Torbay Tattoo Tales

Fishing for Tattoo Tales in Brixham

  • Brixham
  • Fishing
  • Fishermen

I’m a blow-in - coming in and out of Torbay on a regular basis, living as I do in Kingsbridge but working a fair bit in Torbay.  The first time I ever came here one thing struck me: there is a lot of art in Torbay - it’s everywhere and it’s gloriously diverse and it’s worn by people.

It seems that a lot of folk get ‘inked’ because they want to wear their heart on their sleeve; to make a mark that celebrates, mourns or remembers a person or experience that has had big impact on them.  And it’s not difficult to find extraordinary people with equally extraordinary tattoos and stories in Torbay.

On a freezingly cold day in Brixham we met a man who had his first tattoo aged 13, and then went on to get a tattoo done by a man who made the tattoo gun from a biro, a volume control from a radio and the motor from an Airfix kit.

Having spent his life at sea, the rope making its way up his arm will move around his back and eventually join the images on his left arm to his right. 

Another fisherman talked about the one-eyed man who taught him about life on the sea and even on his first time on a boat left him in charge to take a nap.  Whilst the then twelve-year-old lad took the helm, the eye would roll around ‘keeping an eye on him’ from the tin.

The Last Trip

It is a big privilege to be meeting people throughout Torbay who are happy to share their tattoo stories with me, they’re so often personal and powerfully moving.  I’m still on the search, looking out for veterans who’d be interested in joining in so that through this exhibition, Torbay will have an amazing record of this partially hidden but vibrant tattoo culture. 

If you would like to get involved or would like more information about the project contact

Photo of Shelley Castle

Written by Shelley Castle

Lead Researcher