Thursday, 29 October 2015

Budleigh Salterton Railway's Colourful Past

From slavery to sponges: imagining conversations in Victorian Budleigh Part 2

It seems that John Campbell, the wealthy Budleigh resident and benefactor of Henry John Carter, the future FRS, took a keen interest in the voyages undertaken by adventurers of his time. 

Admiral Sir John Ross
By an artist of the British school, 19th century 

He would probably have read the 740-page volume written by a fellow-Scot who had made his name as an explorer. This was Captain, later Admiral, Sir John Ross (1777-1856), pictured above;  the account of his adventures was entitled Narrative of a second voyage in search of a North-West passage, and of a residence in the Arctic Regions during the years 1829, 1830, 1831, 1832, 1833. The book was published by the London firm of A.W. Webster in 1835, and John Campbell’s name is on the List of Subscribers to the companion Appendix which appeared later in the year.  

It is likely that such expeditions would have been a talking-point in 1830s Budleigh, close as it is to the ship-building port of Topsham.  One famous vessel associated with this ancient town on the River Exe because it was built by a local firm was HMS Terror. Constructed in 1813 by Topsham shipbuilders Robert Davy it belonged to a class of ships known as bomb vessels because their strength made them able to withstand the enormous recoil of their three-ton mortars.  This made them suited to Arctic service.

HMS Terror thrown up by the ice. Engraving after a drawing by Captain George Back  (1796–1878) 
Image credit: National Archives of Canada / C-029929
In 1836, command of Terror was given to Captain George Back for an expedition to the northern part of Hudson Bay in Canada, with a view to entering Repulse Bay, where landing parties were to be sent out to determine whether the Boothia Peninsula was an island or a peninsula. 

However, Terror failed to reach Repulse Bay and barely survived the winter off Southampton Island, at one point being forced 40 feet (12 m) up the side of a cliff by the ice. In the spring of 1837, an encounter with an iceberg further damaged the ship, which was in a sinking condition by the time Back was able to beach the ship on the coast of Ireland at Lough Swilly.

Portrait of Sir James Clark Ross by John R. Wildman. The object in the bottom righthand corner is a dip circle, designed by Robert Were Fox and used by Ross to discover the magnetic north pole.

Sir John Ross’ nephew, Captain Sir James Clark Ross FRS (1800-62), was one of the heroes of the Victorian age, honoured by learned societies and institutions both in Britain and Europe. He had been elected a Fellow of the Linnaean Society of London in 1823 and a fellow of the Royal Society in 1828. He accompanied his uncle on their voyages of discovery and co-authored the 1835 Narrative already mentioned.     

Erebus' and the 'Terror' in New Zealand, August 1841, by John Wilson Carmichael

Having explored the Arctic regions he went on between 1839 and 1843 to command an Antarctic expedition comprising the vessels HMS Terror and HMS Erebus, with the aim of charting much of the coastline of the continent. He discovered Victoria Land and the Ross Sea, named after him, as well as the volcanoes Mount Erebus and Mount Terror, named after the ships.

Carter pays tribute in an 1872 article in the Annals and Magazine of Natural History to Sir James Clark Ross. That year, having settled at The Cottage on Fore Street Hill where he would begin his immense work of cataloguing sponges from all over the world, he received some fragments of sponge which had been preserved in spirit in two jars at the British Museum. 

Superficially, as he notes, they did not seem particularly special; indeed, but for the presence of spicules — the tiny spike-like structures characteristic of sponges — they might very well have passed "for so much wet brown paper torn into pieces and soaked in sandy mud."  But his friend Dr Gray at the Museum had asked Carter to examine the specimens "with reference to any thing that might remain untold about them, as well as to their future arrangement there."

Yes, there are sponges in Antarctica. 
Green and yellow sea sponges in McMurdo Sound.  
Image credit: Steve Rupp, National Science Foundation

What fascinated Carter were the labels with their faded writing,  proving that the jars' contents had been dredged up and collected by a team led by Ross during the latter’s Antarctic Expedition of 1839-43. Clearly, Carter shared Campbell’s admiration for the great Victorian naval hero, naming the sponge Rossella antarctica after him. 

"No doubt it was on this occasion that the fragments of sponge still preserved in the British Museum were obtained," Carter concluded after reading Ross's 1847 book A Voyage of Discovery and Research in the Southern and Antarctic Regions during the years 1839-43.  "Rolled over and over by the dredge, probably in a rough sea, and mixed up with the sandy mud of the bottom, it is not extraordinary that they should have passed into the state mentioned."

And in a relatively rare insight into Carter's feelings about the character of such brave explorers and scientists he writes: "The only part extraordinary is, that at such a time and under such circumstances as those recorded in the book to which I have alluded, the dredge should have been put overboard at all. No one but a cool and intrepid scientific investigator of the highest type could achieve such results as were obtained in this Antarctic Expedition." 

With a reflection which surely looks forward to the courage of Robert Falcon Scott and his companions of the 1910-13 ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition half a century later he concludes: "Well might England be proud of such men!"

It’s fun to speculate, where no hard evidence exists apart from that one sentence in in John Campbell’s will. £300 in 1841 was a considerable amount, worth approximately £26,000 in today’s money. 

As Campbell’s protégé, it does seem highly likely that Henry Carter might have been inspired to travel abroad rather than follow a career as a doctor in Devon. And he would probably have benefited from earlier funds made available by Campbell for his schooling. 

But where? Exeter School? Its archivist told me that they would have loved to be able to boast of his attendance there. But sadly they were unable to help. So yet another search continues! 

To be continued

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Maggie Giraud’s art talks

Fairlynch volunteer Maggie Giraud has just updated her website ( and would like to draw your attention to some of the talks she has booked, which she hopes will interest and entertain you in the coming (colder!) months.

Maggie is a locally-based freelance art historian and curator. Her talk ‘Understanding Henri Matisse’ was chosen to round off the Museum’s AGM on 29 April. It was one of many talks which she has given during 2015.

A Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Maggie lists her specialist topics as Renaissance Florence, the early 20th century period in Paris, and Dartington Hall, where she was employed as curator and archivist.  However her talks on art cover a wide range.

“The ongoing series at The Castle Hotel, Taunton, ends on 12 November with a new lecture on Francis Bacon who has preoccupied me for a long time,” she writes.

“Presenting him coherently is a considerable challenge, but his fame is such now that he cannot be ignored easily, and will not go away.

If you fancy a day of deep immersion the Castle have also organised a lecture on Goya, by Trish Jones in the morning of the 12th November, and for £50 you can attend both lectures and have lunch at the Hotel. Both talks are bookable separately if your stamina does not run to Goya/Lunch/Bacon!

Starting on the 27 October, and into next year, there is a series of talks at Brook Gallery Exeter, which is in a most beautiful historic terrace in Exeter. This is exciting for me in several ways, with some new talks, and the opportunity to have an established venue in the city.

Next year, in February, I am giving one of the lunchtime lectures at RAMM in Exeter, on Dartington Hall, a place very close to close to my heart. And for those of you in London, I am speaking again at Richmond Art Society about Sergey Shchukin in March.

I hope you can find something to enjoy, and look forward to seeing you soon.

I am just in the process of discussing a full day course on Dartington Hall at Dillington House,Somerset, for March next year - another beautiful venue!”

For more information click on 

Delderfield biographer's new novel

Admirers of East Devon author R.F. Delderfield’s work may remember Fairlynch Museum’s centenary exhibition devoted to him in 2012 and the talk given in Budleigh by his biographer Marion Lindsey-Noble. A re-edition of her book Butterfly Moments was published to mark the 100 years since Delderfield’s birth.

Since then Exmoor-based Marion has been busy. She’d already followed in the footsteps of Delderfield with her first novel, The Green Sari, published in October 2011. 

Set in Bangladesh where the former language teacher lived in her twenties, the book was described by its author as a heart-warming read and a bitter-sweet love story.

Now Marion has produced a sequel entitled The Banyan Tree, taking the story forward to the next generation of the Khan family who featured in her first book.

A large Banyan tree stands in the middle of the orphanage in Bangladesh where Ali and his American wife Martha have taken up their new jobs with great idealism. Soon they encounter enormous obstacles and difficulties. Natural and man-made disasters and heart-breaking tragedies make life almost unbearable. Least of all, had they expected that their relationship would suffer. Yet, they are captivated by the magic of this Third World country.

Meanwhile in England, Ali’s mother Karin - the main protagonist in the first volume - regrets having moved in with her ambitious daughter Jasmine and little Esme. As their relationship reaches breaking point, Karin and Jasmine each face their very personal dilemmas.  As news from Bangladesh gets worse, they all have to make life-changing decisions. Whatever happens, the Banyan tree will remain at the centre of their world.

You can buy a copy (ISBN 9780 9557 93240) from Amazon or e-mail directly to

Archaeology studies at Fairlynch get a boost

One of the fine panels in the Priscilla Carter Room at Fairlynch produced by local artist and designer Neil Rogers  

A rare set of volumes of the Devon Archaeological Society has been offered to Fairlynch, enriching the Museum’s resources in the Priscilla Carter Room.

Local resident Jack Major, who has donated the volumes, is delighted that the set will remain together rather than be split up, especially as it includes the much earlier Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Exploration Society beginning with volume 1 from 1929.

Amateur archaeologist George Carter, right, with friends

The collection is of considerable interest to Fairlynch as it contains two volumes dating from 1935 and 1936 in which articles by Budleigh Salterton amateur archaeologist George Carter about the pebble mounds of Woodbury Common were published.

Professor Chris Tilley, seen here explaining the significance of the Bronze Age Jacob's Well site a few miles north of Budleigh Salterton 

Chris Tilley, Professor of Anthropology & Archaeology at UCL, has helped to re-evaluate George Carter’s research in the light of current investigation into the Woodbury Common sites. “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,” comments 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.”

Professor Tilley’s commentary on the East Devon Pebblebeds Project at has given Carter his rightful place in local Bronze Age archaeological studies. “His work is central to the Pebblebeds Project because nobody else has ever excavated a pebble cairn before or since or tried to interpret their meaning and significance. Spurned by the archaeological establishment, Carter may well have the last laugh from his grave! Eighty years later most of what we know about the prehistory of the Pebblebed heathlands is due solely to his efforts.”

It was George Carter’s daughter Priscilla who co-founded Fairlynch Museum in 1967. Long before then, George Carter had gathered together a collection of locally-found items of geological and archaeological interest, most of which found their way into the present Priscilla Carter Room.

Cared for by Fairlynch volunteers and archaeology enthusiasts Angela and Tony Colmer the collection was properly catalogued and attractively displayed. Angela's death in 2007 followed by that of her husband four years later was a major blow for the Museum. 

Since its refurbishment the Priscilla Carter Room has been much admired, but Nicky Hewitt, seen above, who took over responsibility for the collection earlier this year, would welcome help from another enthusiast. “I am much more au fait with the geology side than the archaeology,” she says. “It’s fun learning about people like Carter’s discoveries but it would be great to work with someone who has more expertise in that kind of area.”  

If you would like to be involved with the Priscilla Carter Room’s archaeological collection please contact Nicky (Tel: 01392 874535 Mobile:  07967 909967 or

Details of the periodicals which have been offered to Fairlynch are as follows:

Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Exploration Society 1929-38; 1946-58. (Total of 23 volumes)
Transactions of the Devon Archaeological Exploration Society 1963-64; (Total of 2 volumes)
Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society 1966-83; 1985-2005; 2007-12. (Total of 45 volumes) 

Published articles in the collection which relate to the Lower Otter Valley include the following:

Carter, G. Unreported mounds on Woodbury Common   (1936)
Carter, G. The pebble mounds of Aylesbeare Common  (1938)
Smith, E.   Notes on a series of flints from Woodbury Common  (1956)
Pollard, S.  Neolithic and Dark Age settlements on High Peak, Sidmouth,
Devon  (1965/1966)
Pollard, S.   Radiocarbon dating, Neolithic and Dark Age settlements on High Peak, Sidmouth, Devon  (1967)
Miles, H. Excavations at Woodbury Castle, East Devon, 1971  (1975)
Brown, S. & Holbrook, N. A Roman site at Otterton Point  (1989)
Joy, B. & Quinnell, H. A Beaker wrist-guard from Woodbury Common  (1993)
Taylor, J.  - The Colaton Raleigh gold bracelet hoard and its significance to the interpretation of the later Bronze Age (1999)
Tilley, Chris - Jacob’s Well, Black Hill: a Bronze Age Water Shrine on Woodbury Common (2009)


Brendan Neiland at the Brook

Corporate Friends of Fairlynch The Brook Gallery, now based in both Exeter and Budleigh Salterton, is presenting a selection of work from celebrated artist Brendan Neiland, known for his memorable images of modern metropolitan existence.  The exhibition runs from 16 October to 16 November 2015. 

Professor Brendan Neiland, born in 1941 in Lichfield, Staffordshire, is an English artist best known for his paintings of reflections in modern city buildings. In 1992 he was elected into the Royal Academy.

Professor Neiland's interpretations of city life have gained him a reputation as one of Britain's foremost painters and printmakers. His use of light and pictorial structure, using a spray-gun technique developed at the Royal College of Art, has seen Neiland likened to Georges Braque and Johannes Vermeer. His work is widely exhibited in major museums and galleries worldwide including, in Britain, The Victoria and Albert Museum, The Tate Gallery London, The Collections of the British Council and the Arts Council of Great Britain.

He is represented by the Redfern Gallery and has had numerous shows internationally, including at the Galerie Belvedere in Singapore, who represent him in Singapore and the Far East.

The Brook Gallery in Budleigh opening times are: Tuesday - Saturday 10.30am - 5pm and Sunday 2pm - 4.30pm.  

The Brook Gallery in Exeter opens Tuesday - Friday 11am - 6pm; Saturday and Sunday 12pm - 4pm. 

For more information click on

Friday, 16 October 2015

Fairlynch Blooms win 2015 Award

Fairlynch has been awarded 1st prize in the Community Gardens category of the 2015 Budleigh in Bloom competition. The Museum’s volunteer gardeners are feeling pleased that they are certain to have contributed to the town’s success at regional level.

In the South West in Bloom competition Budleigh Salterton won a Gold Award and the Ayre Cup for being the best in its category of a small coastal town with a population of under 10,000.  

Fairlynch Chairman Trevor Waddington congratulated the team of gardeners – Odile Cook, Ann Hurt, Sylvia Merkel and Lynn Weeks – who work together to make the Museum garden such a magnificent spectacle.  “We know that the garden looks great, but it's nice to have this officially recognised by the experts!” he said.

South West in Bloom is one of eighteen regional/national competitions that make up RHS Britain in Bloom, the biggest horticultural campaign in Europe.  

The aim of the communities that take part each year is to improve and regenerate our local environments, through the imaginative planting of trees, shrubs, flowers and landscaping, conservation and recycling projects, and to sweep away the eyesores that blight our streets, such as litter, graffiti and vandalism.

RHS Britain in Bloom judges tour the UK and in Budleigh were entertained to a cream and cake tea by Fairlynch.  

For the full list of winners in the regional category see