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.

St Albans Abbey (2)

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.

Berkhamsted (2)

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.

Books (2)

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

Behind the Scenes…Shelving Project part two

Monday was the big day for the shelving project as the installers arrived with the new shelving early in the morning.

By mid morning one side was completed and the other under way and looking very smart and by lunchtime it was all done!

All that was left for us to do was to clean the new shelving down and fill it with our document and newspaper collections.


It took a team of four to put everything onto the new shelves on Tuesday and the result was well worth it.


Our newspapers can now lie flat on their shelves, and the documents boxes are no longer piled on top of each other. There was also space for us to place the RAF Chivenor Collection onto individual shelves rather than storing them in boxes which were too large and heavy for one person to handle. This means the collection is now more accessible to both staff and users.


The work to improve the way we take care of our archival collections doesn’t stop with the shelving project. We can now start to plan and carry out a programme of replacing the old boxes with new archival ones, reducing the weight of the boxes (some of which are rather heavy!) and ensuring they items are just generally better stored. While we repackage the collections we will also be able to assess which items are in need of some tlc by conservationists and if there are any items which need more specialist storage.

Part of our Lethaby Collection is already in archive boxes and we hope the rest will be stored in archive boxes in the near future (Lethaby was a prolific writer and some of his boxes are amongst the heaviest on our shelves!)


This post wouldn’t be complete without a few before and after pictures side by side to really appreciate the changes, nor would it be complete without thanking those who were involved with the project. The staff of Rackline who provided the shelving , CDL Southwest our contractors who took away our old shelving and laid the groundwork for the new shelves, and last but not least, a huge thank you to the staff and volunteers who helped to move all the collections and newspapers.

…Barum Athena


Behind the Scenes…Shelving Project part one: It’ll get worse before it gets better

If you’ve been following us on social media you will have seen that we are closed to the public for a fortnight while we carry out some essential work in our stack.

For the last 29 years, our North Devon Journal newspapers have sat on the shelving unit which was built for us before we moved in. Over the years, however, the newspapers have shown signs of deterioration due to the conditions in which they were being kept and the document shelves surrounding them have become full.

So, over our closure period this year we are taking out the old, outdated shelving and replacing it with new archival shelving which will enable us to look after the items in our care much better.

Before we get started here are a few before images of the document area…

Before we could do anything, we had to move everything off the shelves and into other spaces within our stack. It took four of us half a day to move everything out of harm’s way and dismantle all the old metal shelving.

The following day, contractors came in to remove the old wooden storage unit which had housed the newspapers and discover what lurked behind it! This is the it’ll get worse before it gets better point of the project…

If you’re wondering what we did with all the newspapers and document boxes, they’ve been stored in the aisles between the book shelves!

The rest of this week has seen the floor and wall sorted out ready for our new shelving to arrive and be installed on Monday. Then the task of filling the new shelves can begin, visit us next week to find out how we get on….

…Barum Athena

A Brief History of the North Devon Journal

North Devon Journal

First published in 1824 the North Devon Journal covers the general North Devon area. Established by John Avery, a bookseller who was a prominent liberal and Methodist in Barnstaple it had a mixture of local news and items taken from the national papers of the time. Spread over 4 pages each containing 7 columns, part of the paper was printed in Exeter by Thomas Besley before coming up to Barnstaple where the rest of it was printed in John Avery’s premises in Joy St.

In 1826 John Avery took on two apprentices John Gould Hayman and his son, William. By 1835 John had handed the paper to William who moved the business into the High Street a year later and in 1838 the original partnership between Avery and Besley was dissolved allowing the paper to be printed solely in Barnstaple.

In 1849 William Avery increased the size of the paper to 8 pages with 5 columns and purchased a new printing machine which he invited his readers to see in action! In 1852 William sold the paper to John Gould Hayman and Henry Petter and moved to Bristol. The new partnership lasted for three years before Petter sold his share to Hayman and went on to co-found Shapland and Petter.

1870 saw the publication of the North Devon Herald, the Journal’s only real rival. The Journal had always been a more liberal newspaper and the Herald was its conservative opposite. In 1871 Hayman persuaded William Avery (who had become bankrupt twice in the intervening years) to return to the Journal and he stayed until 1880 when he retired. Hayman followed Avery into retirement in 1885.

During the late 19th Century successive editors also had books published at the Journal offices these included Hayman’s Methodism in North Devon, Hugh Wesley Strong’s Industries of North Devon and William Frederick Gardiner’s Barnstaple 1837-1897 all of which are standard works of reference on the area today.

The first half of the 20th Century saw the greatest changes at the Journal. New printing machines, printer’s strikes, photographs and war all saw changes to the newspaper. The greatest change came during the Second World War when both the Journal and Herald were brought by Philip Inman who merged the two old rivals in 1941 to become the North Devon Journal-Herald.

Despite the introduction of free papers in the late 1970s and early 1980s the Journal’s readership has steadily increased and in 1986 changed size again from broadsheet to tabloid and its name back to the North Devon Journal. 1999 saw the newspaper go online via and it continues to be published weekly nearly 200 years after its first edition.

William Richard Lethaby

In honour of William Richard Lethaby’s 160th birthday, we will take a look at this remarkable man and the collection of his work we hold in our collections.

William Richard Lethaby is a man many will never have heard of, however, he was a leading light in the Arts and Crafts Movement. Born in Barnstaple on the 18th January 1857, Lethaby was a member of the Barnstaple Literary and Scientific Institute, where he studied art under Alexander Lauder. He went on to become apprenticed to Lauder where he started training as an architect, before moving to practices in Derby and then Leicestershire. After finishing his training, Lethaby went to work for Norman Shaw in London and became a leading light of the emerging Arts and Crafts movement.


One of Lethaby’s many sketches in our collection [B70-3a-11]

As an architect, Lethaby did not create many buildings, but his influence in both art and architecture can still be seen today. He was heavily involved in creating the Central School of Art in London (which is now part of Central St. Martin’s) and was also a founder of the Art Workers’ Guild.

After Lethaby’s death in 1931, the North Devon Athenaeum was given a large collection of his notes and drawings. There are around 160 sketches and watercolours along with 12 sketch books. Many of the sketch books contain drawings of Barnstaple and North Devon as well as sketches he took whilst on travelling scholarships in the late 1870s and early 1880s.

Lethaby was a prolific writer and had several articles and books published during his lifetime. There is a substantial collection of notes, many of which seem to have been written on the back of whatever came to hand,  including on the back of exam papers taken by the students of the Central School!


In addition to the collection of original drawings, notes and other items by and about Lethaby in the our document collections we also have several editions of his books and articles on our shelves in the Library Collection as well as some of the items he won whilst studying at the Literary and Scientific Institute. The items include his books on Westminster Abbey, from his time as Surveyor there, and the church of Sancta Sophia in Constantinople (modern day Istanbul), which he wrote with Harold Swainson. It also contains  a copy of Architecture, Mysticism and Myth which has become a standard work for those studying architecture.


The largest and perhaps most important item in the collection are the original drawings which won him the Soane Medallion in 1879 and brought him to the attention of Norman Shaw. We have 7 of the 8 drawings he submitted, which he may well have worked on whilst in Barnstaple.


lethaby-front-coverTo discover more of the items in the Lethaby Collection visit our document catalogue.

You can also find out more about Lethaby’s life and legacy in this booklet which was published in 2007 to celebrate his 150th birthday. Copies are available to purchase from us. For more details contact us.


…Barum Athena

Welcome to 2017

With a new year come new challenges and changes for the North Devon Athenaeum. Last year the way we work with the North Devon Record Office changed as did the public area we share with them. This year will hopefully see some exciting changes behind the scenes.

We will be closed in early February to enable us to replace some of our outdated shelving which houses our document collections and the North Devon Journal archive. Whilst the area we will be working in may be small the task will be a big one. All of our document collections and newspapers will need to be moved, the old shelving taken out and new archive standard shelving installed. We will then need to move the collections to their new home. The project will enable us to take better care of our collections and may even give a little extra space for new items!


As the focus of this year will be on our document collections and their future we will take the opportunity to explore some of the rich collections and the gems they contain starting with our William Richard Lethaby collection.

We’ll also be looking at more stories from the First World War and interesting articles from the North Devon Journal and North Devon Herald as well as discovering more items from our shelves. It will be another interesting year for us…

…Barum Athena



A Look Back at 2016

It has been a year of change for the North Devon Athenaeum, we’ve said goodbye to a long-standing colleague from the North Devon Record Office and hello to a new member of the Record Office team, Tyler. There have also been some big changes in the way the department looks and how we operate. The biggest change has been in our opening hours going from four days a week to three. New searchroom rules have also been implemented bringing the department inline with Record Offices across the country.


It also gave us the opportunity to meet and work with members of staff from the Somerset Record Office based in Taunton and Devon Record Office in Exeter.

We held our first training session for staff, volunteers and Directors in February during our stocktaking fortnight and in March we welcomed Alex for a week’s work experience who wrote about Searching for Symons.


We’ve celebrated Shakespeare’s links with North Devon, and looked at more people, places and events which you can Discover On Our Shelves!

In June we attended the Armed Forces Exhibition at Pilton Community College, and commemorated those who died at the Battle of Dujailah, the Battle of Jutland and the Battle of the Somme including local author H H Munro, better known as Saki. We also took a look into the lives of some of those who fought in the First World War, Fred and Reg Priscott who saw action in Mesopotamia and the Battle of Dujailah, and Mervyn Ninnis who saw action in France.

We celebrated the life of one of our former Librarians, Thomas Wainwright, took a look at An Unusual Landing At Chivenor whilst two of our volunteers found a Parish Register entry which contained a Churchill Connection.

So this was a very brief look at some of the things we discovered and got up to over the last twelve months. Join us in the New Year for a sneak preview into what we have planned in 2017!

…Barum Athena