Tag Archives: railway

Dr Brooking of Brixham

Following recent interest from the Brooking Society, our Curator and Writer-in-Residence have been researching the life of a Victorian physician and surgeon.

Dr. Charles Henry Brooking was a native of Brixham, who took a prominent interest in the local affairs and development of the area, and played a leading part in the Volunteer Artillery.

Born in 1822, he trained at Guy’s Hospital and the College of Surgeons in London, returning to the port to assist his father in practice, qualifying as MD on his retirement and taking over the surgery, where he provided patients with medical attention for a further 30 years. On his own retirement, he spent two years in Italy and then purchased a property in Paignton, the Brixham practice passing to Dr. George Clement Searle.

In 1859, he had ‘succeeded where others failed’ and raised a group of men to form No. 2 Company (Brixham) of the Devonshire (1st) Royal Garrison Artillery, initially commanding them. The Battery used guns ‘that had seen service in the Napoleonic wars’; Captain William Murche later led the Company, his duties passing in time to Captain Lord Churston. Dr. Brooking’s colleague, Dr. Christopher Green, also participated, while Rev. Elrington, Vicar of All Saints’ Church, performed the duties of Chaplain.


artillery band


By 1861, the unit had two 24-pounder guns, while drills took place at the Market Hall, Bolton Cross and outdoors at Berry Head. They also formed a band, marching to Lord Churston’s seat at Lupton, to play ‘a favourite air of the Yarde-Buller family’. During the same year, Dr. Brooking was present at the occasion of the extension of the railway from Paignton to Brixham Road (later Churston Station), stepping forward amidst the crowds on the platform to read a congratulatory address to those arriving on the new stretch of line.

Seven years later, he attended the further extension of the line to Furzeham Common, the Artillery Band one of three performing at the opening ceremony. Local entrepreneur, Richard Walter Wolston, had personally financed the new track; many people were waiting to see his party’s carriage pull in to Brixham Station and cheered when they came into sight.




After Dr. Brooking left Brixham in 1870, the Volunteers continued to meet, practising their rifle shooting and arms skills. Numbers were maintained and in 1903, when new regulations led to a wave of resignations across the country, the Brixham Artillery held firm; in 1904, 86 men were drilling. The requirements paved the way for the Volunteers to be disbanded and territorial units otherwise organised in the years leading up to the Great War. The Brixham Rifle Club was formed in 1909, opening an outdoor shooting gallery at Upton Quarry, while the Urban District Council purchased the Fishcombe Battery for use as a public space in 1910.

Dr. Brooking held the record for being the oldest Volunteer in the country. As such, he was invited to a ‘levee’ at St. James’ Palace, where King George V received him. Three months after his 100th birthday in 1922, Dr. Brooking died in Paignton, where his funeral was held.

More fascinating glimpses into Dr. Brooking’s life including an interesting connection to Isambard Kingdom Brunel have been found in local newspapers – see Website section: Research Reports.


Railway book published 25 years after first edition



Twenty-five years after publishing the first edition, Brixham author Chris Potts has released a second version of his history of a local railway line. His follow-up edition of the Newton Abbot to Kingswear Railway is timed to coincide with the anniversary of the railway reaching Kingswear 150 years ago.

Potts said the newer version includes more historical information, personal anecdotes from those who worked on the railways and an update of the 25 years after his initial publication. “We found World War Two action records, runaway balloons and bombing that went on. “In particular it’s very fascinating in Kingswear how they had problems getting water in the engines. The railways needed water to run, and in the 19th century there were great problems with water shortages.”

This isn’t the first time Potts has updated a book of his, having published the second edition of his history of the Brixham railway branch in 2000. As well as railways, he has also written on the history of Brixham’s boys’ home and the town’s museum.

Having started his career on the railways at Torquay booking office in 1962, Potts later worked in Plymouth divisional office before spending 34 years at British Railway. After retirement he returned to the West Country, living in Brixham ever since. His latest book took him four years to update, on and off.
“I’ve always taken great delight in railways and railway history, so it’s a dream come true. I’ve made a good job of this, I’m pleased with it.”

With 352 pages the latest version is longer than the original at 218 written pages plus eight blocks of photos. At a print run of 1,000, half its predecessor’s in 1989, the latest edition may not be able to sell many but has still made a good start, with Torbay Bookshop selling 13 of its first 15 copies.


Chris’ book is also available for purchase from the Museum shop – price £19.95

At Work on the GWR in the 1890s


Frank Hill cover picture


At Work on the GWR in the 1890s: Frank Hill, Reliefman at Newton Abbot is the latest work by Chris Potts for Brixham Heritage Museum. Chris has provided an excellent editorial of Mr Hill’s letters, copied from a meticulously kept correspondence book loaned to the Museum by his granddaughter, Mrs Margaret French. They provide an interesting insight into the life of a GWR worker, who spent many years at stations and signal boxes on the Teign Valley line and across South Devon before promotion to Stationmaster at Churston.

Throughout his working life, which encompassed personal tragedy and fierce disputes with GWR managers, the hours were long and the variable work poorly paid – Mr Hill wrote many letters on his own and colleagues’ behalf stating reasons for wage increases – although he was clearly skilled in many tasks that ‘oiled the wheels’ of a regional railway and Chris Potts’ expert commentary clearly illuminates the details. Launching at the annual Steam Fair, the book will be available through the Museum and is not to be missed!

The book is priced at £4.99 by the way!