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Brixham ( ) is a small fishing town and civil parish in the county of Devonmarker, in the south-west of Englandmarker. Brixham is at the southern end of Torbaymarker, across the bay from Torquaymarker, and is a 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. It has a focal tourist attraction in the replica of Sir Francis Drake's ship the Golden Hind that is permanently moored there.

In summer the Cowtown carnival is held, a reminder of when Brixham was two separate communities with only a marshy lane to connect them. Cowtown was the area on top of the hill where the farmers lived, while a mile away in the harbour was Fishtown, where the seamen lived. Cowtown, the St Mary's Square area, is on the road leaving Brixham to the south west, in the direction of Kingswearmarker, upon which stands a church built on the site of a Saxon original. The local Royal British Legion club is also here. The main summer attraction in Cowtown is the Hap'nin in St. Mary's Park, an annual music event, with local bands, that takes place in mid July.


Although there is evidence of Ice age inhabitants here , and probable trading in the Bronze age, the first evidence of a town comes from Saxon times. It is possible that Saxon settlement originated by sea from Hampshire in the sixth century, or overland around the year 800.

Brixham was called Briseham in the Domesday Book. Its population then was 39.

Brixham was part of the former Haytor Hundred. The population was 3,671 in 1801 and 8,092 in 1901. In 1334 the town's value was assessed at one pound, twelve shillings and eightpence; by 1524 the valuation had risen to £24 and sixteen shillings. It is recorded as a borough from 1536, and a market is recorded from 1822.

William Prince of Orange (afterwards King William III of Great Britainmarker & Irelandmarker) landed in Brixham with his mainly Dutchmarker army, on 5 November 1688, during the Glorious Revolution, and issued his famous declaration "The Liberties of England and The Protestant Religion I Will Maintain". 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 'passage' 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 Totnesmarker Priory. Lichfield Drive was the route that the dead (from the Anglo-Saxon ‘lich’ meaning a corpse) were taken for burial at St Mary’s churchyard. Salutation Mews, near the church, dates from when England was Catholic, and the salutation was to the Virgin Mary. Similarly, Laywell Road recalls Our Lady’s Well. The first building seen when coming into Brixham from Paigntonmarker is the old white-boarded Toll House where all travellers had to pay a fee to keep the roads repaired.

The tower of All Saints' Church, founded in 1815, stands guard over the town. The composer of Abide With Me, 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 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.

Many of Brixham's photogenic cottages above the harbour were oringinally inhabited by fishermen and their families. Near the harbour is the famous Coffin House mentioned earlier. Many of the dwellings towards Higher Brixham were built largely between the 1930s to 1970s. Several Holiday camps were built in this area, for example Pontins Wall Park and Doplhin. The Dolphin was one of the companys biggest camps. The camp closed in 1991 after fire destroyed the main entertainments building.

Brixham was served by the short Torbay and Brixham Railway from Churstonmarker. 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. Although the former line to Brixham is deserted and overgrown, the branch line through nearby Churston is now maintained and operated as a heritage railway by a team of volunteers as the Paignton and Dartmouth Steam Railwaymarker.


Looking west across Brixham Harbour
Brixham is also notable for being the town where the fishing trawler was improved in the 19th century; their distinctive sails inspired the 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 of England. Known as the 'Mother of Deep-Sea Fisheries'. Its boats helped to establish the fishing industries of Hullmarker, Grimsbymarker and Lowestoftmarker. In the 1890s there were about 300 trawling vessels in Brixham, most individually owned. The trawlers can still 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 are explained. The modern boats are diesel-driven, but several of the old sailing trawlers have been preserved.

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 10 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 determine 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.

Brixham brekwater and lighthouse
Hearing of this tragedy, the citizens of Exetermarker 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 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.

Smuggling 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 ("Resurrection Bob"), 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 Sandpiper birds. During the Second World War, a ramp 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 Headmarker with a lighthouse, Iron Age Fort and National Nature Reserve.


Warships have been seen in Torbay from the days of the Vikings up until 1944 when part of the D-Day fleet sailed from here. In 1588 Brixham watched Sir Francis Drake attacking the Spanish Armada after he had (so the legend goes) finished his game of bowls on Plymouth Hoemarker. 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 Channelmarker 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 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 Francemarker, 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 Hornblower, 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 Lord St. Vincent, Cornwallis, Hood, Rodney and Hawke. There was also 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, spent several days off Brixham waiting to be taken to exile on St. Helena.

Battery Gardensmarker 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.


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 Dagenhammarker to make steel for 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 sea water. It was boiled in great caldrons, together with tar, tallow and 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.


On 17 May 2007 Brixham Parish Council was reestablished after a forty year gap, having previously had its affairs run by Torbay Council. In its first meeting the council changed its name to Brixham Town Council per the Local Government Act 1972. Its duties are those of a standard English civil parish. Its members as of May 2007 were:

  • Chris Bedford (Conservative) Council Chair
  • Gordon Boote (Independent) Chair - Community Services Committee
  • Vic Ellery (Independent)
  • Brian Harland (Independent)
  • Nick Henderson (Independent) Chair - Regeneration Committee
  • Martyn Hodge (Conservative)
  • Stuart John (Conservative)
  • Peter Killick (Independent)
  • Chris Lomas (Independent) Council Vice Chair
  • Mike Morey (Independent)
  • Jackie Stockman (Independent)
  • Paul Addison (Independent) Chair - Finances and General Purposes Committee

The late, former British Prime Minister, James Callaghan was educated partly at Furzeham Primary School.


Brixham is home to the Brixham Archers .This is the biggest archery club in the bay and shoots at the Brixham Cricket Club. The Archery club was formed in 1969 and has been successful at county and national level competitions.

In 1874 Brixham Rugby union Football Club was founded and became one of the founder members of Devon RFU of which only 6 clubs are now left. They played Rugby on Furzeham Green until 1896 when they moved their present ground in New Gate Park (now Astley Park). the club will play their league fixtures in the Southwest 2 west division of English rugby.

Teenage footballer Dan Gosling, of Everton, was born and raised in Brixham, and is the fourth-youngest player to have ever played for Plymouth Argyle aged 16 years and 310 days.

Brixham is home to the long standing and highly respected Brixham Amateur Boxing Club, currently owned by Sean Webber. It's building has stood just off Castor Road now for more than 200 years, having originally been a farm's outer-barn.For the past thirty years Brixham ABC has been open as a AMB Boxing Gym until summer 2009 in which Sean Webber of the World Freestyle Association (W.F.A), took over.


The train station in Brixham on the Torbay & Brixham Railway served Brixham until the Brixham Line was closed in 1963 and the remains of the line today operate between Paignton, Goodrington, Churston and Kingswear as a Steam Railway.

The main bus route in Brixham is the 12 Bayline operated by Stagecoach Devon. It runs between the Town Square in Brixham to Newton Abbot via Paignton and Torquay and runs every 10 minutes at peak times and every 15-20 minutes off peak. The first buses are around 06:00 and the last buses are between 23:30 and 00:00.

Local services 15, 16, 17, 17A, 22 and 24 run within the town, all terminating at the Town Square, or, locally known as Bank Lane. These town services run 30 minutes to hourly services and 17, 17A and 22 running seven days a week from early in the morning to late in the evening. The 15, 16 and 24 operate less frequently and only Monday to Saturday between around 09:00 and 18:00.

There are also services 12A and 66 in Brixham operating only Monday to Friday and providing a service to South Devon College. The 12 and 66 are the only services which don't terminate or stop at the Town Square but rather terminate and start service at Bolton Cross, at the end of Glenmore Road.


  1. "Overgang" at (retrieved 17 January 2009)
  3. Brixham Archers

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