History of Brixham, Devon
Brixham has a fascinating maritime history stretching back a thousand years and more.
The ancient Britons may have launched their coracles from the sheltered beaches and the Romans are thought to have had a watch-tower on Berry Head overlooking the sea route from Lyme Bay to the Southwest.
There are many thrilling stories of smuggling in Brixham with evidence as early as 1645 when the Customs House Officer reported a find of tobacco.
In the 1850s Brixham’s enterprising smugglers took advantage of a cholera epidemic to smuggle out a booty of tobacco and brandy in coffins!
Fishing since Medieval times! It is fishing, however, that has been the lifeblood of the community since the fourteen hundreds and Brixham fishermen were known to be supplying the London markets in the 18th century. In 1688, Brixham was the cradle of the Bloodless Revolution. Prince William of Orange landed at the port and went on to claim the throne as King William III. See if you can spot the statue near the Tourist Information Centre which commemorates the site in both English and Dutch.
Roman artefacts found at Berry Head suggest a long history of sea defence on the headland, but the first evidence of a battery and camp on the site dates from the 1780s. In 1803 work on three substantial forts began, which held a total of 40 canons, interestingly, these were never fired in anger. Many of the remains of these Napoleonic fortifications can be seen today and the guardhouse is now a busy café.
Coastal defence and preservation
In World War Two many Brixham trawlers were requisitioned for the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from France and in 1944 the harbour was one of many along the south coast to be used by the US Army for embarking prior to the invasion of Normandy. The town’s Battery Gardens were an important part of the area’s coastal defences and housed guns manned first by troops but subsequently taken over by the Home Guard.
Of the 116 of these emergency sites set up during the war years, only 7 remain today and Brixham’s is the most important and well preserved of these. In March 2002 this Battery and the site became a scheduled monument Class 1. A volunteer group preserves the Battery and runs an interesting war-time visitor centre at Fishcombe Road.