There's always something going on in Budleigh Salterton in spite of what some meanies say. 'Sponge throwing'? Why not? We'd heard it was a charity event involving local dignitaries, and there was even a rumour that one of them would be getting a soaking, standing in the stocks and wearing his regalia.
It was all happening in a local resident's garden with an exhibition set up in a marquee, and bizarrely the day's theme was sponges. Anyway off we went and sure enough there was the dignitary looking pretty wet and bedraggled but smiling away, calling out between sponges "It's all in a good cause! Come on, sponge my face!" Very sporting of him we thought.
Henry John Carter was his name as you can see from the blue plaque on the cottage wall, and he turned out to be Budleigh's only home-grown Fellow of the Royal Society, having been born in the town on this very day, 18 August, two hundred years ago and coming back to settle down here when he retired.
In fact Henry Carter had gained the letters FRS after his name for the work that he'd done in geology during his time as a doctor with the Army in
Living on the coast in retirement allowed him to carry on spongiologising even on Budleigh beach: in an article published in 1874 he noted a variety of Esperia aegagropila "growing in small patches scantily on the rocks (at Budleigh-Salterton) towards low-water mark."
Now I'd always thought that sponges are rather uninteresting things, just sitting there on the sea bed like seaweed or any other type of marine plant but not doing very much apart from swallowing and regurgitating sea water. But it turns out that they're animals, and there are between 5,000 and 10,000 different species. There are even 150 freshwater species. They also have a quite special sex life, being hermaphrodites, and they come in different shapes and sizes with the tallest reaching two metres in height.
It may look like something the dog sicked up, but it's has been shown to produce a wide variety of isomalabaricanes, a type of triterpene molecules with notable cytotoxic activity towards certain cancer cell lines.
Sorry, I'm just showing off. I haven't a clue what all those words mean, but they looked pretty impressive in the marquee display.
But it's true that that sponges collected from rock pools by a team from the Welsh School of Pharmacy in south
That was when the event organisers had approached Peter MacDonald, Head of Sustainability at the National Fish Board. As he's the son of a much respected Budleigh resident it seemed quite appropriate and apparently he gave them some useful advice. They'd also had help from a big marine laboratory based in
There was an
interesting timeline chart showing Henry Carter's achievements throughout his
life. Two years after retiring to Budleigh he married Anne Doyle from
But it wasn't just posters and pictures inside the marquee. One wall of the main exhibition was taken up by a gigantic aquarium-full of sponges and other odd-looking marine creatures. A local museum's Natural History section had also helped out by providing marine specimens.
As it was tea-time we stayed on to watch the sponge cake competition. Not a judging of the best sponge cake but a contest to guess the weight of the biggest sponge-cake I've ever seen. This was a great crowd-puller, almost more popular than the sponge-throwing and people were buying tickets at £1 a go. The top prize for the nearest guess to the correct weight was a day with the celebrity cook working with him in his famous West Country restaurant. I bought a fiver's worth, guessing that the cake was about 30 kilos. I was also hoping that I might get the chance to really explain about the blog and how absolutely everyone should read it.
Clearly I'd under-estimated because the day ended with a speech from the nice celebrity cook asking us to eat more fish with strange names and giving the news that the gigantic sponge-cake had weighed in at 54 kilos.
The organisers had managed to get the day sponsored by a rather well-known supermarket chain which had opened a branch in the area. With its help and with a lot of hard work on the part of everyone involved a large cheque was sent off to the Marine Conservation Society. I hope it's been used to save a few more whales and coral reefs.
If Henry Carter's spirit is up there swimming around in a heavenly waterworld being sponged gently by Joyce Dennys-type mermaids I'm sure he'd have been tickled and touched by the way that Budleigh Salterton had remembered his life and achievements.
I'm sure also that he'd have approved this gesture on the part of a small coastal town to acknowledge the debt that it's owed to the sea for its livelihood over so many centuries.
This post is a link from http://www.devonmuseums.net/A-wholly-absorbing-daydream/Latest-News/Fairlynch-Museum/Museum-News/