Thursday, 21 February 2013

People from the Past: 6. Marley Harris 1928-2011



Continuing our series on eminent or interesting former residents of Budleigh we recall someone who really should have been featured in our Olympics-themed items of 2012.

Marley Harris died on 19 August, just under two years ago, aged 83. As Marley Spearman, she was one of the most celebrated amateur lady golfers of the 1960s. The stories about her are legendary, not least including the explanation of how she became a golfing star having begun her career as a dancer on the West End stage.

She was born Marley Joan Baker on 11 January 1928, the daughter of a businessman, and grew up in Wimbledon. Leaving school early, she joined a dance troupe which performed at London’s Windmill Theatre. After marrying Tony Spearman in her twenties she left the stage, living as a housewife in a small flat just off Marble Arch.

Among those inspired by her later sporting success was her nephew Mitchell Spearman, the Florida-based golf professional. Both he and East Devon Golf Club member Bob Lankester were struck by the story of how a famous Knightsbridge store played a part in Marley Harris’ career.

Bob Lankester met her about ten years ago at a cocktail party shortly after Peter Alliss had sent her his best wishes for a speedy recovery whilst commentating on that year’s Open Golf Championship. He was curious to know how she was acquainted with this well known golf broadcaster. 

“She had recently got married and lived in London in the 1950s,” he explains.  “Her husband informed her he wished to have a dinner party on the Friday. She went to Harrods to do the shopping and on emerging found it was raining heavily with the taxi rank crowded, so she went back into Harrods noticing that golf lessons were being offered and decided to give it a try.”

“I took off my hat, gloves and heels,” she told her nephew. “The instructor showed me how to grip, stand and swing. Being a dancer it was easy for me to emulate a move. In no time at all I was hitting the ball into the net.”

 “Her husband played at the Royal Mid-Surrey Golf Club in Richmond,” continued Bob Lankester. “He mentioned at the dinner party that they were one short for their fourball match the next day upon which Marley reported that she could now play golf and would fill the vacancy. He told her not to be so bloody silly but if her interest had been aroused she should take lessons from the professional at Regent’s Park.”

Mitchell Spearman took up the story, explaining how his aunt had impressed the pro at the Regent’s Park golf centre where her husband had arranged lessons.  ‘“The pro came and spoke to me,’ she said.  ‘He said I had a lovely swing and couldn’t believe I was a beginner. He said if I practised hard I could be an international player. I had no interest in that, I was just enjoying being out of the flat. After about a month I asked Tony if I could go on the course with him. On the drive out there the next day, Tony told me some of the rules but stressed if I miss the ball pick it up and also not to embarrass him.

On the 1st hole we all played from the same tee. I hit an absolute beauty, Tony was stunned. He said I had a long swing but had great timing. When we got to the fairway my ball was the longest of the group. I shot in the low 80s that day. Tony said ‘Anyone can shoot a good score, but you have to do it in a competition to know if you are good.’”

Bob Lankester
went on to tell the story of how some three to four months later at another dinner party Tony Spearman again mentioned that they were one short for golf on Saturday and in the absence of anyone else agreed for Marley to join the other three men, knowing that she had been regularly receiving coaching from the pro at Regents Park. “He stipulated that Marley should fill the place of their regular golf partner, meaning that she would play off the men’s tees and receive no handicap allowance.”

“I find the next bit extraordinary,” says Bob Lankester. “If my memory serves me well she said she went around in 86 stokes never having been on a golf course before  which is remarkable. Her husband immediately obtained membership for her at his club at Sudbury, in Wembley, Middlesex.”

Marley Harris’ first ladies’ competition was an upsetting experience resulting in her disqualification as she told her nephew.  Tony entered me in a Ladies Stableford at his club, Sudbury. I didn’t understand the scoring system but had 55 points off a 36 handicap and won. I accepted the prize but then heard the other ladies saying I cheated as I was playing off an incorrect handicap. I burst into tears but at that moment I knew I wanted to be as good a golfer as I could be. I went to the car and sobbed. From that day on I practised and played golf every day. I was enjoying every moment. I also knew I didn’t need to practise that much to perfect my swing but I knew it would give me a mental edge that would help me in competition.”

Despite her unhappiness with this experience her husband told her to forget the incident and prove to the Ladies’ Committee how good she was, said Bob Lankester. “Within twelve to eighteen months she was playing for England, went on to become the British Ladies’ Champion on three occasions and played many times in the Curtis Cup against the Americans. In other words she was the foremost lady golfer of her day and often played with Peter Alliss in mixed competitions at the highest level, which was why he had, on television, sent her his best wishes.”

A Middlesex County player, Marley won the Ladies’ British Open Amateur Championship in 1961 and 1962, as well as the English Championship in 1964. She played in the Vagliano Trophy matches in 1959 and 1961, the Commonwealth (now Astor Trophy) Tournament in 1959 and 1963 and the Curtis Cup in 1960, 1962 and 1964. 

Her obituary published by the Ladies Golf Union recalled Marley Harris as a breath of fresh air in the staid and respectable tweed-suited 1950s. She herself said that she was at first regarded with some suspicion in the golf world — possibly, she thought, because her style of dress did not accord with that expected of lady golfers of the time.

Mitchell Spearman continued to pursue golf as a full-time career, inspired by his aunt’s talent. He has been a premiere instructor in the world of golf for over 20 years and is one of Golf Magazine’s ‘Top 100 Teachers in America.’  He recalls memories of her devotion to the sport with great fondness and pride. “She once told me she would hit pitching shots to an upside down colored umbrella, and she would aim at each individual color so that she could focus on being that accurate.”

“Another story that Marley told me was that not too many years ago she was at a cocktail party and someone asked her if she played golf. She responded by saying ‘Yes but not too much anymore.’ The other party said, ‘I understand you kind of giving it up, it’s a hard game!’ As you can imagine Marley never said a word.”

“One of my fondest memories was that I was in Australia at Royal Melbourne working with Nick Faldo and Greg Norman at the Aussie Open in the early nineties. On the weekend I was invited into the clubhouse for lunch. As I walked past the trophy cabinet I stopped to look at the magnificent array of wonderful trophies and display. I then saw a picture of Aunt Marley with a notation that she won the Australian Ladies’ Amateur in 1964, I think. Anyway that made me feel so proud.”

Marley Harris and Tony Spearman divorced and she married Steven Harris.  The couple moved from Surrey to Budleigh Salterton in 1982. Her husband, with whom she had a son, died in 1991.

On Monday 18 March 2013 at 7.30 pm, a talk jointly organised by Fairlynch Museum and the Otter Valley Association, will take place in Budleigh Salterton’s Peter Hall. The speaker will be former national weather forecaster Nick Ricketts on the theme of ‘World Events and the Weather.’  Based with the Met Office at its original London site, Nick Ricketts moved to Devon on retiring and now gives talks on climate change effects. He has always had an interest in the past and his talk will give a fascinating slant to our understanding of certain historical events, mainly of a military nature.

But the weather can affect the tiniest detail of our lives in all kinds of ways. Did you know, for example, that modern climatologists have come up with a new explanation for the superior sound of violins crafted by the Italian master Antonio Stradivari? It may have been the weather.

Two researchers, Henri Grissino-Mayer, a University of Tennessee tree ring scientist and Lloyd Burckle, a Columbia University climatologist, have published their conclusions in the journal Dendrochronologia. They believe it was the sharp dip in temperatures of the Little Ice Age that created the wood which made the violin that so many revere.

Marley Harris too, a golfing star whose talents some might compare to the master of violin-making himself, found that the weather played a crucially life-changing part in her destiny. Bob Lankester recalls that when he met her she was by then suffering from leukaemia to which she eventually succumbed. “Her final words to me were: ‘Do you know, if it had not been raining that day when I went to Harrods I may never have known that I had a special talent.’”

Photos of Marley Harris courtesy of the Royal Melbourne Golf Club, Australia







Latest Boys’ Toy arrives in Exeter



Yes, I expect you’re wondering what that photo of Bob Monkhouse is doing there with its scary message.

Well, if you’ve been curious enough to read about the crazy man who spends so much time blogging away about the latest news from Budleigh’s museum you’ll know that I am, I hope, a cancer survivor. And digging deeper - perhaps by using the search box on the blog and typing in the word prostate - you’ll find that I, like many of my age, went through the prostatectomy ordeal just over three years ago.  That followed a diagnosis of cancer two years previously.

You’ll also have noted, perhaps that not all of this blog is devoted to Fairlynch Museum or even Budleigh Salterton, fascinating though our little town is.

Yes, it’s a grim business, cancer. Like any life-threatening illness. But the doctors are making progress and now comes news that the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital has bought a robot to carry out surgical procedures such as prostatectomy. They do say that the robot is less likely to leave patients with the annoying side-effects for which the op is known.


Maybe I should have waited. But hey ho... they’ll always be making improvements and breakthroughs. We console ourselves with thoughts like “It could have been a lot worse” or “There’s always someone worse off than yourself” etc etc.

Anyway, an all-day demonstration of the surgical robot will take place in the Main Reception area of the hospital on Thursday 28 February, announces the RDandE’s urology consultant John McGrath.  All staff and visitors will be invited to have a go - operating on peas, rather than human beings - he reassures us.

“Various surgeons will be on hand to answer questions and show how the equipment is used,” says Mr McGrath. “The demonstration heralds the launch of prostate cancer awareness month and the beginning of the research programme which the RD&E is pioneering in partnership with Exeter University Medical School and Hong Kong University.”

Above: A laparoscopic robotic surgery machine. 
Image credit: Wikipedia

The Trust took delivery of its first £2.5 million in state-of-the-art robotic equipment in late December 2012 and is one of only around 20 hospitals in the UK now using robots in complex surgery to target prostate cancers.

“Everyone is welcome at the demonstration day and it would be great to see you there,” Mr McGrath tells us.


As pretty as the flowers of Himalayan balsam!
(See )
A micrograph - photo taken through a microscope, showing prostatic acinar adenocarcinoma (the most common form of prostate cancer) Gleason pattern 4.  
Image credit: Nephron via Wikipedia
And my reason for posting this message of course is simple. I hope that my male readers or their partners who are concerned about prostate matters but have not done anything about it may be curious enough to go along. If only to see a very clever boys’ toy at work.

 There is an active Exmouth and Budleigh branch of the North & East Devon Prostate Support Associaiton. See

Sea Beauties of the Past


It’s not all ball gowns and bustles in Fairlynch Museum’s Costume Department. To add a dash of glamour to this year’s ‘Sea Salt and Sponges’ exhibition they’ve come up with a display of vintage bathing costumes. There’s even a model of a bathing machine, one of those weird contraptions used by Victorian ladies to preserve their modesty while preparing to frolic in the waves on Budleigh beach. 

‘Sea, Salt and Sponges’ opens at FairlynchMuseum on 29 March and runs until 30 September with extra opening during October half term

Talking of vintage, while going round the shops in Budleigh to ask if they’d be kind enough to display posters for the Museum I always find a welcome at What Katy Did. Well, the owner Katy Gooding, pictured below, has more than a passing interest in Fairlynch’s contents, seeing that she specialises in the kind of vintage goodies that will eventually end up in museum displays.

So always keen to repay one good turn with another I thought I’d display Katy’s latest flier shown above. And broadcast the good news that her shop’s being featured in the April issue of Homes and Antiques, the magazine of the Antiques Roadshow.


They’re obviously expecting to see some of the items in Katy’s shop making an appearance on the TV show one day. Apparently, according to H&A writer Alice Roberton who met Katy at the first Crikey! It’s Vintage show to be held in nearby Exmouth,  Devon is emerging at a bit of a hot-spot for vintage. 

Showing off some vintage dress sense: What Katy Did owner Katy Gooding at her shop in Budleigh Salterton  
To see more of Katy's shop click on

Fatal Flowers?


A sudden outburst of flowers in the sunshine is telling me that spring is on the way, especially the cheeky dandelions flowering earlier than usual. Just look at that seed head ready to invade the garden, and it’s only mid-February.

Now there’s one flower which will be soon be making an appearance and from what I heard at a recent meeting on the theme of ‘Environmental Aspects of the River Otter’, organised by the Otter Valley Association it’s even more cheeky and persistent than dandelions. For wildlife trusts it’s actually one of the most worrying sights anywhere in the countryside.

Just imagine some scientist telling us that cancer spores could be cleared up as easily as litter from our streets and hedgerows in order to totally eradicate that horrible disease. Think of the national effort that would be made as everyone scoured streets and pavements, our woods, fields and river-banks. From the tiniest toddler to the most wrinkled granny we’d all be out there on hands and knees if necessary making sure that not one speck or molecule remained.  Within a day or so cancer would be a thing of the past.

 Environmental experts: (L-r) Haylor Lass, Roland Stonex, Scott West, Jim Hunter, John Wilding and Iorworth Watkins at the Otter Valley Association meeting in St Peter’s Church, Budleigh Salterton

Well, on Saturday 16 February I learnt from Roland Stonex, one of four speakers at the event, about the Otter Valley Himalayan Balsam Project 2012 and about the flower that he says is becoming a national plague.


Homily with a Himalayan theme: Roland Stonex explains what he sees as the menace of Himalayan balsam

Roland works for FWAG SW (Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group), a charity set up in the 1960s by farmers to promote the environmental dimension of farming. FWAG SW has over 2,000 farmer members in an area stretching from Cornwall to Gloucestershire and Wiltshire. In 2012, working with the Environment Agency, Roland has been leading the project tackling the ever-more-serious problem of the Himalayan Balsam in the Otter Valley.



A baneful beauty? The flower of Himalayan balsam

Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera), according to many experts, is as deadly as cancer as far as our fragile wildflower ecology is concerned.  It has the ability to grow in low levels of light  and is able to shade out other vegetation, so gradually impoverishing habitats by killing off other plants. As an annual, Himalayan balsam dies back in the winter. That’s when its damage to river banks can best be observed as the plant leaves them bare of vegetation and liable to erosion.  

This photo of the Jacobean mansion Bank Hall in Bretherton, Lancashire illustrates the invasive power of Himalayan balsam      Photo credit: J. Howard

The plant was apparently introduced into Britain around 1839 along with Giant Hogweed and Japanese Knotweed, much to the pleasure of ordinary gardening enthusiasts who found them an agreeable alternative to the expensive orchids grown in the greenhouses of the rich. Within ten years, however, Himalayan balsam had escaped from the confines of cultivation and begun to spread along the river systems of England. Its flowers are beautiful but then so are cancer spores when looked at under the microscope.


Bluebells under threat           
Image credit: Ramin Nakisa

It’s not just river-banks that it frequents. There is evidence that the plants are invading our woodlands, with seeds carried along favourite footpaths by walkers’ feet and even spread by the tyres of tractors. Those much-loved vistas of bluebells could become a distant memory.

Now not everyone hates Himalayan balsam. A Peter Herring who has contributed a fine photo of the flowers to Flikr tells us that it is “one of my favourite plants, but hated by conservationists who organise balsam bashing jollies.” 

The plant, he writes, is an annual and so is not permanent. “Its seeds float down river and so will colonise slow moving waterways, but they cannot flow upstream so why the paranoia? Great fun can be had by touching the ripe seed pods. They explode sending seed shrapnel over a wide area. The seed strikes other pods and they explode in turn setting up a chain reaction.”

That does sound as much fun as the tradition enjoyed by children of all ages blowing dandelion seeds into the wind.

I don’t know where Peter Herring lives, but nearer home the wild food enthusiasts Chris Holland and Robin Harford who have organised many weed gathering expeditions along the Otter’s river banks praise Himalayan balsam. Robin tells us that the plant has been eaten in India for hundreds of years and gives Chris’s recipe for Himalayan Balsam Seed Curry at

Chris’s own website is at

Bob Wiltshire of the Otter Valley Association was standing at the door of St Peter’s Church as we left the meeting and my friend Annie and I were quickly recruited as balsam bashers. Well, pulling up a few thousand of these blighters by the roots would be an easy job and it might be worth a day’s jolly or two just to see if our efforts resulted in the revival of some equally beautiful but more fragile wild flowers in their place. I might even take some stems home to try out that curry, to which I’m rather partial.

A patients’ monument of Victorian Exeter

Some Budleigh residents may remember from many years ago their visits to the old Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital at its Southernhay site in the city centre.

Not that they would remember seeing horses and carriages of course. The above engraving by Exeter artist and photographer Owen Angel (c.1821-1909) dates from 1849 and not even longevity-celebrated Budleigh can boast of having citizens from that time.

An inscription below the engraving tells us that the work was printed by Mr Angel, on the occasion of the Fancy Bazaar in aid of the Funds of the Devon & Exeter Hospital, held on Northernhay, Exeter, on 31 July and 1 August 1849. The ‘Royal’ was added only following the visit by the Duke and Duchess of York in 1899.

Mr Angel’s work appears here because it’s one of the many interesting items on loan from the Devon and Exeter Medical Society which will be on show at Fairlynch’s forthcoming exhibition ‘Sea, Salt and Sponges.’


The connection with Budleigh is that one of the town’s most celebrated residents, the scientist Henry Carter (1813-95), pictured above, was a student at the Devon and Exeter Hospital before he went on in 1835 to study at University College London.  There he was lucky enough to be taught by two of Britain’s leading anatomists, Robert Edmond Grant (1793-1874) and William Sharpey (1802-80), winning prestigious prizes in anatomy during his time in London. 

Like many Victorian scientists who began by studying medicine and ended up in natural history, including Charles Darwin (1809-82), Carter made his name as an internationally-known expert on sponges but would remember his former teachers with deep affection.

It was at the Devon and Exeter Hospital where he first gained his skill in anatomy. The Hospital was in advance of its time, having introduced courses in the subject ten years previously, and had a Dissecting Room which was active in 1827.  This was well before the passing in 1832 of an Anatomy Act introduced into Parliament by Henry Warburton (1784-1858), MP for Dorset and an enthusiastic amateur scientist.


Above: A painting of body snatchers at work on the wall of the Old Crown Inn in the High Street of Penicuik in Midlothian. The inn is about 100 yards from the local parish kirkyard.
That year, the time of the cholera epidemic in Exeter, the Hospital applied for a Licence under the new Act which enabled dissection to be carried out without theft of bodies from burial sites although this doubtless long-established activity probably did continue for a while. The Sidmouth antiquary and artist Peter Orlando Hutchinson (1810-97) records how his father and other medical students at the Hospital were disturbed by soldiers while disinterring an executed criminal in 1796.

The Devon and Exeter Hospital had been at the forefront of those pressing for such legislation to facilitate the teaching of anatomy. Two of its surgeons, Samuel Barnes (1784-1858) and John Haddy James (1788-1869), in a letter addressed to Warburton and dated 19 April 1828, stressed the importance of “an early and accurate acquaintance with anatomy” for their medical pupils and urging a change in the law whereby an ample supply of subjects for study might be made available from “unclaimed bodies of persons dying at the hospital, the workhouse and the gaols.”

The history of the city’s hospital goes back to much earlier times. The Exeter Guild of Barbers was a Livery Company and is noted in the records of the Guildhall. The Barber-Surgeons were first Incorporated by a Grant of King Henry VII in 1487 and their Coat of Arms bears the motto ‘De Praescentia Dei.’

This jar, on display in the Fairlynch exhibition, was used for storing live leeches by 19th century doctors. The European medical leech Hirudo medicinalis as well as some other species, has been used for clinical bloodletting for thousands of years. The use of leeches in medicine dates as far back as 2,500 years ago, when they were used for bloodletting in ancient India.  In the 19th century Barts Hospital in London used 100,000 leeches annually for the procedure.

The use of leeches in modern medicine made its comeback in the 1980s after years of decline, with the advent of microsurgeries, such as plastic and reconstructive surgeries 

Image courtesy of the Devon and Exeter Medical Society

Following the building of a hospital in 1665 an Act of Parliament passed in 1694 led to the planning of another new hospital that was completed in 1718.  The City Hospital on the Southernhay site was founded on 27 August 1741. The Gentleman’s Magazine of that year records the event in its Poetical Essays:

By virtue rais'd, this goodly pile shall last,
Built on a rock, nor fear the northern blast;
Let parties rage, and adverse storms arise,
Firm on its base, its head shall touch the skies.
Ages to come the pious work shall bless
And curse that name whose envy made it less.

Hence sacred love in purer streams shall flow,
And give fresh verdure to the fields below;
Revive, ye poor, nor drop a silent tear,
Your ills shall find a new Bethesda here;
Angels of health shall ev'ry day descend,
Nor shall the wretch complain he wants a friend.

Angel’s engraving is accompanied by more verses in the same style, calculated to appeal to the generosity of potential donors tempted by the thought of rewards in the afterlife:

See where yon sacred pile its front uprears
Where pain finds refuge - Mis'ry dries her tears;
Where heaven-born Charity its aid bestows,
To mitigate the sum of human woes.

There pining sickness may in peace recline
Whilst godlike Science lends its aid divine
To shed the glow of health on each wan cheek,
Make whole the strong, - Invigorate the weak.

Shall then our firm appeal be made in vain?
Can you refuse your aid this end to gain?
No! Devonians glory in these works of love
Which find their recompense in realms above.


Also on show at Fairlynch will be this 19th century Assistant Naval Surgeon’s Capital Set  in "A superior Brass-bound Mahogany Case, lined with Silk Velvet"  as described in the supplier's catalogue. It contains forceps, catheters, probes, knives, screw tourniquets, a tooth punch and a skull saw among other items. Manufactured by Evans & Wormull it was known as a  Capital Set because of the Capital Knife, used for amputations on board ship.
The saw would be used to sever the bone. The average amputation of a leg would take two and half minutes. Henry Carter would have bought his own similar set for use on the surveying ship the Palinurus during his two years on the Arabian coast
Image courtesy of the Devon and Exeter Medical Society
A fine example of early Georgian architecture, the Southernay building was eventually found to be inadequate as a hospital and is now a residential development. A new, modern hospital - known to most people as the RD and E - opened at Wonford in 1974.

Fairlynch Museum and its 2013 exhibition ‘Sea, Salt and Sponges’ will open on Friday 29 March and run until 30 September 2013, with extra opening over October half-term  

I am indebted to Christopher Gardner-Thorpe’s account of the history of the Exeter Hospital at for some of the above information.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

You're never too young to visit a museum!



As a family-friendly museum Fairlynch is always keen to welcome children of any age.

So the chance of a link with a well-established pre-school nursery in Budleigh was something Chairman Roger Sherriff felt was well worthwhile when he heard that Carousel Childcare was celebrating its 10th birthday this year.


Fairlynch Museum was glad to add its message of congratulations to those of many other local groups, all of which will appear along with a feature on the nursery to be published in a forthcoming issue of the Budleigh Journal.

Carousel Childcare is based at Moor Lane in the grounds of  St Peter’s C of E primary school and is run by Nursery Director and mother-of-three Sarka Andersonova, pictured below, together with an experienced team of helpers. Collectively they have over 30 years’ childcare experience between them.  

Sarka and her team are proud of Carousel’s stimulating but secure environment. “We take every child’s unique qualities into account when planning their day,” she says. “But as well as being unique and individual a child is changing and developing all the time, so what he or she has needs or is interested in today may well be different tomorrow or in a few weeks.”

The nursery enjoys an excellent reputation in the Budleigh area and boasts many enthusiastic testimonials from parents.  "I always feel that there is a welcoming atmosphere in Carousel, and I always know that our son is happy and safe when he is there," was one typical comment.


In addition to a full range of learning activities Carousel Childcare offers a variety of out of school clubs which cater for children’s needs, with childcare offered from 7.30 am to 6.00 pm all year round, except for bank holidays and a week at Christmas. We also plan outings for children to broaden their experience, says Sarka. “That could certainly include the Museum.”

 For more details click on  

or telephone 01395 488 183 or 07792 927 278 to book an appointment for a visit.