This quirky building in King St is not only worth a look at but also has a tale to it.
Whether it’s true or not I’m not sure but it centres around a young man’s request to marry a certain gentleman’s daughter. Not impressed by the young man he told him that he would see her in a coffin first.
Depending on which story you read the young man either bought, or built, this unusual building and called it The Coffin House.
The idea seemed to have paid off because on explaining to his potential father-in-law that his wish had been granted he relented and gave the couple their blessing.
Today the building is used as a shop selling spiritual goods such as crystals and organise workshops as well as tarot and astrological readings etc.
Between the end of the 19th and the early part of the 20th centuries Brixham had one of the largest fleets of wooden sailing trawlers in the world and over 300 of them were built right here in Brixham.
Thanks to the enthusiasm of some dedicated people six of them have been located, brought back and restored. They can usually be found over on the Brixham Town Pontoon but you may see them still being worked on around various parts of the harbour.
The owners are passionate about their hobby come business (mostly run by a charitable trust) and will be more than happy to spare you some time telling you about their vessels if they’re not too busy.
Some of the boats are available for hire but even if you don’t manage to take a trip out on one of these historical boats it’s still worth checking them out while you’re here because they are part and parcel of Brixham’s history.
Many provincial towns throughout the country have their own local museum and Brixham is no exception.
Initially founded in 1957 it moved to its present home in 1976. The former police station was built in 1902 and comes complete with its own prison cell.
Its collection starts with finds from caves within the town and then continues through to the days when the Napoleonic forts of Berry Head were manned and of course its fishing heritage.
There are models of the red-sailed fishing boats and even a display of the British Seamans’ (Orphan) Boys Home who used to parade through the streets of the town every Sunday morning.
There’s the usual displays of what life used to be like in days gone by including items from the two world wars.
Volunteers do a great job in helping out, not only in the museum but with archaeological digs at Berry Head’s Napoleonic Forts with displays showing some of the things that have been found.
One thing that the museum is particularly proud of is winning the Telegraph Family Friendly Museum Award for 2013, so if you’ve got kids with you don’t think it’s not worth coming along because there’s plenty for them to do here.
One of the things that disappoints visitors when they come to Brixham is the fact that there’s no public access to the Fishing Port. Health & Safety is paramount these days and being a busy working area it’s understandable that it wouldn’t be desirable for visitors to wander freely around the fishing harbour.
However, there are still a few ways that you catch some of the action. Firstly, the best way in my view, but not the most practical for most visitors, is to take a morning tour of the Fish Auction (see my separate tip - link below).
Secondly, and the cheapest option because it’s free, is to climb the steps to the Viewing Platform. This viewing platform is on the northern arm of the Inner Harbour and overlooks the southern arm of the Fishing Harbour, and the third option is to go for a drink in the Crab Quay House, where there’s an upstairs outside terrace which overlooks the Fishing Harbour.
Depending on the time you visit will depend on how many boats you'll see. About a hundred use the port but you’ll probably only see around a dozen or so (more if the conditions are bad) but there’s constant coming and going. At the base of the blue Viewing Platform are some sketches of the 4 main types of Brixham trawlers that use the port and it would be worth checking them out to see if you can identify them.
Henry Francis Lyte was born in Scotland, brought up in Ireland, and died in France. Of his 54 years on earth he spent 23 of them in Brixham.
He was ordained in 1815, married Anne Maxwell in 1818, and came to Brixham in 1824 where he became vicar of All Saints Church.
He had a keen interest in the local fishing families and as well as writing hymns and poems for them he would also greet the fishing boats on their return to harbour.
For much of his life he was dogged by poor health but thanks to his wife’s income he was able to go to sunnier climes to convalesce every so often, and no doubt it was also thanks to his wife that they were able to purchase a former military hospital at Berry Head.
Although he wrote other well known hymns, such as ‘Praise my soul the King of Heaven’ it was here at Berry head that he wrote the most famous one of all - ‘Abide with Me’
Suffering from TB he wrote the hymn as darkness fell over the water which may help to explain some of his words…
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
He finished writing it on the Sunday he gave his farewell sermon at All Saints and on the next day he left for Italy to try and regain his health. He never made it and died in Nice on 20th Nov 1847.
When news of his death reached Brixham the fishermen asked Lyte’s son-in-law to hold a memorial service and at that service ‘Abide with Me’ was sung for the first time.
It was sung to Lyte’s original tune but the tune that most people know was written by Henry Monk and known as ‘Eventide’ and Lyte’s is seldom used.
Well known throughout the world the hymn is often sung at the Remembrance Service and FA Cup Final in the UK.
It was a favourite of King George V and sung at King George VI’s wedding and also at Queen Elizabeth II’s.
The present day All Saints Church was re-built in his honour in 1884 and for over a hundred years has rung out ‘Abide with Me’ every evening at 8pm
The Vicarage at Berry Head is now a hotel open to the public where you can sit on the outside terrace and enjoy the same views that Henry Francis Lyte did.
Whether you want to contemplate what was going through his mind if you’re here when “Fast Falls the Eventide” I’ll leave up to you.
If you fancy a walk around Brixham without having to negotiate the hills and steps you could do worse than take a walk out to the Breakwater.
If you’re starting out from the Fish Quay you can circumnavigate the Inner Harbour and walk past the Marina until you reach the Breakwater.
The Breakwater is half a mile long with views over the Marina and Brixham on one side and out into Torbay on the other. At the end is a small lighthouse, the original of which was erected in 1878. The present one was constructed in 1916.
It’s a good spot to watch the fishing boats coming and going out of the port and if you’re an angler it’s a good spot to catch your own.
Of course, if you walk out to the lighthouse you’ll have to walk back, but there’s a nice little bistro next to the small beach, should you want something to help keep you going back to the harbour.
On your way back make sure you check out the D Day slipways, Lifeboat, Heritage Fleet pontoon and the Coastguard - if you hadn’t already done so on your way over.
The walk is on the level all the way round but if you just want to walk along the Breakwater there is a pay and display car park at the beginning.
When King James II of England & Ireland (VII of Scotland) came to the throne in 1685 there was a distinct threat that he would try to revert the kingdom back to Catholicism.
His opponents therefore decided to encourage William of Orange to deal with the problem as they considered he had a justifiable claim to the throne through his wife Mary - and so it was that he left Holland on 1st Nov 1688 on the first stage of his ‘Glorious Revolution’.
Along with around 15,000 Dutchmen and some 5,000 horses he landed at Brixham on 5th Nov in his ship ‘Brill’ stating that “The Liberties of England and the Protestant Religion I will Maintain”.
He spent his first night in an old fisherman’s house in Middle St. and then moved on to Exeter. By the time he reached London James had fled to France and on 11th April 1689 he became joint monarch as William III with his wife Mary.
It was the last successful invasion of England and the only time that there’s been a joint monarch. In reality it was William who pulled the strings and his wife played second fiddle.
Not everything went his way though and there was considerable resistance from the natives of Scotland and Ireland where many people supported James. Eventually he dealt with the ex-King once and for all when he defeated him at the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland on 1st July 1690. James fled back to France for the last time but the legacy of that battle still lives on to this day.
If you come to Brixham you’ll find two landmarks that commemorate William’s arrival in England and both can be found around the Inner Harbour. Firstly there is a monument, near the old fish market, which says “On this stone and near this spot William Prince of Orange first set foot on his landing in England Fifth November 1688”
Although this obelisk is probably the most important from a historical point of view it’s the statue opposite the Bullers Arms that seems to attract more attention.
This statue of King Billy (as he’s known in some communities of N. Ireland and Scotland) was erected on the 200th anniversary of his landing and each year on a Saturday close to Nov 5th a Loyal Orange Lodge from Plymouth hold a commemorative weekend.
It has to be said though that it’s only a place of pilgrimage for a relatively small number of people.
The Breakwater at Brixham protects the Marina, Fishing Harbour and the Inner Harbour and it’s the Inner Harbour that most people get to see.
Separated from the gated fishing harbour the inner harbour is flanked by shops, bars and restaurants of varying degrees of quality.
In the harbour itself the boat that is most likely to attract your immediate attention is the replica of the Golden Hind, the original of which took Sir Francis drake around the globe.
It was a Dutch ship though that brought William of Orange to Brixham in November 1688 before gaining the English throne the following spring. There is a monument not far from the original Fishmarket and a statue opposite the Bullers Arms to commemorate the occasion.
Near to the statue is what’s known as Artists Corner which is self explanatory really.
There aren’t any real architectural gems around the harbour but most are in harmony with the setting. A lot of the shops cater for the tourist trade which means that the summer can get very busy with visitors. A fair number of establishments close up for the winter but it doesn’t die completely because the fishermen who come ashore see to that.
No visit to Brixham would be complete without walking out to Torbay’s southern arm - Berry Head.
This limestone plateau is a National Nature Reserve with around 500 different types of plant and 28 species of butterfly.
Looked after by the Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust your first port of call should be the Visitor Centre in the Guardhouse which also includes an excellent café.
Armed with all the information you need you’ll soon realise there’s more to this headland than just being a nature reserve.
Limestone has always been a valuable source of stone and Berry head was extensively quarried for around 300 years and some of it was used in the construction of the forts that were erected here during the Napoleonic Wars.
There were supposed to have been 3 forts but only 2 were built - The Northern Fort and the Southern Fort. As you walk along the headland though you will soon understand why Berry Head has always been used as a defensive position. From an Iron Age Fort, through Roman times to the 2nd WW there has always been something here to protect these shores. There’s even a Cold War bunker here.
As you walk along the promontory you’ll come to what is Britain’s highest but shortest lighthouse. It’s only 5 metres tall but stands 58 metres above sea level.
When you reach the end there is a sheer unfenced drop down into the English Channel so take care especially in windy conditions. The uninterrupted views out to sea will give you the opportunity to see Bottlenose Dolphins, Harbour Porpoises or even a Basking Shark, all of which are often seen around here.
This is also a good vantage point to see migrating birds. Some 200 species have been recorded here but not all of them pass by. Berry Head is home to the largest colony of guillemots on the south coast of England and a bird hide has thoughtfully been provided near to the Visitor Centre. If you’ve forgotten your binoculars you can nip into the Visitor Centre and watch the birds on the webcam instead. There are around a thousand ‘Brixham penguins’ as they are known locally, jockeying for position on the cliff ledges below.
At the bottom of the cliffs are caves which are not only used by seals but are also home to one of the last British bastions of the Greater Horseshoe Bat.
If you come up here you may not see a Greater Horseshoe bat, basking shark or even a cirl bunting but what you definitely will see is a fantastic view on all 3 sides from Torbay and the East Devon coast to the north, the South Devon coast to the south and right out across the English Channel ahead. As I said in the beginning - don’t leave Brixham without visiting Berry Head.
This small museum just down the hill from the Brixham Battery was founded in 1999 by Ron Coleman who helped man the Battery during the 2nd WW.
Run by volunteers it’s free to visit, but you’d have to be a bit hard hearted not to chip in a small donation before leaving.
The museum may not be big in size but it’s an absolute Aladdin’s cave of memorabilia, not just from the Battery, but the 2nd WW in general. It’s one of those places that you know that you would need to go back to because you can’t possibly take it all in the first time. If I tell you that the volunteers themselves don’t even know all what they’ve got that should tell you something.
The Brixham Battery Heritage Group, as they like to be known, don’t just look after the museum but are also helping to restore the Battery’s landmarks.
You won’t find a more energetic, enthusiastic and friendly bunch of people anywhere - and if they’re prepared to give up their time to show you around then you will be all the poorer for visiting Brixham and not giving up some of your time and not coming here.
Just be aware of the opening times though. They’re open every Sunday, Monday and Friday from 2pm-4pm all year.
If you walk from the Fish Quay in Brixham Harbour and through Freshwater car park you will arrive at Battery Gardens.
The area is fairly uncultivated but it’s worth the walk if only for the ‘Grandstand’ views - and it was for this reason that it became one of the 116 batteries that were hastily built up and down the country after the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940.
It had been used as a defensive position from as far back as 1588 when there was a threat from the Spanish Armada, but what we see here today is mostly remnants from World War 2.
There were two Batteries in Torbay - one at Corbyn Head, which covered Torbay’s beach areas - and Brixham, which was able to cover an area further out into Lyme Bay.
Armed initially by the Royal Artillery, the Battery became more and more dependent on the local Home Guard as the threat of invasion receded. There were as many as 250 personnel based here but on average it was more likely to be around a hundred or so.
Of the 116 Batteries that were built only 7 remain and Brixham is reckoned to be the most complete.
If walking around here has whetted your appetite to find out more then make sure you visit the excellent Brixham Battery Heritage Museum situated in the ATS Hut at the bottom of Fishcombe Rd. (Sunday, Monday & Friday afternoons)
If you continue down the lane next to the museum you will come out at Fishcombe Cove and from there you can walk along the lower level of Battery Gardens back towards the harbour.
This looks like an interesting place to visit but unfortunately on the day I was there it was on its winter hours of only being open from 10am to 1pm. During the summer it's open 10-4 Tuesday to Friday and 10-1 on Saturdays. Adult admission is £2.00 and accompanied children get free entry.
UPDATE 2012 - Had a rainy day visit and spent a pleasant hour here. Friendly staff and lots of local memorabilia, mostly connected with the town's heritage as a port. The building is the former police station and one of the exhibits is a reconstructed cell, complete with groaning prisoner who it appears has been locked up for the night for drunkeness - no It wasn't me!!
The website gives a good overview.
The Torbay area has been served by Lifeboats since 1866 with Brixham providing the base for the lifeboat. The Station has two Lifeboats - a Severn Class - Operational Number 1255 - Class Number 17-28 and D-651 which is an inflatable. The Severn Class boat (see photograph) was named on the 18th August 2002 as the 'RNLB Alec and Christina Dykes' in memory of Mrs Helen Christina Dykes whose bequest covered almost half of the build cost.
The Dutchman William Prince of Orange, afterwards William III King of Great Britain & Ireland landed near this spot 5th November 1688 with a large mercenary army with the intention of overthrowing the catholic King James II of England. Upon landing he and issued his famous declaration “The Liberties of England and the Protestant Religion I Will Maintain”. The statue was erected in 1889 to celebrate the bicentenary of Prince William of Orange's 1688 landing.
The Brixham memorial is in the form of a Celtic cross atop a square plinth, which bears the following inscription “In grateful remembrance of our heroic fellow citizens who sacrificed their lives in the World Wars 1914-1919. 1939-1945. “Their name liveth for evermore””. On the base the memorial has four bronze panels - two for each war.