Published: 4 February 2015
Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust in conjunction with Brixham Heritage Museum have an exciting new community project culminating at Berry Head National Nature Reserve this summer. Curator Dr Philip Armitage suggested, for the 2015 celebrations of the battle of Waterloo, the installation of a replica Napoleonic-era naval signalling mast within the South Fort at Berry Head. In addition on the 24th July, it will be exactly 200 years since Napoleon arrived in Torbay on board HMS Bellerophon.
The project aims to use traditional methods and local craftsmen to build a replica Napoleonic signal mast which will replace the mast that was removed from Berry Head in 2013. The wood for the mast will be sourced from larch trees in The Grove woodlands, Churston (only a short distance from its final destination in the South Fort at Berry Head), and will be felled in late January by TCCT Countryside Manager, Chris Lingard and Berry Head Countryside Officer, Noel Hughes.
The transportation of the mast takes the project to new levels, with the felled tree being extracted from the woods by traditional horse logging under the guidance of local experts Dan and John Fisher from Noriker Horse Logging, then floated and towed, courtesy of Nigel Lihou and his boat “Optimist”, from Churston Cove to Galmpton, where Brixham trawler mast makers Mike Ticehurst, Bill Wakeham and their team will be carving the wood over the next few months to form the replica Napoleonic mast.
When complete, the mast will stand 36 feet tall, with a base diameter of 10 inches, narrowing to 6 inches at the top.
Phillip Armitage of Brixham Heritage Museum tells of the history surrounding the signalling mast “In 1794 a chain of signalling stations was established by the Admiralty along the Channel Coast from Land’s End to Poole Harbour, which was later (by 1811) extended along the east coast as far as Calton Hill (Edinburgh). Berry Head station (designated as station number 14) was manned by a half-pay Naval Lieutenant, a midshipman and two able seamen who were tasked with observing and reporting on movements of any enemy (French) warships or merchant vessels off the coast. Messages were communicated from the Berry Head station to the neighbouring stations at Coleton or Dawlish Head by means of combinations of coloured flags or pennants and four black signal balls displayed at the signalling mast.”
After the summer the signal mast will be converted back into a replica of the Victorian masts that were used for coastguard watches. Most of these masts are now redundant skeletons, scattered along the British coastline, totems to the rich history of naval tradition in Britain.
It is with vast thanks to the generous donations of time, resources and skills from the following; Mike Ticehurst, Bill Wakeham, David Chopping, John Marshall, John Wilkinson, John Smith on the mast shaping team, horse loggers Dan and John Fisher, and Dr Phillip Armitage that this project is able to take place. Also thanks to Brixham Harbour Office for permitting mooring of the timber until transfer round to Galmpton.