Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Fairlynch Friends lead the way


Two Friends of Fairlynch will shortly be leading walks organised by the Otter Valley Association but open to all.

On Saturday 30 November David Daniel will be the walk leader on what is described as a short and sociable three-mile walk on the commons to relieve those growing pre-Christmas pressures. The start is at 10.00 am at Wheathill Plantation car park (map ref SY041847).  

A trek along Hawkerland valley  Image credit Rob Purvis

On Saturday 7 December Brian Turnbull will lead a five-mile moderate walk starting at 10.00 am at Colaton Raleigh Church (map ref SY082872), going down green lanes and over the commons, visiting Dotton, Hawkerland and Knapps land.  There is an optional lunch at the Otter Inn. For more details contact Brian on 01395 567339.


The Otter Inn, Colaton Raleigh
To help you decide, click on
Dalditch Common, with a sea view  
Then on Thursday 26 December David Daniel will lead a four-mile gentle Boxing Day walk across the commons, starting from East Budleigh Car Park (map ref SY066849) at 10.30 am, with an optional lunch at the Sir Walter Raleigh, seen below. Lunch bookings by phone to David on 01395 445960 should be made by 6 December.

East Budleigh's Sir Walter Raleigh inn. Could Queen Elizabeth I's favourite have tasted the odd pint here?




Monday, 25 November 2013

People from the Past 9: Frances Van Meter (1909-1994)

A corner of the Carter Library at Fairlynch Museum

At the tenth Annual General Meeting of the Friends of Fairlynch on 22 March 1979, Priscilla Hull, as Chairman of the Management Committee of the Museum, reported that the Library, under the care of Mrs Van Meter, was “now available on certain days each week, or by special appointment.”


A young Frances Van Meter. She is described as the second wife of a Eugene Van Meter at

Frances Van Meter (1909-94) born in Bardwell, Carlisle County, in Kentucky USA, was one of the founding members of what became the Manchester Center in Lexington’s Irishtown, Kentucky.  How, after an eventful life of such high achievement, she came to settle in the tranquil surroundings of Budleigh Salterton as Librarian of the local museum is one of the many curiosities and unanswered questions that I’ve met at Fairlynch.  If any of my US readers has the answer I’d love to hear from you.

The Manchester Center, which finally closed in 2010, was founded as the Manchester Street Library in 1940 by 20 women, including Mrs Van Meter, to give Irishtown residents access to books when not in school. She was the Library’s Executive Director from 1943 to 1966. 

The Manchester Street Library owed its origins to an initiative taken in 1939 by two members of Lexington’s Kentucky Junior League, an organisation of women committed to improving the community through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. Their efforts began with providing library facilities at the Abraham Lincoln School, on West High Street in Lexington’s Irishtown.

Shack-like houses in the area known as Davis Bottom in Lexington's Irishtown
Image credit: The Goodman Paxton Photographic Collection, Special Collections, University of Kentucky

In the pre-WW2 years Irishtown was well known as a deprived area notable as the home of poor white residents, most of whom were working-class Irish who had fled the potato famine in their homeland.   As recently as 1980 it was described as "the worst pocket of poverty in Lexington."

Lincoln School, in about 1912.
Image credit: Louis Edward Nollau F Series Photographic Print Collection,
Special Collections, University of Kentucky

The school, founded in 1912 and funded by a mixture of private donations and public funds, was a progressive model for elementary education with facilities and programmes far ahead of the times, but it also exemplified the era of school segregation in Lexington. Black students were not allowed to attend Lincoln throughout its 55 years of service as a public school.

By spring 1940 the women volunteers had become deeply involved in improving library facilities at the school, repairing old or worn-out books, cataloguing and accessioning new ones and of course encouraging children to read. It was clear that such a facility was badly needed at times when the school library was closed. By 1 June of that year, the volunteers, now 15 in number, were running what became known as the Manchester Street Library in an old store-room near the Lincoln School. Five hundred books were on the shelves and the sum of $105 was in the bank, raised by the volunteers and their friends.

The volunteers themselves took it in turns to do a stint in the library, helping approximately 25 children to select books, and, as librarian Amelia King Buckley put it, “holding story hour, keeping peace and always remembering that the library must not acquire a schoolroom atmosphere.”  Their aim was to build up a feeling among the children that it could be fun to come to the library and borrow a book, and that all the books belonged to all of them and they must care for them accordingly.


The actress Colleen Moore in 1921

When the Lincoln school re-opened after the summer break it was clear that the children wanted their Manchester Street Library to be kept open during the winter. Much needed funds for doing this came from the decision by the Lions Club to allow income from showings of the dollhouse belonging to the famous actress Colleen Moore to benefit the Library.

The Library itself was evolving, organising visits to a printing shop, a dairy and a farm and encouraging the children to produce plays.  Books for all ages were added to its stock. It gained a new dimension when it developed a sewing club where a group of mothers could learn to make new garments out of leftover clothes from jumble sales.  The club disbanded each year in late winter and early spring when the women took jobs in local tobacco factories. 

Further outside help and recognition of the Manchester Street Library’s worth came when the Kentucky branch of the National Society Daughters of Colonial Wars decided to make a regular contribution to help with the purchase of attractive patriotic books, the first ones that had been bought new.

In 1938, work had been started on a low-cost public housing complex known as Charlotte Court, built specifically for African Americans living in Lexington. In January 1942 the Library Committee provided 250 books for a lending branch in the complex’s recreation centre following a request by the complex planners.  After the success of the Charlotte Court branch, the Manchester Street Library received a request for a lending library in Aspendale, a segregated housing project on the east side of Lexington. Like Charlotte Court, the Aspendale branch library was managed by a separate library committee which reported to the Manchester Street Library Committee.

The Library, by now with a collection of approximately 3,000 books also benefited from community funds generated by a government initiative during World War Two. It was able to move from the old storeroom to a nearby four-room house at 1026 Manchester Street and to employ a full-time librarian. The Girl Reserve, a branch of the Young Women’s Christian Association held meetings in the new building, and music lessons were now offered.  

 Autumn 1943 saw the formation of a men’s club and a women’s club thanks to the interest of the YWCA and the YMCA in the project. A toy lending library was started with the help of the Council of Jewish Women. Reading material was also being distributed by boy and girl volunteers to Lexington’s juvenile detention centre which had never had a library.

But by 1951 the importance of the Manchester Street Library as a book centre had diminished thanks to the mobile library set up by Lexington Public Library. The following year the name was changed to the Manchester Center.

The librarian had already begun offering, as a contemporary magazine put it, “personal and mental hygiene guidance... offering assistance with government and job application forms... providing scholarships and urging school attendance, teaching piano lessons,  lending ear to boy-girl problems, advising on clothes buying, and numerous other activities for which there was no other neighborhood clearing-house, and with which the neighborhood family units were unable to cope.”  The Center continued to offer field trips for children in the Lexington area, facilitated children’s theatre and musical activities, and encouraged youth to participate in other leadership development programmes including Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, the YMCA and the YWCA

The late 1950s saw a dramatic increase in the range of services that the Center offered, from meeting room space to counselling for adults. Together with its Recreation Director Julian Walker (1928-2011) Frances Van Meter launched a fund-raising campaign in 1960 which resulted in the demolition of the 144-year-old building on Manchester Street and its replacement by new purpose-built premises.  Within a year the Center was being used by 400 people weekly.

On retiring as Executive Director of the Centre in 1966 Frances Van Meter worked for four years at the Lexington Public Library. She then fulfilled what had seemingly been a childhood dream by moving to England in 1970 and settling in Budleigh Salterton, Devon. Or rather, at Clover Cottage in Ting Tong, a triangular piece of land on a hill overlooking the town and a few miles further west of it. 

The view from Ting Tong on a misty autumnal day, looking east towards Peak Hill and Sidmouth: the sea is somewhere out there

For Frances Van Meter the distinction was important: in 1978 she became involved in a six-month battle with the Television Records Office over her address, officials having decreed that Clover Cottage was on Dalditch Lane. Frances Van Meter “saw red” according to a report in the Sidmouth Herald. She had researched the origin of the strange-sounding name and discovered that it had ancient origins. 

“‘Ting Tong’”, she wrote, “is probably a corruption of the Anglo-Saxon word ‘Thyngton’, meaning ‘meeting place.’  Its location would have provided an ideal look-out point for ancient tribesmen holding ‘council meetings’ since its hilltop even now gives an excellent view of the Exe estuary, the Channel as far as Portland Bill in one direction and Berry Head in the other on a clear day, as well as a panorama of inland countryside. The Isle of Man still has its Tynwald (parliament), Denmark its Folketing (people’s meeting) and Iceland its Allthing (everybody’s meeting). Norway has not only ‘Storting’ (big meeting) consisting of two parliamentary houses, but both those houses end in -ting.” 

Clover Cottage, Ting Tong, in about 1986

The newspapers had a field day. Frances Van Meter had approached her friend East Devon Councillor Anne de Winton, a Budleigh Salterton resident and published author. Council officials joined the fight to try and arrive at a solution,  though the Sidmouth Herald commented that this may have added to the confusion.

There was naturally insufficient space in the newspapers for all that erudition displayed by the lady from Kentucky, but editors seized on her transatlantic origins.  ‘A right ding dong over Ting Tong’ rang out the headline in the Western Times and Gazette of 20 January 1979, concluding its report: “I will defend this little bit of British heritage,” drawled Mrs Van Meter, who comes from the United States of America.”   

It was at this time that Frances Van Meter became involved with Fairlynch, a community project which must have seemed tiny by comparison with her achievements in her home state. Her readiness to do battle with officialdom as well as her scholarship would no doubt have appealed to the Museum’s founders. 

Fairlynch co-founder Joy Gawne remembers her as “statuesque” and an excellent Librarian. "'Van Meter... like the gas meter', she would say to introduce herself. She would be typing away in the Library and visitors at the Museum would apologise thinking that they had gone into an office by mistake, but she would welcome them and insist on showing them what was on the shelves.” 

A postcard showing Knowle Village in about 1900
Image credit: Fairlynch Museum

The results of her research into Ting Tong were published in a folder dated 14 May 1986. A further project concerned the history of Knowle Village which she was unable to complete, but an album was published by the Museum using her notes and photographs.

At around this time she moved from Ting Tong to a flat at Pinewood in Westbourne Terrace, off Budleigh Salterton’s West Hill. She died in the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital on 18 August 1994, aged 85.

It was Frances Van Meter who as Fairlynch’s first librarian laid the foundations of what is now the Carter Library. Our Museum has not had its own librarian for some years now.  Maybe a Friend of Fairlynch will be inspired to fill the vacancy if they read this story of the lady from Lexington who did so much for the community. He or she might feel amused by the thought of following in the footsteps of such a remarkable woman.   

In 2010 the Manchester Center Board of Directors made the difficult decision to close the Center in Lexington.  For several years it had been struggling and in the face of trying economic times it became increasingly clear that it could not continue to operate given its financial situation.  Thankfully its history lives on. 

With much acknowledgement to Jonathan Jeffrey’s ‘Looking Back: A History of the Manchester Street Center.’ Kentucky Libraries, 72 (2), 2008.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Not all museums are from the same mould



The Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Image credit: Andreas Praefcke

Visiting one of our national institutions like the British Museum or the V&A brings home to you the big difference between them and little outfits like Fairlynch. It’s money of course. Volunteer-run museums such as Budleigh Salterton’s operate on a relative shoestring, frequently running at a loss because of the cost of maintenance both of the building and of the environmental conditions needed to conserve artefacts.



Amanita muscaria (fly agaric)   
Image credit: Michael Maggs 

Our damp English autumn is a time for fungi foragers, for mushrooms, for spectacular toadstools like this, and of course for mould. Yesterday I remembered too late that I’d left my smart new gardening gloves in the potting shed at the end of the summer. When I went to rescue  them they’d changed colour from yellow to soft powdery grey. It was a simple matter to brush off the mildew, taking care not to inhale the dust, for more than 100,000 types of mould exist and many of them are extremely harmful to humans.

Mould lives off any organic matter, including wood, leather, paper and textiles. It grows on organic materials when the relative humidity remains above 65% for any length of time. In a museum it’s particularly bad news because it can stain and disfigure artefacts and even penetrate the structure of an object.  The acceptable level of relative humidity varies between objects depending on the type of material. Ideally artefacts of the same group should be grouped together in the relative humidity band that best suits them, but this is not always possible.


Fairlynch is lucky enough to have its own expert in such matters in the person of volunteer Trevor Waddington OBE who joined the Museum as a Trustee earlier this year. A retired Royal Navy engineer officer, he ran an antique clocks conservation-restoration business in Wiltshire before moving to Budleigh Salterton in 2012. Conservation in museums is a complex issue, he says. “A satisfactory temperature for humans is not the same for exhibits.”

The newly installed dehumidifier in Fairlynch Museum's Exhibition Room is a Mitsubishi MJ E14EG E1. This particular model was chosen on the recommendation of  Helena Jaeschke, Conservation Development Officer at Exeter's Royal Albert Memorial Museum

Above: The logo of the Skinners' Company Lady Neville Charity

Using dehumidifiers to prevent high relative humidity is one of the most important ways of preserving artefacts for future generations and Fairlynch now has three of these useful gadgets located in different parts of the Museum thanks to a grant of £950 from the Lady Neville Charity administered by the Skinners’ Company.

Based in the City of London, the Company is one of the ‘Great Twelve’ Livery Companies with a history going back some 700 years. It developed from the medieval trade guild of the furriers: members of the guild dressed and traded furs that were used for trimming and lining the garments of richer members of society. The Company has not been associated with the craft for many years and today administers its schools, almshouses, and charities that contribute mainly to educating the young and helping older people in need.  

The Skinners’ Company Lady Neville Charity was formally set up in 1978 following a bequest from Ralph Neville JP. Its aim is to provide grants that will make a clear and significant contribution to grassroots charitable organisations working in designated priority areas. These include Local Heritage projects which help local groups to conserve and restore their landmarks, landscape, traditions and culture.

So thanks to technology, to alert volunteers and to generous support from institutions like the Skinners’ Company Fairlynch Museum is making sure that its treasures will remain in good condition and be enjoyed by visitors for generations to come.

For more information about the Skinners' Company click on








Thursday, 21 November 2013

More on Fairlynch and the Delderfields

Many people admired the excellent exhibition to mark R.F. Delderfield’s centenary last year, staged by Fairlynch volunteer Margaret Brett with much valuable material contributed by the author's biographer Marion Lindsey-Noble. They may like to know that both Delderfield brothers had dealings with Fairlynch during their lifetime as recently discovered in the Museum's archives.  

Pictured above is one of the many books by Eric Delderfield (1909-95). Brought up in Exmouth like his brother Ronald, he published a range of works about the West Country with a focus on local history.

Following an approach by the Friends of Fairlynch Secretary Marjorie Evison in April 1971  he gave a talk six months later to the Friends of Fairlynch in the Church Institute next to The Green in Budleigh Salterton. Entitled ‘Historic Houses of the West’ it was based on his book West Country Historic Houses and their Families, the second volume of which had been published in the previous year. 


In his response to the Friends of Fairlynch Secretary Marjorie Evison’s invitation to speak he was somewhat apologetic about the cost involved.  “I am afraid that the demands on my time for lecturing all over the West Country is such that I have been forced to make a charge for everyone now - but would be prepared to do this at a reduced fee of £3.15p including expenses if this would suit.” 


Nine years passed and the list of Eric Delderfield’s publications continued to grow, as did apparently his approval of what was happening at Fairlynch. He responded warmly to Marjorie Evison’s suggestion that he might officially open the Friends’ Summer Coffee Morning and Annual Garden Sale in the Temple Methodist Hall and Garden on 26 July 1980. “I shall be pleased to do this,” he wrote, “as apart from anything else, I have a tremendous admiration for the dedication which so many of your Committee and helpers devote to the excellent museum which is such a credit to Budleigh Salterton.”

The occasion was a great success. Various stalls sold goods, including handicrafts made for the sale and the Budleigh Salterton Handbell Ringers entertained the crowds. It was felt that the official opening by the famous author, accompanied by his wife, had given a good start to the event, which raised a gross total of £158.88.



There’s every reason to think that Ronald Delderfield would have been a useful supporter of Fairlynch. He was always ready to support local causes and in later life was a prominent defender of  Woodbury Common when it was threatened by development. "As locals told me last year during the centenary celebrations, Ron was so popular not only because he wrote lovely novels but also because he was a passionate defender of truth and rights, forever helping out with campaigns and missions by writing scathing and passionate articles," says Marion Lindsey-Noble.  

At one stage he’d lived in Budleigh Salterton and was a good friend of Dr Tom Evans, the town’s GP. Some three months after her first letter to Eric Delderfield, in April 1971, Marjorie Evison learnt that his even more successful brother, author of best-selling novels like A Horseman Riding By would be willing to give a talk to the Friends of Fairlynch.  Clearly excited at the prospect of a visiting celebrity at the Museum she wrote to Ronald Delderfield at Dove Cottage, his Sidmouth home. “I hope you will come to see the present display at the Museum - if you should come in I would very much like to explain our efforts to you.  If I am not there, the steward on duty could telephone me, and I could be down within a few minutes - always provided I am in, of course!”



The author was indeed happy to give a talk the following year - and there was no mention of a fee! “March 2nd, afternoon, would suit me,” he wrote back.  “I will put it in the diary but would appreciate a reminder a day or so before, as I am very absent-minded.”  As for the subject of the talk he suggested: “Suppose I read one or two local comic essays from my autobiographies & explain the use of backgrounds in between?” He was in fact at that time working on an autobiography, For My Own Amusement, published in 1972. In that book he discusses the inspiration for the storylines of his novels and tells in anecdotes the origin of several of his characters. Delderfield believed that authors draw inspiration from the scenes of their youth, and  called his sources “character farms”, the main ones being his childhood in Addiscombe, Surrey, his schooldays, and his time at the Exmouth Chronicle.

Sadly Ronald Delderfield’s talk was not to be.

On 26 February of that year he wrote to Marjorie Evison: “I feel I must apologise in writing for unavoidably cancelling our engagement, but I am sorry to say I have not been at all well lately and I have, as I explained to you on the telephone, an appointment with a specialist in town on March 2nd. I do hope you will be able to find a replacement at such short notice, and can only offer my apologies again.”


Almost four months later, on 24 June at Dove Cottage, he died from lung cancer at the tragically early age of 60.  Gifted with his particular sense of humour which so often portrays the farcical nature of human affairs, especially seen in autobiographies like his Nobody Shouted Author, Delderfield would no doubt have appreciated the irony of what he had written in his first letter to Marjorie Evison. “I am always a little hesitant about booking this far ahead in case I am whisked away at the last minute but there are no plans for promotion tours in March.”