Saturday, 31 August 2013

"She was really Mrs Budleigh Salterton!”


  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


 

 
 
Priscilla Hull wearing her insignia as President of Budleigh Salterton Chamber of Commerce
Image courtesy of Ray Ambrose ©2008 Randa Creative 

Budleigh residents and Friends of Fairlynch Museum were just some of the many people who were saddened to learn of the death of Priscilla Hull on 12 August.

A co-founder of the Museum, Priscilla was for many years a prominent member of the community, having been Chairman of Budleigh Salterton Urban District Council and Chairman and President of Budleigh Salterton Chamber of Commerce as well as a Devon County Councillor. She was also a JP, sitting as a magistrate for over 25 years.

 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Priscilla Marjorie Lovelace Carter was born in 1920 in Bombay, where her father George Carter, pictured above, was working for the Indian Civil Service as a District Administrator. He was the son of John Carter, an Exmouth builder responsible for creating the large estate of houses beside the Exe estuary known today as the ‘colony’, as well as much of Greenway and parts of Budleigh High Street. George Carter took early retirement in 1926, returning to England to live in Northview Road, Budleigh Salterton.  For the six-year-old Priscilla the move was a rude shock after the warmer Indian climate. Her eldest son John was later told that she felt the cold badly and liked nothing better than sitting beside the fire reading.

George Carter studied to be a barrister at Gray’s Inn in London and passed the exams but did not practise. Instead his day job became running the family letting company in Exmouth and gradually winding up the estate, which was saddled with large mortgage debts. But his passion was investigating the prehistory and geology of the east Devon Pebblebeds, as well as discovering radioactive ‘nodules’ in the sandstone cliffs at Budleigh. It was this interest that would inspire his daughter to co-found Fairlynch Museum.

 

Cheltenham Ladies' College in the snow, 1900
 
The young Priscilla Carter, a clever and studious child with an excellent brain, attended Copplestone House Preparatory School for Girls in Bedlands Lane, Budleigh Salterton. She went on to board at Cheltenham Ladies’ College, where she won a good scholarship before achieving a place at Cambridge University to study Classics. But war was approaching. Her father was horrified when she left a year later, determined to play her part in the war effort by joining the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), the women's branch of the British Army during the Second World War. Here she found herself not fighting Hitler, but serving drinks in the Officers’ Mess of the Devonshire Regiment in Exeter!

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
A young Priscilla: the photo was used in the funeral order of service brochure 

It was here that she met her first husband, Captain Alfred Grahame MacMullen (who was somewhat older than her), with whom she would  bear and bring up six children, all boys, in Budleigh Salterton. Her son John remembered her as “unflappable” in the face of any crisis, but as a mother she was also fun.  He recalled the annual ‘Bus Picnic’ at Stowford or Woodbury Common. “A rattly old bus was hired from Nightingales and filled with us and our friends. Mother was always a shrewd strategist in directing our games of cowboys and Indians. It was always best to have her ‘on side’.”

The family lived at this time at Ailsa, in Little Knowle. Here, recalled John, the door was always open. “Friends just dropped in and if it was meal time they were welcome to join us.”


 



Frances Margaret went on to be a successful sculptor, noted for her equine figures

 After her husband’s death Priscilla married John Gordon Hull in 1968, later moving to Abele Tree House in Fore Street and running the New Gallery. Many local artists will remember her with affection. Sculptor Frances Margaret will always be grateful to her as the first person to exhibit her sculptures. “She gave them a place in her art gallery and I can remember feeling so proud and honoured. For me Priscilla Hull was the 'doyenne' of Budleigh Salterton. She will be greatly missed but never forgotten!”   

 

Alan Cotton's painting of the Otter Valley, now in Fairlynch Museum

She also helped artists such as Francis Kelly, Alan Cotton, Mark Gibbons, who were becoming established, and Mollie Clarke whose painting career began after her retirement and for whom Priscilla held a number of ‘sell-out’ exhibitions.

 

 


Priscilla at a private view in the Brook Gallery with owner Angela Yarwood and artist Colin See-Payton  
 
Another artist associated with Fairlynch was the Budleigh-based designer and modelmaker Neil Rogers. He recalled that Priscilla not only bought one of his paintings via the Budleigh Salterton Art Club, of which she was vice-president, but awarded him the Club’s annual trophy in a couple of categories in which he was the winner on separate occasions. She was also instrumental, with Fairlynch volunteer Tony Colmer, in commissioning him to create the panels which illustrate early human activity on the walls of the Environment Room. “That was a great privilege to work on as it is very visible within Fairlynch but also a subject I am very interested in,” wrote Neil on learning of Priscilla’s death.  “She was an institution in Budleigh, and incredibly far sighted, being the instigator and driving force behind the setting up of Fairlynch all those years ago.”

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Priscilla in August 2009

Her name will live on in the Priscilla Hull Award for Best 3D or Sculpture awarded by the Budleigh Salterton Art Club where she was Vice-President; she would have been judging at this year’s Art Club exhibition. 

 

 The town itself owes her a great debt for her work in ensuring that it retains much of the unspoilt character which people find so attractive today. One of the many projects for which she was responsible can be seen on the High Street at numbers 14-16: a plaque, pictured above, refers to the restoration in 1998-9 of what was probably the oldest surviving building in the street, now a pair of shops with a flat over.


Professor Chris Tilley explains to visitors the importance of Jacob's Well on Woodbury Common 

The idea of Budleigh’s own museum, of which she was co-founder and President, was very much part of her vision of preserving local heritage. She was passionate about supporting the work that her father had pioneered in excavating the Bronze Age sites on Woodbury Common. George Carter’s theories about these sites had been rejected by orthodox archaeologists but many of his theories have been proved to be correct thanks to recent research carried out by Professor Chris Tilley of University College London, and his colleagues involved in the East Devon Pebblebeds Project.  A treasured moment for Priscilla came in her late eighties when she was transported by Land Rover over rough terrain to see the Jacob’s Well burial site at Black Hill which as a teenager she had helped her father to excavate.

 

 
Fairlynch Museum and Arts Centre shortly after being re-thatched in 2010

George Carter had set up a small one-room museum in Budleigh Salterton’s coastguard buildings in the 1930s but the premises had been vacated with the arrival of World War Two and the Home Guard. In 1967 Priscilla, together with fellow Salterton residents the three Miss Gawnes, acquired the early 19th century marine cottage orné now known as Fairlynch. The building with its Gothic windows and thatched turreted roof is one of the town’s principal landmarks.

 

Co-founders of Farlynch Joy Gawne and Priscilla Hull 
 
Nearly half a century on, Fairlynch Museum and Arts Centre, which recently introduced free admission, remains a popular attraction for visitors. It boasts remarkable collections of period costumes and curious radioactive pebbles collected by George Carter together with much-praised local history archives.   

 

As a co-founder of Fairlynch Priscilla became a figure familiar to many in the museum world, especially in Devon. “All of us at Topsham Museum were very saddened by the news of Priscilla's death,” wrote Chairman John Dunsford.  “We feel a very close link with Fairlynch and many of our members knew Priscilla well and respected her highly. We appreciate your sense of loss but she must have been pleased by the progress Fairlynch has made and continues to make.”

 

 As its first Chairman, Priscilla maintained a keen interest in the affairs of Fairlynch. She succeeded on two occasions in persuading the Tate Gallery to lend the celebrated Victorian painting  'The Boyhood of Raleigh' by Sir John Everett Millais, seen above, for display at the Museum.

The first occasion was shortly after the founding of Fairlynch in 1967. Requesting the loan of such a well known work to be exhibited at such a small institution as Fairlynch may have seemed to many like asking for the moon. But its co-founder was one of those people always ready to rise to a challenge.  She recalled in an article that she wrote for the Western Morning News some 30 years later how a chance conversation about the painting had been the stimulus. A visitor to the Museum had made the suggestion: “‘You really ought to have the picture here - but of course THEY would never let you!’ This was said to me - co-founder and chairman of the museum, and my husband, the secretary - and it lit a fuse.”

 

With Joy Gawne cutting a cake to celebrate Fairlynch's 30th birthday, watched by Budleigh Salterton's Mayor Lynda Evans

The quest for the Millais painting rapidly became a crusade, as she explained. “We felt we were highly deserving. It had been conceived on our doorstep, and its centenary was imminent.” Indeed it was next door to Fairlynch, at the building known as the Octagon, that the painter  had stayed when he began work on his masterpiece in 1870.  The second occasion presented itself as a millennial project, and the Museum was again successful in obtaining the painting from the Tate Gallery: ‘The Boyhood of Raleigh’ was again on view only 50 yards from its birthplace every afternoon and most mornings from July until the end of September 2000.  

 

Joy Gawne and Priscilla Hull with Hugo Swire MP at the Museum's 40th birthday celebrations
 
Along with co-founder Joy Gawne she continued to involve herself in the affairs of Fairlynch. Former Chairman Roger Kingwill has vivid memories of her efforts on its behalf. Apart from her abundant, but discreet, personal generosity on so many occasions in supporting Fairlynch and adding to its collections, she was the leader in local fund raising for the museum, he recalls.

 

Helping out at a Fairlynch 'grummage' sale in August 2009

 “Principal  examples were the annual ‘Grummage’ sales and book sales. Grummage - Priscilla’s own word for rummaging among bric-a-brac in her garage - raised an average of £2,700 per annum for Fairlynch from 1997 to 2007. Vast collections of used items were made and stored in her garage and coachhouse until the chosen dates in August. Then selected persons were gathered to price the goods, and rotas of impressed ‘volunteers’ manned the sales, some years for four or five days. Anything that could be sold was ‘fair game’ - avoiding electrical goods -  but everything was closely vetted by Priscilla to ensure that the occasional objet d’art was taken to a friendly Fine Art auctioneer to reach its top price for the museum. For several years in the early 2000s Autumn sales of second hand books were also held in Abele Tree House, raising well in excess of £1,000 a time.

A friend and admirer, architect and artist Hamish McLachlan, composed the following limerick:

           

            A lady who lived at Fairlynch
            Found fund-raising far from a cinch,
            So she let the town rummage
            Through mountains of grummage
            For Fairlynch was feeling the pinch.”

 

She was also responsible for the authoritative notes that she wrote to accompany Fairlynch exhibitions like ‘Yesterday’s Children’ in 1978 and ‘Our Artists and Authors’ in 1985.  As President of the Museum she continued to oversee its progress with a benevolent and occasionally critical eye, offering wise words of advice to its Trustees. She was for former Chairman Sonia Stone “a great lady with a sharp brain who cared deeply about Fairlynch.”

 

With Budleigh Salterton Mayor Courtney Richards at the 2013 exhibition preview 

Earlier this year she attended the Museum’s AGM when she addressed the meeting as its President.  Two months previously she officiated at a preview event to open Fairlynch’s 2013 exhibition. Budleigh Salterton’s Mayor Courtney Richards cut a Victoria sponge cake which had been specially made as a tribute to the town’s great Victorian scientist and porifera expert Henry John Carter FRS.

Among her many other contributions to Budleigh’s community life, Priscilla was involved in local politics. When she decided to stand for the Town Council and won a seat, it was much to the chagrin of some of the established members who didn’t believe it was a woman’s place. That didn’t stop her and she rose to be Chairman before standing for the County Council. “I remember us older boys being pressed into service leafleting and canvassing,” recalled John.  “She was elected and served a number of terms though latterly often frustrated when common sense was trumped by party politics.”

Indeed it was for her common sense, along with her keen intelligence and her sensitivity to the needs of the town that Budleigh residents and Friends of Fairlynch Museum alike respected Priscilla.

Combined with these qualities was what John described as her “absolute” determination. “When two local fishermen were prosecuted and convicted for removing a few pebbles from the beach she was incensed. A fighting fund was set up and the conviction was overturned on appeal.”

Devon County Councillor Christine Channon remembers her with affection for a wise remark that she once made at a ‘planning for real’ meeting in the Public Hall. Years ago, recalls Cllr Channon, some members of Otter Valley Association were extremely keen to make the High Street in Budleigh Salterton one-way, resulting in much discussion of various other highway matters and views on street parking.

 













Budleigh Salterton's High Street, looking east, with a traffic priority sign in the foreground

“Devon County Council took the Public Hall for a few days, put up some displays, a suggestion box and the event concluded with a public meeting, which on occasions generated a little heat. Most of the traders were dismayed at the idea of a one-way system as the alternate routes of Brook Street/Queen Street were not easy to negotiate, especially for HGVs. The good news was that the people suggesting the one-way system could not agree whether it was better to go from east to west or west to east.  No one wished to remove the parking from the High Street.  Eventually Priscilla rose to her feet and said: ‘There isn’t really a problem, just a little patience is needed. If cars travelling west wait opposite the garage and give way to oncoming traffic, everything will be fine.’ What wise words! Whenever there is a hold up in the High Street because some thoughtless person has tried to bully their way through, sometimes  forcing vehicles up on to the pavement, Priscilla’s words ‘just a little patience is needed’ flash through my mind.”

 















Yet another of Priscilla's successful projects: Shandford Care Home
 
She was Chairman of the Devon County Council Welfare Committee and was heavily involved in 1958 as a founding member of the local care home Shandford on Station Road, a non-profit making charity 'for the peace and comforting of old friends in Budleigh Salterton and neighbourhood'.  She was guest of honour at the celebration of Shandford’s half centenary five years ago. 

Alan Tilbury, former Chairman and President of Budleigh Salterton’s Chamber of Commerce, remembered her as adventurous and broad-minded - “in the nicest way possible.”  Her passing, he felt, will leave an enormous gap in the community especially for the Chamber, where she was President for 11 years until 2012.

The Executive Committee are really shocked by the death of this wonderful woman,” he wrote on hearing the news.  The Chamber of Commerce was something she really enjoyed belonging to along with all her other commitments. For us she was a respected figurehead, never lost for words when asked to make comments during an event. She was a lovely lady who could always in very few words say what people needed to hear to move forward with a problem or situation. As we all know Salterton was the place she would always promote at every opportunity.  She was really Mrs Budleigh Salterton!”

In her spare time she enjoyed singing, and especially Gilbert & Sullivan, being a keen member of Exmouth Amateur Operatic Society. Travel was another of her pursuits: places that she visited included Antarctica, the Amazon, The Galapagos Islands, Indonesia and Australia, the Okavango Delta in Namibia and both North and South America to name but a few!

Even people who had never come across her were inspired by what they had heard of her life and achievements. “She sounds like someone I’d have loved to have met,” tweeted Helena Holt, CEO of Devon Air Ambulance on reading the Exmouth Journal’s online report of the death. 

 

Facing up to modern technology? 
 
Priscilla retained a lively sense of humour to the last. Never known to embrace information technology she was amused to find herself on Facebook, which she could see was a convenient way of keeping in touch with the many generations of her family and friends.

John described how just a few weeks before her death she was in her garden, which she loved. “She must have been considering the afterlife because she suddenly announced  ‘If I were to be reincarnated I’d like to come back as a woodlouse’. When it was pointed out that she’d be at risk of being trodden on the instant reply was ‘ Well, I’d paint a red spot on my back so you’d know it was me’”.

A devout Roman Catholic, Priscilla attended services faithfully at the Church of St Peter Prince of Apostles in Budleigh Salterton. However in view of the large number of people wishing to pay their respects the funeral service took place in St Peter’s Parish Church on Tuesday 27 August at 2.30 pm before the interment at the town’s St Peter’s Burial Ground in the grave of her first husband Grahame.  She will be much missed.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

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