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Histiry_06_Berry Head image
There have always been smugglers at Brixham. It 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, could not run away because he had gout and was hidden in a coffin, but later that same night the coastguards were frightened by meeting what they thought was his ghost. Another old 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 funereal muffled hooves.

If you explore the picturesque narrow streets, you will see how the smugglers could dodge the preventive men, by running up the steps, going through the old courts and alleys, slipping from house to house, in at the front door and climbing out of a back window. The town might all have been specially designed for the purpose.
Ever since the days of Henry VIII Brixham has played a part in the defence of the Nation. The beautiful headland known as Berry Head is now a National Nature Reserve, but it is also a famous 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, when we were at war with France, 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 summer, conducted tours of the forts are carried out every Wednesday afternoon by the Berry Head Master Gunner. For further information call 01803 654416.