Thursday, 6 October 2016

Remaining Thoughts


Yes, Budleigh welcomes everyone!

Well, the nation finally voted for Brexit; for, in the words of a Hungarian academic who had once taught at the University of Exeter, ‘the comforting Englishness and timeless values of Budleigh Salterton’.

Stephen Pogány's article, Budleigh Salterton: Brexit And The Quest For A Mythic England, can be read at

Professor Stephen Pogány, pictured above, remembered the fine summer weekends that he had spent with his late wife on the pebbly beach of what he described as our ‘wonderfully retro’ town with its splendidly evocative name.  

The article that he published on the world wide web back in June, a few days after the Referendum result, was of course seized on by at least one local journalist, keen to show that Budleigh had made its voice heard in this most unexpected upheaval of the British political establishment.

Not all Budleigh residents voted to leave Europe of course. And those who did are far from rejecting the common heritage that we share with our neighbours from across the Channel.  From the historical perspective, a museum like Fairlynch is well-placed to show the foreign influences that have shaped our Englishness. 

An  aerial view of the salt marshes near the Mont Saint-Michel in Northern France 

Whether it was the monks from Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy who helped to create the salt industry which gave the town its name, or the fervour which led the young Walter Ralegh to spend part of his youth in France fighting for the Huguenots, or the religious persecution which gave 17th century East Budleigh a refugee Frenchman as its vicar, our links with Europe are obvious.  

Fairlynch Museum has its own version of Sir John Everitt Millais' 'Boyhood of Raleigh', created in 2015 by the Budleigh Salterton Venture Art Group

The grave of East Budleigh's French vicar, the Huguenot refugee Daniel Caunières, is at Filleigh, near Barnstaple. My bloggerel in his honour, sung to the tune of 'La Marseillaise' is at 

It was another refugee, the Austrian-born molecular biologist Max Perutz and friend of Budleigh archaeologist George Carter, whose work drew visitors to the museum with his 1939 study of the Budleigh cliffs’ curious radioactive pebbles.

This painting by Peter Goodhall, on display at Fairlynch Museum, depicts an episode in the life of Devon smuggler Jack Rattenbury, a regular visitor to France

In some cases, foreign links have yet to be explored at Fairlynch.  

A memorial tablet at East Budleigh's All Saints Church, pictured below, is a tribute to its 'smuggling vicar'. His home at Vicar's Mead was reputedly used for storage of contraband

Proper research has yet to be carried out into the cross-Channel smuggling trade associated with local figures like Jack Rattenbury and the Rev. Ambrose Stapleton.

Examples of England’s cultural exchange with Europe are everywhere. The recent Punch and Judy shows, billed on Fairlynch posters as ‘Great British Entertainment’, have their roots in the 16th century Italian theatrical tradition known as ‘commedia dell’arte’, with Mr Punch derived from the Neapolitan stock character of Pulcinella.  

Yes, our museum celebrates East Devon’s Lower Otter Valley. But localism does not mean a comforting isolationism. 

An East Budleigh anthem


The St Bartholomew's Day Massacre of 1572, a painting by the French Huguenot François Dubois (1529–1584) 

Elsewhere on this blog I posted my editorial 'Remaining Thoughts', published in the Autumn 2016 Fairlynch Museum newsletter The Primrose. 

As I wrote it, I had various things in mind, including the little-known story of East Budleigh's Huguenot refugee Daniel Caunières (1661-1739). He was appointed as vicar in 1689, four years after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes during the reign of Louis XIV. 

Caunières went on to become Rector of Filleigh, near Barnstaple in 1704. He was appointed on 10 March 1722 as chaplain to 27-year-old Lord Hugh Fortescue (1695-1751), later to become 14th Baron Clinton. 

My little piece of bloggerel can be sung to the tune of 'La Marseillaise'. 
(My words are much nicer).  

We’re going to sing a song of freedom
Of bravery and liberty;
Of Daniel Caunières, a Frenchman,
Who found himself a refugee.
It’s a story worth the telling
It’s a piece of true history.
It’s a piece of true history.
‘Twas a time of cruel persecution
When minorities were often forced to flee,
In times of prejudice and strife,
And many years before the Revolution.
How sad
The world can be,
When people
Let’s hope, one day,
We all must pray,
They’ll think like you and me!

It was a time of persecution
During the reign of King Louis.
He made life difficult for Huguenots
Passing a most unjust decree.
Daniel just wanted freedom
So he had to cross the sea.
He had to cross the sea.
It was a desperate solution
As we’re sure that you will all agree.
But human rights did not exist,
For this was years before the Constitution.
To Exeter
He came.
He didn’t
Change his name.
Let’s hope, one day,
We all must pray,
That things won’t be the same.

And if you visit All Saints Church today
The parish church of East Budleigh.
You’ll find the name of Daniel Caunières;
He was no vicar absentee.
It’s the village that is famous
As the home of Sir Walter Ralegh.
As the home of Sir Walter Ralegh.
Reverend Daniel made his contribution
To the land of hope and glory and the free.
He served as vicar many years,
Though sermons may have needed elocution.
His story
We declaim.
It needs
A bit of fame.
A new homeland,
Where he could stand
For freedom and its flame.

Below are the words of the first verse of 'La Marseillaise', the French national anthem. 

Allons enfants de la Patrie,
Le jour de gloire est arrivé!
Contre nous de la tyrannie,
L'étendard sanglant est levé, (bis)
Entendez-vous dans les campagnes
Mugir ces féroces soldats?
Ils viennent jusque dans vos bras
Égorger vos fils, vos compagnes!
Aux armes, citoyens,
Formez vos bataillons,
Marchons, marchons!
Qu'un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons!

Monday, 3 October 2016

Star’s pictures still up for sale

Reg enjoyed painting as a hobby for much of his life 

Only a few weeks remain until the end of a sale at Budleigh’s museum which offers the chance of owning an original signed Reg Varney oil painting.

The star of ‘The Rag Trade’ and ‘On the Buses’ was a talented actor and a gifted musician, but he was also a skilled artist.  

Reg did this sketch of two dogs at the age of 14

Reg Varney wanted to go to art school, but failed the maths exam. He followed a different career path, but always enjoyed painting.

A number of his pictures, on loan from his family, are now on display in Fairlynch Museum as part of a free exhibition which runs until October 30.


Seven of the paintings are being auctioned off to raise money for the charity Children’s Hospice South West, which runs hospices in Devon, Cornwall and Bristol, and which is marking its 25th anniversary in 2016. 

You can see the pictures on the museum’s website at  

There are also details of how to bid, and the current best bids.

Reg Varney’s daughter Jeanne is pleased with the likely outcome of the sale: ‘I am very encouraged by the interest in bidding so far,’ she said.  ‘I hope we can give the Children`s Hospice a nice cheque.’

Josh Allan, community fundraiser at Children’s Hospice South West’s Little Bridge House hospice in North Devon commented: ‘This is such an exciting art sale and we are privileged to be the charity benefiting from the auction. Reg Varney was such a great character and I think there are many of us that were unaware of what a talented artist he was!’

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

In praise of Admiral Preedy

This gold medal was issued by the New York-based Tiffany & Company to celebrate the achievement of those who had laid the first transatlantic telegraph cable in 1858, including former Budleigh resident Admiral Preedy CB (1817-94).

I thought I would add my own bloggerel contribution to mark the Admiral's bicentenary in 2017. It can be sung to the tune of ‘Miss Lucy had a baby’.

1. Now let us sing of heroes, who sailed the ocean blue,
And of a Budleigh worthy, and don’t forget his crew.
Two hundred years ago it was - from rural Worcestershire -
That Georgie William Preedy came:
A nautical high-flier.
He passed all his exams, of course, and rose up through the ranks.  
We’re sure that to an army life he would have said ‘No thanks!’
So let us raise our glasses to our Admiral Preedy!
This year is very special as his bicentenary.

HMS Agamemnon, launched in 1852,  was the first British battleship to be designed and built from the keel up with installed steam power 

2. In 1853 aboard the Duke of Wellington.
A first-rate Royal Navy ship; he found it rather fun.
As second-in-command he gained respect from all he met.
With sail and steam propelling her
The ship was quite a threat.
In time he gained promotion to the ship which made his name.
It was the Agamemnon which would really bring him fame.  
So let us raise our glasses to our Admiral Preedy!
Distinguished officer of our redoutable Navy.

3. By 1858 he is the captain of the ship.
Its technical description?  That’s something we can skip.
A 91-gun battleship, equipped with sail and screw,
And many other features
That I won’t impose on you.  
A popular commander with a pleasant-sounding voice,
Our Georgie was by all accounts, it seems, the sailors’ choice.
So let us raise our glasses to our Admiral Preedy!
So famous for commanding Agamemnon’s company.

Queen Victoria as depicted in the 1859 portrait by the German artist Franz Xavier Winterhalter 

4. Now Queen Victoria it was who sat upon the throne.
It was a time, you realise, when people couldn’t phone.
The Queen was told ‘Your Majesty, our scientists desire
To send a message overseas,
And all we need is wire!
And thanks to brilliant Englishmen, as well as Mr Morse,
We have the means to do it, though we need a ship of course!’
So let us raise our glasses to our Admiral Preedy!
He helped to pioneer Victorian telegraphy.

The reels of gutta-percha covered conducting wire conveyed into tanks at the Works of the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company, at Greenwich

5. The Agamemnon put to sea with many tons of cable
It sailed from Valentia but wasn’t very stable.
A storm arose and almost caused the ship to lose its load.
But Captain Preedy kept his cool;
To him all lives were owed.
East Budleigh’s parish church is where the saga is recalled:
As testament to bravery a window was installed.
So let us raise our glasses to our Admiral Preedy!
The bravest naval officer who ever put to sea.

The story of the whale is told in W.H. Russell's 1865 book The Atlantic Telegraph, illustrated by Robert Dudley

6. The Agamemnon carried on, but almost hit a whale.
An episode depicted by the men who told the tale.
Amazingly it met as planned its Yankee sister ship.
Mid-way across ‘The Pond’ they met
And talked about their trip.
Then cable ends from both the ships they finally did splice.
They had a little problem there, and had to do it twice.
So let us raise our glasses to our Admiral Preedy!
We think he’s just as great as Guglielmo Marconi.

James Buchanan (1791-1868) was President of the USA at this time

7. And finally it all was fixed and messages were sent:
A transatlantic chat between the Queen and President!
They had a few more problems and the link began to fail.
The engineers did scratch their heads,
And some, I’m sure, did wail.
They had to wait a few more years for permanent success;
Brunel’s ship the Great Eastern was a help, I must confess.
So let us raise our glasses to our Admiral Preedy!
His story is a thrilling one, I think we all agree.

Admiral Preedy's home in Little Knowle, Budleigh Salterton, formerly a hotel and care home, now restored as a private residence 

8. And as for Captain Preedy, he was honoured as we know,
The world’s a smaller place today as human contacts grow.
The Navy made him Admiral, Commander of the Bath.
From rural Worcestershire to this
It was a hero’s path.
I think of world wide webs to see his house in Little Knowle;
I think of human progress since that age of steam and coal.   
So let us raise our glasses to our Admiral Preedy!
He was a worthy citizen of East Devon’s Budleigh.  

© Michael Downes 2016

Admiral George William Preedy CB (1817-94) captained HMS Agamemnon which laid the first successful transatlantic telegraph cable in 1858.  He retired to Budleigh Salterton, living at Park House in Little Knowle.  The commemorative stained glass window is in All Saints Church, East Budleigh.  The history of the cable laying is at and I am indebted to Bill Burns who put together his fascinating website.