The Fishing Port of Brixham
Brixham is a small town in the county of Devon in the south-west of England Brixham is at the southern end of Torbay across the bay from Torquay and is a famous fishing port. Fishing and tourism are its major industries.It is thought that the name 'Brixham' came from Brioc's village. 'Brioc' was an old English or Brythonic personal name and '-ham' is an ancient term for village.
The town is hilly, and built around the harbour which remains in use as a dock for fishing trawlers; in addition, it has a focal tourist attraction in the replica of Sir Francis Drake's ship the Golden Hind that is permanently moored there. The fact that the replica is a converted old trawler doesn't seem to deter the holidaymakers from shelling out their cash on plastic pirate trinkets.
In summer, the Cowtown carnival is held; this is a reminder of when Brixham was two separate communities, with only a marshy lane to connect them. Cowtown was where the farmers lived, at the top of the hill, while about a mile away, the seamen made their homes near the harbour in Fishtown. Cowtown - St Marys Square area- on the road leaving Brixham in the direction of Kingswear is home to possibly the oldest church in Brixham, the local Royal British Legion and a theatre company the South Devon players
Brixham is where William III of Orange landed with his Netherlands|Dutch army, on 5th November, 1688, during the Glorious Revolution, and many local people still have Dutch surnames, being direct descendants of soldiers in that army. A road leading from the harbour up a steep hill to where the Dutch made their camp, is still called Overgang, meaning 'transition' in Dutch.
The coffin house reflects Brixham humour: it is coffin-shaped and when a father was asked for the hand in marriage of his daughter, he said he would 'see her in a coffin, before she wed'. The future son-in-law bought the coffin-shaped property, called it the Coffin House, and went back to the father and said 'Your wishes will be met, you will see your daughter in a coffin, the Coffin House'. Amazed by this, the father gave his blessing.
The street names reflect the town's history. Pump street is where the village pump stood. Monksbridge was a bridge built by the monks of Totnes Priory. Lichfield Drive was the route that the dead (from the Anglo-Saxon lich meaning a corpse) were taken for burial at St Marys churchyard. Salutation Mews, near that church, dates from when England was Catholic, and the salutation was to the Virgin Mary. Similarly, Laywell Road recalls Our Ladys well. The first building seen when coming into Brixham from [[Paignton]] is the old white-boarded Toll House where all travellers had to pay a fee to keep the roads repaired.
Looking into Brixham from the harbour, the tower of All Saints' Church, founded in 1815, stands guard over the town. The composer of ''Abide With Me (hymn)|Abide With Me'', Henry Francis Lyte|Rev. Francis Lyte was a vicar at the church. He lived at Berry Head House, now a hotel, and when he was a very sick man, near to dying, he looked out from his garden as dusk fell over Torbay, and the words of that beautiful hymn came into his mind.
The main church is St. Mary's, about a mile from the sea. It is the third to have been on the site (which was an ancient Celtic burial ground). The original wooden Saxon church was replaced by a stone Norman church that was in its turn built over in about 1360. Many of the important townspeople are buried in the churchyard. It is considered unlucky indeed to walk 'widershins', or anti-clockwise, around the church.
Brixham was served by the short Torbay and Brixham Railway from Churston railway station|Churston. The line, opened in February 1868 to carry passengers and goods (mainly fish), was closed in May 1963 as a result of the Beeching Axe cuts. The line through Churston is now maintained and operated as a heritage railway by an enthusiastic team of volunteers as the Paignton and Dartmouth Steam Railway
Brixham is also famous for being the town where the fishing trawler was invented in the 19th century; their distinctive sails inspired the song "Red Sails in the Sunset (song)|Red Sails in the Sunset", which was written aboard a Brixham sailing trawler called the ''Torbay Lass''
In the Middle Ages, Brixham was the largest fishing port in the South-West, and at one time it was the greatest in England. Known as the 'Mother of Deep-Sea Fisheries', its boats helped to establish the fishing industries of Kingston-upon-Hull, Grimsby and Lowestoft. In the 1890s there were about 300 trawling vessels in Brixham, most individually owned. The trawlers can be seen coming in and out of the harbour, followed by flocks of seagulls. The fish market is open to the public on two special days in the summer, when the finer points of catching and cooking fish will be explained. The modern boats are diesel-driven, but several of the old sailing trawlers have been preserved and are being brought back to life.
Hundreds of ships have been wrecked on the rocks around the town. Brixham men have always known the dangers but even they were taken by surprise by a terrible storm that blew up on the night of 10th January, 1866. The fishing boats only had sails then and could not get back into harbour because gale force winds and the high waves were against them. To make things worse, the beacon on the breakwater was swept away, and in the black darkness they could not ascertain their position. According to local legend, their wives brought everything they could carry, including furniture and bedding, to make a big bonfire on the quayside to guide their men home. Fifty vessels were wrecked and more than one hundred lives were lost in the storm; when dawn broke the wreckage stretched for nearly three miles up the coast.
Hearing of this tragedy, the citizens of Exeter gave money to set up what became the RNLI's Torbay lifeboat, which has since rescued hundreds of people.
Since 1866, Torbay lifeboat station, located in Brixham, has operated an all-weather lifeboat. The station also has an inshore 'D'-class lifeboat. The crews have a remarkable history of bravery with 52 awards for gallantry. The boathouse can be visited and memorials to the brave deeds seen; on special occasions visitors can go on board the boat. Two maroons (bangs) are the signal for the lifeboat to be launched.
There have always been smugglers at Brixham. It was more profitable than fishing, but if the men were caught, they were hanged. There are many legends about the local gangs and how they evaded the Revenue men. One humorous poem describes how a notorious local character, Bob Elliott, could not run away because he had gout and hid in a coffin. Another villain was caught in possession but evaded capture by pretending to be the Devil, rising out of the morning mists. On another occasion when there was a cholera epidemic, some Brixham smugglers drove their cargo up from the beach in a hearse, accompanied by a bevy of supposed mourners following the cortege drawn by horses with muffled hooves.
The town's outer harbour is protected by a long breakwater, useful for sea angling. In winter this is a regular site for Purple Sandpipers. During the second world war, a hard and piers were built from which American servicemen left for the D-day landings.
To the south of Brixham, and sheltering the southern side of its harbour, lies the coastal headland of Berry Head with a lighthouse, Iron Age Fort and National Nature Reserve.
Quarrying and Mining
Apart from fishing, most of the other local industries were connected with stone. Limestone was once quarried extensively and used to build the breakwater, for houses and roads, and was sent to Dagenham to make steel for Ford Motors|Ford cars. It was also burnt in limekilns to reduce it to a powder which was spread on the land in other parts of Devon as an agricultural fertiliser. The old quarries and the limekilns can still be seen.
Another mineral found in Brixham is ochre. This gave the old fishing boats their "Red Sails in the Sunset", but the purpose was to protect the canvas from seawater, not to be picturesque. It was boiled in great caldrons, together with tar, tallow and oak|oak bark. The latter ingredient gave its name to the barking yards which were places where the hot mixture was painted on to the sails, which were then hung up to dry.
The ochre was also used to make a very special paint. This was invented in Brixham in about 1845 and was the first substance in the world that would stop cast iron from rusting. Other types of paint were made here as well, and the works were in existence until 1961.
There were iron mines at Brixham, and for a while they produced very high quality ore but the last one closed in 1925. Most of the sites have been built over and there are now no remains of this once important industry.
War Times and Politics
War ships have been seen in Torbay from the days of the Vikings up until 1944 when part of the D-day|D-Day fleet sailed from here. In 1588 Brixham watched Sir Francis Dake attacking the Spanish Armada after he had (so the legend goes) finished his game of bowls on Plymouth Hoe. Today in Brixham harbour there is a full-sized replica of the ship, the ''Golden Hind'', in which Drake circumnavigated the globe; visitors can go on board.
For centuries, ships going down the English Channel have come into Torbay to seek refuge from the storms and to replenish food supplies. Sometimes these were merchants, taking cargoes to far away places and bringing back exotic goods and rare spices; sometimes they were carrying pilgrims, or gentlemen on the Grand Tour.
Since the days of Henry VIII Brixham has played a part in the defence of the nation. The beautiful headland known as Berry Head is now a National Nature Reserve, but it is also a military site where guns were once positioned to defend the naval ships that were re-victualling at Brixham. Twelve guns were put there during the War of American Independence, but were removed when peace came in 1783. Just ten years later, during a war with France, guns were again deployed around the town. The major position was at Berry Head, but this time fortifications were built to defend the gun positions. These can still be seen, and are now some of the best preserved Napoleonic forts in the country.
During the long series of wars against the French that began in 1689 and lasted until 1815, the Royal Navy came into Brixham to get supplies of fresh vegetables, beef and water. There might have been twenty or so of the big men-o'-war lying at anchor in Torbay, recovering from exploits of the sort described in the books about Horatio Hornblower|Hornblower, Richard Bolitho|Bolitho or Jack Aubrey. On the harbourside towards the marina there is a grey stone building which today is the Coastguard headquarters; then, it was the King's Quay where His Majesty's vessels were provisioned. Local farmers brought vegetables to ward off scurvy, and cattle were slaughtered and their meat packed into barrels. The water came from a big reservoir situated near the crossroads in the middle of town; from there a pipeline carried it under the streets and under the harbour to the King's Quay.
Many of the well-known Admirals of the day visited Brixham. Not only Nelson, but also John Jervis, 1st Earl of St Vincent|Lord St. Vincent, Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis|Cornwallis, Samuel Hood, 1st Viscount Hood|Hood, Lord Rodney|Rodney and Edward Hawke, 1st Baron Hawke|Hawke. There was also Richard Howe, 1st Earl Howe|Earl Howe, who earned the nickname of Lord Torbay because he spent so much time ashore in Brixham. A notorious visitor was Napoleon Bonaparte, who, as a prisoner on ''HMS Bellerophon (1786)|HMS Bellerophon', spent several days off Brixham waiting to be taken to exile on St. Helena.
Battery Gardens have a military history leading back to the Napoleonic wars and the time of the Spanish Armada. The emplacements and features seen here today are those of the Second World War and are of national importance. The site, listed by English Heritage, is recognised as one of the best preserved of its kind in the UK. Of the 116 Emergency Coastal Defence Batteries set up in the UK in 1940, only seven remain intact.
The late, former British Prime Minister, Lord James Callahan was educated partly at Furzeham Primary School.