Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Sharing Science with Sidmouth


For one day on Wednesday 16 October Fairlynch will be open to visitors from 10.00 am - 1.00 pm in association with the what looks like a highly interesting Sidmouth Science Festival, now in its second year.

Friends of Fairlynch and others who may like to display or simply admire the above poster may want to know the identity of the people who decorate it.

They’re all Fellows of the Royal Society associated with the town of Sidmouth and commemorated with displays in Sidmouth Museum. Apart from our own Henry John Carter of course.

Starting with the newly designed Fairlynch Museum logo in the bottom left corner and going clockwise we have:

1. A glass sponge known as Venus’ flower basket Euplectella aspergillum side by side with London’s Swiss Re Tower so as to compare the amazing structure of one of Nature’s wonders with a modern architectural marvel.  Carter was one of the first writers to describe how the sponge grows; there are examples on display in Fairlynch.

2. Frederick Lindemann FRS, 1st Viscount Cherwell (1886-1957), an influential scientific adviser to the British government in the early 1940s and 1950s.

3. Production of ‘sticky bombs’ during World War Two, a project with which Lindemann was associated.

4. Sir Norman Lockyer FRS (1836-1920) the celebrated astronomer and astrophysicist.

5. The Norman Lockyer Observatory on Salcombe Hill, Sidmouth.

6. Sir John Ambrose Fleming FRS (1849-1945), engineer and physicist, inventor of the thermionic valve.

7. Examples of thermionic valves.

8. Sidney George Brown FRS (1873-1948) electrical engineer, noted for his work in developing gyro compasses, radio equipment and loudspeakers.

9. A modern gyro compasss.

10. Henry John Carter FRS (1813-95).

11. The sponge Coelocarteria singaporensis, named after Carter, who first described it in 1883.

12. The blue plaque erected by the Otter Valley Association on Carter’s home, Umbrella Cottage, on Fore Street Hill, Budleigh Salterton.

13. A magnificent example of a ship’s surgeon’s medical equipment, on display at Fairlynch, kindly loaned by the Devon and Exeter Medical Society.

Relatively little is known of Henry Carter’s life in Budleigh Salterton, but Sidmothians may like to know that he was acquainted with at least one well known resident of their town.


Here is an entry from the Journal of the Sidmouth diarist, artist and polymath Peter Orlando Hutchinson (1810-97), pictured. It’s dated Tuesday 24 June 1884:

Tu. 24. – Went over in a 4-wheel to “The Cottage,” Budleigh Salterton, to confer with Mr. Henry Carter, F.R.S. about the Labyrinthodon Lavisi, discovered in the cliff of High Peak Hill 1½m. west of Sidmouth, by Mr. Lavis, and some fragments of which, and probably of the same individual, were afterwards procured by Mr. Carter. Also about the Hyperodapedon, and also about my fossil stems in the Exeter Museum, which Professor Williamson of Owen’s College, Manchester, thinks may be an Equisetum and not a Calamite as supposed. To avoid Peak Hill I turned inland, via Bulverton, Bowd, Newtonpoppleford Hill, Newtonpoppleford, Colyton Rawley, Bicton, and I took my servant Ann Newton, and left her with her sister at Budleigh, and went on two miles further. By this route it was 9m. instead of six. Examined some portions of the Labyrinthodon through his microscope. The bone structure was plain. The Hyperodapedon was discovered by Mr. Whitaker in the cliff by the river Otter near its mouth, but I could not learn the exact spot without going there. I have long wished to know the exact horizon of this below the Labyrinthodon in High Peak, and I have been intending for some years to take a boat some calm summer day, and explore the strata of the cliff minutely – the sum of the accumulated dip, distortions, faults, &c, if any, with sketchbook and colour box, from Ladram Bay to the Otter, but now I fear I shall never be able to carry it out. Whatever is worth while doing in this life, ought to be done immediately. He asked me for one or two more copies of my paper, on the fossil stems, as he had given his former away. I had an early tea with him and Mrs. Carter, and left at 6 P.M. – stopped half an hour at Budleigh – picked up my servant – returned through Otterton and over Peak Hill – and reached the Old Chancel by eight.

As I’ve already mentioned elsewhere on this blog American readers may be interested in the fact that POH as he is known was a great-grandson of Massachusetts governor Thomas Hutchinson (1711-80), unhappily accused by the 18th century British Prime Minister Lord North of contributing to the tensions that led to the American War of Independence. So I suppose you could say that he helped create the USA.

Just like another Budleigh connected character from the past if you believe the story that I refer to in an earlier post at  still readable at

POH helped to organise his great-grandfather’s papers published in 1884 by Houghton, Mifflin, & Co., Boston, as The Diary and Letters of His Excellency Thomas Hutchinson, edited by Peter Orlando Hutchinson.


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