Beyond the Library…The 18th Century Snapshot of Barnstaple

Beyond the Library…The 18th Century Snapshot of Barnstaple

One of our favourite items from across our collections is our 18th Century oil painting of Barnstaple which can be found taking pride of place in the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon.

Hanging on the wall over looking the staircase in our old building, the painting is by an unknown artist and is believed to have been painted around 1730 or 1740. An artist’s impression of Barnstaple, Pilton and surrounding area of the time, not much else is known about the painting itself. However, there are paintings at Dunster Castle over the County border in Somerset which look similar in style to this painting which may have been done around the same time as ours.

Barnstaple (Colour)b

It must have been relatively expensive for whoever commissioned it and must have been carried out after 1723 when the Square the museum now stands in was created! Before the early eighteenth century the Square was little more than a marshy area which flooded with high tide – not the most picturesque entrance to the town if you were coming from the ancient bridge.

You can see two spires in the painting, one belongs to the Church of St. Peter’s (the artist clearly painted it without its characteristic twist) and the other belongs to St. Nicholas Chapel or Quay Hall. The Chapel stood at the corner of Cross Street and the Strand and was next to the town’s west gate. In th sixteenth century the chapel was purchased by the Mayor and Corporation and used as a warehouse for imported goods.

Oil Painting - Spires

The spires of St. Peter’s Church and St Nicholas Chapel

The seventeenth century had been a very prosperous time for Barnstaple and evidence of this can still be seen today in the stunning seventeenth century plaster ceiling in 62 The Bank – next door to the Royal and Fortescue Hotel in Boutport Street. Barnstaple made one of its fortunes in the wool trade and the manufacture of woollen goods. Barnstaple Baize was a well-known material.

Although the trade took a significant downward turn in later part of the eighteenth century (especially around the time of the American War of Independence in 1775) the beginning of the century saw Barnstaple become one of only eight ports in the country allowed to trade in Irish wool.

The painting conveys a sense of a compact and bustling town with lots going on, ships coming up and down the river, the drying racks in Pilton for the wool trade, the sheep on marshy Anchor Wood, the pack-horse making its way across the bridge.




The town today has spread far beyond its original confines of Boutport Street and the river a process which started roughly a century later. More land was reclaimed to create Taw Vale and Rock Park. New buildings were erected in the Square to provide a “fitting entrance” to Barnstaple from the ancient bridge which was also widened. The remaining gates and Quay Hall were demolished to make way for new buildings, the railway came and along with it an iron bridge across the river, parts of which can still be seen at low tide. The railway also lead to the expansion of the town on the other side of the river, in what was a part of Tawstock.


If you were to paint a picture of the town today the fields in the foreground would show Barnstaple’ industrial heritage in the form of the Shapland buildings. The background of hills and fields would be partially covered with houses from the estates built in the 1950s and 60s and that is just the start.

It is a snapshot in time and well worth a second or third look…

…Barum Athena

Samuel Trick – The Barnstaple Grammar Old Boy

Samuel Trick – The Barnstaple Grammar Old Boy

A few years ago we were visited by the relatives of Samuel Trick who died serving his country in World War One, just a few weeks before the start of the Battle of Passchendaele. The family were looking for the letters he wrote to his former school – Barnstaple Grammar School where he had been a scholarship student before the war. The letters chronicled his time during training and his subsequent deployment to France and Belgium.

He originally joined the Devonshire Regiment before being transferred to the Machine Gun Corps.

I have been transferred to the Machine Guns and have, in fact, been here in Grantham since the 12th May…From morn till evening, we hear nothing but the pip-pip-pip of the guns, and sometimes the boom of a hand grenade.”

I was disappointed when I first came here, at getting marked “unfit.” To-day, however, I went before a Medical Board, and was marked “fit,” so I shall be able to see some Active Service after all; I hope so at any rate.

Rock Magazine, July 1916

July 1916 Vol1 No12

Rock Magazine, July 1916

Samuel’s next letters were published in the April edition of the school magazine in 1917,

I have not made any steps towards a commission, as I think I shall do better in the ranks. Training in a cadet battalion would take some time and I am longing to go overseas. I have had over a year’s training as it is. I am shortly getting my stripes as a Transport Sergeant.

Rock Magazine, April 1917

His next letter was written from France.

We are waiting now for the time when we shall go up to the line. I have a couple of decent chums, and we are having a good time…I am getting on with the French I learnt with you – helped out, of course, with a little pidgin English. The country round here reminds me of our Exmoor, while some sandhills not far off remind me of Saunton – so I am really quite at home with the surroundings.

Rock Magazine, April 1917

Rock Magazine April 1917

Rock Magazine, April 1917

Samuel’s last letters to the school were published in the same magazine as his obituary. He wrote of a “terrific thunderstorm” and about meeting up with people he knew…

I have met several old comrades from different companies. These unexpected meetings are often sad as well as joyful. The other day, for example, I heard my name shouted, and, turning around, recognised an old comrade who was in my company nearly a year ago. He told me that the company had lost a good many men who I knew. He himself had only just left the hospital. These things make you think and feel tired of it all at times.

Rock Magazine, July 1917

In another letter he wrote

I have not had a day’s sickness for nearly twelve months…Yes! things look a bit brighter now.”

Rock Magazine, July 1917

In his last letter to his old school Samuel wrote from Belgium.

The country here is very flat, but at this time of the year rather pretty – except where the enemy artillery has devastated the country-side. I passed through a village the other day where every house was shattered, church, wayside shrines, everything.

Rock Magazine, July 1917

He ended his last letter…

I am glad to say I am well. I hope the old School is still “going strong”

S. Trick (Belgium)

Rock Magazine, July 1917

His obituary in the school magazine covered three pages. Samuel had not had the easiest of times during his schooling having to leave on a few occasions due to ill-health and financial pressures. This did not seem to stop him however, as he finished his schooling and had become a student teacher at Barnstaple’s Holy Trinity Boys’ School by the time war had broken out. A post he remained in until the July of 1915 when he joined the Devons.

He was 20 years old when he died.

It is with great grief that we have just received the sad news that “Sammy” Trick was badly wounded on July 10th, and died very soon after admission to the Hospital.

Rock Magazine, July 1917

Tributes to Samule Trick were also paid in both the local newspapers. The North Devon Herald had the following article.

Samuel Trick NDH 1917-07-19 8b (2)

North Devon Herald 19th July 1917 page 8 column b

If you would like to read the published letters in full or learn more about our collections and ways to view them please visit our website or contact us.

…Barum Athena

Discover Jane Austen…On Our Shelves!

Discover Jane Austen…On Our Shelves!

When you think of Jane Austen, Devon is probably not the first thing which comes to mind. It is more likely to be the novels she wrote, the characters she created and the world she and they inhabited. Elizabeth and Mr Darcy of Pride and Prejudice, Anne and Captain Wentworth of Persuasion, Elinor and Edward Ferris of Sense and Sensibility to name but a few.

She has captured the imagination of millions of readers over the years and given the more modern reader a glimpse into the past. You can find out more about Jane and the world she lived in through our library.

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A Memoir of Jane Austen by her nephew [92/AUS]

In 1870 her nephew, James Edward Austen Leigh, wrote “More than half a century has passed away since I, the youngest of the mourners, attended the funeral of my dear aunt Jane in Winchester Cathedral” His Memoir of his “dear aunt Jane”, which also contains a deleted chapter of Persuasion along with copies of Lady Susan and The Watsons, is just one item amongst many which allows us to explore Jane’s life and England of the late 18th and early 19th centuries and the Regency Period.

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Life In Regency England by R.J White [914.2/ENG/WHI]

Life In Regency England by R.J White [914.2/ENG/WHI] is one of a series of books on life in England during different historical periods.  The general collection contains other items covering some of the activities people took part in throughout history. This included visiting the stately homes of England whilst on holiday, just as Elizabeth and the Gardiners did in Pride and Prejudice which lead her back to Mr Darcy and Pemberly. There are also more general history books of England which cover the Regency period as well as items about Hampshire, where Jane spent most of her life, including 5 volumes of the Victoria County History of England covering Hampshire plus an index.

One of the gems of our general history section is The Beauties of England and Wales a series of volumes published in the early part of the 19th century. The volume on Hampshire was published in 1804 when Jane would have been in residence in Bath. Had Jane read the volume on Hampshire she would more than likely have recognised the descriptions of her home county and recognised the illustrations, including this one of Winchester Cathedral.

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The Beauties of England & Wales vol VI [914.2/ENG/BEA/VI]

There are also history and historic guidebooks about Winchester on the shelves which give an idea of what the city was like in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Our Library Collection contains a local section dedicated to our neighbouring counties of Somerset, Dorset and Cornwall. These sections include items about some of the places where Jane stayed and set her books. In fact several of her books feature places in the Southwest. Persuasion sees Anne visit both Bath in Somerset and Lyme Regis in Dorset. Closer to home the Dashwood family in Sense and Sensibility end up living in Devon when they are forced to leave Norland. Over the years Devon has played host to several film and tv adaptations of Jane Austen’s books. Once of the most recent being the BBC production of Sense and Sensibility which used a cottage on the Hartland Abbey estate as the Devon home of the Dashwoods. Jane, herself spent time in south Devon visiting family and her time there may well have given the inspiration for many of the places in Sense and Sensibility.


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Jane wasn’t the only writer in her family, James Edward Austen Leigh was a contributor to a periodical called The Loiterer early copies of which can be found in amongst the general literature section of our library shelves. His biography and memoir can also be found on the general bigoraphy shelves not far from the book he wrote about his aunt.

…Barum Athena

Armed Forces Day 2017 – RMB Chivenor

It’s always nice to get out of the office and take a little of what we do along to an event and last Friday and Saturday saw us do just that. We joined forces with the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon again this year and took a display to the Armed Forces Day exhibition. Last year we were at the event run by the North Devon Veteran’s Association at Pilton College. This year the event was held at a slightly bigger venue – RMB Chivenor!


Armed Forces Day 2017

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Armed Forces Day 2017

The Marines opened up the airfield, once part of the RAF base which was in use until the mid-nineties, to exhibitors and the public in aid of Armed Forces Day on the 24th June. The event itself was held over two days with school children visiting on the Friday and families of the serving marines having a private viewing on the Saturday morning before the gates opened to the general public.



Adam and Sam from the Museum showing some of the students a victory bell made from a piece of a WWII German aircraft

We were set up in a large marquee just off the main runway alongside the North Devon Veteran’s Association and other local organisations including Torrington Museum. We were just inside the marquee which meant we had a spectacular view over the airfield and Taw estuary towards Fremington – when it wasn’t shrouded in mist!


View from the Marquee


Part of the display we put together with the Museum

Since we were at Chivenor we decided to take items from our Chivenor Collections. The Museum took along several items from the Pat Knight Collection which was once housed at Chivenor when it was home to the RAF. These included several bits of crashed aircraft, a piece of shrapnel from a WWII German bomb which came down in the parish of Beaford, an RAF jacket and items from one of the many Air Days the RAF put on during their time at Chivenor.


We took along one of the seven RAF Chivenor Albums which chart the history of Chivenor as a base together with other items including copies of WWII crash reports and accounts of the night a German JU88 mistakenly landed there in 1941 thinking they were in occupied France.

Perhaps one of the biggest highlights of the event was seeing the new search and rescue Coastguard helicopter which spent most of Saturday on the airfield – when it wasn’t called into action.


We had a lovely few days meeting lots of people, many of whom had either served or are currently serving at Chivenor as well as seeing lots of families (many of whom had brought their dog along). But perhaps one of the best parts of the event was getting the opportunity to see the airfield and driving along the runways to get to and from the display area.


You can find more about what we and the Museum got up to over the two days on our Facebook page and Twitter feeds.

For more information about our RAF Chivenor Collection and to read some of the stories and memories of Chivenor as an RAF base click on the Chivenor category or follow the links to the posts below;

The RAF Chivenor Collection

An Unusual Landing

Chivenor & the Torrey Canyon

Rescuing the Rescuers!

…Barum Athena

The RAF Chivenor Collection

One of the most popular collections in our care is the RAF Chivenor Collection. The military base next to the river Taw has been a part of North Devon life for over 70 years and many locals have fond memories of the base.

Our collection covers the history of Chivenor as an aerodrome and airport for North Devon before becoming an RAF base during the Second World War and up to the RAF’s handover of the base to the Royal Marines in 1995.

Chivenor Collection - 01

The gems of the collection are the 7 large photo albums covering Chivenor’s time as a local aerodrome and RAF base. The albums are full of fascinating images and stories including the night a German war plane landed on the runway thinking it had reached occupied France in 1940, the night one of the Search and Rescue helicopters collided with an overhead power cable and ended up in the River Torridge and the Hawker Jets’ involvement with the Torrey Canyon disaster.

The collections also contain histories of some of the various squadrons which were based there over the years, the planes they used and accounts of some of the events the base was involved with over the years. It also includes reminiscences of former personnel who were stationed there.

Chivenor Collection - 07

Another gem from the document collection is the visitor book which dates from 1941 to 1972 and includes signatures of Clement Atlee, Gracie Fields, foreign dignitaries and important locals.

Outside the Chivenor collection we have items about the base and it’s place within North Devon in our Document Collections. Our North Devon Journal Archive contains lots of stories about Chivenor and includes several images in the negative collection – including the helicopter crash, the preparation for the Torrey Canyon run and the official handover of the base to the Royal Marines in 1995. We also have images of the Chivenor and the SAR’s work in a new collection of images we received from the Beaford Archive earlier this year.

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You can also discover more about Chivenor on our shelves as we have a selections of books about Chivenor and other Devon aerodromes on our shelves. We also have books on World War Two and original pamphlets from the War including the work of Coastal Command.

For more information visit our website and search our catalogues.


Rescuing the Rescuers!

Preparing for this year’s Armed Forces exhibition I came across this story about the Air Sea Rescue Helicopter from RAF Chivenor whose crew had a lucky escape…

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Waving boys saw sudden blue flash

Four schoolboys waved to a passing helicopter above Bideford Bridge on Tuesday night, and in the same second there was a vivid blue flash. In front of their eyes the aircraft somersaulted and plunged 50 feet through the air into the River Torridge.

For the four-man crew of the R.A.F.Whirlwind Mark 10, themselves responsible for saving several lives along the North Devon Coast this summer, it was an amazing escape from death.

The aircraft, its tail completely severed by a 33,000-volt electricity cable, came to rest almost submerged in ten feet of water. But its door was facing upwards and one by one the crew scrambled clear.

As two policemen and a fisherman waded into the water to help them to the river bank near Little America hundreds of sightseers converged on the area, drawn by the flash which lit Bideford.


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A second helicopter, piloted by the Chivenor helicopter unit commanding officer, Flight-Lieut. Bob Jones, picked up the badly-shaken crew – Pilot Flight-Lieut. Roger Wain, Master Navigator Gerry Perrell, Master Signaller Dennis Gibson and Junior Technician Ralph Kadby – and flew them back to the aerodrome.

Back in their crewroom, where hot coffee was awaiting them, it was discovered that the most serious injury was merely a bruised eye. All four were on duty again yesterday. But, said Flight-Lieut. Wain: “I can tell you, we must be the luckiest people in North Devon, all four of us.”

The Helicopter had been sent to Bideford to look for a person in the river, however, no-one was found and it was believed that a log floating in the river may have been mistaken for a body. This also meant there were plenty of eyewitnesses to the crash and police officers who were searching for the man on the river bank were able to help the crew of the helicopter back to dry land…

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The fisherman who eye-witnessed the crash, Mr. Roger Davey, of Marland Terrace, Bideford, said: “After the flash the helicopter turned over and went straight into the river.”

The four Bideford schoolboys – Paul Spearman, Norman Raymont, Terry Cudmore, and Mervyn Symons – watched from the bank as Mr. Davey, with Constable Jack Lane and Det.-Consable Peter Ingram, who were helping with the “man in the river” search, raced into the Torridge…

Constable Lane, deep in the water and fully clothed, grabbed two of the crew who were floating in their Mae Wests. Another, after inflating the helicopter dinghy, was pulled ashore, and the fourth reached the river bank unaided.

The accident also, unsurprisingly, caused a blackout in Bideford…

As it snapped, the cable, carrying power from an East-the-Water substation to Clovelly, caused a blackout in that area which lasted for 45 minutes before an alternative supply could be laid on. Some parts of Bideford lost their lights only briefly, and Bideford Town Hall, where the council were in session, was one of the places plunged into darkness.

A follow-up article about the helicopter appeared a week later…

Divers help to raise crashed helicopter

IMG_1291 (3)The ripped and battered remains of the helicopter which crashed into the Torridge last week is to be taken to the R.A.F.’s maintenance command…Work on salvaging the wreckage started on Friday and by Saturday the remains were back at R.A.F. Chivenor. The principal part of the operation was performed by an Instow R.E.M.E. unit, led by Major D.F. Dudbridge. Four soldiers, five civilians, and two shallow-water divers were engaged. They were helped by an R.A.F. salvage unit from Pembroke Docks. The full extent of the damage is not yet determined. An inquiry was held on Monday.

The articles were taken from the North Devon Journal-Herald 23rd & 30th September 1965 held in our collections. We also have an RAF Chivenor Collection in our Document collection. For more information read our Chivenor and North Devon Journal posts or visit our website.

…Barum Athena

Beyond the Library…

Beyond the Library…

Not all of our collections are held on-site, when we first opened our doors back in 1888 we were not just a library. We were also a museum and archive for Barnstaple and the North Devon area.

The old NDA building now the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon

Some of the items in our collections had been given to us when we were still the Literary and Scientific Institute (which was set up in 1845). There were many curious items from the local area and beyond.

When we came to move into the newly, purpose-built, library and record office 100 years later our museum items remained behind in our old building. The building had been sold to the district council who turned it into the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon and our museum items put on loan with them.

We also have collections on loan to Barnstaple Town Council in the Guildhall and our partner department, the North Devon Record Office which is now part of the South West Heritage Trust. The document collections on loan to the record office can be accessed within the public space we share with them during our opening hours.

Hawkins Grant of Arms

One of the documents on loan with the record office is the rather colourful Grant of Arms, issued to John Hawkins of Plymouth in 1565/66. It also includes a second grant dated 1571 for Hawkins’ capture of Rio de la Hacha [Riohacha, Colombia] from the Spanish in 1568.

Amongst the items on loan to the Town Council is the Prior’s Ring, which can be seen in the Guildhall. The ring was discovered in Pilton during the nineteenth century and given to the Athenaeum some years later. The ring has inscriptions in both Latin and Hebrew.

The Museum collections contain a wide variety of objects including the most recognisable paintings of Barnstaple done in the early to mid 18th Century. It’s also the painting we use on our website!


There are more items in the stores at the museum than are able to be put on display which is one of the reasons they are currently fundraising to build an extension. To find out more about the museum and the Long-Bridge Wing Extension Project visit the Barnstaple & North Devon Museum Development Trust website.

We will be writing posts about some of the fascinating items you can find beyond the library walls in the future starting with the Oil Painting in the museum.

…Barum Athena