busy diary was particularly appreciated.


8221.1_BM 161 Valerian Crew



is available from Brixham Heritage Museum and at a cost of £3.50 (plus p&p)

ISBN: 978-0-9545459-8-7

A New Acquisition




Seventeenth-century cast iron fireback from the Old Customs House, Overgang Steps, Brixham

Mr John Jefferies, Proprietor of Temeraire Antiques (7 New Road, Brixham) recently kindly donated to the Museum a cast iron fireback originating from the Old Customs House, Overgang Steps, Brixham.

The panel is decorated with an inverted fouled anchor with a royal crown above, flanked on either side by the letters “C” and “R”. The letters denote the fireback dates from the time of King Charles I (c.1630s).

When the Museum’s hardworking display team have completed the Maritime Gallery refurbishments (a current major project), this fireback will be installed as a display item for viewing by visitors to the Museum.

The photograph was taken by the Museum photographer John Maule.

Local artist’s gift for Museum

Brixham’s Heritage Museum is to receive a gift of its own during the Museum’s Christmas Fayre on Saturday 7th December. The family of Brixham’s most celebrated maritime artist, the late John Chancellor, is to donate a framed, limited edition print of one of John’s paintings to display in the Museum’s maritime section.  

 Despite being almost 30 years since his death, many people will remember Brixham’s celebrated maritime artist, John Chancellor.  His extraordinary paintings established him as one of the most talented maritime painters of all time and his work is renowned internationally.

 In recognition of John’s association with the town and the forthcoming anniversary of his death, his daughter, Tessa, will be presenting to the Museum a copy of ‘From under their Noses’, which will be hung in the Museum with its other many maritime artefacts.

“Next April it will be 30 years since my father’s untimely death, and as a family we want to acknowledge this anniversary in a number of ways. It seems obvious that, having spent over 20 years living in Brixham, the Museum should have some of his work on display,” said Tessa. “In addition, next Easter we will be holding a three-day, retrospective exhibition of his life and work in Brixham Town Hall.”

The exhibition is being coordinated by Tessa, who sells limited edition prints of his paintings through Chancellor Maritime Prints. “My father’s work was exceptional,” says Tessa. “It feels natural to host this exhibition in his home town of Brixham.”

The Museum’s curator, Philip Armitage, is delighted to receive the gift.  “It will be a valuable addition to the new maritime display we are planning for next year and having such a celebrated artist from Brixham, I am sure it will be much admired.”

Museum Sessions at Fishstock 2013


Brixham Museum joined with Fishstock 2013 to offer a program of free activities as part of their schools program. Children of all ages were invited to sign-up to workshops in rope-making, fishing heritage and seafood cookery.

The fishy fun was hosted on a mobile unit from Billingsgate Seafood Training School.











Brixham Fruit Schooners


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.

Terry Lakeman

Photos from the construction of Mayflower II – saved from the skip!


The museum has been thrilled to receive a photograph album containing numerous photos of the construction of the replica of the Mayflower (built in Brixham in 1957). The majority of these photos are not in the museum’s collection -and extraordinarily, the album was found locally – in a skip!



The album contains photographs of the ship in various stages of construction and many images of the ‘key players’ including the craftsmen who worked on the ship. In many cases, the photograph has been annotated with the name and trade of the craftsman.



The collection also includes photographs of the provisioning of the ship before sailing…


… and several of the ship’s cat!


The ‘BM’ Fishing Boat Registration Code


Boats in Brixham Harbour can easily be identified by their BM registration, but this was not always the case. Before 1902 all boats would have been registered DH for Dartmouth. At this time Brixham did not own sufficient property or assets to be classified as a market town and, consequently, its fishing fleet was registered in Dartmouth.




Thomas Lakeman, who owned “Lakemans Brewery” in the town and who was chair of Brixham Council gifted three cottages, which at that time stood on the seashore, to the Council. The cottages can be seen in the foreground in the photograph above. The cottages were primarily used for storage and repair of nets and sails and other fishing gear as well as offices for the Sires of the Harbour.

As a result of this acquisition Brixham was able to assume Market Town status and a market was built at the junction of Bolton Street and what is now New Road. The building still stands today and is known as the Town Hall.

A further bonus was that the acquired status enabled the fishing fleet to be locally registered and vessels to this day bear a BM registration number. This exercise took more than three years and even then thirty-four vessels never transferred and retained their Dartmouth registrations.

The cottages still exist and are known as “The Old Market House” and trade as a restaurant run by St Austell Brewery. No doubt Thomas Lakeman would have approved.

Terry Lakeman


Restoration Man visits Brixham




The sun shone and the sea was very calm on the day that the production crew of the  television series ‘Restoration Man’ visited Brixham.




Our museum administrator, Lesley Smith, met the Channel 4 presenter George Clarke and sailing ‘guru’ Tom Cunliffe to show them artefacts from the Great Gale of 1866 and to escort them on board the traditional Brixham sailing trawler ‘Pilgrim’.




The house which will  be featured on the program is the old St. Peter’s Church on St Peter’s Hill which was known as the “Fisherman’s Church”.




Mayflower II starts her sea trials





Extract from the ‘Brixham Western Guardian’ 28th March 1957

As the time for the sailing of the Mayflower II, replica of the Pilgrim Fathers’ ship, approaches, controversy grows over the probable outcome of the adventure.

Sceptics insist stubbornly, “She’ll end up by being towed across.” And just as stubbornly  – but in more picturesque language – her master, Alan Villiers, insists that she’ll sail her passage.




As the Mayflower II is entirely rigged with hemp rope, like her predecessor, instead of the steel wire and flexible steel wire ropes which stand up to the chafing so much better, Villiers spent six weeks last year in one of the last ships in the world with a galleon hull and cordage rigging – in the Maldive Islands.

In a 200 ton ship with no modern comforts he worked with the native crew, getting the feel of the cordage, sketching the run of the rigging and noting methods of avoiding chafe. He also questioned the men who made the ropes and tackle.

Formal creation of the Mayflower Foundation was announced by Sir Alfred Bossom, Conservative M.P. for Maidstone , at a reception at the House of Commons on Monday.  The reception was given to mark the completion of Mayflower II, which as Sir Alfred confirmed, is to begin her voyage across the Atlantic “somewhere between April 10th and April 15th.”

Mayflower II is to be presented to the American people as a gesture of enduring goodwill, and Sir Alfred Bossom said that the duty of the Foundation will be to administer the surplus funds left after paying for her building and voyage, by providing Anglo-American exchange scholarships.

Mayflower II will begin her trials in Torbay on Monday, if the weather is suitable. After completing the trials, the length of which has still to be decided, the replica of the Pilgrim Fathers’ ship will sail to Plymouth.



And here’s an advertisement which appeared in the same edition of the paper…





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.