Monday, 28 March 2016

Otter Busyness

Congratulations to Fairlynch volunteers Mike and Margaret Wilson, looking pleased with themselves, as well they might, for completing their display in the Museum’s Local History Room.

I wondered whether they would make the deadline of the Museum’s new season opening. After all they’re only just back from Australia where the temptations of all that winter sunshine might have distracted them from serious matters like preparing displays on how the River Otter has changed its course over the centuries.

The River Otter panel at the entrance to Fairlynch’s Local History Room has been deliberately placed to emphasise that the Museum is supposed to cover the whole of the Lower Otter Valley, rather just the town of Budleigh Salterton.

Back in 1967 however, when Fairlynch first opened, it was known by the title of Budleigh Salterton Arts Centre and Museum.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Would you like to buy an original Reg Varney painting? (1)

River scene with bridge, with two figures on a path, a red brick wall and two cattle grazing. Oil on canvas, framed, signed by the artist.   490mm W x 400mm H (approx.)

From today, you have the extremely rare opportunity of owning an original painting by Reg Varney and supporting a wonderful local charity. 

The star of The Rag Trade and On the Buses was a talented artist as well as a successful actor and gifted musician.  In his autobiography he reveals that his dream as a boy was to go to art school, but he failed the maths test.  The above sketch of two dogs was done by Reg at the age of 13. 

As part of Fairlynch Museum’s exhibition ‘Our Little Clown’ his paintings are being offered for sale by his family to raise money for The Children’s Hospice South West.

To buy a painting, choose one you like. Make a note of its number. The one featured here is Number 1.  Seven paintings are being sold and the best way to see them is to visit Fairlynch Museum where they are all on display.


Email your bid of £…  by 30 October 2016 to  Please add your contact details: name, address and phone number.

The results of the ‘sealed bid’ auction will be declared at the beginning of November 2016 and published on the museum website at   Successful bidders must make their own arrangements and pay for collection of the item from Budleigh Salterton.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Raffle prizes sought

Newton Poppleford Local History Group is seeking raffle prizes for the coffee morning that it has organised for 21 May. Any contributions gratefully received. Please contact

For news of the Group’s activities click on

Roger recommends… The Beer, Bangers and Bands Concert: Budleigh Food & Drink Festival Fundraiser!

Fairlynch trustee and former museum chairman Roger Sherriff, pictured above, tells me that he is looking forward to the big Budleigh event on Saturday 16 April in the Public Hall when there will be live music all evening along with food and drink from 6.00 pm until midnight. 

Locally produced real ales, cider and wine will be on offer with a selection of Good Game’s award winning artisan sausages to buy for your supper, including a ‘Beer Bangers and Bands’ special banger!

The double headliner concert features the local Folk, Roots Rock band ‘Sam Green and the Midnight Heist’ and R&B, Blues & Rockabilly band ‘Hucklebuck’ with Budleigh’s own Ian Briggs, supported by the ever popular Budleigh Ukulele Rat Pack, with Budleigh duo Savoy and Exmouth’s Poppy Freya to open the night from 6.00 pm.

As well as all the fantastic live music, a mini real ale festival featuring seven local breweries and great local food and drink on offer, there will be a quality raffle and silent auction with some fantastic prizes to be won, including; a location photo shoot, framed prints, a meal for two, a very posh cream tea for four with wine, a forest school children’s holiday club session, homeopathy consultations, a leisure day pass, a sausage making class for two worth £125 and much, much more!

All proceeds from the event will go toward the funding needed to host the next Budleigh Food and Drink Festival in 2017. The Food Fest team are delighted to announce that the last food festival in 2015 has been shortlisted as one of the finalists at the Exeter Living Awards 2016, in the Leisure and Tourism category.

Trudie Burne, Festival Manager said “We are so thrilled to have got shortlisted in what must be, such a large category. It is so nice that our hard work and dedication has been recognised. The whole festival team are all volunteers and we do all this for the benefit of our community in our town, which we love, and for the people who visit. We are up against some stiff competition in the awards, but just to get this far is a great achievement.” The winner will be announced at the award ceremony in Exeter on 14th April, two days before the Beer Bangers and Bands event.

The next Budleigh Food and Drink Festival is on 8 and 9 April in 2017 and all future Budleigh Food Festivals will be bi-annual, with the interim year dedicated to fundraising for the next one!

A second fundraiser, Big Band Night featuring AJ’s Big Band will be held on Friday 4 November 2016, more details to be released soon! Follow the Budleigh Food Fest on Facebook or Twitter to keep updated.

Buy tickets for Beer Bangers and Bands from the on-line box office via the festival website. Tickets are limited and selling fast so don’t miss out, go get yours now!  £12.50 in advance.

Fairlynch values the Valley

 Along with the Otter Valley Association and many local councillors Budleigh Salterton’s Fairlynch Museum rejects the conclusions reached in the recent Boundary Commission report, and will continue to cover the history and culture of its traditional area in its exhibitions.

Newton Poppleford war memorial

‘A recent example was our much praised Great War at Fairlynch exhibition,’ said museum Chairman Trevor Waddington. ‘It focused on the way in which the 1914-18 world conflict affected the communities along the River Otter.’ 

Friends of Fairlynch Mike and Margaret Wilson, from Woodbury, have been hard at work on designing the above panel which aims to show how the Otter was once a busy river. They aim to have the panel installed in time for the Museum’s opening on 25 March.

‘Communications by sea provided excellent trading opportunities for Otterton, the principal settlement, as well as East Budleigh and other small estuary ports,’ they point out. However the gradual silting of the upper reaches was penetrating further down river until, in medieval times, the Otter was navigable only to Otterton. A combination of silt sedimentation and the eastward drift of beach pebbles, accelerated by a violent storm in 1524, gradually barred the estuary to larger ships.’

In spite of these natural changes in the Otter’s course local historians at the Museum believe that the river continues to be a meaningful link between its communities.

‘We feel as a museum that the Boundary Commission has ignored the cultural similarities between the villages of the Lower Otter Valley,’ says Trevor Waddington. ‘The ward patterns proposed by the Commission simply do not reflect community interests and identities.’

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Our Little Clown is out and about

Partly based on Varney’s autobiography The Little Clown (1990) this new title has been published to accompany the 2016 exhibition at Fairlynch Museum. 

Our Little Clown follows Varney’s upbringing in London’s Canning Town and his early introduction to show business. A self-taught musician, at the age of 15 he was entertaining audiences in East End working-men’s clubs, playing the piano, piano-accordion and singing. 

World War Two saw him initially working in factories before he joined the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME). Later, along with the likes of Harry Secombe, Eric Sykes and Spike Milligan he joined the Stars in Battledress, entertaining the troops. His post-war career took off as he developed his skills as a comedian, appearing on the West End stage and topping the bill in music hall. Then came his success in shows like The Rag Trade and On the Buses. 

Varney’s talent as a straight actor is seen in his tragicomic performance as failed drag artist ‘Sherry’ Sheridan in the play and film The Best Pair of Legs in the Business: he described this as ‘the biggest gamble’ of his career. 

Our Little Clown also covers Varney’s talents as an artist and as a writer and ends with his retirement to Devon, where he was described as ‘Budleigh Salterton’s adopted son’. 

48 pages
82 illustrations; approx. 50 in colour
With a foreword by Reg Varney’s daughter Jeanne Marley
Price: £5.00 (£4.99 at the museum)
Available at The Card Shop Too, High Street, Budleigh Salterton  Tel: 01395 446767. 

Raising money for charity: profits are being divided between Fairlynch Museum and the British Heart Foundation. 

Author Michael Downes is a Trustee of Fairlynch Museum. His previous publications have included academic studies of 16th French literature; Oundle’s War – a survey of the impact of WW2 on the Northamptonshire town, and The Scientist in The Cottage – a biography of the Victorian physician, geologist and marine sponge expert Henry Carter FRS. He also recently published a new edition of the popular The Budleigh Salterton Railway. He lives in Budleigh Salterton with his wife and two Bengal cats.    

Sunday, 20 March 2016

We’re collaborators, not competitors!


Spring is a lovely time of year for leafleting. And yes, I do mean the mundane job of putting leaflets through doors as well as delivering them in the usual tourist outlets. The sky is often blue, I enjoy looking at people’s gardens and getting to know our local towns and villages. 

And of course it’s good exercise I tell myself as I slog round the streets with a rucksack full of literature delivering to hotels, B&Bs and of course Tourist Information Centres in our corner of Devon. And the work of publicising our museum goes on, with the arrival of summer and the thought that one can combine a day’s outing with a leaflet drop or two. 

I do wonder whether it works however. The Direct Marketing Association’s research shows that 48% of consumers actually visited the shop advertised, requested extra information or bought a product after receiving a leaflet through their door. But then they would, wouldn’t they? They’re in the business of promoting the whole leaflet manufacturing industry. 

Fairlynch Museum's annually produced leaflets, from 2009, top, to 2016

On the other hand I rather enjoy designing leaflets. I’m not an expert on the computer but the work appeals to the creative nerd in me, and I do believe I’ve made progress in mastering my old-fashioned Publisher program; I actually prefer it to the modern version that I bought.  And a newly designed leaflet each year does reflect fresh ideas and a jolly dynamism that every museum needs.

I spotted the title of this blog post while searching on my computer through the 2015 folder of unpublished items I’d written. Unpublished because, on reflection, what I’d written at about this time last year was a rather snide and complaining piece about places in Sidmouth where my lovely leaflets had been rejected. 

Yes, one person did actually accuse our little Fairlynch of being a competitor for arts-loving visitors and reducing their own visitor numbers.

I found that very odd because people who like visiting arts centres, theatres, museums and similar places generally make a habit of it, and it’s a habit that I’d like to encourage. 
So Fairlynch now has a rack of leaflets promoting other arts centres, museums and the like in East Devon and even further afield.

The grand Hotel Riviera on Sidmouth's Esplanade

This year’s tour of Sidmouth’s hotels, B&Bs and arts centres was an enjoyable experience because there was a definite feeling that ‘we’re all in this together’.

The Royal Glen Hotel  was another location where I received a friendly greeting.

This year I made a point of offering to exchange leaflets, at places like the excellent Manor Pavilion Theatre & Arts Centre.

And of course the town’s museum was an obvious place to do a swap.

So here are their 2016 leaflets. Thank you to the Sidmouth lady who lent me a rubber band to bundle their leaflets together.  

Kennaway House  Photo by Ian James Cox

I came away feeling that it would be a pleasure to promote our so-called competitors.  At Kennaway House, for example, it was a pleasure to meet the new house manager Nikki Dawkins and learn about the ‘Meet the Authors’ events that are taking place in this beautiful Regency building, between 16 March and 10 November 2016.  

The events are linked to ‘Sun, Sea & Books’, Sidmouth’s second two-day literary festival being organised jointly by Kennaway House and Winstone’s independent bookshop   

You can find out more about events of all kinds at Kennaway House on the website at
Sidmouth of course has a very successful Science Festival, and its Folk Festival is legendary.

Yes, each of our East Devon communities has something special to offer, and it’s fun to explore them. So I will carry on with my rucksack of lovely leaflets under the blue skies, tramping the streets of our towns, and even venturing down some village lanes if I think that yours looks rather interesting. I’ll be seeing you!

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Drawing the collections

 A small group of amateur artists is engaged in depicting objects at Fairlynch, some of which have rarely been exhibited in public. Martyn Brown  and Lyn Cooke explain:    

The idea  of starting a group to draw the collections developed from the Museum’s Puttee Group, established in 2014 to work on puttees as part of the  Heritage Lottery Fund WW1 project.  Members of the group had participated at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) in Exeter in an arts group, using their collections creatively to inspire visual and written responses. 

For Fairlynch the idea was picked up by Museum volunteer Lyn Cooke and she proposed the ‘Drawing the Collections’ pilot group via Trustee Martyn Brown.

The first session took place in October 2015 after the Trustees had agreed the pilot project, and the group has met monthly — usually consisting of five or six people. On each occasion two or three objects from the collections have been selected and a ‘still life’ has been set up in the Exhibition Room.

Objects have included a pair of ladies’ white boots, and a fine pair of buckled shoes, a sewing machine, cobbler’s tools, a dress, and a doll and pram, pictured here. The participants have enjoyed drawing these things in their own choice of media: pencil, pen and ink, crayon, watercolour and digital.

At the end of the pilot programme the group will have a review, and feed back to the Museum’s Trustees with their reflections on how the project has gone, whether or not it will continue, and how it can best be organised and managed for the future. There are discussions afoot about the possibility of exhibiting some of the pieces of work.