Monday, 20 June 2016

I admit defeat!


Budleigh Salterton War Memorial

Well, I’ve stuck out WW1 for almost half of its grim catalogue of senseless slaughter. But as the centenary of 1 July 1916 approaches, with its list of eight men from the Lower Otter Valley who lost their lives on that one day alone, I simply cannot go on.  

As readers of The Great War at Fairlynch have seen, I had originally intended to mark the centenary of each of the 168 casualties linked to the area with a commemorative post on the above website.

In most cases an account of their lives has already been published on excellent sites like the one at  in which researchers from Fairlynch have already been involved.  Inevitably there were extra details which I wanted to explore, or photos that I felt could add to the picture.

But there are limits!

The two-year Great War at Fairlynch exhibition ended at the Museum in 2015. Inevitably, with the centenary of the November 1918 Armistice, there may be thoughts of what theme a future and final WW1 display might take. 

Fit faces: Arthur Gascoyne Robson

The recent visit to Fairlynch by children from St Peter’s School seeking to know more about the Second World War made me wonder  exactly how much memorabilia of the period the Museum has managed to gather.  

We are most grateful to the benefactor who recently enabled Fairlynch to acquire the copy of the ship's badge that I mentioned here. 

So when Budleigh resident Shirley Williams, pictured above, called at the Local History Room to seek out a folder mentioning her grandfather it was a pleasure to find almost immediately the exact page on which he is pictured. 

The Museum always welcomes any help in identifying people in photographs from the past for whom we lack names.

So we now have two names of people in the group of staff from the Beaufoy Institute which was evacuated from Black Prince Road in the London Borough of Lambeth to Budleigh during World War Two. Shirley’s grandfather, Arthur Gascoyne Robson, is standing at the far right of the photo. The other person, sitting in the front row, far right, had already been identified as George Louis Brown

The Beaufoy Institute grew out of the so-called ‘ragged schools’,  free schools that accepted as pupils poor and vagrant children, providing them with basic education to enable them eventually to find work. The Lambeth ‘ragged schools’ were set up in in the mid-19th century, supported by the vinegar distiller Henry Benjamin Hanbury Beaufoy. 

The original building was demolished with the development of Waterloo Station, and the schools moved to Black Prince Road becoming known as the Beaufoy Institute.

This fine sculpture by Samuel Nixon was part of the original building of what became the Beaufoy Institute, and was moved to the Black Prince Road site

Image credit for the two above photos: Chris Partridge

Henry Beaufoy, who died in 1851, gave awards and scholarships, including one scholarship in memory of his father which was ‘designed to encourage the study of mathematical science, with an especial reference to its practical application to the use and service of mankind’.

Arthur Gascoyne Robson, Shirley Williams’ grandfather, who died on 21 April 1940, shortly after the Institute’s evacuation to Budleigh Salterton, was one of its most distinguished teachers, remaining on the staff for nearly 30 years.  

He served his apprenticeship in Portsmouth Dockyard, subsequently passing to the drawing office, where he remained until 1909 before his move to the Beaufoy Institute. Here he taught engineering subjects and also acted as Appointments Master.

During World War One he was seconded to munitions work at Goldsmith’s College in London, and on his return to the Institute, resumed classes in Machine Drawing  as well as teaching Applied Mechanics.

He was the author of several textbooks, amongst which his Engineering Workshop Principles and Practice is perhaps the best known. It went into four editions, selling a total of 20,000 copies all over the world.  

'Budleigh rocks' say local schoolchildren


Two groups of children from Budleigh’s St Peter’s C of E Primary School learnt at first hand about the area’s unique geology from experts at Fairlynch Museum. On Wednesday 8 June, Sycamore Class and Cedar Class explored fossils and rocks with the Museum’s Head of Geology and Environment Nicky Hewitt and Kate Somerby, Fairlynch Trustee and Arts Education Specialist.  

The two museum volunteers are seen, left, in the above photo as they greeted pupils and accompanying teachers.

The children were fascinated to learn about the collection’s oldest fossil, named after the town where it was discovered and known officially as Orthis budleighensis. They learnt how the fossil, a rare brachiopod similar to a mollusc and at least 445 million years old, had come out of a pebble on Budleigh beach. 

The children were shown the different strata in the mountains which formed the local landscape millions of years ago and were intrigued by the different colours reflected in the pebbles, particularly seen in the quartz layers. 

The celebrated nodules written about by Nobel Prize-winning scientist Max Perutz were also one of the talking-points of the visit. The children learnt about the different minerals present in rocks.

After Fairlynch, the classes visited two other locations on Budleigh beach to discover more about our unique geography and geology. 

‘This visit supported their Science learning during the final half term,’ said a school spokesperson. ‘Our engagement with community partners and the local environment are key features of the unique St Peter's Curriculum.’


Wednesday, 15 June 2016

BEFORE THE BUSES - words, music,more music, and dance!

Apparently some people who’ve seen my beautiful poster for the Reg Varney event on Friday 1 and Saturday 2 July thought that it was advertising a talk.

No, it’s very far from a talk. 

And it's not On the Buses. Sorry, no Jack, Blakey, Olive & co. 

Before The Buses is a show of about two hours, based on Reg Varney's little-known early life as a gifted singer and musician, making his way in the difficult times of the 1930s and telling us in a charmingly honest way about some of the amusing and often embarrassing experiences that he describes in his autobiography The Little Clown - well worth buying if you can find a copy. 

I thought I'd show you in advance, page by page, the souvenir programme. 

Click on each image to make it bigger. 

Yes, it's at the Football Club and this time I've inserted the postcode so that people can find it more easily. There's plenty of parking if you're coming by car. 

And there are professional performers! 

All very talented and well known to many concert and theatre goers.

And these are the items which will give you the two hours of enjoyment. Yes, some readings by actor James Cotter, based on what we think are lively and amusing episodes from Reg Varney's autobiography. 

But also really well known songs from the 1930s by composers like Cole Porter and George Gershwin, sung by actress Madalaine Pearce whose family come from East Budleigh. But by coincidence Maddie now lives in Canning Town, where Reg Varney was born. 

Plus, to give the show even more lively spectacle, performances by the South West Lindy Hoppers - their website is at

The whole show has been put together by Budleigh's own Steve Andrews who has had many years of experience writing for the theatre. 

And those involved with our Before The Buses show are deeply grateful for the help that they've had from a variety of sources, especially Bradleys Estate Agents for printing all our promotional material. 

The show is a well deserved tribute to one of Britain's best known comic actors, whose many other talents you can discover if you visit Fairlynch Museum's exhibition. The display of Reg Varney's original oil paintings, all for sale, runs until 30 October.

Before The Buses is also a charity event, raising money for three worthy causes. Tickets are only £8. 

So, if you haven't yet booked your tickets at the Tourist Information Centre or at the Football Club in Budleigh Salterton, do act fast to make sure that you enjoy what is going to be a memorable and very special event. There are only two performances: Friday 1 and Saturday 2 July, at 7.30 pm.  

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Buses’ star ‘an inspiration’ for Canning Town’s Madalaine

It’s a long way in many senses from London’s East End of London to the tranquil coastal setting of Budleigh Salterton. But for thousands of fans who look back with nostalgia at the age of British sitcoms like The Rag Trade and On The Buses  the little East Devon town is making quite a name for itself.

An exhibition at the local museum, free vintage bus rides and pebble art on Budleigh’s famous beach… it’s all to mark the centenary of Reg Varney, better known by many including more than 12.5K members of the On the Buses Fan Club as Cockney comic bus driver Stan Butler.

There’s even a musical show in his honour, staged at the local Football Club. But  Before The Buses, as the show is called, deliberately focuses on his little-known early years when he started out as an 15-year-old self-taught pianist and singer playing in the tough environment of working men’s clubs.

By pure chance one of the show’s stars, Madalaine Pearce, born and raised in nearby East Budleigh, currently resides in Canning Town, Reg Varney’s birthplace.  Maddie, pictured above, left her home village to train in Musical Theatre at The Oxford School of Drama and has toured all over Europe and the UK, but is proud to be performing locally again. 

Passionate about both comedy and music, she is thrilled to be involved in Before The Buses, telling the story of a great British entertainer who so loved Budleigh Salterton and chose to spend his retirement years here.

As a professional singer and actress Madalaine’s credits include: Godspell; Animal Farm; The Boyfriend (Exeter Northcott); A Chorus Line (Exeter Barnfield); A Bit Of A Hitch; Just Good Friends (European Tour); Bless ‘Em All; Twelfth Night; Chelsea’s Choice and Cinderella (UK Tour).

The Sir Walter Raleigh pub in East Budleigh, where Reg was a regular visitor with his family 

Between rehearsals she found time to answer a few questions about her latest theatrical venture.

Q. Maddie, you’re performing in Budleigh Salterton’s centenary tribute show BEFORE THE BUSES in honour of On the Buses star Reg Varney. You live in Canning Town, in London’s East End, where Reg was born. It’s quite a coincidence that you were brought up in the area where Reg retired, the village of East Budleigh – birthplace of Sir Walter Raleigh – and the location of one of Reg’s favourite pubs. What made you choose Canning Town?

Sir Walter Raleigh's statue stands prominently next to the church of All Saints in the village of his birth 

A. As an aspiring actress from the countryside, I came to London with little money and little knowledge of the city. Canning Town was reasonably priced and has great transport links into the city centre.

Q. Were you a fan of Reg?

A. I remember watching On The Buses with my Dad as a child. He is a big comedy fan and so am I. We loved to watch all the classics like On The Buses, Porridge and Only Fools & Horses.

Star Lane Primary School in Canning Town

Q. You live only a few minutes away from 7 Addington Road, Reg’s family home, and Star Lane School? What can you see of the old Canning Town? The old pubs, the cinemas…

The old Ordnance Arms pub at 110 Barking Road, Canning Town, now demolished  Image credit Ewan Munro

A. Star Lane Primary School is still there, and Rathbone Market. A few of the pubs are still around but the area is changing with new housing, the most recent of pubs to go was The Ordnance Arms which has now been replaced with flats. There is a new development being built near the station which is rumoured to boost shops and restaurants too, it’s all very exciting for the area, it looks like it’s changing for the better.

Q. The show is Before The Buses rather than about Reg’s time as a big star? What have you learnt about his early days, the subject of the show?

A. I’ve been reading his book The Little Clown, which will be the material used in the show – he lived an interesting life full of capers and woes. For me he is an inspiration to other performers coming from nothing, teaching himself the piano and working tirelessly to make himself the star we remember today.

Q. Tell us something about the songs you’ll be singing, why you’ve chosen them and why they appeal to you?

A. The songs have been chosen with the input of Reg’s daughter Jeanne, including numbers she used to sing with her father. They are all fabulous songs that have been covered over the years by some fantastic singers such as Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole. The music is beautiful and timeless. 

Reg, as Stan Butler, star of On The Buses 

Q. Have you developed a taste for jellied eels since living in the East End? Apparently Reg used to serve them with whisky to the cast of On The Buses at his home in Enfield.

A. I haven’t actually tried them though I know a couple of the local caf├ęs still serve them. I’m more of a pie and mash fan!

Reg with his parents outside the family home at 7 Addington Road 

Q. Would you like to see a blue plaque in Canning Town in honour of Reg during this centenary year?

A. Of course! He was a comedy treasure and it would be a lovely way to honour his memory.

The above picture was sent by the Children's Hospice South West for which Budleigh Salterton's Reg Varney show Before The Buses on 1 and 2 July is raising funds. 

The Hospice does wonderful work caring for children with life-limiting conditions. The picture was completed over a number of weeks by various visiting siblings aged between 4 and 10. They’d used a picture found on the On The Buses Fan Club page

Before The Buses is being performed on Friday 1 and Saturday 2 July at 7.30 pm at Budleigh Salterton Football Club. Tickets at £8 are available from Budleigh Tourist Information Centre on 01395 445275 and from Budleigh Football Club on 01395 443850. All final profits from the show are being donated to the British Heart Foundation and  Fairlynch Museum and Arts Centre as well as to the Children's Hospice South West.