Saturday, 27 July 2013

Musings at the Museum

Sixty children from Awliscombe C of E Primary School came to visit Fairlynch to celebrate the end of term.

They met Jack Rattenbury in the Smugglers’ Cellar. 

“Is he dead?” they asked, feeling his cold and clammy fingers.

Do they mean the 19th century smuggler or the eerily lifelike figure with piercing brown eyes and computer-generated voice?

Who knows what kids think? Do they want to be reassured? Do they suspect there are more Jack Rattenburys out there in Lyme Bay?  

Is she nervous of him, or a bit uncertain of the photographer? 

After some explanation they thought that he was probably ok. Dangerous though. A smuggler. “Yes, he did escape from the police. Yes, he probably was violent.”  

Sir Walter Raleigh was not so frightening. “Or could that be the man on the bonfire? A penny for the guy, a penny for my thoughts. Were those barrels of gunpowder in the Smugglers’ Cellar?  Was there a candle to light him to bed, and then a big chopper to chop off his head?” 

“But I liked the other stories about Sir Walter: puddles, pipes and potatoes. And he was a Devon boy like me.  Maybe I’ll cross the oceans and find the Orinoco and El Dorado, go to America one day, find some rivers paved with gold, come back home and be knighted by the Queen. Or the King?” 

“Did they speak and think and dream like me in the Bronze Age? Millions and millions and millions of years ago?”  

“We’ve learnt all kinds of things at Fairlynch. We’ve even learnt about Victorian science, about sponges and surgery, Arabia and India and how they made salt in Budleigh Salterton in the Middle Ages.” 

“With plenty of fun, feathers and finery from the dressing-up box in the Costume Room.” 

“We had a great time. And the sun was still shining when we came out of the Museum. Off we go to the Creamery for ice-creams.” 

And no, for those kids who asked as I took the photographs: “I’m not a Victorian!”

To find out more about Awliscombe School, click on










Friday, 12 July 2013

More on East Budleigh’s ‘smuggling vicar’

Above: East Budleigh’s All Saints Church where Ambrose Stapleton was the vicar for 58 years until 1852

Mention of Budleigh’s smuggling past in a previous post at  reminded one of my readers of further stories about Ambrose Stapleton.

Former resident of the town Meg Peacocke wrote to tell me of how East Budleigh’s celebrated ‘smuggling vicar’ featured in a local amateur dramatics production during World War Two.  In around 1940 her father the children’s author Rodney Bennett started or took over a drama society in East Budleigh. Participants were keen, she writes, but he soon discovered that their performances based on a written script were wooden.  He therefore experimented with improvisation based on local material, so that actors might speak more freely and in their own idiom - “an early Mike Leigh?” wonders Meg.

One story which the group developed concerned Ambrose Stapleton and his smuggling activities that they performed with much success at a drama competition in Exeter, as well as locally.

Meg believes that there may well have been other stories used by the drama group. She remembers that one of the most talented actors in the troupe was the wife of a Bicton head gardener - a Mrs Kentisbeare, she thinks - who was also a renowned lacemaker.

Fairlynch Museum would love to know more about this and indeed about Ambrose Stapleton, this colourful character distinguished by his long tenure as vicar of East Budleigh.  If you can help please get in touch via



Thursday, 11 July 2013

Devonshire Association comes to Budleigh

Time for a coffee and biscuits on arrival for the Devonshire Association visitors, greeted by Friend of Fairlynch Hazel Harland, right.
Fairlynch Museum hosted a visit by members of the Devonshire Association’s East Devon branch on Thursday 11 July.

Among its many activities the Association regularly organises all-day excursions to the county’s towns to give members an insight into the history and particular features of a community. This was the first organised visit by DA members to Budleigh Salterton. St Peter’s Church and the long-established Croquet Club as well as the Museum were included on the itinerary.  

The visitors were shown various areas of the Museum by volunteers Iris Ansell, Sue Morgan and Margaret Williams.  Museum Secretary Michael Downes told them something of the life and career of Henry Carter FRS, the Victorian physician, geologist and marine sponge expert who himself was a member of the Devonshire Association, though only briefly.

The impressive display in the Costume Room is always of interest for visitors. The DA members were met here by Iris Ansell, right.

Not often seen by visitors are the Museum's costume storage facilities in the Linhay. Thousands of items in every kind of material are kept here in controlled conditions.   

Above: Lacemaker Sue Morgan shows off one of the many rare items of lace kept in the Linhay 

The visitors had the opportunity of seeing back-stage at the Museum, and even handling some of the items while wearing protective gloves. Iris Ansell explained how items donated to Fairlynch are assessed for their importance and their condition  
The East Devon section with 150 members is the second biggest branch of the Devonshire Association, which is a non-profit-making body, founded in 1862 and dedicated to the study and appreciation of all matters relating to Devon. It is the only society concerned with every aspect of the county and is the only one of its kind in Britain.

In 1861, a Cornishman, the geologist and local archaeologist William Pengelly (1812-94), proposed the establishment of a local organization modelled on the British Association for the Advancement of Science but concentrating on Devon and covering all areas of scholarly enquiry. The first meeting was held in Exeter the following year. By 1887, membership had risen from an initial 69 to 500, and reached a record 1,807 during the Association’s centenary year – 1962. Today the DA has about 1,300 members.

The organization consists of an annually elected President and an Executive Committee. There are eight regional Branches – Axe Valley, Bideford, East Devon, Exeter, Okehampton, Plymouth, South Devon and Tavistock. Within the DA there are eight specialist Sections – Botany, Buildings, Entomology, Geology, History, Literature & Art, Industrial Archaeology and Music. Each Branch and Section has its own committee and organises its own annual programme of events. Branch programmes are more broadly-based than their specialist counterparts.

Over one hundred activities are run each year in all parts of the county – talks, exhibitions, excursions, walks, field trips, symposia, concerts and courses. Major annual events include the Annual Conference, held in a different Devon town, and the President’s Symposium.

The most significant record of the Association’s activities is contained in its annual Reports and Transactions series, which has provided an outlet for a wide range of research on Devon since 1863. It is the greatest single source of information about the county.

For more information about the DA click on

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Don’t forget Fairlynch Museum when you visit Britain!

VisitBritain is the national tourism agency, responsible for marketing Britain worldwide and developing Britain’s visitor economy, I read on its website at   

A non-departmental public body, funded by the Department for Culture, Media & Sport, it works with partners in the UK and overseas to ensure that Britain is marketed in an inspirational and relevant way around the world.

So I was naturally curious about a glaring omission on VisitBritain’s Jurassic coast itinerary at

Exmouth and Sidmouth Museums are mentioned, but no Fairlynch Museum! Actually, the website as it stands seems likely to encourage visitors to give Budleigh Salterton a miss altogether. The two attractions listed for our town are the World of Country Life and Bicton Park Botanical Gardens, neither of which are exactly in Budleigh Salterton itself.

That got me thinking about the way in which Budleigh Salterton must surely have been attracting more visitors in recent years.  Well, we’re not exactly one of the South-West’s tourist hotspots. But there has been progress since I was told in 2009 by one of the town’s elderly residents that he and his wife had been induced to move here ten years previously because they’d been told that it was not a tourist town, and catered rather for the residents.

“We have found this to be the case, and have much enjoyed its quiet atmosphere,” he wrote. “There are plenty of nearby tourist resorts for those who seek them.”

And now Budleigh Salterton seems to be a town of festivals. Music, Literature, Jazz... they’ve all taken root here.  Science may yet succeed, while Sport took off in a blaze of publicity with the first Active Budleigh festival in 2012. As for the demoscene you can read all about that at  And then there’s Budstock.

The latest on the festival scene is the Budleigh Salterton Food and Drink Festival to take place this year from 11-13 October. More details coming soon, they say at

As for Fairlynch Museum we are now ranked second out of five local attractions by
TripAdvisor according to the latest information at

VisitBritain tell me that a member of their team will get back to me next week. I’ll keep you posted.



Sunday, 7 July 2013

Talking of memories at the Museum... across The Pond


Above: Greg O'Brien opens the door to his Brewster office, where he is surrounded by memories from his long career.Cape Cod Times/Ron Schloerb

It was not so long ago that Budleigh Salterton learnt of plans to make Fairlynch a dementia-friendly museum. This followed an initiative by the town’s Medical Centre and home care provider Home Instead which aims to make people more aware of dementia as an illness.

Most of us associate it with the elderly, but although dementia mainly affects older people, it is not a normal part of ageing. From our sister-town of Brewster in Cape Cod comes a sad reminder that dementia can strike anyone at any age.

The following article by Cynthia McCormick appeared in the Cape Cod Times on 25 June. It is based on Brewster resident Greg O’Brien’s brave account of his battle with the illness.

O'Brien, 63, a political communications strategist, is the former editor and publisher of the Cape Codder. He is writing a book about his own diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer's and will be talking about his experiences with the disease along with author Lisa Genova at the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History at 6.00 pm on Monday 22 July.

Brewster man shares experience of early-onset Alzheimer's

The photos of Sen. Edward Kennedy, Arizona Rep. Morris "Mo" Udall and other personalities that line the walls of Greg O'Brien's Brewster barn-turned-office testify to his decades in journalism.

Framed newspaper articles — "Americans Walk on the Moon" — and sports memorabilia jostle for space with family photographs, including one of O'Brien as an altar boy.

"It's kind of a time capsule," says O'Brien, the former editor and publisher of the Cape Codder and an award-winning political writer and investigative reporter.

"It's my memory," he says.

But O'Brien says the biggest story of his life can be found in a 1940s-era photograph of a woman with hair curling softly on her shoulders.

The woman is Virginia B. O'Brien, his mother. She worked as a banker and raised 10 children, and in 2008 she died at age 83 of Alzheimer's disease — but not before passing on a genetic predisposition to her eldest son, O'Brien said.

Diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease four years ago, O'Brien says he started noticing symptoms as far back as 2001.

He fished for the right words and sometimes had problems recognizing people. "Something inside me said there's something seriously wrong," O'Brien said.

He said he believes a head injury he suffered in a bicycle accident about nine years ago accelerated the disease process.

Testing showed that he was at genetic risk, since he had the APOE-e4 gene that is present in about 40 percent of all people with late-onset Alzheimer's and is implicated in the development of early-onset Alzheimer's.

Brain scans and an MRI also confirmed the presence of the brain-wasting disease, O'Brien said.

A generation's story

He has responded the way he knows best: by sharing his experience and writing about it, in a new book tentatively titled "On Pluto: Inside the Mind of Alzheimer's."

"As a reporter, shame on me if I don't tell the story," O'Brien said during an interview in his office.

"I find myself, at 63, with a brain disease for which there is no cure, writing the most important story of my life," he said.

It's also the story of his generation, O'Brien said.

An article in the journal Neurology earlier this year estimated that the number of Americans 65 and older with Alzheimer's will climb to 13.8 million by the year 2050.

According to a RAND report, 4.1 million Americans currently suffer from Alzheimer's or other types of dementias.

Doctors say about 5 percent of the cases are considered early onset, meaning they occur in people younger than 65.

Many patients functional

"There is a visual that somebody with Alzheimer's is in a johnny in a corner drooling," said Patricia Collins, director of family and community outreach for HopeHealth Dementia and Alzheimer's Services.

"You'd be amazed at how functional these folks are," she said. Collins said the youngest Alzheimer's patient she's worked with was 50.

"A lot of people are still working," said Molly Perdue, director of family services for Hope Dementia. They may have children in college and are wondering how to pay for retirement, she said.

O'Brien's youngest child, Conor, is still at home with him and his wife, Mary Catherine, and commutes to Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I.

His older children, Colleen and Brendan, live in Washington, D.C., and Brighton.

O'Brien said he wants to do his part to encourage funding of Alzheimer's research so his children don't face the fear and loneliness of a diagnosis.

"Part of what I'm doing is to raise awareness," O'Brien said. "Nobody likes to pull their pants down in public. But if that's what it takes to tell the story of Alzheimer's, that's what it takes."

Disease incidence rising

Alzheimer's disease as a cause of death increased by 68 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to the Alzheimer's Association, which said death rates for stroke, prostate cancer, breast cancer and HIV declined in that same period.

Drugs can help Alzheimer's sufferers manage symptoms, but so far they don't slow the progression of the disease.

O'Brien takes Aricept, which helps with memory, and Namenda, which can help slow the rate of decline in thinking.

He also takes the antidepressant Celexa and, when he needs help sleeping, Trazodone.

Daily runs on the treadmill help him "restart the brain," O'Brien said.

His faith in God and sense of humor help, too.

When a reporter apologizes for forgetting a question, O'Brien quips, "I have pills for that if you want."

O'Brien says he's working off a "cognitive reserve" of brain power. With wavy gray hair and wire-rimmed glasses, he is the picture of a Cape Cod intellectual.

"Writing is muscle memory," O'Brien said.

He said his doctors told him that he should be able to write and communicate until he "lets go," which is a code phrase for the point at which the brain and body shut down almost simultaneously.

Not letting go

O'Brien doesn't have plans to let go anytime soon. He still works as a political communications strategist and will be featured in a Peaty Films project on Alzheimer's, to be released later this summer or fall.

On July 22, he is scheduled to speak about Alzheimer's at the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History with novelist Lisa Genova, the author of "Still Alice." The book is considered a realistic portrait of early-onset Alzheimer's disease.

Most early-onset patients decline quickly, but O'Brien has been able to buck those odds with determination, smarts and exercise, said Alisa Galazzi of Orleans, former head of Alzheimer's Services.

His book "will be a gift," she said. "He's able to tell the story from an insider's perspective. It's not about the disease. It's about life, loss and grief."

"My mother taught me how to live with it. She's my hero. She wouldn't give in to it," said O'Brien, who was editor and publisher of the Cape Codder until 1993.

"One of the symptoms of the disease is feeling alone," O'Brien said. "There's help and there's love and there's hope out there."

Used with permission from the Cape Cod Times, a division of Dow Jones Local Media Group 

To read the post about Fairlynch as a dementia-friendly museum click on

A first for blooming Fairlynch

Margaret Burton, left, and Josie Ogg from Winteringham, near Scunthorpe, were staying in Sidmouth on holiday and had come to Budleigh for the afternoon by coach. Fairlynch, they said, was "a lovely little place."

Fairlynch Museum's gardeners are congratulating themselves on being awarded a 1st prize in this year's Budleigh in Bloom competition. The Museum's Ann Hurt, Lynn Weeks and Sylvia Merkel were delighted to learn that they had gained top spot in the 'community gardens' category winning a £25 voucher donated by local garden centre Kings Gardening and Leisure.  

The competition’s judges, including Janice Hindley, Senior Horticultural Lecturer at Bicton College, were impressed by the garden’s mature planting in its mixed herbaceous lay-out and its neat and tidy appearance.  Certain specimens such as the tree lupin attracted particular comment.

The Museum’s garden is distinctive for having been planned with the idea of showing off plants contemporaneous with the age of the house, originally built in 1811. 

Flowers of Cistus salviifolius, an attractive shrub which blooms throughout the summer.  

Blue irises, a reliable feature of any herbaceous border.

Fairlynch volunteer Ann Hurt in the Museum's garden

Pink lilies: just some of the plants which stand out in the museum garden. Below are flowers of the Chilean potato vine.


The tree lupin to the right of the steps at the museum entrance was one of the plants commented on by judges in the Budleigh in Bloom competition.

Volunteer gardener Sylvia Merkel hard at work early in the season in Fairlynch garden.


Museum made an ideal centenary classroom

Thirty children from St Peter’s School, Budleigh Salterton, came to Fairlynch Museum on 19 June to see how life had changed over the last 100 years.

The school has been celebrating its centenary during 2013 and pupils from Year 4 were investigating in small groups how and why changes have taken place in areas as diverse as fashion, transport and employment.


They came with clipboards and lots of enthusiasm.

Lace-making was an important local industry and the children enjoyed learning about the different types of lace.

In the Costume Room they were interested to meet Phoenix, the rocking-horse presented to Fairlynch Museum after a fire broke out at his former home in St Peter's School.

In the Local History Room the children learnt about the Museum's archive collection of documents relating to so many aspects of life in Budleigh Salterton and the Lower Otter Valley over the centuries.

There was much to see in the Environment Room.

Especially the collection of pebbles and fossils.

 The history of Budleigh Salterton's railway is an important part of the Museum's collection.

“It was a really successful visit,” said teacher Elizabeth Stubbs who was accompanied by seven adult supervisors. “Each group has found something of real interest. We thought that with the Museum being so small the children would be in and out in no time but they all kept wanting to go back to the different rooms to gather information.  They really loved it.”