Thursday, 26 April 2018

Our Great Elizabethan at Lympstone

I don’t usually blow my own trumpet, but Lympstone History Society asked me to publish this poster and the event is on the Raleigh 400 calendar, so why not?

And here’s a photo of the speaker with the Great Elizabethan during that recent cold spell. 

It didn’t last long and the thaw was quite sudden. When I went out into the garden next morning to check up on my snowman was I saw that his head was lying on the ground. 



Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Matching the Millais in 2018

Matching the Millais

As you should know by now, a famous painting will be displayed at the museum when when Fairlynch opens its doors on 28 May for the Raleigh 400 exhibition.  But it’s also being staged on Budleigh beach.  

Victorian artist Sir John Everett Millais painted his masterpiece in 1870, showing the young Walter Raleigh, the future favourite courtier of Queen Elizabeth I, and his half-brother Humphrey Gilbert listening to a sailor’s tales of exotic voyages. The painting, part of Tate Britain’s collection, will be on display for three months until 31 August.

Sir John Everett Millais, a self-portrait, as reproduced in the artist’s biography published by his son John Guille Millais who was also a successful artist

Adding to celebrations on the opening day of the exhibition, members of the town’s Art Club have set themselves the challenge of recreating the scene painted by Millais. And a few additional characters will be making an appearance in the tableau, including the artist with his easel, an adult Sir Walter himself on horseback and his mother Katherine Champernowne, all in period costume. 

The part of Katherine Champernowne will be played by Rosemary Griggs, pictured, a retired senior civil servant who now has time to indulge a lifelong interest in history.  She regularly gives talks in costume and in character as Lady Katherine at Compton Castle, and also talks to other groups. 

Rosemary has done much research into Katherine’s life in Devon, and her family and will be available to chat informally with visitors to the tableau and the museum. ‘I can also include details of my costume - people are often fascinated by it,’ she says.   

The Queen Mother's carriage, surmounted by her crown, adorned with camellias from her own gardens and draped in her personal standard, travels down to Westminster Abbey for her funeral on 30 March 2002

Sir Walter on horseback will be played by Rob Batson, of Budleigh Salterton Riding School. A former captain with the King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery, in 2002, he led the guard which escorted the coffin of the Queen Mother on the George Gun from Westminster Hall to the service in nearby Westminster Abbey.

‘There will be reflections,’ he was quoted as saying at the time, after the funeral of such a much-loved member of the royal family.  ‘I have some time off to get to grips with what has happened and being part of history.’ 

On this occasion, for the re-creation of the ‘Boyhood’ scene, Rob Batson will be riding Doughnut, his faithful 20-year-old mount who has the distinction of taking part in the Trooping of the Colour. 

The Budleigh Salterton event will be on a much smaller scale, but he will again be playing a historic role. Sir Walter Raleigh, among his many achievements and offices,  was a loyal Captain of the Guard for the first Queen Elizabeth. 

Local families have been keen to respond to the challenge by providing models for the two children in the original painting. Eleven-year-old twins Frank and Henry Southan from Budleigh Salterton had their heads shaved last year to raise funds for cancer charity Macmillan Cancer Support.  Now the boys, pupils at St Peter’s Church of England Primary School in Budleigh, are ready to help the museum project by taking part in the tableau and encouraging visitors to see the original painting at Fairlynch.

Playing the part of young Walter Raleigh, as he listens to the stories which supposedly inspired him to found the first English-speaking colony in the New World, will demand real acting skills, thinks Henry. ‘Lots of people will be taking photos of the scene, so it’s important for us all to have the right expressions,’ he points out.

Gender will not be a limiting factor in the tableau. ‘Purists might object but I can’t see any reason why the children shouldn’t be girls, or a boy and a girl,’ said organizer and Art Club member John Washington, who will play the part of Millais.

Budleigh Brownies are among the local groups who have been approached for candidates to play the part of Walter and his half-brother.

The original painting will go back to Tate Britain at the end of August, but Fairlynch volunteers and Art Club members organizing the tableau are sure that images of this new Raleigh-inspired masterpiece will be treasured by the museum and by many proud parents.

A certain number of places are available for young persons aged 10-14 to play the parts of Walter Raleigh and Humphrey Gilbert in the Raleigh Wall tableau, from 2.00 to 4.00 pm on Monday 28 May. For further details and to book a place please email Fairlynch Museum Trustee Michael Downes via   



Thursday, 19 April 2018

Raleigh 400 in Westminster: 28 October 2018

St Margaret's, Westminster, next to the House of Commons in London: Raleigh's last resting-place  
Image credit: Reinhold Möller

East Budleigh, Oxford, Sherborne, Jersey, Winchester… they’re just some of the places associated with Sir Walter Raleigh. But perhaps the most poignant is St Margaret’s Church, Westminster, where he was buried after his execution on 29 October 1618 in the nearby Palace Yard.

As at the 300th anniversary of Raleigh’s death, when a major commemoration took place, St Margaret’s will hold a special service in 2018.  A Sung Eucharist will be held at 11.00 am on Sunday 28 October, themed around Raleigh’s  life and work. The Dean of Westminster is to preach at this service.

There are also plans for an exhibition of work by young people - teenagers rather than children -  on the theme of Raleigh as a supporter of exploration.

Further details will be announced in due course on St Margaret's website

For many Americans, St Margaret’s is a place of pilgrimage, given Raleigh’s efforts to establish the first English-speaking colony in the New World, an initiative which led to the journey of the Pilgrim Fathers in 1620.

This memorial window over the west door was installed at St Margaret’s in 1882. It was subscribed for by American donors led by J.T.Lord. At the top, angels hold banners with the arms of the United States of America and the Royal Arms. Below, various angels hold other coats of arms and Tudor emblems.

Five figures are shown in the main window - Elizabeth I, Henry, Prince of Wales - son of James I - Raleigh himself, the poet Edmund Spenser and Sir Humphrey Gilbert, the celebrated navigator. Panels represent Raleigh sailing for America, his landing there, Spenser presented to the Queen by Raleigh, his imprisonment and burial. The inscription was composed by James Russell Lowell, US Ambassador in London at the time of the unveiling

Professor Brent Lane at Raleigh’s tomb in St Margaret’s

I’ve received much encouragement in my Raleigh research from Professor Brent Lane, Director of the University of North Carolina (UNC) Center for Competitive Economies and an Adjunct Professor at the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.

In connection with Raleigh 400, Professor Lane is hoping to organize an event at the University of North Carolina’s Winston House facility in London that would include a delegation visiting St. Margaret's.

You can read about Professor Lane’s research into Raleigh’s New World exploration, and the comparison that he makes with 21st century space explorers like Elon Musk and Sir Richard Branson at


Ta very much, Sir Walter!

A Trinidad and Tobago stamp illustrating Raleigh’s discovery of the Pitch Lake in 1595  Image credit: Mark Morgan

People will tell you all kinds of silly stories about how Sir Walter invented potatoes and about his tobacco smoking exploits.  

But have you ever thought about how journeys today are more comfortable thanks in part to one of Sir Walter’s lesser known discoveries?

In 1595, during his exploration of the Caribbean island of Trinidad he found the Pitch Lake, the largest natural deposit of asphalt in the world. Raleigh found the pitch useful for caulking his ships. It was, he wrote ‘most excellent good’, commenting that ‘it melteth not with the sunne as the pitch of Norway’ and noting that it was ‘for ships trading the South parts very profitable.’

Painting by an unknown artist of Raleigh discovering the Pitch Lake

Many years went by before horse-drawn transport gave way to modern vehicles. By the early years of the twentieth century, mechanised road transport was becoming commonplace. The newly developed motorcycles, steam and petrol cars needed a good flat surface on which to run, and Tarmac Limited came up with the solution. 

Originally, to make the road surfacing material in a process developed and patented by Edgar Purnell Hooley in 1902, the company used aggregate mixed with coal tar, a once commonly available by-product from the many town gas works that heated coal in a closed retort. In 1971 Tarmac acquired Limmer and Trinidad, a London based quarry products firm, high quality asphalt from Limmer in Germany and from the Pitch Lake in Trinidad.  Tarmac then became the largest road surfacing contractor and blacktop producer in UK.

Having tried unsuccessfully to persuade various crisp manufacturers to sponsor Fairlynch’s Raleigh 400 exhibition I had hoped that Tarmac might be interested in supporting the Museum. I thought that the story of Raleigh’s little-known discovery of their prize product would be good publicity for the company, but my suggestion was not followed up. Ah well, you can’t win them all.

Described as the 8th Wonder of the World, the Pitch Lake covers about 40 hectares (99 acres) and is reported to be 75 metres deep, containing 10 million tonnes of asphalt. It’s a major tourist attraction with a small museum, attracting about 20,000 visitors annually.

Sir Walter Raleigh's raid on the island of Trinidad in 1595. The captured Spanish Governor, Antonio de Berrio, is being escorted. Engraving by Theodore de Bry

Trinidad was simply a stopping-point for Raleigh on the way to Guiana, now part of modern Venezuela. It was there that he was hoping to discover gold mines which would make his fortune and that of his investors, including Queen Elizabeth I. He failed to find gold, but managed to anger the Spanish by attacking their settlement on Trinidad and capturing the Governor.   

But the dream persisted. Raleigh’s second voyage to Guiana in 1617 was prompted by the same desire to discover the fabled City of Gold and its chief, El Dorado, but that too was a failure and led indirectly to his execution on the orders of King James I.

Some historians believe that Raleigh's greatest accomplishment may have been in creating good relations between the English and the natives of South America. 

Raleigh was keen to learn about the culture of peoples of the New World, as were members of his teams like the artist John White and the scientist Thomas Herriot. 

During the 1595 expedition to Guiana he had befriended the native chieftain Topiawari, making known English hostility to Spain. Spanish invaders had succeeded in alienating large areas of the New World and its tribes. It had been relatively easy for Raleigh to conclude an alliance with the Topiawari, although the latter passed away not long after Raleigh's first voyage. 

But the goodwill remained and future English explorers are said to have benefitted from it.  


Radical Ralegh

The point about Sir Walter Ralegh: historian Anna Beer with Millais’ celebrated 1870 painting at Fairlynch Museum.  Dr Beer’s visi...