Still one of the busiest fishing ports in the UK, Brixham remains a working town. Originally two separate communities, with Cowtown at the top of the hill being where farmers lived and Fishtown, at the bottom, where the seamen lived. The two were connected by a mile-long marshy lane. Nestling in the southern corner of Torbay and protected by Berry Head, the harbour is framed by the colourful cottages, originally built for the fishermen, that line the quaint narrow terraces covering the hillsides.
Coming in to Brixham from Paignton the first building to be seen is the old white-boarded Toll House, where all travellers once had to pay a fee to keep the roads repaired.
In the town, working fishing boats still moor up against the granite quay walls of the inner harbour. Here fishermen mend their nets and make minor repairs. Fish auctions are held on fish quay in the early morning, while boats land their catches here throughout the day and night, to the constant sound of herring gulls circling overhead.
The town's outer harbour is protected by a long breakwater, useful for sea angling. In winter this is a site for Purple Sandpiper birds.
Frequent ferry services for foot passengers operate to Torquay between the months of April and October, the fastest taking 35 minutes.
Although possibly an Ice Age settlement and a trading settlement during the Bronze Age, the first recorded evidence of Brixham’s existence dates from Saxon times. According to the Domesday Book the population numbered 39, a total that had risen to 3,671 in 1801 and 8,092 in 1901, a century later.
During the Middle Ages the town was the largest fishing port in the south west of England, and Brixham boats were to help establish the fishing industries of Hull, Grimsby and Lowestoft.
In later years smuggling proved more profitable than fishing but men, if caught, were hanged.
On 5 November 1688 William of Orange came ashore n Brixham with his army to claim the throne of England, and the road leading up the steep hill from the harbour to where he made his camp is still called Overgang, the Dutch for passage or crossing.
In the 1890s there were about 300 trawling vessels in Brixham, most individually owned.
In addition to fishing, limestone was once quarried. Used to build the breakwater, for houses and roads, it was also shipped to Dagenham to make steel for Ford cars. The old quarries and the limekilns, in which the limestone was burnt to reduce it to a powder to be spread on the land in other parts of Devon as an agricultural fertiliser, can still be seen.
Ochre was another mineral found in Brixham that, when boiled in caldrons with tar, tallow and oak bark, was used to protect the canvas of ships’ sails from seawater. The ochre was also used to make a paint that was the first substance in the world capable of preventing cast iron from rusting. The paint works finally closed in 1961.
Brixham iron mines also once produced high-quality ore, but the last closed in 1925.
The railway, linking the town to Paignton and the main line at Newton Abbot, reached Brixham in 1868, but was closed in May 1963 as part of the Beeching cuts. Part of the line going north from Churston now operates as a heritage steam railway.
Annually, more than £25 million of fish is landed in the town and auctioned at Brixham Fish Market. Regular early morning tours are organised and details can be found in the Listings.
A full size replica of the Golden Hind, the ship in which Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the globe, is moored beside the Market House in Brixham harbour.
Brixham Heritage Museum has, since 1976, been located in what was once the Police Station and Sergeant's House, built 1902, and contains military artefacts, models of Brixham trawlers, a large collection of shipwright’s tools, fishing and navigation equipment, ice age animal bones and prehistoric pottery and more.