Saturday, 26 February 2011

A grateful St Dunstan's

Above: The St Dunstan's centre in Ovingdean, near Brighton holds introductory training and rehabilitation weeks for blinded ex-servicemen and women as well as offering respite care, holidays and a range of recreational and social activities. St Dunstaners in the North of the country can take advantage of the charity's residential centre in Sheffield which offers introductory weeks, computer and rehabilitation courses. The new Llandudno centre is due to open once design and refurbishment has been completed, offering excellent facilities to help meet the needs of ever-increasing numbers of St Dunstaners

I continue to be absorbed by different aspects of Surgeon Commander Murray Levick's life. It's also easy to be ensnared into trying to solve the inevitable puzzles and contradictions that arise from study of an individual as one delves more deeply into his or her world, especially today with the help of the internet.

But I don't want to spend the whole summer stuck in front of the computer. The gardening season's about to begin. And in any case I have that deadline of Sunday 10 April when our Fairlynch Museum's exhibition on the life and achievements of this former Budleigh Salterton resident is supposed to be ready.

I mentioned briefly at Commander Levick's connection with St Dunstan's, the UK charity the UK charity which, as its website reads, has been giving invaluable physical and emotional support to blind and visually impaired ex-Service men and women for almost a century. Click on for more information.

The Fairlynch Museum exhibition organisers are indebted to Roberta Hazan, Collections & Archives Manager at St Dunstan's for her help in locating the following document which shows how much the charity owed to Commander Levick.

Ian Fraser, seen above, wrote his appreciation of Murray Levick in the St Dunstan’s Review of June 1956 on hearing of the Commander's death

Created Baron Fraser of Lonsdale in August 1958, he was the second Chairman of St Dunstan's. Blind, like his predecessor Sir Arthur Pearson, he had lost his sight during World War One, but went on to have a successful career as a politician and businessman.


St Dunstan’s has taken the leading part in many battles to improve the status of blind people. Gradually we and others are breaking down the idea that the blind are so handicapped that they cannot do this and that, and are cut off from a great variety of activities. Sometimes it is a question of persuading employers or others concerned to give the blind person a trial; sometimes it's a matter of getting a professional body or a trade union to alter its rules or customs; sometimes an invention helps to get over a technical difficulty.

Men are very set in their ways and adhere strongly to custom and tradition, or to a policy or theme merely because it is well established. Sometimes changing your mind means eating your words, and to some people nothing is as indigestible as words.

Sometimes you meet a man who does not mind swimming against the tide, or backing his judgment against his professional colleagues; the kind of man Kipling had in mind when he wrote:

"If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
And make allowance for their doubting too. . ."

Such a man was Surgeon Commander G. Murray Levick, who died on May 30th 1956. Murray Levick went to the Antarctic with Scott as a surgeon and electro-magnetic expert and after the First World War was one of the earlier doctors to take up medical electricity.

At that time I had just entered St. Dunstan's as an assistant in charge of the new-born After-Care Department, and one of my first jobs was to help the masseurs of that generation to start their private practices. I found they were handicapped by the fact that the consensus of medical opinion was against their undertaking any but the most innocuous electrical treatment. It would be dangerous, said the doctors. They would electrocute or burn their patients.

One of my hobbies was radio, then in its infancy, and I had a crude wireless transmitter and I had overcome the difficulty of judging the way my set was working by devising for my own use a meter with a locking device for the sensitive needle, so that it could be felt with the fingers without damage, and the amount of current ascertained by the relationship of the tip of the needle to a braille scale. We applied this to medical electricity and in improved forms it is still in use. But this was not enough, for the doctors held tenaciously to the view that it would still be dangerous for the blind to do this work; that they could not see their patients' reactions, and so on and so on. And the masseurs' organisation, partly out of prejudice and partly in deference to the doctors' views, refused to examine our men or to give them a certificate for medical electricity.

This was where Dr. Murray Levick came in. We explained the whole matter to him, and he was willing to back his own judgment, notwithstanding the opinion of all the others. We suggested that he set an examination and that he gave a certificate, and he did. A number of the early masseurs worked on this certificate and it opened the door to a remunerative aspect of practice. The pattern of life often repeats itself and in this case, as would be expected, the initiative of St. Dunstan's, the courage of Dr. Murray Levick, and the fact that we were willing to go it alone and defy the rest of the doctors and the whole of the massage profession was enough.

To cut a long story short, they recognised us, allowed us to enter their examinations and to obtain their certificates, with the exception of the use of the ultra violet light, which was still thought to be dangerous, but which, I am glad to say, has now been admitted after a further invention, for which the R.N.I.B. School of Physiotherapy must have the credit.

I remember, perhaps thirty-five years ago, Dr. Murray Levick telling some of us in a lecture which many of us attended at the old Bungalow, something of his experiences in the Antarctic, when he and some others were marooned on an ice flow for the best part of a year.

He will be remembered by all who admire gallant explorers, but by us as one who helped us win a notable battle that has made a deal of difference to all blind physiotherapists the world over and, indirectly, to the blind world.


Thursday, 24 February 2011

Another home with a history, across the pond

I'm still on the look-out for properties with interesting associations, like the Brewster home I described at or the writer R.F. Delderfield's former house in Sidmouth that you can see at

And having told you about the life of former Budleigh Salterton resident Surgeon Commander Murray Levick and his pioneering work to help the blinded veterans of World War One at how could I fail not to notice the interesting property shown above in Budleigh Salterton's Cape Cod sister-town of Brewster?

Especially as it has a connection with someone who was one of America's most famous blind people.

It's a beautiful house with its own merits of course. Listed by the realtor [estate agent for my UK readers] as "gracious 18th century Georgian Colonial rich in detail and history" it has all the usual sought-after features such as high ceilings, dentil moulding, wide pine floorboards, raised panelled walls and five fireplaces with fine carved surrounds. Outside there are three acres of rolling lawns and woods. You'll find more details if you click on

Of course it's not the kind of house that would suit most of today's homeowners who would insist on en-suites for each of its four bedrooms. One and a half bathrooms is all that this classic Cape Cod property can offer.

The house is likely to have been built in the late 18th or early 19th century since a previous owner was Sophia Crocker Hopkins, whose father and grandfather were builders in Brewster at that time. And therein lies, in my wandering mind anyway, the connection with Budleigh Salterton's Commander Levick and his concern for the welfare of blinded ex-servicemen.

For the house is noted for its association with Helen Keller, the deaf-blind woman who, in the words of the RNIB website, showed millions of people that disability need not be the end of the world.
It seems that Mrs Crocker Hopkins, widowed when her sea captain husband Charles died on one of his voyages, moved from Brewster to Boston where she became a housemother at the Perkins School for the Blind, one of the oldest institutions of its kind in the US. Here she met and became a mentor to Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller's teacher and companion.

When Mrs Crocker Hopkins returned to Brewster it was in the Cape Cod resort at the house at 1491 Main Street that Helen Keller spent the first of several seaside holidays with Anne.

Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan. On March 6, 2008, the New England Historic Genealogical Society announced that a staff member had discovered this rare 1888 photograph showing Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan which, although previously published, had escaped widespread attention. Depicting Helen holding one of her many dolls, it is believed to be the earliest surviving photograph of Anne

Whoever buys this house will be buying a unique piece of US history. At $649,900K, which works out at £403,33K on my calculator, that's not a bad price.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Local hero's Fairlynch exhibition will benefit Help for Heroes

Antarctic explorer and former Budleigh Salterton resident George Murray Levick as he emerged from his six-month refuge in an ice cave on 24 September 1912
Photo credit: Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge

People seem keen to know more about the life of former Budleigh Salterton resident Surgeon Commander Murray Levick, judging by the capacity audience who gathered to hear author Katherine Lambert's excellent talk about her book Hell with a capital H in the Peter Hall last Monday. And it wasn't just Friends of Fairlynch Museum who came flocking in until it was almost standing room only.

I'd like to think that they'd clicked on

And my post at about the Commander's contribution to the early days of Chailey Heritage School and his sympathy for the plight of crippled children also attracted attention. "I found your revelations about Levick and his work remarkably poignant and heart-warming," wrote one of my correspondents.

So you might also like to know about the Commander's pioneering work to help disabled veterans in the aftermath of World War One.

A case of trench feet suffered by unidentified soldier in 1917
Photo credit: Library and Archives Canada/PA-149311 /

Murray Levick saw service himself in the Great War, taking part in the Gallipoli campaign. Fortunately for him he survived unscathed but thousands of servicemen had not been so lucky. Even if they had avoided injury through enemy action, many were left suffering from the effects of ailments such as trench feet. It's been estimated that as many as 20,000 soldiers in the British Army alone during 1914 fell victim to the disease.

Evidently this was an ailment in which Levick took a particular interest judging by the article which he wrote on the electrical treatment of muscles in 'Trench Feet', published in the British Medical Journal in March 1918.

British 55th (West Lancashire) Division troops blinded by tear gas await treatment at an Advanced Dressing Station near Bethune during the Battle of Estaires, 10 April 1918, part of the German offensive in Flanders.
Photo credit: Wikipedia

The case of ex-servicemen blinded in action was one where Levick became deeply involved.

As early as 1914 many had returned to Britain having permanently lost their sight because of gas attacks. A notable campaigner on their behalf was the newspaper magnate Sir Arthur Pearson, founder of the Daily Express among other publications, and a victim of blindness himself due to glaucoma. As president of the National Association for the Blind, in 1915 he founded St Dunstan's for soldiers blinded by gas attack or trauma with the aim of providing vocational training for these ex-servicemen.

Boot and shoe repairing, basket and mat making, shorthand typing, carpentry, poultry farming and telephone operating were among the many courses that St Dunstaners chose to be trained in. But it was through careers in massage and physiotherapy that Murray Levick believed that many blinded ex-servicemen could be rehabilitated.

In 1919 he was approached by the Royal National Institute for the Blind with a view to the possibility of teaching blind students techniques of massage with electrical treatment. He became a leading voice in the campaign to convince sceptics in the medical profession that blinded people could lead useful and fulfilling lives.

Pagani's Restaurant in Great Portland Street, the fashionable London venue where the Association of Blind Masseurs met in 1921
Photo credit: City of Westminster Archives Centre

Eventually blind students were admitted to the examinations of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. By November 1921, reported the British Medical Journal, the Association of Blind Masseurs had held its third annual dinner amidst the prestigious surroundings of Pagani's Restaurant in London. Dr Murray Levick was one of four Vice-Presidents who attended the proceedings, which were chaired by the President, Sir Arthur Pearson. Members present included soldiers blinded in the war and trained in massage at St. Dunstan's, as well as civilian masseurs and masseuses trained under the auspices of the National Institute for the Blind.

And that is why donation boxes for the charity Help for Heroes will be on display at Fairlynch Museum this year. Survival! the exhibition based on Commander Levick's achievements will remind us that not only did he survive his own harrowing Antarctic adventure but devoted much of his life to helping others to overcome personal misfortune.

The exhibition will open on Sunday 10 April 2011 and will run until October. Opening hours are 2.00 - 4.30 pm each day except Saturdays. The admission charge will be £2 (concessions £1.50). Serving military personnel are admitted free of charge.

Friday, 18 February 2011

A hero of Budleigh's heritage

George Murray Levick in his Surgeon Commander's uniform.
Photo courtesy of the National Museum of the Royal Navy

It's almost a year ago that Fairlynch Museum appealed for memories and documents relating to former Budleigh Salterton resident Surgeon Commander George Murray Levick, as I reported at

Since then I've found myself heavily involved in both the Museum's work as its press officer and in the story of Commander Levick's life. Not that I have any real military connections, or even deep knowledge of Antarctica which this naval doctor set out in 1910 to explore along with the unlucky Captain Robert Falcon Scott.

Maybe I'm intrigued by the Commander's lifelong desire to explore hostile environments, though it's been a long time since my own exploration of unknown parts as a carefree hitchhiker in the 1960s.

Raystede Centre for Animal Welfare hosts a visit organised by Graheme Kirker, Rotary Club of Lewes, of pupils from Chailey Heritage School. Jason Caulfield the Animal Care Manager, took the teenagers on a tour of the site to meet the many animals staying at Raystede.
Photo credit:

Or perhaps it's being diagnosed as a teenager with a crippling spinal illness that's made me take an interest in the pioneering work that he did from the 1920s onwards at the Chailey Heritage School in East Sussex. Click on to see the wonderful work that they do today to help children.

Chailey Heritage School reception.
Image credit

The Hermitage Craft School for Crippled Children in East Sussex had been founded by a remarkable woman. Grace Kimmins was born in Lewes, Sussex, in 1870. At the age of 24 she co-founded a charity for disabled children known as The Guild of the Poor Brave Things.

Within nine years the Guild had grown into a school for children born "crippled" (as it was termed then) as a result of poverty-related diseases and deformities. It had small beginnings. Seven boys from the Guild were brought down from London and housed in an old warehouse and industrial buildings in the Sussex village of Chailey.

By 1904 the Hermitage Craft School for Crippled Children was recognised by the education authorities. Thanks to the vision and the drive of its founder, and sustained by an energetic fund-raising campaign, the School grew at a remarkable speed.

Dame Grace, as she became, specified its aims. "It was to be, not a school for normal children, but a school for the maimed; not a school for the well-nourished, healthy cripple, but a school for the cripple from the poorest homes."

Many children at Chailey Heritage School in the early days had been crippled by diseases like polio.
Photo credit: Philip Howard

Under the direction of the world-famous orthopaedic surgeon Sir Robert Jones (1857-1953) life for the children of the Chailey Heritage School, as it is known today, was characterised by a rather spartan existence. As chairman and founder of the Heritage's medical board Sir Robert believed that fresh air and an outdoor life were essential to the well-being of the children.

Not surprisingly, with his Antarctic experience and his military background, Murray Levick shared such a view. He became the School's London-based Medical Director in 1923, a post which he held until 1950.

To the efficacy of fresh air he added that of sunlight. When natural light was insufficient, heliotherapy or the use of artificial sunlight took its place. A few years later he published a report charting the success of light, air and diet in treating rickets, malnutrition and polio.

The children slept outside (including babies from a few weeks old), but there was a supply of hot water bottles to hand, and the bed covers were made from the same material used by Scott's Antarctic expedition on which Levick had served.

In 1926 the Town Crier magazine reported that to listen to the persuasive Murray Levick "is to gain an entirely new conception of medicine, for he asserts emphatically, and with all the confidence of the man of science, that almost the entire prevention of disease might be brought about by the proper application of light.

"Recent researches in connection with the chemical action of light upon the skin have revealed what civilised man misses by covering himself with unsuitable clothing. And here women, in their recent advance towards greater freedom in their clothes, with their short skirts and low necks, have shown far greater wisdom than men."

By 1936 the Chailey Heritage School had both a boys' school and a girls' school three miles away, both equipped with operating theatres and medical facilities where education and treatment could be practised together.

Chailey Heritage School was described as 'Outstanding' in its latest Ofsted report.
Having fun: an essential part of therapy for disabled children.
Photo credit:

The School was taken over by the NHS in 1948. Today it operates with a 220-strong staff specialised in the work of "educating and caring for young people with complex disabilities." It was rated as 'outstanding' in its most recent Ofsted report. Like BSES Expeditions which he founded to encourage young explorers, it is an institution with which Murray Levick today would be proud to have been associated as he was, for 27 years.

Survival! Fairlynch Museum's exhibition to honour Surgeon Commander Levick, runs from Sunday 10 April until October 2011.

[With acknowledgement to David Arscott's book Chailey Heritage: A hundred years, SB Publications, 2003. Some of the above photos are reproduced with acknowledgement to http://www.flikr/ under the Creative Commons agreement]

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Keeping art alive at Fairlynch

Fairlynch: much more than a museum

It's got a unique collection of costumes going back to the early 1700s, a display of archaeological and geological specimens including some curious radioactive nodules from the local cliffs, and some fascinating archive material giving us an insight into life over the centuries in Budleigh Salterton.

But the thatched cottage orné sitting in a beautiful garden overlooking the town's Fore Street is much more than a museum. Its full name is Fairlynch Museum and Arts Centre, and over the years it has built up a small but select collection of visual art covering several specific areas of local interest.

Overheat by Devon-based artist Simon Ripley

Fairlynch also has its own Education Officer, Amanda Murrell, who works with local schoolchildren on a variety of projects. She recently hosted a total of 51 children and accompanying adults at the museum. Two schools, the Beacon Church of England Primary School in Exmouth and St Peter's Church of England Primary School in Budleigh Salterton have been working in partnership together on an arts project organised by the Devon Arts in Schools Initiative (DAiSI).

With help from two professional artists, Simon Ripley and Sara Sullivan, the children were aiming to produce work reflecting their local environment and heritage, explains Amanda. "They visited Fairlynch to find out more about Sir Walter Raleigh and the Budleigh cliffs and pebbles."

"I am passionate about teaching. I want to see children grow up with an openness to art and their own creativity,” says Sara, an environmental artist living and working in Devon. She uses both natural and recycled materials for projects in schools all over the county.

Simon Ripley, one of the artists who has been working with local schoolchildren at Fairlynch Museum

Simon Ripley's art education started in London but he qualified in Fine Art Printmaking at Plymouth, and is now based in Exeter. He specialises in making linocut relief monoprints on handmade Japanese paper. Each piece is unique, individually inspired and hand printed by Simon himself.

For more information about Simon Ripley and Sara Sullivan, click on and
For details of the Devon Arts in Schools Initiative see

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

News from the Brook Gallery

Promised Land, by Barton Hargreaves

A new exhibition at Budleigh Salterton's Brook Gallery features the work of London-based artist Barton Hargreaves.

Barton was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1975 and lives and works in London. He graduated from an MA in Fine Art Printmaking at the Royal College of Art in 2007 where he was awarded the Tim Mara Print Prize and the Tom Bendham drawing prize for his final show. He was also selected for Wallpaper magazine’s Graduate Directory. Other prizes he has received include the 20/21 Century Art Prize and the Tim Mara Calgary Exchange both in 2006.

Recent exhibitions include ‘Postgraduate Printmaking in London’ at the Clifford Chance Galleries, RA Summer Exhibition 2008, and the 20/21 Century Art Fair. He also has work in a number of collections including the Tim Mara Trust, the Royal Collage of Art Print Archive and the Royal Academy Schools Print Archive.

Barton Hargreaves: 2hr 45m (Form)

Currently Barton divides his time between his Print Fellowship at the Royal Academy Schools and his studio in Hackney Wick. Ongoing projects include creating new work for the front of the Jerwood Space in London and a commission as the guest artist to exhibit alongside the open submission at Originals 09.

In his creative practice Barton Hargreaves combines traditional printmaking techniques, digital processes, lens based media, and the artist’s hand to make prints, drawings, videos and installations. Through these processes he explores issues of time and space, and being and non-being; issues which he sees as central to the experience of being human.

"Through communication technologies such as the mobile phone, the internet and instantaneous digital imaging it seems that we can be in many places at the same time. But maybe we are, in fact, barely in any place at any time. There seems to be a lack of focus, an almost constant absence from the here and now. Are we entering, or creating even, another new world or consciousness?"

The Brook Gallery is delighted to showcase Barton's original and energetic work and be able to contribute to the growth and profile of such a talent.

Exhibition 19 February to 10 March 2011
Brook Gallery, Fore Street, Budleigh Salterton, Devon, EX9 6NH
Tel 01395 443003
Open 10.30 am to 5.00 pm, closed Sunday mornings and Mondays (except bank holidays)

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

And another author's house on the market, this time in Brewster

For sale: Classic antique on old Cape Cod

"Who would want to move away from Budleigh?" we often wonder. And though I've not yet managed a trip to Brewster I can't help thinking the same question about the Cape Cod community, having hovered in cyberspace over Budleigh Salterton's sister-town for nearly two years of blogging.

But a few days ago a question posted on her Facebook page by one of my Brewster friends, author Myka-Lynne Sokoloff, caused some consternation. "Know someone who knows someone with a longing for a classic Cape Cod home?" she was asking. "Our 5-bedroom 3-bath antique house is on the market, with 3 acres of gardens, woods, and meadows."

Shock and surprise! "What a lovely home and piece of property you have!" "I can't believe you're moving..." were just some of the comments from people who'd seen the photos and property description on the realtor's page at

I won't repeat the words that you can read at the above site, but the photos which add a bit of colour to this post will speak for themselves. "Classic antique" is how Myka-Lynne's house is described. She thinks it's about 200 years old - "young by British standards" - as she admits. But seeing its interior I was struck by how European many of the rooms looked.

It could be that some of my UK readers who fancy a move across the pond - even those living in Budleigh Salterton - would feel at home here, in what is the oldest part of Brewster. Myka-Lynne certainly thinks so. "We have the notion that it would be a perfect house for Brits, who would bring their exchange rate, a love of antiquity and a knack for gardening," she tells me.

It's clearly also a wonderfully spacious family home, though that can present a problem faced by many of the baby-boomer generation. Myka-Lynne and her husband are moving to the adjacent town of Orleans. "It's a much smaller home, but it's on the bay with a dock for the kayaks and sailboat," she explains. "One of the greatest challenges in downscaling is getting the children to take all those things we've been storing for decades, even though they have their own homes!"

My currency calculator tells me that the $845,000 price suggested by the realtor works out at £523.14. That looks like a startlingly attractive price, especially for Budleigh Salterton homeowners. Perhaps some of them might consider moving away from Budleigh after all.

A famous author's house on the market

The Gazebo, Peak Hill, Sidmouth. Now under offer

I love reading the property pages and either drooling over the images of some mansion or other far out of my reach, or congratulating myself on having found the house of our dreams in our little corner of East Devon.

It's been some time since I posted news of either Budleigh or Brewster houses for sale, but my thoughts turned to drooling the other day when my friend Annie and I decided last Saturday to walk to Sidmouth. Actually we got the bus to Otterton, so we cheated a bit. But tackling the steep climb along the coast path after a picnic on Ladram Bay beach was quite tough enough.

Ladram Bay pebble beach showing one of the stacks

With the waves glittering in the February sunshine and Peak Hill towering above us it felt more like a summertime hike that we should be doing in shorts and t-shirts rather than in our wet weather winter gear. Spring is definitely on the way.

It's a fairly straightforward well-indicated walk to Sidmouth through the woods and then down the other side of Peak Hill, and then up again of course - because it's Devon and valleys are the main feature of the county's landscape. But suddenly you find yourself on the road leading down into the town, and passing some fairly droolable properties with magnificent views over the bay.

Jane Austen: while staying in Sidmouth she reputedly fell in love with a young clergyman who sadly died

Sidmouth of course is noted for its Regency Gothic houses and cottages ornés, many of them thatched like our own Fairlynch Museum in Budleigh Salterton. And it also boasts a fair number of links with literary figures. Jane Austen is the best-known, but others include Elizabeth Barrett Browning, H.G. Wells, Beatrix Potter and the novelist and playwright R.F. Delderfield, born just a century ago next year. The Woodlands Hotel at Cotmaton Cross with its splendidly ornate bargeboards devotes quite a chunk of its website at

Fate seemed to have had a hand in guiding us down that twisting Peak Hill road. For just as I'd been wondering whether the Museum should be doing something to mark Delderfield's centenary we suddenly found ourselves walking past the house which he'd apparently had built for himself in the 1950s. And there was a 'For Sale' notice outside.

The view from 'The Gazebo'

'The Gazebo' is described by estate agent [realtor for my American readers] as "a beautifully situated cliff top cottage with arguably some of the best coastal and sea views in East Devon" in the description on their website at

I wouldn't argue with any of that. "£1.5m?" I wondered as we carried on down the hill past the "lovely private gardens" sheltered from curious eyes by a high stone wall. With only just three bedrooms, one of which could serve as a dining room, I saw that it was indeed a cottage rather than a mansion, so revised my estimate downwards. But still, with that view... The actual guide price of £795,000 didn't seem astronomical. And there is that literary link. "A famous author's house!" to boast about at your intimate dinner parties prepared on that pale green Aga I saw in a photo of the kitchen. So I'm not all that surprised to see three days later that 'The Gazebo' is under offer.

R.F. Delderfield (1912-1972)

But what of Ronald Frederick Delderfield? He's certainly someone with local links of which Fairlynch is aware. Butterfly Moments, his biography by Marion Lindsey-Noble is on sale in the Museum shop. And I see, thanks to Topsham blogger Ray Girvan's scholarly article at that Delderfield describes a real part of the coast between Budleigh and Exmouth in his 1950 novel Farewell the Tranquil Mind. Clearly he loved our area. In 1947 he even wrote a book about it called The fascinating history of Budleigh and district: A curtain peep at a thousand years.

Today, R.F. Delderfield's books are mostly forgotten. My friend Annie remembered the TV series based on his 1972 novel To Serve them all my Days. But that was only because of the "delicious" John Duttine who starred in the leading role, she admitted.

As little as 25 years ago, wrote Sam Jordison in The Guardian, Delderfield was probably one of the most famous writers in the UK. But posterity has been cruel to him. "Unless you're specifically looking for them, the only place you're likely to encounter his books is at jumble sales, mouldering and yellowing away. His star is not just waning, it's all but snuffed out."

It doesn't seem quite right that we in Budleigh should just forget him altogether. Delderfield seems to have been a decent chap. "His pioneering sense of social justice and sympathy for his fellow man would strike a chord with many Guardian readers today," noted Mr Jordison. But memories are short and each of us is busy with his or her various and differing plans and preoccupations.

Last year's centenary of the death of Dr Thomas Brushfield, a really notable Budleigh Salterton resident, seems to have passed completely unnoticed. But his house, 'The Cliff', will remain to remind me of him each time I pass it on my way to the beach. And now, 'The Gazebo' on Peak Hill, Sidmouth, may cause us equally a few moments of reflection about the past and the way in which it takes away our memories as surely as the sea erodes our shores.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Would you like to become a steward at Fairlynch Museum?

If you thought the Chilean miners had a hard time...

Pictured emerging from their ice cave on 24 September 1912 are Commander Levick, second from right, and his five companions

Photo credit: The Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge

Katherine Lambert will tell the story of how a former Budleigh Salterton resident together with five fellow-explorers from Scott’s doomed 1910-13 expedition survived the seven-month ordeal of a pitch-dark Antarctic winter.

Huddled in a cramped ice cave, they survived on a diet of meat and blubber and a unique brand of resilience and comradeship.

The author will be talking to the Friends of Fairlynch Museum about her book Hell with a capital H, based on the diaries kept by Surgeon Commander George Murray Levick, the group's doctor.

He settled in Budleigh Salterton after an eventful life which included serving in World War I, pioneering medical treatments for the disabled, founding the British Schools Exploring Society and giving lessons in survival techniques to commandos in World War II.

Commander Levick's life and achievements will be the subject of a fascinating exhibition at Fairlynch Museum starting on 10 April.

Katherine Lambert's talk is on Monday 21 February, at 7.30 pm in the Peter Hall, Budleigh Salterton. Copies of her book signed by the author will be available. Entry is £1 for Friends of Fairlynch, £2 for non-members.

Katherine Lambert has worked as an author, journalist and book editor. She is joint editor of The Good Gardens Guide 2010-2011, published by Reader’s Digest. She also worked with author Peter King on the book Scott's Last Journey. She is currently writing a book on Cornish gardens, which will be published by Frances Lincoln in 2012.

The Friends of Fairlynch support and fund-raise for Fairlynch Museum. Annual membership offers unlimited free entrance to the Museum during opening hours, three newsletters annually giving information about the Museum, and a programme of winter talks at a reduced entrance price.

New members, at an annual subscription of £10 per member, are most welcome. Please contact Alexis Zane on 01395 443437.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Brewster, Cape Cod: sea, sun and snow

These beautiful pictures of the Cape Cod landscape were taken by Brewster resident Byron Cain, whose comments are below. They show that the region around Budleigh Salterton's sister town is a photographer's paradise.

The waves were freezing as they washed ashore, you can see a frozen slushy look at the edge of the water. My puppy dog was still chasing birds into the ocean on this cold day and I could stay outside for 10 minutes at a time.

Great colors; late fall sunset at Paines Creek Beach in Brewster

Sunset on Crosby Landing, Brewster

Another abandoned boat. Interesting paint job

Seagulls waiting out low tide, waiting for the Herring to make the run up Stoney Brook

Friend's house on Ellis Landing, Brewster Cape Cod. Ice creeping on shore with the tide

Cape Cod bay sunset

Last second decision to run down to Paine's Creek, Brewster, did not have time to set up and just did a quick snap shot with multiple exposures, no tripod

Saturday, 5 February 2011

"It's a long road but it's very exciting."

The punishment of Prometheus, depicted by the 19th century painter Gustave Moreau

That was the conclusion reached during a public discussion on stem cell research, the subject of Budleigh Salterton's second science forum which took place yesterday.

The speakers were Dr Lesley Chow, from Florida, post-doctoral research associate in the Stevens' Group at the Institute of Biomechanical Engineering at Imperial College, London; Dr Christine Hauskeller, from Germany, Deputy Director at Egenis, the ESRC Centre for Genomics in Society at the University of Exeter ; and Dr Timothy Allsopp, Head of External Research for Pfizer Regenerative Medicine

It was that myth of Prometheus shown in the above painting which drove home to me the importance of stem research as the possible cure of so many common ailments. That and the striking image of the salamander growing new tissue to replace an amputated limb. Both slides were used by Dr Chow to show the audience how cells in both the human and the animal body work, "how they talk to each other" in a way which has inspired the new and fast-growing branch of healing known as Regenerative Medicine.

Doctors have long known that the liver can regenerate itself

Of course, the point of showing us the painting was that the knowledge of such healing is hardly new. Poor Prometheus. Chained to a rock, his liver devoured by the eagle sent every day as a punishment by Zeus his story stands as a tantalising suggestion that the Ancient Greeks may have known that even such vital organs have the ability to grow again. "The eagle never went without his breakfast," as we were told.

So one fascinating question posed by the forum was "Can human beings be like the salamander?" using materials such as bone marrow, placenta and umbilical cord blood. And will today's healers ever understand completely how a cell "knows" what it's doing when it helps to mend a cut finger?

No definite answers but a thought-provoking performance by all three speakers with Dr Chow who has a background in materials science and engineering, believing that stem cell research is an interdisciplinary field that requires communication between biologists, chemists and engineers. There's no doubt, we learnt, that "stem cells have enormous potential in regenerative medicine but extensive research is necessary for success."

Ethical issues were addressed by Dr Hauskeller. Is it right, for example, as one audience member asked, that stem cell research should benefit only a wealthy minority of the world's population while diseases like HIV and malaria are rampant in the developing world? Dr Allsopp gave an insight into the work that pharmaceutical companies like his are doing in research to find cures for ailments such as age related macular degeneration, inflammatory bowel disease and Type 1 diabetes.

The event had been organised by Professor Peter Revell, himself an eminent figure in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine research who is also a resident of Budleigh Salterton. For a small town like ours to welcome such an impressive line-up of speakers was quite an achievement.

But where, I thought, looking at the overwhelmingly mature audience, were the future researchers into stem cells? As a former teacher I wondered whether a day out from school allowing them to take part in this excellent event might have been possible. And whether it might have been for them the very type of life-changing event that makes a career a passion.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Mary Bryars

Former Fairlynch Museum steward Mary Bryars

Many volunteer helpers at Fairlynch Museum were sorry to hear of the recent death of Mary Bryars. Along with her husband Denys, Mary moved to Budleigh Salterton in 1980. Five years later, as many married couples used to and still do, they volunteered to become stewards at Fairlynch.

"He did the desk, she did upstairs," recalls Sylvia Merkel, who organises the stewards' rota. Denys, who had come to live in Budleigh Salterton after retiring as company chairman of the Sheffield Smelting Company, is remembered by Sylvia as "a lovely man with a white beard."

Mary, who lived to the great age of 94, made many friends among her fellow-stewards and was also much involved with the church. Sadly, she was widowed but carried on the work of being a steward at Fairlynch until she moved to live at Shandford Care Home on Station Road.

"There have been 400 stewards since 1967 when Fairlynch opened in Budleigh Salterton," says the Museum's co-founder Joy Gawne. "And we're so grateful to every one of them. Without their help Fairlynch would not survive and would go the way of many other museums in small towns."

Seal of approval for Brewster photo

Coastal dwellers know that all kinds of interesting objects get washed up on the shore, most of them unrecorded in the world's media. So the arrival of thousands - even millions - of starfish on Budleigh Salterton's pebble beach which attracted international headlines obviously found its way into my blog at

At the time it was noted by an Environment Agency spokesman that the little creatures had been drawn to our shores by the prospect of gorging on mussels.

Budleigh Salterton's naturist beach is discreetly hidden away to the west of Steamer Steps. The people in the background are actually engaged in a geological survey

There were of course some suggestions in the tabloid press that the cause of their death had actually been a vast session of passionate lovemaking which had left them so enfeebled that they hadn't been able to make their way back into the water. I didn't mention that to you at the time, but did wonder whether the starfish had in fact been heading to Budleigh Salterton's naturist beach.

So I'm pleased to be able to show this lovely photo taken by my Brewster friend Donna Cain. Walking with her dog Harrison on the snowy Cape Cod beach near their home she came across this seal pup enjoying the innocent pleasure of sunning himself in the dunes. "I called the rescue league thinking he may be in trouble but they assured me this was totally normal," she said. "He was soooo cute! That seal sighting just made my day!"