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


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.


100 Years of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

On this day in 1917, a Royal Charter was given establishing what is now known as the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC). The cemeteries and graves the Commission look after can found across the world.

The Commission was the brainchild of Sir Fabian Ware who, being too old to fight in World War One, commanded a British Red Cross mobile unit. Whilst serving in France he realised  the need to mark the places where the fallen were buried so they would not be forgotten. By 1915 his work and that of his unit were recognised by the War Office and in 1917 they were given a Royal Charter and the Commission was officially formed.

The Commission had identified around 587,000 graves by 1918 and nearly as many registered casualties whose graves were unknown. After the end of the war the Commission set about creating the cemeteries and memorials we most associate the Commission with today.

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Leading architects of the day were called upon to help design the cemeteries and gravestones and Rudyard Kipling was brought in as literary advisor for the inscriptions.

Twenty years after the Commission received it’s Charter, Ware wrote a book about its work called The Immortal Heritage – An Account of the Work and Policy of The Imperial War Graves Commission during the twenty years 1917-1937. The book includes a brief history of the Commission, alongside pictures of the cemeteries they created and a table showing the distribution of the cemeteries, graves and memorials in their care.

The cemeteries and memorials to the fallen can be found all over the world and include graves and memorials to servicemen and women from North Devon. Men like Jack Haysom (18) who died in India in 1915 whilst serving with the Devonshire Regiment; Serjeant Ernest George Symons of Landkey who was killed at Gallipoli and Lance Corporal Edward Brayley (31) who died during the Battle of Dujailah in Mesopotamia. All were buried in war cemeteries looked after by the Commission.

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The Commission, however, also look after graves much closer to home. In 1937 the Commission were looking after over 88,174 graves across 9,262 burial grounds within Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Barnstaple has 27 World War One graves, Bideford has 15 and Ilfracombe 21 and there are many others scattered across North Devon.

The cemeteries and graveyards of North Devon also contain the graves of those who fell in other conflicts. Barnstaple has another 22 World War Two war graves, including 2 civilian war dead. Wilfred Cater is one of those buried in Barnstaple after he died in training as an RAF Volunteer Reservist in 1941 aged 42. His Brother, Frank, had survived the First World War having seen action with the Royal North Devon Hussars at Gallipoli  before transferring to the Royal Flying Corps and subsequently the Royal Air Force.

13th January 1916 3 b-c RNDH At Gallipoli

Heanton Punchardon has the largest number of war graves in North Devon – 127 in total. The churchyard at St. Augustine is the burial-place for many of the men who were lost from RAF Chivenor during the war. Many of them were members of the Canadian and Australian Air Forces and they also include Czech servicemen who were part of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserves.

No matter where the graves and memorials are located the Commission are charged with their care.

Find Out More

Find out more about the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and Sir Fabian Ware by reading the following items we hold on our shelves

The Silent Cities by Sidney C Hurst [940.4411/HUR] is an illustrated guide to the war cemeteries and memorials in France and Flanders published in 1929

The Immortal Heritage by Fabian Ware [940.411/WAR] published in 1937 is an account of the first twenty years of the Commission

…Barum Athena

Chivenor & the Torrey Canyon

Today marks the 50th anniversary of RAF Chivenor’s involvement in the effort to prevent the oil pouring out of the stricken tanker, Torrey Canyon, drifting to land. In the days leading up to the Torrey Canyon’s grounding the local newspapers reported on several vessels being caught out in the rough seas and holes being punched in sea walls.

On the 18th March 1967 the Torrey Canyon ran aground near the Seven Stones off the Isles of Scilly after trying to take a short cut. The stranded ship then started to leak it’s 120,000 ton cargo of oil into the sea causing an environmental disaster.

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The editor of the North Devon Journal-Herald called it a nightmare as the councils of North Devon made plans to deal with any oil which came their way. The coastguards based at Hartland started an around-the-clock vigil looking for any sign that the oil may be heading for the North Devon coast.

On Tuesday 28th March some 26 Hawker Hunter jets from R.A.F. Chivenor were scrambled to help in a plan to sink the Torrey Canyon and deal with the oil by setting it alight. The Royal Navy had already bombed the stricken ship itself to set it alight and sink it, the jets from Chivenor were tasked with dropping 5,200 gallons of fuel on the tanker and surrounding area in a bid to keep the flames burning and burn off any oil in the area.

By the time the first pilots reached Hartland Point, they could see the flames from the Torrey Canyon in the distance. There were dozens of light aircraft and helicopters in the area around the ship, meaning their mission was in the full glare of the public eye.

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The hunters dropped their load on the already burning oil, Squadron Leader Peter Martin told the Journal-Herald “The smoke was fantastic. When we arrived it was rising to about five miles high and then leveling off. Our fuel attack seemed to be having its effect and the sea all around the tanker was on fire. But it did not spread to the oil slick further out to sea.”

On the way back from their mission they looked out for any signs the oil may be heading to the North Devon coast, but thankfully there was little or none past Newquay.

By the beginning of April the worst fears of the North Devon councils were eased as the weather station at Chivenor confirmed there had been a change in wind direction which pushed the oil away from the coast.

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The Torrey Canyon disaster was the first major oil spill from one of the new breed of oil tankers and changed the way the ships were regulated and the way in which oil was cleared up after such an incident. In a bid to return the beaches back to normal as quickly as possible before the tourist season started in earnest, detergent was used to clean the beaches in Cornwall. This, however, caused more damage to the local ecology than the oil itself. The beaches which were treated with detergent took over ten years to recover, whilst those which had the oil scraped off and/or were left just as they were to allow the oil to break down naturally took only 2 to 3 years to recover.

The councils of North Devon were prepared to use a combination of detergent in the sea to disperse the oil before it hit land and booms across harbours and river estuaries to prevent the oil from causing damage to both the local environment and the tourist trade the area depended upon. It must have come as a great relief when the wind changed, driving the oil away from North Devon.

The oil affected beaches all along the Cornish peninsula, northern France, the Islands of Scilly, Guernsey and even reached as far as Spain. There is still a reminder of the disaster in Guernsey where a quarry was used as holding tank for the oil that was cleared up from around their shores. The oil was still there in the early 2000s when attempts were made to break down the oil. Whilst it was a partial success, the oil which remains still acts as a lasting reminder of the disaster which has changed the way we deal with oil spills and inspired a generation of environmentalists.

You can find out more about the role played by RAF Chivenor and the impact the disaster had on the local area by looking through our Chivenor Collection and reading the articles published in the North Devon Journal at the time. Details of both can be found on our website.

…Barum Athena

Nancy Drew: An Investigation

We have had Indigo on work experience with us this week and she has been using both Ancestry and Find My Past, which can be accessed via our partner department (the North Devon Record Office) to find out about her ancestors in other parts of England, starting with her Great Grandmother Nancy Drew…

This week I have been looking into my family history, we started with the basic information that I already knew and tried to delve into my heritage.

We started with my Great-Grand parents, Nancy Drew (born in the Wandsworth area) and John W Woolston (born in St Albans) they married in 1941 in the Bishops Stortford area. Having three children Jennifer Woolston, Carol Ann Woolston and Anthony John Woolston (twins).

Nancy’s parents were Marian Milburn and William H F Drew, Marian was born in the June qrt of 1892 in st. Saviour, Southwark and William was born in the September qtr of 1881 in Greenwich, they got married in 1913 in Lambeth.

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St. Albans Abbey, Hertfordshire

John’s parents, Arthur Stanley Woolston (born 23rd November 1889 in Harpenden) and Daisy Wright (born 18th May 1888 in Watford), were not as easy to find. Despite their best efforts to elude us we did find out that they lived right next door to each other! Although we couldn’t find a marriage certificate for them we think this is how the two met, Arthur living at 141 Queen’s road (Watford) and Daisy living at 139 Queen’s road, Arthur was a grocer’s assistant and Daisy was a cash desk clerk in possibly the same grocer, falling in love over the counter!

Using the General Register of births, deaths and marriages we found out Arthur’s parents were Henry John Woolston, 1863 – 1931, and Kate Jordan, 1865 – 1960, who were married in 1887 in London. Arthur was one of five children we found using the census; Daisy Kate, John Douglas born 13th April 1892, Walter Lionel born 30th January 1897, George Leslie born 14th August 1899. Daisy Kate and John Douglas were both born in Middlesex whereas Walter Lionel, George Leslie and Arthur were born in Hertfordshire.

Daisy’s Parents were Charles Wright born 1846 in Aston Clinton, Buckinghamshire and Sarah Matilda Crawly born 1849 in Tring, Hertfordshire. Charles was a carpenter by trade, and was already a carpenter’s assistant by the age of 15! Charles and Sarah had nine children including Daisy, Min(n)ie Louisa (1882), Lilly Bertha (1885), Hilda May (1893), Annie Eliza (1870), Frances Sparkes (1876), Charles H (1876), Harry (1878) and Maud J (1880) and Daisy. All the children were born in Watford, Hertfordshire.

We also found out that Annie Eliza must have married a man with the surname Ellison as she had a least two children: Violet (Voielet) Edith Ellison (1896) and Charles Herbert (1899), while she was with her parents in the 1901 census who had both been born in Middlesex.

Charles parents were Thomas Wright (1822), born in Aston Clinton, Buckinghamshire and Eliza Wright (1824) also born in Aston Clinton, Charles was one of five (again) children these included: Henry Wright (1849), Rebekah (Rebecca) Wright (1851), George Wright (1853) and Ann C Wright (1858). Henry and Charles were born in Aston Clinton, Rebekah, George and Ann were all born in New Mill Tring Hertfordshire.

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Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire near Tring, where some of my Drew ancestors lived

Sarah’s, (who we think was known as Matilda when she was younger), parents were James (1815) born in Tring, Hertfordshire and Ann Crawley (1825) born in Awnes, Buckinghamshire. Sarah was one of  five children we found using the 1871 England and Wales census, Eliza (1843), Emma (1844), Charlotte (1846) and Jane (1850) all the children were born in Tring, Hertfordshire except for Eliza who was born in Luton, Buckinghamshire.

Having found out that many of my ancestors were from Hertfordshire I used some of the many books the Athenaeum has to find out some interesting facts about the area, one of which being William the Conqueror was crowned there by Fretheric, Abbot of St. Albans in 1066! I also found out that there is a possibility that Caesar may have been to the area and surrounds in B.C. 54. The area around Tring used to be one of the centres of the straw-plait industry, the plated straw was sent from Tring to Luton where it was used to make hats – this is why the Luton football team is called the Luton Hatters. The area of Watford had a population exceeding 20,000 by the time of the 1901 census, one of the biggest (if not THE biggest) town at the time. The third printing-press in England was set up in St. Albans which like Barnstaple has laid claim to being the oldest borough in England.

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Some of the books I used to find out more about where my family lived

To find out more about the resources available through both the North Devon Athenaeum and North Devon Record Offices visit our website and follow the links to the South West Heritage Trust and our catalogues

…Barum Athena

Discover the Effects of Beeching’s Axe…On Our Shelves!

Our Assistant Librarian, Sandi, takes a look at the effects of Dr Beeching’s closure of the Railways in North Devon…

This year sees the fiftieth anniversary of the closure of the Devon and Somerset Railway, the rural line that connected Barnstaple and Ilfracombe to Bristol and the rail network to the rest of the country.

The closure was the result of the recommendations made by the Chairman of British Rail, Dr Beeching, in his publication “The Reshaping of British Railways” in 1963 which led to the loss of 8,000 miles of track, 2,000 stations and 70,000 jobs.


Before 1965 trains from Paddington London and the North of England allowed thousands of holidaymakers to use the railways to transport themselves to their annual holidays in rural and coastal Devon. In Colin Maggs’ book on our shelves, “The Barnstaple and Ilfracombe Railway”,  he notes that on 27th July 1957 a Summer Saturday 10,000 passengers used the Barnstaple to Ilfracombe branch line and 5,470 passengers alighted at Ilfracombe.

After the Devon and Somerset closure, a reduced number of trains continued to run from Ilfracombe to Barnstaple connecting via Exeter to the rest of the country. In the microfilms that we hold of the North Devon Journal newspaper of 25th August 1966 titled “Freeze Axe Falls on Railways” a rail spokesman said ‘There is no question of the line closing at the present moment’. That ‘moment’ lasted until 1970 when the Ilfracombe line also closed.

I remember as a small child that travelling to our holiday destination by train was part of the excitement of the holiday. My father would pack a large trunk with all we needed for the holiday a week before we left and trundle it on a sack truck down to the Railway Parcel Office. We carried nothing more in the way of luggage than some sandwiches and my mother’s handbag with the trunk waiting our arrival at our holiday hotel.


Beeching believed buses and coaches would cater for passenger travel needs but when have Devon roads network ever been sufficient for the volume of traffic? Many are single track lanes with grass growing up the middle. This inadequacy is confirmed for 1st September 1966 in the North Devon Journal where an article headed “Yarnscombe Bus Plea Runs in to Trouble” quotes the Assistant County Surveyor “that two corners in particular were almost impossible for a larger (44 seater) bus to negotiate”.

In the ND Journal of 6th October 1966 Mr Tony Lacey the prospective Liberal candidate for Torrington said “These closures will reduce still further the prospects of modern industrial development. Without proper communications it is quite impossible to contemplate the introduction of the modern industry we so badly need”

In the article “Journey’s End Train Packed for Last Runs” in the North Devon Journal dated 6th October 1966, one of the last passengers to ride on the commemorative train organised by the Barnstaple Round Table was 92 year old Mr Ned Cory who well remembered the opening of the track in 1898. Mr Cory thought that the closure was premature and that he ‘feels the roads of the Westcountry are still inadequate to take the additional traffic’.

This addition has a photograph of the MP for North Devon Mr Jeremy Thorpe and other dignitaries boarding the train at Barnstaple.

Another passenger was Mr Albert Doran an 83 year old former Great Western locomotive driver who had driven the fired steam locomotives in the Westcountry for 45 years. In the ND Journal of 29th September 1966 it was reported that he had asked Western Region to drive the last train but his offer was rejected.


The North Devon Link road which opened in 1988 is the only main road into or out of North Devon and North Cornwall from east to west, and was never built with provision for the increase in future traffic. Interestingly they used the GWR Castle Hill viaduct pillars to support the new Link Road.

We did try a shorter coach trip to holiday from London one year, with all our luggage and a small dog who was ‘car sick’ all the way down on the coach. The next year we bought a car and travel sickness tablets for the dog.

There is a beautifully detailed small book also on our shelves ‘The Official Guide to the Great Western Railway’ Illustrated, published in 1912. Like Bradshaw’s Tourist Handbook used by Michael Portillo in the BBC’s programme Great British Railway Journey’s, it contains illustrations, maps and descriptions of the principal towns along the route and ‘tourist districts and watering holes’!


The GWR served the Ocean Liner ports and one advert in the book offers ‘First Class Inclusive Tours from Southampton to the Victoria Falls Rhodesia and Back for 90 Guineas.

I’m sure Dr Beeching believed his plan was fool proof but would he have taken a different view while stationary in a jam between the only main road from Barnstaple and Ilfracombe because the single carriageway road between Ashford and Chivenor is blocked by a car accident? Or queuing in traffic throughout the Summer months on the same road at Braunton to pass though the bottleneck traffic lights. Or sat in a hot car in four lanes of crawling traffic on the motorway from Tiverton to Bristol on a Bank Holiday?

Yes his ‘Axe’ saved money but at what cost to rural economy, the environment and clean air.

…Sandi, Assistant Librarian

Discover H H Munro…On Our Shelves!

In a field in France, lie the remains of Hector Hugh Munro, author and playwright who was also known to many as Saki.

The youngest of three children, Munro was born in Burma on the 18th December 1870. In 1872 his life changed dramatically when his mother died after being charged by a cow in North Devon.

His father, Colonel Charles Augustus Munro, was an inspector-general of the Burma police and worked abroad. Charles rented Broadgate Villa in Pilton for his mother Lucy Eliza, and sisters Augusta and Charlotte so they could take are of the children while he was away. This was to prove a rich source of inspiration to Munro in his writings.


A selection of some of our Saki items, one of them contains an introduction by A.A. Milne

Our shelves hold several collections of the short stories which made his name in the early part of the 20th Century. In 1902 he teamed up with another Barumite, the political cartoonist, Sir Francis Carruthers Gould, to produce The Westminster Alice. A satirical look at the Politics of Westminster based on the Lewis Carroll stories. A copy of this was donated to the Athenaeum by Gould and sits alongside Munro’s other works including When William Came published in 1913. When William Came explored the idea of what it would be like if the German Emperor invaded and occupied Britain.


When William Came

With the out break of war in 1914, Munro was 43 years old and not expected to join up. However, he insisted on enlisting and refused a commission. In 1916 Munro was sent home after coming down with what his service records describe as influenza but which may have been a recurrence of malaria. In November, however Munro made his way back to the front to take part in the last big offensive in the Battle of the Somme.

Lance-Sergt. H.H. Munro was killed by a German sniper of 14th November 1916, during the last days of the Somme. He was 45 and his body was never found.

The news of his death was published in the local newspapers nearly a month later.


North Devon Journal 7th December 1916 page 6 column d

The Square Egg was published in 1924 and contained a biography of him by his elder sister, Edith. Her recollections of life in North Devon differ from her brother’s.

Many have compared Munro to Lewis Carroll, Oscar Wilde and another writer with a North Devon connection, Rudyard Kipling. He is also considered to have influenced other writers such as A.A. Milne, Noel Coward and P.G. Wodehouse, whose uncle was vicar of Bratton Fleming for many years.


We also hold items about Munro and his work

Munro would often return to North Devon and his family. His father retired first to Heanton Punchardon and then Westward Ho! His grandmother and aunts remained in Pilton and Newport and the family are interred at Bishops Tawton, all expect Hector who lies in the fields of France, a corner of which will be forever, North Devon.

…Barum Athena