Saturday, 21 February 2015

Calling our keen gardeners

Are you... 
Bored with begonias...
Crowded out with cotoneasters…
Dividing dahlias...
Sowing seeds...
Splitting salvias...
Overflowing with fuchsias…?

Have you thought of
offering them to Fairlynch for our Grand Easter Fair on Saturday 4 April?

Do you have any gardening books we could sell?  Any vases or planters?  Or any other garden/gardening related items?  Are you over-run with bamboo that could be cut and sold as plant support?  Do you need to re-home crocus or snowdrop bulbs?   Would you plant a tray of seeds (flowers or veg), prepare a tray of cuttings, split plants etc to be ready for sale on the great day?

If you can help, please phone Chris on  
01395 488297 to arrange collection
Or email:

Also welcome are any unwanted items to stock our Tombola table

Friday, 13 February 2015

Lone inkwell finds a place at Fairlynch

Are you a teacher? Would you like to plan your lessons using real objects from a museum in a way that will stimulate, support and enrich your pupils’ learning?

Fairlynch Museum, in common with many similar institutions, has a number of Schools Loan Boxes containing objects ranging from ancient to modern which can be used by teachers. Each box is themed according to the contents, and covers subject areas such as Victorian Life, Toys of the Past, Archaeology, and Textiles. 

The latest addition to the Fairlynch’s Loan Box collection is this pretty cut glass inkwell, kindly donated to the Museum by a local resident.  Calligraphy expert and Friend of Fairlynch Irene Whalley thinks that it would have been one of a pair. “With its Gothic top and faceted shape it’s really quite elegant. A delightful piece,” she says.

To borrow one of Fairlynch Museum’s Loan Boxes you can contact the Museum on 01395 442666; email:

Fascinating and fun: the OVA-Fairlynch joint talks

The common pond skater (Gerris lacustris)
Image credit: David Spears

David Spears It was a privilege on Saturday 7 February to hear two distinguished experts who are noted for their stunning images of wildlife.

David Spears’ talk was entitled ‘Tiny Lives in Rivers and Estuaries.’  A Fellow of the Royal Microscopical Society, the Royal Photographic Society and the London Zoological Society, he studied Zoology at the University of East London and Neurobiology at the Open University before pursuing a career in wildlife photography.  He filmed with David Bellamy and David Attenborough before later setting up his own production company, Science Pictures.


A century and a half ago the Budleigh-born scientist and microscopist Henry John Carter FRS, pictured above, settled in retirement at what is now Umbrella Cottage on Fore Street Hill. Part of his retirement was spent identifying creepy crawlies that he found in local drains and bogs. 

Microphotography was not available, but the drawings that he made of the tiny creatures that he observed astonished the Victorian public.


Some of Henry Carter's microscopic drawings, as reproduced in an 1869 edition of the Annals and Magazine of Natural History
Carter would have been staggered and delighted by the images that David creates, using modern high-powered electron microscopes, as seen in this photo of a tadpole. 

From award-winning photos of tiny amoeba to the smaller aquatic vertebrates, many of them found in the River Otter, his riveting talk took us through nature’s food chain with all its predators and victims.


 Daphnia pulex  Image credit: Paul Hebert

We were shown bacteria which live on decaying leaves, pond skaters which feed on daphnia, water boatmen which suck the juices out of tadpoles — even a dragonfly swallowing a fish. We learnt about blue-green algae and the difference between malarial and non-malarial mosquitos.

A diatom 
Image credit: The Natural History Museum

David’s passion for his subject came across clearly. Like Carter he had been charmed by the beauty of his subjects: he enthused about the intricate jewel-like workmanship of “pretty diatoms” and the fascinating lives of vorticella — “very interesting little chaps” which behave like jellyfish.


Vorticella attached to a spirogyra 
Image credit: Keeblur

For those members of the audience tempted to try and emulate David’s achievements he gave encouraging hints that microphotography was not beyond the reach of the average pond-dipper, occasionally mentioning equipment that he had “picked up on Ebay.”

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica) 
Image credit: Boaworm

The second speaker, Mike Langman, is equally passionate about birds. He worked for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) at their headquarters in Bedfordshire, for nine years after he left art college in 1983. His bird illustrations can be seen in nearly every RSPB reserve. His work has been published in over 50 books and regularly appears in all of the UK’s birdwatching magazines. 

Mike’s talk was a more interactive presentation than the previous speaker’s, and had an amusing touch of the showman about it: mid-way through his opening introduction his mobile rang. For quite a few seconds I was taken in as I listened to a ‘conversation’ between Mike and his Auntie Flo about a bird that she had spotted. Later during the talk he asked the audience for a volunteer to stand out in front and draw a puffin, based on descriptive details that we did our best to provide. 

Blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus)
Image credit: Dave Croker

“How well do you know your common birds?” was another test which we were faced with.  I felt I should have known better the difference between a blue tit and a coal tit. 
Still, nobody in the audience scored 100% when Mike asked us to draw the markings on a badger’s head.

Coal tit (Periparus ater)
Image credit: nottsexminer 
There were plenty of wonderful photographs of birds. Trying to spot a Mediterranean gull in a flock of black-headed gulls and a goose in a gathering of swans were further tests where some did surprising well and others did dismally.

The lessons from all this fun and games were clear: it’s all about observation when you’re trying to identify our feathered friends. And drawing, rather than photography, is the answer.  The digital camera, clever though it may be, is no substitute for binoculars, sketching and notes. 

Both David and Mike showed us early pictures of their work from the time when, as youngsters, they were experimenting with microscopy and sketchpads. Which left me feeling rather sad I didn’t spot a single young person in an audience with an average age of 60. It was Saturday morning. I wondered how many teachers had recommended these two excellent talks to the aspiring naturalists, film-makers and artists that we hope our schools will produce.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Have manhole covers been covered? (Or "I spy with my little eye, something beginning with m")

The exhibition of nominated heritage assets is taking place soon as I mention elsewhere, and I now I’m feeling guilty that I contributed so little. I’ve been too busy blogging.

It’s too late to submit anything now, I think, but here goes…

Manhole covers!  Do you notice them? I mean the ones that have names on, like the one at…  But I hesitate. I have a problem here, because I have always noticed them, and ever since reading about the unscrupulous metal thieves who scoop them up and carry them off to be melted down I’ve been worried about their future. 


They’re definitely part of our heritage: “a fascinating part of local history" as Charles Wagner, the London Historic Areas Adviser at English Heritage said in response to news of the crime wave which was sweeping the capital’s streets ten years ago, leaving dangerous empty holes.

The problem has not gone away. In fact ‘Manhole cover  theft’ is a specific topic treated all on its own in Wikipedia, having become a worldwide phenomenon. It quotes the example of Calcutta, where 10,000 manhole covers were taken in two months.

So although I admire historian Tehmina Goskar for her diligent recording of Cornish manhole covers at  I’m just a bit worried about giving the location of the Budleigh Salterton ones that I feature here. Or am I being unnecessarily protective? 


You may even think I'm a bit of a nutter. 


But Budleigh Salterton is after all the town of Charles Warrell (1889-1995), aka Big Chief I-Spy. 


You can read about him here.  


I'm sure he would have approved of manhole cover spotting. 

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Matching the Millais

The Boyhood of Raleigh  by Sir John Everett Millais, Bt 1870
Photo: © Tate, London 2015

I've been watching members of the Venture Art Group at work on an unusual project, part of the preparations to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of one of East Devon’s best known historical figures.

Sir John Everett Millais’ painting of the young Walter Ralegh and his half-brother Humphrey Gilbert sitting rapt as they listen to an old sailor’s tales is one of Tate Britain’s treasures.  Budleigh Salterton people will tell you that the stone wall in the painting can still be seen today, opposite The Octagon, the building where Millais stayed in 1870. 

It seemed only right that this Pre-Raphaelite masterpiece should be displayed in Budleigh’s Fairlynch Museum to celebrate its centenary. 

So indeed it was in 1970, shortly after the museum was founded back in July 1967. It was a masterstroke of publicity for the town, with annual visitor numbers at the museum shooting up from just over 2,000 to almost 12,000 in the space of a year.

The feat was repeated as a millennial event for the museum in 2000. 

This year will see not the original painting by Millais on display in Fairlynch Museum but a copy which is a remarkable collaborative effort by amateur artists from the  Venture Art Group, a splinter group within Budleigh Salterton Art Group.   The painting is due for completion in time for the opening of the Museum’s Sir Walter Ralegh Room on 4 April this year. 

It’s all part of the build-up to 2018, when Sir Walter Ralegh’s death on the scaffold after his eventful life will be marked with more tributes to a great Devon hero.

Venture Art Group member Chris Stacey explained: “We started immediately after Christmas with a postcard of the original painting. Then we made a grid out of it, so we had 30 panels for 20 members to do. We’ve added a bit of extra to make up to 30 panels.”  

At 12.30pm on Tuesday 3 February, the panels were  brought together for the first time. 

 "It's a historic moment! We must have a record!”

“Look! The sailor’s fingers don’t match his hand.”

“Just a dab more Scarlet Lake I think.”

“I love the toucan!”

“Those flowers don’t look quite right.”

“I wanted to paint a complete ship but I could only find a photo of a Dutch vessel to copy from. Nobody’ll notice, will they?

“Looks good to me!”

“That  sea needs a few waves.”

“What do you think? That’s not how Millais has done it.”

“That’s Iris’ work. She helps with costumes at the museum.”

“Hang on! He doesn’t lose his head until later.”

“That sailor's foot looks as if it could do with a wash.”

“Just a little more burnt umber, I think.”

“Still some way to go but we’re getting there.”

“We’ve had a lot of fun with this project.”

“It’s been a team effort - a lovely thing to do as a group.”

“I bet you couldn’t do any better.”