Thursday, 18 September 2014

Budleigh in Books: Part 4

After my survey of Budleigh as used by so many authors as a ‘small town’ setting I’m left wondering  what the future holds. I was going to stop after Part 3, but a friend told me the other evening that he’d enjoyed my rambling in previous instalments so much that I thought I’d now go a bit imaginative in this one. If you haven't seen my previous postings they are  here  for Part 1, here   for Part 2 and  here  for Part 3.

The St Bartholomew's Day Massacre, 23-24 August 1572. Painting by François Dubois, a Huguenot painter born circa 1529 in Amiens, who settled in Switzerland. Although Dubois did not witness the massacre, he depicts Admiral Coligny's body hanging out of a window at the rear to the right. To the left rear, Catherine de' Medici is shown emerging from the Château du Louvre to inspect a heap of bodies.  Image credit: Wikipedia

For example, will the budding creatives who gave us Summer Storm transport us back to the age of Sir Walter Raleigh in next year’s publication, with a gang of Famous Five young Devonians intent on a mission to save the Huguenots from their evil oppressors?   For information about the ambitious Budfas Young Arts programme click  here

On second thoughts, maybe the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre isn’t quite suitable as a subject for primary school pupils.


The Rolle Arms, overlooking the sea, was one of Budleigh Salterton's grandest hotels

Even less suitable would be a racy novel set in the Edwardian era, when, so I’ve been told by a highly respected Budleigh historian, the goings-on on the town’s grand hotels would make even Noel Coward blush. 


And the story of how love bloomed on a Budleigh beach for an unhappily-married princess is more chick-lit for readers of romantic fiction than edifying material for a Famous Five adventure recounted by 11-year-olds. 

Well, it was certainly one of the selling-points of a book called Princess in Love in which journalist Anna Pasternak told us about the doomed affair between Diana, Princess of Wales, and a dashing officer - no, not the one in the photo -  who becomes her lover. The first print-run of 75,000 copies sold out within hours of its publication on 3 October 1994.

I tell this story during my ‘Walk with Words’ tour of Budleigh as a counterblast to the awful things that Noel Coward wrote about the town in his play Blithe Spirit.


I mean, who could deny the romantic nature of a walk hand-in-hand over the pebbles towards the sunset as you set out from Steamer Steps? Out of season, on a deserted beach, with a stormy crashing sea to convey to readers the violent, passionate and ultimately destructive nature of your secret adulterous liaison.


The title page of The Moonstone 

Let’s go back in time to find something more suitable for the 11-year-olds. 

Could Budleigh’s Anglo-Indian heritage provide a thriller on the lines of Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone?  For people who don’t know, that’s the 19th century work which is reckoned to be the first detective novel. I’ll quote a summary from Wikipedia: “Rachel Verinder, a young English woman, inherits a large Indian diamond on her eighteenth birthday. It is a legacy from her uncle, a corrupt British army officer who served in India. The diamond is of great religious significance as well as being extremely valuable, and three Hindu priests have dedicated their lives to recovering it.”

Maybe a sacred ritual sword originating from Poona and presented to Fairlynch by the 21st century descendants of a brutal East Indian Company general - or perhaps by amateur archaeologist George Carter, whose daughter co-founded the Museum - could arouse passions even more violent than those stirred by the Elgin Marbles.  

In the early 20th century Carter had spent time out in the Indian sub-continent, in what is now Pakistan. He’d carried out archaeological excavations, investigating customary practices and cosmological beliefs, collecting, recording, interpreting and translating myths and stories, writing a string of published papers on these subjects.  

More of him later.


You can meet this spookily realistic figure of Jack Rattenbury in the Smugglers' Cellar at Fairlynch Museum

Then there’s smuggling of course.  Jack Rattenbury, born in Beer in 1778, seems to be the smuggler that everyone’s heard of - we even have a talking version of him at Fairlynch. But reading about the Reverend Doctor Christopher Syn the other day made me wonder about the possibilities of using East Budleigh’s smuggling vicar, the Rev. Ambrose Stapleton as the central character of a book set in the Lower Otter Valley.  Dr Syn was the smuggling hero of a series of novels by Russell Thorndike first published in 1915 and based on smuggling in the 18th century on Romney Marsh in Kent, where brandy and tobacco were brought in at night by boat from France to avoid high tax.

We know so little about the Rev Stapleton that I feel he deserves some attention, even if it means fictionalising a bit of his story. There was tragedy in his life: all his sons died before him.


I have to confess that I haven’t read any Dr Syn stories, but I can imagine that the famously “bleak and eerie” atmosphere of Romney Marsh - counted by the BBC as one of Britain’s Seven Man Made Wonders    - contributed to the success of Russell Thorndike’s work. Click on  to read more.


A lonely track on Woodbury Common

Could our own Woodbury Common compete as a setting for dastardly deeds in a smuggling novel? Or any other kind of novel for that matter. 


I love the wildness and vastness of the Common, the buzzards and the prospect of spotting a Dartford Warbler in all that yellow gorse and purple heather.

But I also sense something menacing there. Maybe it’s to do with the hidden and mysterious Bronze Age sites, or the fact that it’s been the site of military encampments, whether of General Simcoe in the Napoleonic era or constructed as WW2 preparations for the D-Day landings. Something menacing and lethal.  

Not too many people know that the gorse has apparently been responsible for two deaths in recent years, including that of a young and healthy Royal Marine recruit.


The first edition of Hardy's The Return of The Native

When I heard those stories on the news I was reminded of my own reading of Thomas Hardy’s novel The Return of the Native, where his Egdon Heath is given a similarly threatening presence. The lethal element is conveyed in the adder bite from which the character Mrs Yeobright dies. 

The Heath is considered by some Hardy critics to be the leading character of the novel: “profoundly ancient, the scene of intense but long-forgotten pagan lives” - just like our Woodbury Common! For some of the characters it is “a benign, natural place.” In the eyes of the heroine it becomes “a malevolent presence intent on destroying her.” 


Or, if you enjoyed the adventures of Indiana Jones, how about a plot inspired by Professor Chris Tilley's East Devon Pebblebeds Project, and especially the series of fine photos of sunrise and sunset, with his commentary on celestial events and the fire rituals in which our Bronze Age ancestors took part on the Commons? 

You can read about the Project at 


Incidentally, going back to George Carter, pictured above, the website acknowledges the debt that today’s anthropologists owe to him. In his time he was much maligned as an eccentric by conservative types. “He did not have much time or patience with establishment archaeological ideas and positions and fell out with some of the leading archaeologists of his day who did not appreciate the value of his work,” writes Professor Tilley. “Sadly he is now a forgotten figure in British archaeology. He was a man with ideas and interpretative approaches well ahead of his time.”

I reckon that the young authors of a Famous Five’s Adventures in the Bronze Age could play their part in helping to rehabilitate George Carter and his far-out theories, but it would involve some long-distance time-travel.

The people of Budleigh Salterton themselves will always provide an intriguing backdrop to any novel. 


The title page of W.F.R. Macartney's book Walls have Mouths

Summer Storm featured the fictional Gwen Watson, a retired MI5 secret agent living in Budleigh. But recently I discovered that a real ex-spy, Wilfred Macartney, was a resident of Marine Parade. His autobiographical 440-page Walls have Mouths had been sitting on my bookshelf for over 40 years when I came across mention of him on the internet as a declared bankrupt in 1944. 

The Exmouth Journal of 14 August 2014 thought that his eventful life made rather a good story. After all, Special Branch were keeping an eye on his home, noting that five women were staying with him, one of them being the wife of Harry Pollitt, General Secretary of the British Communist Party. 

W.F.R. Macartney had a notable role in the Great War as well, which I’ll deal with in due course on my WW1 blog at

By contrast with such excitements, so many concealed sadnesses, I feel.

Take for example, the large numbers of spinsters recorded in the pages of past town directories. How many of them had lovers or admirers who died in World War One, I wonder in this centenary year, and came to Budleigh for its reputed tranquillity, for consolation?  There were certainly plenty of war widows living in the town, many of whom never remarried. One of them lived in our house.

Some were plain eccentric. Consider the picture of Miss Henty, the elderly daughter of the Victorian author G.A. Henty, as remembered by the poet Meg Peacocke and recorded in Anthony Meredith’s wonderful biography of her brother Sir Richard Rodney Bennett.


When they moved from London to Budleigh in 1939 Meg, pictured here,  was happy, especially in the “rambling and dilapidated” house owned by the author’s daughter which the Bennett family rented for a time.

“Miss Henty was an amazing personality, really quite mad,” Meg Peacocke recalls. “Among her many eccentricities, for example, was a terror of getting bats in her wispy grey hair. But the house was thrilling! I used to sneak about, taking everything in, and I went up to the attic once and it was full of assegais, masks and marvellous red-leather volumes full of paintings of butterflies and insects.”

Sometimes I think of how many other rambling, dilapidated but thrilling large houses there must have been in the old Budleigh Salterton before they were replaced by apartment blocks. 

Meg Peacocke will give a talk on Monday 13 October at 7.30 pm in the Peter Hall, jointly presented by Fairlynch Museum and the Otter Valley Association.  The subject is ‘Budleigh in Wartime - a child’s viewpoint.’

Rhyncosaur Day Success

Families admire the completed mosaic

Fairlynch’s Lego Dinosaur Day on 28 August was a great success, with 40 children busily making a two-dimensional model of a Rhynchosaur.   

A life-size version of the strange dog-like creature which lived 240 million years ago was lent by Clinton Devon Estates and had pride of place on the Museum lawn for the day.  Bones from the Rhyncosaur were found in the cliffs between Budleigh and Sidmouth in the late 19th century.

Bright Bricks expert Joe Perez, seen above, was on hand to give advice. The organisation is one of the world’s most inventive design companies, creating unique models, mosaics and events from LEGO bricks. 

The day concluded with the creation of a large mosaic model on the lawn, with each child receiving a limited edition Rynchosaur Lego kit. 

The event raised £415 for the Museum, and was featured in the Budleigh Journal

The Dinosaur Day is just one of the items of news covered in the Autumn 2014 issue of The Primrose, a newsletter published for the Friends of Fairlynch Museum. To see more news click  here

Delderfield Plaque unveiled


Visitors to Fairlynch who enjoyed the R.F. Delderfield Centenary Exhibition in 2012 will be pleased to know that the author, pictured above, has been honoured with a blue plaque at the house where he lived from 1918 to 1923 in Addiscombe, Surrey.

The Addiscombe & Shirley Park Residents’ Association funded the plaque to commemorate the distinguished novelist and dramatist who later moved to East Devon.

The plaque, at 22 Ashburton Avenue, was unveiled on 4 September by the Worshipful the Mayor of Croydon, Councillor Manju Shahul-Hameed, by kind permission of the present owners of the house and in the company of members of the Delderfield family. 

R.F. Delderfield’s The Avenue novels, comprising The Dreaming Suburb and The Avenue Goes to War, were directly based on his life in the Addiscombe area and were later made into the successful London Weekend Television series ‘People Like Us’ (1977-8) starring John Duttine. He also wrote about the area in his autobiography, Overture for Beginners.

In another autobiography, Delderfield wrote amusingly about his life in Budleigh Salterton, which he disguised as Pebblecombe Regis. You can read about this here

His move to East Devon from the London area was a profound change for Delderfield. But he remained a great champion of the suburbs, which he referred to as “Arcady.”  Of its residents, he wrote:

“These people are for the most part unsung, and that even though they represent the greater part of Britain’s population. The story of the country dwellers, and the city sophisticates, has been told often enough; it is time somebody spoke of the suburbs, for therein, I have sometimes felt, lies the history of our race.”

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Many thanks, Colin


Thanks are due to Colin Wells, of Dawlish, who recently donated this six-page 1966 auction brochure to the Museum. He came across it in a box of local maps which he’d purchased, and thought that it would interest us as part of the history of the building. 

Our late President Priscilla Hull recalled how the house was bought “at a reasonable price” following a public appeal which was launched in 1967. “This realised about £3,500, so four interested people bought ‘Fairlynch’ between them, and leased it back to the Trustees of the Committee of Management.”  


Also shown here is a Great War photo of Brigadier Phillip Wheeler Bliss and his wife Monica on their wedding day, published in the Weekly Dispatch.  The couple lived at Fairlynch from 1949 to 1964. Brigadier Bliss had a distinguished military career, about which I will write in due course on my Great War blog.   

Maine exhibition at Topsham

Devon's Topsham celebrates its US link in the Entwhistle Room

Yes, as far as Friends of Fairlynch Mike and Margaret Wilson are concerned, ‘Celebrating Topsham Maine’ is probably the big exhibition at Topsham Museum. The Entwhistle Room is small, but Margaret, who has done the research, has managed to convey a massive amount of interesting information about the Devon port’s sister-town. All displayed on attractively designed panels.

I first met Mike and Margaret when we were involved with former Fairlynch Chairman Roger Kingwill a few years ago in designing the Budleigh museum’s ‘Survival!’ exhibition to mark the centenary of Scott’s last Antarctic trip. 

I knew nothing about Dr Murray Levick, the expedition's doctor and zoologist who had come to live near Budleigh, and not much more about Antarctica and Scott's ship, the Terra Nova. But I learnt a lot from Roger, Mike and Margaret about planning a museum exhibition. ‘Celebrating Topsham Maine’ is characterised by the same authoritative and well structured approach to the subject.

A scroll of greetings to the town of Topsham, Maine, USA, from the Topsham Community Association, the Topsham History Group, the Topsham Society and Topsham Museum

Topsham, in the State of Maine, USA, became a town in its own right only in 1764 and consisted then of only 12 uninhabited buildings. This year the town is celebrating 250 years of incorporation, and the displays trace its development from a small frontier town to today’s community of around 7,000 inhabitants.  

Pejepscot Paper Mill, Topsham, Maine (also known as Bowdoin Mill)
Image credit: Marc N. Belanger

A good insight is given into the way in which the fortunes of the American town stemmed from its importance in industries such as lumber, paper, fishing and furs, including ice. The unhappy side of its origins is not forgotten, with mention of the  way in which the indigenous peoples of the region suffered with the arrival of Europeans 400 years ago.

Conflicts broke out between these two civilisations who, as we read, could have been living on different planets. Many merchants among the settlers were eager to exploit the region’s riches. “These wily operators often extracted land from the unworldly Indians after plying them with alcohol and other devious ploys.”  

A visit to Topsham, just under ten miles from Budleigh Salterton, is always a pleasure, offering something new to admire or wonder about on each occasion, including those gabled merchants’ houses in the Strand.  


Attractively designed wall panels provide plenty of information 

I hadn’t realised that within half a century of John Cabot’s discovery of Newfoundland in 1497, European fisherman were crossing the Atlantic to exploit the great fishing banks and that Devon’s Topsham had the largest fishing fleet in England apart from London.

So, do call at our fine sister-museum when you next visit the town, and make sure you see ‘Celebrating Topsham Maine.’ The exhibition runs until 30 October. The Museum is open from 2.00 - 5.00 pm daily, except Tuesdays, but is open on Tuesdays during August. Admission is free. 

For more information, click on 

Budleigh in Books: Part 3

Click  here  to read my earlier post Budleigh in Books: Part 2 and  here  to read Budleigh in Books: Part 1

The English novelist Clare Morrall, born in Exeter in 1952, has lived mainly in Birmingham but has a strong attachment to East Devon.  Her mother lived in Lympstone, and she has been a frequent visitor to the area over the years.  

The Man Who Disappeared, published in 2010, is her fourth novel. It raises the issue of how well one can ever really know another person, using the device of an apparently happy marriage which suddenly falls apart when a secret is revealed. 

In the novel, Felix and Kate Kendall buy a house in Budleigh Salterton. He then disappears and is sought by police for money-laundering. The novel explores the impact of these events on his family.

It was, Clare Morrall was reported as saying, a real pleasure setting her latest book in the surroundings where she grew up. “I have always thought I would like to set something there because it is such a nice area and I love Budleigh Salterton, which is where the couple in the novel live."

The mouth of the River Mouth at Budleigh Salterton
Image credit: Barry Lewis

There are plenty of realistic touches, such as the mentions of Budleigh by name - no more ‘Pebbletons’ or ‘Pebblecombes’.  There’s even a recognisable description of part of the famous pebble beach, where one can watch the sea “flow into the Otter river, a deep current, guarded by a group of rocks at the entrance.” When Kate reaches the end of Budleigh beach she “gazes across the river at the cluster of pines opposite.” Out in the bay on the horizon she notices a tanker “almost motionless with distance, travelling across the world, passing Budleigh Salterton without acknowledgement.”  There is a mention of Sandy Bay with its cliffs and “rows of caravans stretched over distant fields.” Exmouth, Dawlish, Lympstone and Woodbury Common also find their place in the narrative.

There are fictional elements however. Budleigh Salterton is initially portrayed as somewhere special and idealised. Clare Morrall appreciates Budleigh for its special qualities, and these are emphasised to build up the picture of the ideal life before the domestic catastrophe.

The tranquillity of Budleigh beach is emphasised, for example.  During a family outing to Exmouth beach, before the move to Budleigh, Kate notices the comfortable sand, but the beach is busy with families and children “shrieking at the cold, shaking themselves like dogs.”  Her parents “recoiled from the random splashes, struggling to appear oblivious.” They live in Topsham of course, in a 17th century Dutch gabled house which has, incongruously, a large plate-glass window offering a spectacular view of the river Exe.  “We should have gone to Budleigh Salterton,” observes Felix, noting the unease of his in-laws. “They’re out of place here.” A few lines further on, he comments: “The air never feels as fresh here as it does at Budleigh.”

When they do move to Budleigh, it is to buy a home which turns out to be a dream property: an elegant home “Edwardian, white and draped with wisteria, looking out to sea from its position at the top of a cliff.”

A family walk along the River Otter after the move to this ideal home, in the good days before the crisis, inspires “a deep contentment” in Kate. “It was an exquisite moment that she would never lose, whatever might happen in the future.”

It’s almost a perfect world, hinted at with dramatic irony in this vision of the Otter: “The sky had been an intense, unbroken blue, stretching from horizon to horizon without a blemish. On the opposite side of the river, trees projected their image onto the water so perfectly that, if the world was turned upside down, no one would even know the reflection wasn’t the reality.”  The Man Who Disappeared is, after all, concerned with appearance and reality  in the central character’s relationship with her husband.

Clare Morrall seems genuine enough in her affectionate portrayal of the town. No longer is Budleigh the butt of the usual barbs by previous writers like Coward, Delderfield and others whom I looked at in earlier posts.  I did notice, however, the comment that “Nobody goes for walks in Budleigh at eight o’clock in the morning if they haven’t got a dog." And I found a comment in the same vein in an online review of the novel by a Jayne Charles. “Provided you can cope with the idea of international fraud being committed in Budleigh Salterton (quite a feat but I managed it), this is a fantastic read,” she writes.

Yet there is, so Clare Morrall would have us believe, a different side of Budleigh which Kate and her family will experience in their reduced circumstances brought about by Felix’s disappearance. They continue to live in the town, within reach of the beach. But the grandeur of the elegant Edwardian house has been replaced by a block of run-down flats. Two aunts visit. “Nineteen fifties, I’d say. Replacing the slums,” observes Aunt Beatrice. “But did they have slums in Budleigh Salterton?” questions Aunt Agnes, a thought that had crossed my own mind. 

Alarmingly, for those who treasure Budleigh’s cosy image, the plot turns melodramatic with its picture of juvenile street-gangs, car-theft and a final tense chase along the Exe marshes between Lympstone and Exmouth.

Away from novels, things are looking up for Budleigh in the world of books. First a literary festival which has developed from small beginnings into a highly successful and prestigious event. It’s been helped, of course, by the move to the town of a famous author who has since become its Patron.


Image credit: Joshua Irwandi

It was a dream fulfilled for Dame Hilary Mantel when she settled in the former Southlands Hotel on Marine Parade. The author of Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies had apparently discovered Budleigh at the age of 16, walking alone along the coast path from Exmouth where her parents had taken her on holiday. That magical view of the bay on a baking-hot day had touched her imagination. It looked - looks - like a Mediterranean town from above. She’d never seen a Mediterranean town, but knew what it should be like.



And now we have a crime thriller firmly set in the Budleigh area and written by children from the three primary schools. Published by Budfas Young Arts, Summer Storm is the first book in the Heroes of the Jurassic Coast series of adventure stories written by pupils of St Peter’s, Drakes and Otterton Primary Schools. 

The eye-catching murals created by students at Exmouth Community College to complement the publication of Summer Storm appeared at various sites in Budleigh. This one was painted on the sea-front

It’s very much a story on the lines of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five adventures as one of the main characters acknowledges early on, though this Budleigh-based story focuses on just two young adventurers: Caroline Booker, a pupil at St Peter’s School, Budleigh Salterton and her male school friend Eddie Carter. 

And of course there’s ‘Bud’ the dog, a reminder of the Famous Five’s Timmy. There’s a shipwreck, a criminal gang, a secret map identifying a hidden cave, an old Budleigh lady who turns out to be an MI5 agent,  a kidnapping and a happy ending. 

A dramatic seascape: near Brook Road

Enid Blyton gave us Georgina - a tomboy who prefered to be called George. Since then we’ve had the sexual revolution, and it’s confirmed in the way that Budleigh’s 21st century young writers portray Caroline Booker, a pupil at St Peter’s School, Budleigh Salterton. Eddie Carter, her male school friend, seems to be a bit of a whinger. Shivering with fear, he admits: ‘I’m scared.’ ‘Don’t be such a girl!’ said Caroline, who could be quite sharp.” 


Summer Storm scenes on the wall of Budleigh Salterton Library

There are plenty of other modern touches: the evil gang members drive around in a black 4X4 Mercedes and illegally monitor emergency radio frequencies, and there are mentions of pen drives and text messages.


However it’s the local colour which makes Summer Storm special for local readers. The list of characters with local names like Vanstone sets the action from the beginning firmly in Budleigh Salterton. Shops like Budleigh Wines and Premier Fish get a mention, as does the Gentlemen’s Club. There’s a den off the coast path, the sound of a Dartford Warbler allows our heroes to realise that they’ve been imprisoned on Woodbury Common and the Royal Marines make a triumphant appearance to save the day.

Cliff Road gets a make-over with this mural by Exmouth Community College students.

And more and more murals appeared in unexpected places to brighten up Budleigh: 

All had been created to illustrate moments in the book.

Summer Storm is, a foreword tells us, “a tale of heroes, of men and women, boys and girls who answered the call when danger threatened.”  It’s a thoroughly enjoyable yarn, especially for local readers. Maybe future books in the series will see heroes from the past stepping out from its pages.   

After all, the celebrated Victorian children’s author and historical novelist G.A. Henty had a daughter who lived in Budleigh Salterton.


Henty is noted unfortunately not just for that tremendous beard. He has been taken to task in modern times for his racist and jingoist views. But I have to admit that, as a naive boy reader, I rather enjoyed his novels 

Among Henty’s 100-plus titles I noted Saint Bartholomew's Eve: A Tale of the Huguenot Wars. This particular book reminded me that a 15-year-old Walter Raleigh, born in our own East Budleigh, was fighting in France during the 1570s with fellow-Protestants from Devon to defend Huguenots against their evil oppressors.  The novel, though I haven’t read it, is even today rated as a rattling good yarn according to the blurb promoting the audiobooks version.

Set in the days of the religious wars of Europe, St. Bartholomew’s Eve is the tale of the Huguenot’s desperate fight for freedom of worship in France,” writes the reviewer of an Audiobooks edition. “As the struggle intensifies the plot thickens, culminating in the dreadful Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve. Henty, ‘The Boy’s Own Storyteller’ weaves the life and adventures of Philip Fletcher and his cousin, Francois DeLaville, into the historical background with thrilling battles, sieges and escapes along the way (not to mention a fair damsel in distress!)”

Young Walter, according to the history books, had apparently followed his cousins Gawen and Henry Champernowne to France. Gawen had married Gabrielle de Montgomerie, the beautiful daughter of a Huguenot leader.

If you’re looking for a further Budleigh connection, you’ll find it here, in the 1852 painting by Sir John Everitt Millais, celebrated in our town for staying in The Octagon while he painted 'The Boyhood of Raleigh.'  This earlier painting, used on the Audiobook cover, is entitled 'A Huguenot, on St. Bartholomew's Day, Refusing to Shield Himself from Danger by Wearing the Roman Catholic Badge.'

Yes, today’s Heroes of the Jurassic Coast are not short of interesting real-life characters from the past to inspire them to further adventures.