Tag Archives: Napoleonic Wars

Exciting Times Ahead for Brixham Museum


Brixham Heritage Museum is celebrating recent awards from Arts Council England and Brixham Town Council! They will enable us to consolidate displays on the upper floor of the building. The refurbishment, which is currently taking place, will see redecoration of corridors and a new display about the centre of the town around Brixham Town Hall.




We are very excited about this new project, which explores heritage at the heart of Brixham. We are looking at the area from the days of the Naval Reservoir, which provided essential water to the Channel Fleet in the Napoleonic era to the development of Brixham Urban District Council in Victorian times.

The new display will also reflect the history of the Brixham Bank, which issued town banknotes and will feature information about local families, whose Coats of Arms will be part of the new visual experience. New text panels will complement photographs and artefacts.




The Museum will re-open on 26 January, when the work has been completed, but this is just the beginning of a programme of events for 2016.

We are also looking forward to the publication of a new book, ‘Battling Onwards: The Brixham Fishing Fleet 1914-1918’, by our Writer-in-Residence, Samantha Little. The book is an evocative account of the perils of the fishery, based on the memoirs of fishermen and local residents, held in the Museum’s archive.




Samantha’s book will be published in April and copies will be available to purchase from our newly-stocked shop.

We do hope that local people and visitors will pop into the Museum to see the new display and find out more about our role in the community. We welcome new volunteers and can guarantee that anyone joining us will really enjoy being part of the Museum.

We would also like to thank Brixham Town Council for their generous grant and their continuing support for Brixham Museum.


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.














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.




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!




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.



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?



























Mini Museum – Napoleonic Bootcamp



A mini army assembled at Berry Head on Monday 9th July…



The mini army was ably assisted by the  Cornish Regiment re-enactors…





Thirty children attended…



…but there were equal opportunities for all!


There was plenty of musket practice and drill.



Not all of the volunteers were ‘mini’!



A big thank you to Janet Petit, museum volunteer, who made over thirty pancakes for the regiment and children.




Brixfest 2012 – Napoleonic Bootcamp


Sunday 3rd June 2012 – Marching, musket drill and cooking at Battery Gardens…