1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Brixham

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BRIXHAM, a seaport and market town in the Torquay parliamentary division of Devonshire, England, 33 m. S. of Exeter, on a branch of the Great Western railway. Pop. of urban district (1901) 8092. The town is irregularly built on the cliffs to the south of Torbay, and its harbour is sheltered by a breakwater. Early in the 19th century it was an important military post, with fortified barracks on Berry Head. It is the headquarters of the Devonshire sea-fisheries, having also a large coasting trade. Shipbuilding and the manufacture of ropes, paint and sails are industries. There is excellent bathing, and Brixham is in favour as a seaside resort. St Mary's, the ancient parish church, has an elaborate 14th-century font and some monuments of interest. At the British Seamen's Orphans' home boys are fed, clothed and trained as apprentices for the merchant service. A statue commemorates the landing, in 1688, of William of Orange.

Brixham Cave, called also Windmill Hill Cavern, is a well-known ossiferous cave situated near Brixham, on the brow of a hill composed of Devonian limestone. It was discovered by chance in 1858, having been until then hermetically sealed by a mass of limestone breccia. Dr Hugh Falconer with the assistance of a committee of geologists excavated it. The succession of beds in descending order is as follows:—(1) Shingle consisting of pebbles of limestone, slate and other local rocks, with fragments of stalagmite and containing a few bones and worked flints. The thickness varies from five to sixteen feet. (2) Red cave earth with angular fragments of limestone, bones and worked flints, and having a thickness of 3 to 4 ft. (3) Remnants (in situ) of an old stalagmitic floor about nine inches thick. (4) Black peaty soil varying in thickness, the maximum being about a foot. (5) Angular debris fallen from above varying in thickness from one to ten feet. (6) Stalagmite with a few bones and antlers of reindeer, the thickness varying from one to fifteen inches. Of particular interest is the presence of patches or ledges of an old stalagmitic floor, three to four feet above the present floor. On the under-side, there are found attached fragments of limestone and quartz, showing that the shingle bed once extended up to it, and that it then formed the original floor. The shingle therefore stood some feet higher than it does now, and it is supposed that a shock or jar, such as that of an earthquake, broke up the stalagmite, and the pebbles and sand composing the shingle sunk deeper into the fissures in the limestone. This addition to the size of the cave was partially filled up by the cave earth. At a later period the fall of angular fragments at the entrance finally closed the cave, and it ceased to be accessible except to a few burrowing animals, whose remains are found above the second and newer stalagmite floor.

The fauna of Brixham cavern closely resembles that of Kent's Hole. The bones of the bear, horse, rhinoceros, lion, elephant, hyena and of many birds and small rodents were unearthed. Altogether 1621 bones, nearly all broken and gnawed, were found; of these 691 belonged to birds and small rodents of more recent times. The implements are of a roughly-chipped type resembling those of the Mousterian period. From these structural and palaeontological evidences, geologists suppose that the formation of the cave was carried on simultaneously with the excavation of the valley; that the small streams, flowing down the upper ramifications of the valley, entered the western opening of the cave, and traversing the fissures in the limestone, escaped by the lower openings in the chief valley; and that the rounded pebbles found in the shingle bed were carried in by these streams. It would be only at times of drought that the cave was frequented by animals, a theory which explains the small quantity of animal remains in the shingle. The implements of man are relatively more common, seventeen chipped flints having been found. As the excavation of the valley proceeded, the level of the stream was lowered and its course diverted; the cave consequently became drier and was far more frequently inhabited by predatory animals. It was now essentially an animal den, the occasional visits of man being indicated by the rare occurrence of flint-implements. Finally, the cave became a resort of bears; the remains of 334 specimens, in all stages of growth, including even sucking cubs, being discovered.

See[edit]

  • Sir Joseph Prestwich, Geology (1888).
  • Sir John Evans, Ancient Stone Implements of Great Britain, p. 512.
  • Report on the Cave, Phil. Trans. (Royal Society, 1873).