Saturday, 7 May 2016

Fairlynch Museum's Object of the Month May 2016: The Joyce Dennys Deckchairs

The summer has finally arrived, the deckchairs are out and it's time for more of my bloggerel. 

Young visitors to Fairlynch Museum Martha aged five, on the left, and her six-year-old sister Eva, thought our specially designed deckchairs were a terrific idea, especially after they'd seen the original paintings by Joyce Dennys on display in the museum. 

I wonder whether there are any artists out there now, painting today's Budeigh characters so amusingly.

Click on the image to make it a bit bigger. 

Budleigh Salterton scientist Henry Carter and that dinosaur poo

At a previous post about Fairlynch’s Object of the Month for April 2016 I promised that I would give some background to my pooem at 

No, it wasn’t an April Fool.

A few years ago I wrote the first biography of any length devoted to the life and achievements of Henry Carter FRS, physician, geologist and naturalist, pictured above.

 Born in Budleigh Salterton, Carter returned to his “native place” as he calls it in 1862 after travels in Arabia and working as a doctor in India. He is buried in the churchyard of All Saints, East Budleigh.

Carter was internationally known by his contemporaries for his research into marine sponges, but it was for his work as a geologist that the Royal Society elected him as a Fellow in 1859.

There is evidence to show that his geologising had begun while he was still a boy, as he explored the coastline around Budleigh Salterton. In fact, in a 1981 article published in the Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History) Geology Series, Dr Robin Cocks of the Natural History Museum’s Palaeontology section, mentioned that it was a Mr Carter who had found brachiopod fossils in Budleigh pebbles in around 1853. From my research into Carter’s life I concluded that the fossil Orthis budleighensis should be renamed Orthis carteri.

In 1859, while Carter was still in India, the anatomist Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895) published an article concerning the discovery in the cliffs between Budleigh and Sidmouth of a jaw bone identified as that of a rhyncosaur.

Given his many years of geologising in the sub-continent it is highly likely that Carter, on his return to Britain, would have been motivated to search in the area east of the River Otter where the rhynchosaur remains had been found, particularly as Huxley had in his paper referred to some specimens obtained from Central India, among which "were fragments of large jaws with teeth, which presented all the characters of Hyperodapedon."  

At any rate Carter is noted as having found "many traces of osseous structure at this locality" according to later geologists Horace Woodward (1848-1914) and William Ussher (1849-1920).  He may even have noted in Huxley's article the fact that the fossils had been presented to the Geological Society in 1860 by Stephen Hislop, whose work in India he had acknowledged in an article seven years previously.   

A later event of interest to Carter was the discovery in 1875 of bones identified as those of a labyrinthodont. This carnivorous amphibian is thought to have flourished in the late Carboniferous/early Permian —  approximately 260 million years ago. The find was made in fallen debris from the cliffs between Budleigh Salterton and Sidmouth by Henry James Johnston-Lavis (1856-1914), a Devonshire man who like Carter had trained as a physician at University College London, where he also studied geology. He was later noted as a volcanologist. 

Woodward and Ussher noted that Carter "subsequently obtained bone structures of Labyrinthodont affinities, and a fragment of jaw-bone, with teeth" from the same location below the western slope of High Peak Hill at Picket Rock Cove.

Evidently the 71-year-old Carter, who by this time was primarily concerned with his work of cataloguing sponges, continued to be intrigued by such finds so close to his home. A further paper on the fossil remains in this location west of High Peak Hill appeared in 1884, authored on this occasion by Arthur Metcalfe (1857-1938). Born in Retford, near Nottingham, he began studying geology as a schoolboy and was elected a Fellow of the Geological Society of London at the age of 23.  It is notable that in publishing his research findings concerning the vertebrate remains discovered in the Triassic sandstone strata east of Budleigh Salterton Metcalfe was proud to acknowledge the role of his "friend" Henry Carter in obtaining the "rare and interesting specimens" now in the Natural History Museum.

Carter was keen to carry out his own research into the fossils. He had discovered what he described as "small pellet-like amorphous bodies" among the fallen blocks of Triassic rock on the beach where the Labyrinthodont remains had been found.  They were, he observed, "composed of white calcareous matter, traversed in all directions by semitransparent crystalline plates showing bone-structure" and were identified as coprolites, the scientific term used to describe the fossilised dung of ancient animals. 

He found that sections of the coprolites, "when examined in water under the microscope, presented the same bone-structure as the scales of the Bony Pike of North America (Lepidosteus osseus)." This was confirmed when he compared a fossilised pike scale found in Hampshire to a similar fragment of the fossil from the East Devon beach.  In 1888 the Geological Society published his short account of how this ancient dung from a fish-eating creature from 200 million years ago could be described as "Ichthyosaurian coprolites." 

These fossils described by Metcalfe and Carter have been written of as "fragmentary and unpromising." But the evidence of Carter's involvement in geology at this late stage in his life is nonetheless of value, if only to Devon historians. Metcalfe's account shows the high regard in which Carter was held by a geologist who was less than half his age in 1888. And it proves that the older man retained a continuing interest in the county's ancient landscape for as long as his considerable powers of intellect would allow.

On 4 October that year Henry Carter suffered a paralytic attack which left him with impaired speech and vision. He improved but never completely recovered.

Monday, 2 May 2016

The Terror of Topsham?

Fairlynch Museum was glad to be able to help out one of our sister museums in Devon when the fragment of flag shown here was lent for an exhibition at Topsham.

A model of HMS Terror on display at Topsham Museum

 The item is cherished as a possible relic from HMS Terror, the bomb vessel constructed for the Royal Navy by the Topsham shipbuilder Robert Davy.

Some of my American readers who know their history will recognize the name of this vessel as belong to one of those ships which took part in the unhappy Anglo-American conflict of 1812-14. It was during that war that the White House was burned down by the British. 

HMS Terror, under her captain, John Sheridan, took part in various actions against the Americans including the bombardment of Stonington, Connecticut in August 1814, and the Battle of Baltimore the following month. 

HMS Terror thrown up by the ice. Engraving after a drawing by Captain George Back (1796–1878)

The ship later took part in the Arctic expedition of 1839 to 1843 commanded by the naval officer and explorer Sir John Franklin. The expedition was ordered to gather magnetic data in the Canadian Arctic and complete a crossing of the Northwest Passage. Both Terror and its companion ship HMS Erebus became ice-bound and were abandoned with the loss of their crews.

In 1857 an expedition led by another British naval officer, later knighted as Admiral Sir Francis Leopold McClintock, led a search expedition to the Arctic to endeavour to trace HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. 

One of the items he found was the fragment of a flag which may well have been from one of the ships.  Francis McClintock was the great-uncle of a founder-member and steward (docent for my American readers) at Fairlynch Museum. 

Budleigh’s own warship

I learnt recently that a visit to Fairlynch is being planned for local schoolchildren. They’re keen to find out about World War Two, so naturally I investigated what our museum might have in the way of things to look at and study. Various items are listed in the records, including a gas mask, a helmet, a stirrup pump, a ration book, and loads of photos, all stored away and waiting to be shown off to visitors.

One rather fine item which is not listed – I found it on the internet – is a copy of this ship’s crest, currently for sale on Ebay but at a specially discounted price for Fairlynch after an approach was made to the owner.  The image is of a parrot or popinjay perched on a trident.

The ship in question was HMS Polruan, a Bangor-class minesweeper launched on 18 July 1940. Bangor-class warships were named after HMS Bangor, and all Royal Navy ships of that class were named after British coastal towns.

During WW2 many towns adopted ships by raising money during Warship Week.

The little Northamptonshire town of Oundle where I lived for many years adopted HMS Nene in 1942 and was rewarded with this plaque presented by the Lords Commissioner of the Admiralty. It is on display in the town’s Council Chamber.  

This poster was issued by West Bridgford Urban District for a campaign to adopt HMS Fury

Was our own community of Budleigh honoured by having a ship named after it, I wondered?  Certainly a locomotive was named after the town: the massively heavy name plate is on display in Fairlynch’s Local History Room. But of HMS Budleigh Salterton or even HMS Budleigh there is no sign.

As for Polruan, it seems that this is a small fishing village in the parish of Lanteglos-by-Fowey in Cornwall.

Yet it was the civil community not of Polruan but of Budleigh Salterton which in March 1942 adopted HMS Polruan after a successful Warship Week National Savings campaign.

The ship’s crest is only a copy, but it is in cast aluminium and I reckon that it would be a star item in any WW2 exhibition at Fairlynch.. Please contact me if you would like to bid for the crest and donate it to the museum.  Or just go ahead and find the item on Ebay, win it for Fairlynch and tell us where it should be proudly displayed.