Thursday, 19 September 2013

Fairlynch Local History Group needs YOU!

Budleigh Salterton’s Fairlynch Museum is appealing for local residents to contact them with World War One stories.

“The Local History exhibition next year will focus mainly on the people who were living in Budleigh and the surrounding villages at the time of the First World War,” explains Museum spokesperson Margaret Brett. “However we are interested in hearing about anyone who took part in that war - now is the time to record their achievement.”

The starting point was the names on the War Memorials,” says Margaret. “We would also like to hear about those who returned from the War, or had reserved  jobs at home.What do we know about their families?  What contribution did local women make to the War Effort?  Was the area affected or involved in any particular way? We are interested in your stories.”

To further their knowledge Margaret and her fellow-museum volunteers have planned three drop-in sessions at the Museum, when they hope that anyone who has any information, stories or interest will go along to see them.

The exhibition organisers say that the dates for these sessions will be Tuesday 8 October 10.00 am — 12 noon, Friday 18 October 2.00 — 4.00 pm and Saturday 9 November 10.00 am — 12 noon. Coffee/tea will be available. “We hope to meet you then.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

A palaeontological puzzle

Fairlynch Museum's Environment Room holds a store of treasures from a large range of sources. From stuffed birds and a Victorian ornithologist's jottings to the remarkable pebbles that Nobel prize winner Max Perutz wrote about in the 1930s. From Bronze Age tools and Roman pottery to collections of shells and fossils from the Jurassic coast.

Not too many of the latter were actually found in Budleigh, with a major exception which caused some excitement when it was first described in 1863. This was the discovery that the quartzite pebbles, or 'popples' as they were known, contained fossilised brachiopods - shellfish similar to molluscs. 
Shown above on display in the Museum, they were first written about by the amateur geologist William Vicary (1811-1903). A tanner by trade, Vicary did so well in business that he was able to retire to Exeter, where he was one of the founding members of the Devonshire Association, established in 1862. As an enthusiastic collector of fossils, encouraged by the naturalist John William Salter (1820-69), he communicated a paper on the Budleigh Salterton pebble bed to the Geological Society of London on 16 December 1863, describing 36 different fossils of which over ten were brachiopods. 

Budleigh Salterton cliffs west of Steamer Steps, a watercolour by Arthur Wyatt Edgell

One of the species which Salter named was Orthis budleighensis, a fossil which was to play an important part in matching the quartzite of the Budleigh beach pebbles to the Ordovician rocks in the Armorican Pensinsula of Normandy and Brittany. Vicary and Salter's conclusions were published the following year and were followed by further studies which appeared in learned journals. Authors included Arthur Wyatt Edgell (1837-1911), of Cowley Place, Exeter, a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Devon Artillery Volunteers and Fellow of the Geological Society. An amateur watercolourist as well as an amateur geologist he noted in an 1874 article in the Society's Quarterly Journal his observation on the lamellibranchs - bivalve molluscs - of the Budleigh Salterton pebbles, while modestly adding: " This task would not have been attempted had there been any chance of a more competent person's undertaking it."

The most authoritative review of the fossils in the 19th century was by the palaeontologist Thomas Davidson (1817-85) who confirmed the geological link with France. His collection from Budleigh Salterton, largely given to him by other collectors was bequeathed to the Natural History Museum in 1885.

A former Keeper of Palaeontology at the Natural History Museum, Dr Robin Cocks, has pointed out Davidson's realisation that the Budleigh Salterton brachiopods came from two distinct Ordovician ages, the younger of which is associated with the fossils known as Orthis budleighensis.

Henry John Carter FRS,  surgeon, geologist and marine zoologist, born in Budleigh Salterton in 1813

Dr Cocks in an article of 1981 noted that it was "a Mr Carter who found the first fossils in  the pebbles in about 1835." He has since considered the possibility that it was in fact the spongiologist Henry Carter FRS (1813-95), the subject of Fairlynch's 2013 exhibition, who made the earlier discovery.

It may have been the same Carter, writes Dr Cocks, since Henry Carter wrote an extensive footnote in Davidson's 1881 monograph published by the Palaeontographical Society on the mineralogy of the various pebbles in the pebble bed. This is, he notes, the same paper in which Davidson lists 35 references to the pebbles previous to 1880.

Clearly the Budleigh pebbles have been a source of wonder for centuries. Henry Carter, the young medical student in his twenties who in future years would be praised for his studies of the geology of India and receive the Royal Society Medal would also have 26 different kinds of sponge named after him.  Perhaps the Budleigh fossils in Fairlynch Museum should be renamed Orthis carteri 

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Science at Sidmouth

The logo of Sidmouth’s CafĂ© Scientifique, part of the town’s second Science Festival

Sea, Salt and Sponges, our bicentenary exhibition in honour of East Devon’s great Victorian scientist Henry John Carter FRS comes to an end when Fairlynch Museum closes on 30 September.

But the Museum will open on Wednesday 16 October from 10.00am to 1.00pm to coincide with the second Sidmouth Science Festival which runs from 14 to 20 October.  

Sidmouth, just a few miles east of Budleigh Salterton, is noted for its four former residents who were Fellows of the Royal Society and who are honoured by individual displays in the town’s Museum  - see

However the Science Festival’s focus is very much on 21st century issues rather than on the past. The Festival organisers, made up by the Vision Group for Sidmouth (VGS) and the Norman Lockyer Observatory, believe that with so many technical issues being faced by society - GM crops, Nuclear Power, Stem Cell Research, Climate Change to name but a few - our communities will make better decisions if they have a deeper understanding of the underlying science and technology.

There are events and activities for all age groups and all parts of the community including entertaining and informative talks by internationally renowned scientists.

Click on to find out more

Penguin expert's quest brings him from New Zealand to Budleigh

Antarctic artefacts: Former Fairlynch Museum Chairman Roger Kingwill, right, shows Professor Lloyd Davis some of the material used in the 'Survival!' exhibition to mark the centenary of Captain Scott's Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole

So many travellers and explorers associated with the Budleigh area have made their mark in distant lands that it’s no surprise to find overseas visitors in Fairlynch Museum keen to trace family trees or eager to see where their forebears lived.

Professor Lloyd Davis, who holds the Stuart Chair in Science Communications at the University of Otago in New Zealand, was a recent visitor searching for information.  Wildlife enthusiasts from that part of the world will know Lloyd as a leading authority on penguins, on which he’s written many scientific papers. He’s even written a book  Penguin: a season in the life of the Adelie penguin, which is a story of penguins and Antarctica as seen through the eyes of a penguin. It won the PEN Best First Book Award for Non-fiction in 1994. He went on to write The Plight of the Penguin which won the NZ Post New Zealand Children's Book of the Year Award in 2002 - the first time in the history of the awards that non-fiction had been awarded the overall prize.
No penguins in Budleigh Salterton of course, but those of you who visited the ‘Survivival’ exhibition at the Museum last year will know that it was here that Antarctic explorer Murray Levick, author of the book Antarctic Penguins, settled in retirement.

Fascinated by Antarctica from an early age, Lloyd started his academic career as a zoologist by studying seals before moving on to penguins.

The photographs on the left which formed part of the Fairlynch Museum display were taken by Murray Levick in Antarctica during Scott's Terra Nova expedition. Levick's skills with the camera proved to be second only to those of Herbert Ponting, the official photographer
Levick, the zoologist and doctor on Scott’s Terra Nova expedition to Antarctica, is well known as one of the earliest writers on the subject of the characterful flightless birds found only in the Southern Hemisphere and was a natural research topic for Lloyd. He even went all the way up to Newcastle-on-Tyne, Levick’s birthplace, but it was a fruitless journey which revealed nothing.

So seeing some of the material that was on show in Fairlynch Museum’s ‘Survival!’ exhibition last year helped to make Lloyd’s trip to the UK worthwhile. The author of Antarctic Penguins had achieved fame not through his writing but as a survivor of a particularly savage polar winter in 1912. He went on to see active service in World War One, notably during the Gallipoli Campaign. In the post-war years he used his medical skills to help ex-soldiers suffering from trench foot and blindness caused by gassing. Later he was involved with the Chailey Heritage School for disabled children and founded what is now BSES Expeditions. Remarkably, in his sixties the Government called on him to teach survival skills to commandos during World War Two. A story is told of how he would demonstrate his physical fitness by cartwheeling down a staircase in front of trainees.

Lloyd Davis and Roger Kingwill with items of equipment used by polar explorer and one-time local resident Murray Levick   

Touching the skis that Levick had used and actually being able to sit in an armchair that had belonged to the great man was a truly magical experience.

“It’s like feeling you’ve shared the molecules of someone you’ve always wanted to meet” he said. “I once visited Down House where Darwin lived and on an impulse I touched some items on a desk that had belonged to him. Of course alarms rang, and people came running. It was highly embarrassing.” 

What has increasingly intrigued Lloyd is Murray Levick as a character and as a family man, aspects of which relatively little is known.  The Museum is working with Lloyd to find out more about the celebrated explorer whose story of Antarctic survival will thrill generations to come. 

Brian Pepperrell (10 October 1938 - 21 June 2013) Trustee of Fairlynch Museum and Arts Centre

Brian Pepperrell, pictured at a Fairlynch grummage sale in 2009

Most of the volunteer helpers at Fairlynch live in the immediate area of Budleigh Salterton. Brian’s loyalty to the Museum was demonstrated by his tireless devotion to the Local History Group and his willingness to attend Trustees’ meetings, despite having to travel from Dunkeswell, near Honiton. It meant making a round trip of 44 miles on a regular basis for ten years.

Brian began his education at Southville Primary School in Feltham, Middlesex. He took his 11-plus and, after achieving a remarkable 98% in Maths, he won a place at Hampton Grammar School. After a promising start he ‘left at the Headmaster's Pleasure’ at fifteen to join the RAF as an Apprentice Tradesman.

 Brian Pepperrell's RAF experience included working on aircraft like this Valiant V bomber

Photo credit: Adrian Pingstone 

After successfully completing his training as a Electronics, Instruments and Radar Technician at RAF Locking, Weston-super-Mare, Brian was posted to 90 Sqn. RAF Honington in Suffolk working on Valiant bombers, and later to Boscombe Down. He eventually left the RAF and began working at ICL in Reading and Putney as a Computer Engineer. This was followed some years later with a move to BAA at Heathrow as, initially, a Security Officer on the High Altitude bomb detection facility followed by the role of Traffic Control for the Local Emergency Management Agency (LEMA) which he held until retirement. During this time he was also made a Freeman of the City of London.

Following retirement Brian took the opportunity to approach the volunteer service. He was sent to help at Fairlynch Museum where he joined the Local History Group, performing research for people who approached the Museum for help with genealogy questions. Henriette Feltham, a member of the Local History Group for seven years, remembered his very good eye for detail. “His computer skills were of great use in the laborious task of filing into an easily accessible system the ‘stock’ of items of local historical interest in Fairlynch's possession.”

Fascinated by history, Brian set out to research the origins of one particular photograph unearthed by the Museum. The little open fishing boat in the picture eventually proved to be the vessel used by the Savident family to make their daring escape from the Channel Islands prior to the German occupation of 1940 during World War Two. Asked to make a formal presentation of his discoveries to the family he was surprised to discover the family member stepping forward to receive it was none other than John Savident – the future actor, best known as the cheerful butcher Fred Elliott in Coronation Street - had been born on Guernsey in 1938. 

Brian’s other major ‘hobby’ was the Freemasons where he held both London Grand Rank and was the Provincial Grand Supreme Ruler, Order of the Secret Monitor (Province of Devonshire).

Brian Pepperrell, pictured left, at a Freemasons’ event in the Mount Edgcumbe Masonic Hall, Plymouth September 2012. 
Photo courtesy of The Ancient and Masonic Order of the Scarlet Cord

“He was certainly a committed and able Freemason,” noted Lt Cdr Angus Hannagan, Deputy Grand Secretary. “It was indeed a big part of his life and he will be missed by the many Orders of Freemasonry in which he made a significant contribution.” His funeral at Whimple was attended by over 40 senior figures from various Masonic Orders, with both London and the Channel Islands represented.

Brian’s commitment to Fairlynch was steadfast in spite of the ongoing illness which he endured. “He was researching for our 2014 World War One exhibition right up until the end,” recalled his colleague and fellow-Trustee Margaret Brett.  “His steady manner, as the deadline for Easter openings fast approached, will be much missed, as will his ability to ferret out that extra piece of information. He turned his hand willingly to all aspects of the work including display, computing, repackaging artefacts and, of course, his main interest, research.”