Friday, 26 September 2014

Fairlynch... visited by millions! or even billions!!

Give your day a smile! Visit

We obviously couldn’t manage to fit them into our tiny little museum, so the headline is only a dream. But it’s a dream that can be easily realised thanks to the Internet.

That’s what the obvious conclusion was at the end of a day’s workshop in Exeter at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum’s offices with Claire Sully and John Brunsdon from Bristol-based Tickbox Marketing

The firm has been commissioned by the South West Museum Development  Partnership to “deliver digital engagement consultancy and training” to museums across the region.

That just means explaining to museum workers - volunteers included - how things like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and a load of other things that we read about today can be used to show the world what riches we have in even the most modest of our museums.

The audience is already there.  Figures released by the International Telecommunication Union in May 2014 indicate that by the end of the year there will be almost 3 billion Internet users, two-thirds of them coming from the developing world.

Many thanks to Claire and John, and to Susan Eddisford, Community Museums Officer at Exeter City Council, for helping to put the event together.  Fairlynch Museum Treasurer Nick Speare, Membership Secretary Alan Huddart and I had a thoroughly thought-provoking day, with plenty of ideas bounced around and dreams evoked.

We’d love to share some of those ideas with you if you live in the Budleigh area and would like to help make some of those dreams come true. Or even if you live on the other side of the world and remember Fairlynch with affection.

Just drop me a line at

Have a look at  if you’d like to learn more.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Kids’ wheelie good view of Tour from Fairlynch lawn

 It was standing room only for children from Budleigh Salterton’s St Peter’s School when they came to Fairlynch on Thursday 11 September.   

The Museum receives regular visits from schools, but on this occasion key stages took a back seat in favour of Stage 5 of the Tour of Britain. 

At 11.00 am riders left The Strand in Exmouth, making their way to the race start at Clyst Hayes, just outside Budleigh. At 11.15 am off they went with 177.3 kilometres to go before the finish on Exeter High Street.  

The first of many police motorcycles to arrive


Here they come!

There they go!

Austrian cyclist Matthias Brändle won the stage with a time of 04:32:03.   


Thursday, 18 September 2014

Budleigh in Books: Part 4

After my survey of Budleigh as used by so many authors as a ‘small town’ setting I’m left wondering  what the future holds. I was going to stop after Part 3, but a friend told me the other evening that he’d enjoyed my rambling in previous instalments so much that I thought I’d now go a bit imaginative in this one. If you haven't seen my previous postings they are  here  for Part 1, here   for Part 2 and  here  for Part 3.

The St Bartholomew's Day Massacre, 23-24 August 1572. Painting by François Dubois, a Huguenot painter born circa 1529 in Amiens, who settled in Switzerland. Although Dubois did not witness the massacre, he depicts Admiral Coligny's body hanging out of a window at the rear to the right. To the left rear, Catherine de' Medici is shown emerging from the Château du Louvre to inspect a heap of bodies.  Image credit: Wikipedia

For example, will the budding creatives who gave us Summer Storm transport us back to the age of Sir Walter Raleigh in next year’s publication, with a gang of Famous Five young Devonians intent on a mission to save the Huguenots from their evil oppressors?   For information about the ambitious Budfas Young Arts programme click  here

On second thoughts, maybe the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre isn’t quite suitable as a subject for primary school pupils.


The Rolle Arms, overlooking the sea, was one of Budleigh Salterton's grandest hotels

Even less suitable would be a racy novel set in the Edwardian era, when, so I’ve been told by a highly respected Budleigh historian, the goings-on in the town’s grand hotels would make even Noel Coward blush. 


And the story of how love bloomed on a Budleigh beach for an unhappily-married princess is more chick-lit for readers of romantic fiction than edifying material for a Famous Five adventure recounted by 11-year-olds. 

Well, it was certainly one of the selling-points of a book called Princess in Love in which journalist Anna Pasternak told us about the doomed affair between Diana, Princess of Wales, and a dashing officer - no, not the one in the photo -  who becomes her lover. The first print-run of 75,000 copies sold out within hours of its publication on 3 October 1994.

I tell this story during my ‘Walk with Words’ tour of Budleigh as a counterblast to the awful things that Noel Coward wrote about the town in his play Blithe Spirit.


I mean, who could deny the romantic nature of a walk hand-in-hand over the pebbles towards the sunset as you set out from Steamer Steps? Out of season, on a deserted beach, with a stormy crashing sea to convey to readers the violent, passionate and ultimately destructive nature of your secret adulterous liaison.


The title page of The Moonstone 

Let’s go back in time to find something more suitable for the 11-year-olds. 

Could Budleigh’s Anglo-Indian heritage provide a thriller on the lines of Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone?  For people who don’t know, that’s the 19th century work which is reckoned to be the first detective novel. I’ll quote a summary from Wikipedia: “Rachel Verinder, a young English woman, inherits a large Indian diamond on her eighteenth birthday. It is a legacy from her uncle, a corrupt British army officer who served in India. The diamond is of great religious significance as well as being extremely valuable, and three Hindu priests have dedicated their lives to recovering it.”

Maybe a sacred ritual sword originating from Poona and presented to Fairlynch by the 21st century descendants of a brutal East Indian Company general - or perhaps by amateur archaeologist George Carter, whose daughter co-founded the Museum - could arouse passions even more violent than those stirred by the Elgin Marbles.  

In the early 20th century Carter had spent time out in the Indian sub-continent, in what is now Pakistan. He’d carried out archaeological excavations, investigating customary practices and cosmological beliefs, collecting, recording, interpreting and translating myths and stories, writing a string of published papers on these subjects.  

More of him later.


You can meet this spookily realistic figure of Jack Rattenbury in the Smugglers' Cellar at Fairlynch Museum

Then there’s smuggling of course.  Jack Rattenbury, born in Beer in 1778, seems to be the smuggler that everyone’s heard of - we even have a talking version of him at Fairlynch. But reading about the Reverend Doctor Christopher Syn the other day made me wonder about the possibilities of using East Budleigh’s smuggling vicar, the Rev. Ambrose Stapleton as the central character of a book set in the Lower Otter Valley.  Dr Syn was the smuggling hero of a series of novels by Russell Thorndike first published in 1915 and based on smuggling in the 18th century on Romney Marsh in Kent, where brandy and tobacco were brought in at night by boat from France to avoid high tax.

We know so little about the Rev Stapleton that I feel he deserves some attention, even if it means fictionalising a bit of his story. There was tragedy in his life: all his sons died before him.


I have to confess that I haven’t read any Dr Syn stories, but I can imagine that the famously “bleak and eerie” atmosphere of Romney Marsh - counted by the BBC as one of Britain’s Seven Man Made Wonders    - contributed to the success of Russell Thorndike’s work. Click on  to read more.


A lonely track on Woodbury Common

Could our own Woodbury Common compete as a setting for dastardly deeds in a smuggling novel? Or any other kind of novel for that matter. 


I love the wildness and vastness of the Common, the buzzards and the prospect of spotting a Dartford Warbler in all that yellow gorse and purple heather.

But I also sense something menacing there. Maybe it’s to do with the hidden and mysterious Bronze Age sites, or the fact that it’s been the site of military encampments, whether of General Simcoe in the Napoleonic era or constructed as WW2 preparations for the D-Day landings. Something menacing and lethal.  

Not too many people know that the gorse has apparently been responsible for two deaths in recent years, including that of a young and healthy Royal Marine recruit.


The first edition of Hardy's The Return of The Native

When I heard those stories on the news I was reminded of my own reading of Thomas Hardy’s novel The Return of the Native, where his Egdon Heath is given a similarly threatening presence. The lethal element is conveyed in the adder bite from which the character Mrs Yeobright dies. 

The Heath is considered by some Hardy critics to be the leading character of the novel: “profoundly ancient, the scene of intense but long-forgotten pagan lives” - just like our Woodbury Common! For some of the characters it is “a benign, natural place.” In the eyes of the heroine it becomes “a malevolent presence intent on destroying her.” 


Or, if you enjoyed the adventures of Indiana Jones, how about a plot inspired by Professor Chris Tilley's East Devon Pebblebeds Project, and especially the series of fine photos of sunrise and sunset, with his commentary on celestial events and the fire rituals in which our Bronze Age ancestors took part on the Commons? 

You can read about the Project at 


Incidentally, going back to George Carter, pictured above, the website acknowledges the debt that today’s anthropologists owe to him. In his time he was much maligned as an eccentric by conservative types. “He did not have much time or patience with establishment archaeological ideas and positions and fell out with some of the leading archaeologists of his day who did not appreciate the value of his work,” writes Professor Tilley. “Sadly he is now a forgotten figure in British archaeology. He was a man with ideas and interpretative approaches well ahead of his time.”

I reckon that the young authors of a Famous Five’s Adventures in the Bronze Age could play their part in helping to rehabilitate George Carter and his far-out theories, but it would involve some long-distance time-travel.

The people of Budleigh Salterton themselves will always provide an intriguing backdrop to any novel. 


The title page of W.F.R. Macartney's book Walls have Mouths

Summer Storm featured the fictional Gwen Watson, a retired MI5 secret agent living in Budleigh. But recently I discovered that a real ex-spy, Wilfred Macartney, was a resident of Marine Parade. His autobiographical 440-page Walls have Mouths had been sitting on my bookshelf for over 40 years when I came across mention of him on the internet as a declared bankrupt in 1944. 

The Exmouth Journal of 14 August 2014 thought that his eventful life made rather a good story. After all, Special Branch were keeping an eye on his home, noting that five women were staying with him, one of them being the wife of Harry Pollitt, General Secretary of the British Communist Party. 

W.F.R. Macartney had a notable role in the Great War as well, which I’ll deal with in due course on my WW1 blog at

By contrast with such excitements, so many concealed sadnesses, I feel.

Take for example, the large numbers of spinsters recorded in the pages of past town directories. How many of them had lovers or admirers who died in World War One, I wonder in this centenary year, and came to Budleigh for its reputed tranquillity, for consolation?  There were certainly plenty of war widows living in the town, many of whom never remarried. One of them lived in our house.

Some were plain eccentric. Consider the picture of Miss Henty, the elderly daughter of the Victorian author G.A. Henty, as remembered by the poet Meg Peacocke and recorded in Anthony Meredith’s wonderful biography of her brother Sir Richard Rodney Bennett.


When they moved from London to Budleigh in 1939 Meg, pictured here,  was happy, especially in the “rambling and dilapidated” house owned by the author’s daughter which the Bennett family rented for a time.

“Miss Henty was an amazing personality, really quite mad,” Meg Peacocke recalls. “Among her many eccentricities, for example, was a terror of getting bats in her wispy grey hair. But the house was thrilling! I used to sneak about, taking everything in, and I went up to the attic once and it was full of assegais, masks and marvellous red-leather volumes full of paintings of butterflies and insects.”

Sometimes I think of how many other rambling, dilapidated but thrilling large houses there must have been in the old Budleigh Salterton before they were replaced by apartment blocks. 

Meg Peacocke will give a talk on Monday 13 October at 7.30 pm in the Peter Hall, jointly presented by Fairlynch Museum and the Otter Valley Association.  The subject is ‘Budleigh in Wartime - a child’s viewpoint.’

Rhyncosaur Day Success

Families admire the completed mosaic

Fairlynch’s Lego Dinosaur Day on 28 August was a great success, with 40 children busily making a two-dimensional model of a Rhynchosaur.   

A life-size version of the strange dog-like creature which lived 240 million years ago was lent by Clinton Devon Estates and had pride of place on the Museum lawn for the day.  Bones from the Rhyncosaur were found in the cliffs between Budleigh and Sidmouth in the late 19th century.

Bright Bricks expert Joe Perez, seen above, was on hand to give advice. The organisation is one of the world’s most inventive design companies, creating unique models, mosaics and events from LEGO bricks. 

The day concluded with the creation of a large mosaic model on the lawn, with each child receiving a limited edition Rynchosaur Lego kit. 

The event raised £415 for the Museum, and was featured in the Budleigh Journal

The Dinosaur Day is just one of the items of news covered in the Autumn 2014 issue of The Primrose, a newsletter published for the Friends of Fairlynch Museum. To see more news click  here

Delderfield Plaque unveiled


Visitors to Fairlynch who enjoyed the R.F. Delderfield Centenary Exhibition in 2012 will be pleased to know that the author, pictured above, has been honoured with a blue plaque at the house where he lived from 1918 to 1923 in Addiscombe, Surrey.

The Addiscombe & Shirley Park Residents’ Association funded the plaque to commemorate the distinguished novelist and dramatist who later moved to East Devon.

The plaque, at 22 Ashburton Avenue, was unveiled on 4 September by the Worshipful the Mayor of Croydon, Councillor Manju Shahul-Hameed, by kind permission of the present owners of the house and in the company of members of the Delderfield family. 

R.F. Delderfield’s The Avenue novels, comprising The Dreaming Suburb and The Avenue Goes to War, were directly based on his life in the Addiscombe area and were later made into the successful London Weekend Television series ‘People Like Us’ (1977-8) starring John Duttine. He also wrote about the area in his autobiography, Overture for Beginners.

In another autobiography, Delderfield wrote amusingly about his life in Budleigh Salterton, which he disguised as Pebblecombe Regis. You can read about this here

His move to East Devon from the London area was a profound change for Delderfield. But he remained a great champion of the suburbs, which he referred to as “Arcady.”  Of its residents, he wrote:

“These people are for the most part unsung, and that even though they represent the greater part of Britain’s population. The story of the country dwellers, and the city sophisticates, has been told often enough; it is time somebody spoke of the suburbs, for therein, I have sometimes felt, lies the history of our race.”