Tag Archives: presentation

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!


A volunteer’s story




Barbara Davies wrote this article about her trip to the Kids in Museums award ceremony for the Totnes County High School Reunion Association Newsletter 2014.

Barbara (second from left) is a much valued volunteer at the Museum.


Telegraph Family Friendly Museum winners 2013


“Last September I was very honoured to be asked to be one of the representatives of the Brixham Heritage Museum at the Sunday Telegraph Awards ceremony. For the second year running our museum was in the top six of their Family Friendly Museum – Kids in Museum list. We left Paignton at 5.30 a.m. on the London coach and arrived at Victoria coach station just in time for coffee. It was only a short walk to the Sunday Telegraph office, where we were greeted most warmly and were able to meet the other finalists and some previous winners of the award. When it was time for the formalities to begin, the six finalists were listed in alphabetical order and we were told that because it had been so difficult to choose, for the first time ever there were two winners. The first museum was The Horniman, in London and my heart sank! (I thought – alphabetical order – B comes before H – we’ve had it for this year.) The second winner was Brixham Heritage Museum. We had done it! We had to make acceptance speeches of course, whereupon my mind went totally blank and I think that I waffled my way through something. (Nothing new there then)! I know I was quite emotional and not just because I shook hands with Philip Mould from the Antiques Roadshow who presented the awards. After a buffet lunch we were shown round the Telegraph offices and then it was time to leave for home. Our coach left Victoria at 4.30 p.m. and due to diversions and heavy traffic, it was 6.30 p.m. before we reached Gatwick. Instead of getting home at 10.00 p.m. it was 11.15 p.m. before we could get in the car for Brixham, home and bed after a very long but enjoyable day.”

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.”

We are winners of the Family Friendly Museum Award 2013!


Telegraph Family Friendly Museum winners 2013

The proud winners of the Family Friendly Museum Award 2013 with Philip Mould trustee of Kids in Museums.Brixham Heritage Museum representatives Louise Cresswell and Barbara Davies on the left. (Photo courtesy of Telegraph newspaper).


Brixham Heritage Museum is one of the most family friendly museums in Britain.

Undercover family judges have crowned Brixham Heritage Museum the joint winner of the Telegraph Family Friendly Museum Award alongside The Horniman Museum and Gardens (Forest Hill, south London).

Both museums beat 140 entrants nationally to the coveted top spot for providing outstanding and stimulating experiences for the whole family.

The winners were announced on Friday 13th September at a ceremony at the Telegraph’s offices in Buckingham Palace Road, London. Brixham Heritage Museum sent two representatives: Louise Cresswell and Barbara Davies.

Dr Philip L. Armitage, Curator of the Brixham Museum, said: “We are extremely honoured to be a winner of the Telegraph Family Friendly Award, and especially delighted given that our museum compared with others shortlisted is very much smaller in scale. Despite our modest size, the part-time staff and dedicated team of enthusiastic volunteers aim to ensure visiting families have an enjoyable and worthwhile experience. Receiving this award judged by the families themselves is a very much appreciated accolade for all the hard work the museum has put in to provide family friendly facilities.”

Tina Mansfield is one of the mums who helped judge the award. She said: “The museum stands out for two reasons. First, the people are really friendly and dedicated and second, the children know that they can play and touch things without worrying that an adult will disapprove. To begin with, my seven-year-old son Ethan thought we were going to a stuffy old museum, but it didn’t feel like that at all. He really enjoyed it.”

Brixham Heritage museum has developed its offer to young children over the past few years through the Mini Museum Project. The project, co-ordinated by the museum, focuses on teaching young children about Torbay’s heritage through a range of early years activities such as mini digs, storytelling, trips and guided walks to sites of local historic interest.

The project is being delivered by Torbay Childminders in partnership with Brixham Heritage Museum, Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust, Torquay Museum and Torbay Council, which contributed £1000 towards the scheme.

The council’s Executive Lead for Culture and the Arts, Councillor Dave Butt, said: “The minimuseum project is a fantastic way of inspiring young people so they can develop, learn and make sense of the world around them whilst having fun. Our museums play such a huge role in encouraging a love of history so it can be enjoyed and protected for generations to come.

“Brixham Heritage Museum is doing such a fantastic job engaging families and I’m so pleased it has been recognised with a national award. It is a tremendous achievement.”


A Famous Son of Brixham


Commander Evelyn George Martin OBE RNVR
1881 – 1945




The port of Brixham is used to seafaring men but Commander Martin was special. He was not born locally but, because of his parents overseas commitments, he and his siblings were “fostered” by the Hogg family who lived in the property which today is known as “The Berry Head Hotel”.

George’s childhood was spent on the quayside and harbour of Brixham and he made friends with the fisherman and was soon an experienced rower and sailor.
The family were wealthy and he had a privileged schooling going to Eaton and then graduating at New College, Oxford. As a young man he had endless opportunities. He was handsome, clever and well connected , but he decided to devote himself to the sea. He built and bought several yachts and got into international racing often being accompanied by seasoned Brixham fisherman, John Blackmore.

He soon began to win prestigious races, but the First World War interfered and he saw service with the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserves earning an OBE for running operations out of Falmouth. He donated the Challenge Trophy Cup, helped plan the course around the Fastnet Rock and promptly went on to win the first race in “Jole Brise”.

World War Two meant an RNVR posting to Campbeltown where thousands of tug man were trained for rescue service and safeguarding convoys across the globe. War service finally broke George’s health and he died near Ipswich in 1945.

Clare Hoogewerf-McComb may be known to some of you. She is a regular visitor and researcher to the Museum and a member of the Martin family. Her brother has written a biography of Commander Martin and together they organised on 24th May 2013 a celebration of the life of Commander Martin at Berry Head House Hotel.

A small number of Museum staff were asked to attend and a Blue Plaque now hangs adjacent to the entrance to the hotel. In her speech to guests Clare Hoogewerf said “Although not born locally and travelling most of the world in many boats George Martin’s heart was and always will be in the place he loved most, Brixham”.

Terry Lakeman


Victorian Christmas Fayre



On Saturday, 1st December, Brixham Heritage Museum held a Victorian Christmas Fayre. Visitors were attracted by snow, a pipe organ operated by Mr Edgar Lawrance and a group of local singers.



It was a very successful day, opened by Mr Nick Bye who has always been a faithful supporter of our Museum. During the morning, two of the three winners of the Cave Painting competition (run during the Summer) were awarded their prizes; then in the afternoon the Chairman of Brixham Council, Cllr Brian Harland and his wife, May, drew the tickets for the Grand Draw. The £50 cash First Prize was won by Mr Parsons, the second prize of Thorntons’ Chocolates was won by Mr and Mrs J Richardson, and the third prize of a Christmas hamper was won by Mr and Mrs J Lambourne. A chocolate cake was won in a raffle by Mrs S Rossi and Mr I Cubitt won £30 in a Pound Coin Draw.



We would like to thank all the many volunteers who worked so hard throughout the day and also those who helped to set it all up beforehand, and of course dismantle it afterwards.



Our profit from the day will go towards continuing the work of the Brixham Museum to preserve our local heritage.

Lesley Smith


Victorian Christmas Fayre

On Saturday, Dec 3rd, we held our Victorian Christmas Fayre, opened by the Brixham Town Council Chairman, Councillor Martyn Hodge. A Grand Tombola greeted people entering the Museum through a localised snow-fall (artificially induced of course); the tombola was well supplied by donations from local traders.

Christmas Fayre 2011

Within the Maritime Room, we had stalls selling local crafts and baked goods; upstairs in Babs’ Café, there were mince pies and drinks available.

During the morning, we awarded the prizes to the children who had entered the “Name the Bear” competition. The winning name was “Roaring Lola” submitted by Victoria Owen (age 9) who received a voucher from “Taylor-made Bears” to create her own “Roaring Lola”. The second-prize-winner was Evie Stockman, who received a cuddly bear.

Prizewinners at the Christmas Fayre

At 3pm the Torbay Council Chairman, Mr Derek Mills, and Mrs Judith Mills, drew the winning tickets for our Grand Draw which resulted in Mr S Soper winning the 1st prize (£50 cash), Mrs Linley-Shaw winning the 2nd prize (a food hamper) and Mrs Piper the 3rd prize (a Thorntons chocolate selection – donated by Thorntons of Brixham). All winners are members of the Museum History Society.

The final result was very rewarding, producing over £200 more than last year, so we gratefully thank all our helpers, donors and customers for their generous support and efforts.

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.