Sunday, 5 April 2015

Sir Walter returns to Budleigh Salterton


Saturday 4 April was a special day in the history of Budleigh Salterton. Sir Walter Ralegh returned to the town made famous by a certain Victorian painter.

He thought Fairlynch Museum was a pretty little dwelling but rather quaint and certainly not as grand as any of his palaces.

However he was impressed by the Museum’s new marquee. “A splendid pavilion,” he opined. “Most useful for courtly gatherings in this oftimes inclement climate that is particular to our fair land.” 

Our Museum volunteers had dressed specially for the occasion in Easter bonnets.

Sir Walter was of course known for his sparkling wit at the Elizabethan court, making him one of the Queen’s favourites. “Not by any means a fowl choice of hat,” he quipped, on meeting one of the ladies.

The soup ladies were a little bit nervous, not just of his rapier but of his rapier-like wit.

They needn’t have worried. Sir Walter pronounced the soup excellent and very good for the slight ague that had been troubling him.

Fortified by the soup we set off on a tour of the town.  “Some of our burghers would love to meet you,” I told him. “As long as they’re not expecting chips,” he replied with a merry smile. “I love potatoes, but they should never be anything but boiled. And that word chip is a bit too close to the block for comfort.” 


At The Creamery,  Sir Walter was intrigued by the notion of frozen cream, a sweetmeat unknown at the court of Queen Elizabeth. Being photographed next to a gigantic ice-cream cornet was one of many unusual experiences for him that afternoon.

At the Tourist Information Centre we were given a warm reception in spite of somewhat jumping the queue of visitors who had come to learn about Budleigh and its history.

Sir Walter insisted on a call at Bradleys Estate Agents in the High Street.  He was keen to know whether the charming farmhouse known as Hayes Barton was on the market. Some rascally knave from Otterton by the name of Duke had refused to sell it to Sir Walter many years previously.

He was impressed by the display of so many luxurious gifts in the Rowan Tree shop.  

“A mighty fleet of vessels must have been needed to bring such goods into Devon,” he told the owner. “Indeed, Sir Walter”, she told him. “Our wares come from all over the world, including your New World.”

At Bowmers café and restaurant he caused a stir by his arrival at lunchtime, especially with that pipe in his mouth.  

I embarrassed myself by telling customers how he had singed the Spanish king’s beard. “No, that was the other bloke, you idiot,” Sir Walter told me with a withering look that made me feel like Baldrick in that Blackadder television series.  

At the Feathers Hotel on the High Street Sir Walter was impressed by the variety of ales on display. “Clearly they ale from far and wide,” he quipped in his strong Devon accent.

In Budleigh Wines he showed a surprising lack of interest in the French wines and was very dismissive of the Spanish ones. 

“Have ye any vintages from Guyana or anywhere else in the New World?” he asked owner James Findlay. “Indeed, we do, Sir Walter,” smiled James. “I can certainly recommend this little number from a very choice vineyard in Chile.”

I thought at this stage that we ought to head back to the Museum before Sir Walter and James decided to share a bottle.

However the shop name Another Man’s Treasure proved irresistible for Sir Walter. He was clearly hoping to pick up some looted gold or silver from a Spanish or Portguese galleon but was disappointed not to find any.

At the Brook Gallery he was impressed to meet Mistress Angela Yarwood and learn about her new gallery in Exeter. I think he was a bit sad not to see any portrait of him on display, considering that so many had been done by the finest court painters of our fair land.  

We got back to the Museum to find it besieged by gardening bargain hunters. These two ladies were highly pleased with their purchases. “But did ye not buy any tobacco plants?” he asked them.  

He expressed surprise when told that tobacco had fallen out of fashion, and outrage to see a ‘No Smoking’ sign in the Museum’s new marquee. 

“Did ye not know that the cultivation of tobacco has been long established in this fair land and is by no means confined to hot and exotic climates?” he asked me with yet another withering look.

When I confessed my ignorance he told me about a place called Winchcombe in the county of Gloucestershire, not too distant from our fair county of Devon.

Secretly, I had my doubts about his apparent fantasizing, but when I returned home to consult my magic almanack, otherwise known as Wikipedia, I discovered that he was absolutely right.  You can read about it here

Outside the Museum, Sir Walter was delighted to meet the Mayor, who on this occasion was not wearing her chain of office.  Eavesdropping on their conversation I heard mention of ‘hunting’ and ‘stallion.’  

It was clear to me that Sir Walter was indulging in that flirtatious behaviour which had swept Queen Elizabeth I off her feet but had sometimes got him into hot water at court. 

“Ha!” I heard him exclaim when he encountered this lady volunteer from the Museum. “Master Will Shakespeare must have been thinking of thee when he sang thy praises!”

When I heard him about to break into song with lines from some old Shakespeare play about a woman called Sylvia I guessed it was time to move him on.

I thought that we would be on safer ground with some younger visitors to the Museum. Indeed, Sir Walter held them spellbound with his tales of monstrous beasts and fabulous cities that he had encountered on his voyages.  

A star attraction at the Museum is the version by the Budleigh Salterton Venture Art Group of ‘The Boyhood of Raleigh.’  It’s a copy by the 19 amateur artists in the Group of Sir John Everett Millais’ painting which the Pre-Raphaelite artist worked on in 1870 while staying at The Octagon, next door to Fairlynch. 

“Not a bad likeness,” opined Sir Walter. “But that old sailor was a dirty knave. Methinks ‘tis time for a new version of the painting, with myself in portraiture. I would be shown pointing across the oceans to distant horizons and wondrous opportunities for young people of this fair land. Like this!” he exclaimed, with outstretched arm. “What say you?”

“Indeed,” I acquiesced, unwilling to offend our distinguished guest.


And thus it was that I followed in Sir John Everett Millais’ footsteps with my digital portraits of seven-year-old Esme Clarkson, a visitor to Budleigh Salterton with her parents. 


They had travelled from distant Walton-on-Thames in the fair county of Surrey.

Look closely at Millais’ original painting in the Tate Britain art gallery in London, and you’ll see that Esme and Sir Walter are sitting on the actual Raleigh Wall, of which Budleigh Salterton is justifiably proud.

It took me a little time to remove by means digital the horrid and ugly paraphernalia which so disfigures the natural landscape of our fine beach. 

I then used that email which is still a source of wonder in our little town of Budleigh Salterton to send my work into cyberspace. From there it would descend into the fair town of Walton-on-Thames and be guided magically into Esme’s home.  

With a speed that would have astonished Sir Walter  so used as he was to quills and parchment and a celerity that would have outpaced even Mercury, that wingèd messenger of the gods, Esme’s parents wrote back as follows:    

“It was a pleasure to meet you and wow what wonderful photographs, Esme will be delighted to show and tell these when she goes back to school. 

We wish you every success with your great museum. It’s really interesting for both adults and children alike.”

This was professional story-teller Steve Manning’s first performance as Sir Walter Ralegh. Steve will tackle most historical roles in costume, from Ancient Greeks to World War II ARP wardens. Fairlynch Museum can thoroughly recommend him. For more details click here



No comments:

Post a Comment