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


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.

Cross 2

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

Dornat’s & the Bridewell

We received a slightly unusual item for our archive collection this week. It has, however,  a particular connection to the building we now occupy. In fact you could say the item has actually found its way home.

Soda Syphon

Dornat’s Soda Syphon dated 1942

The item in question was a soda water syphon from C.C. Dornat & Co. whose factory once stood on the site the library now stands. Dornat’s mineral waters company moved to the buildings which made up the factory in 1870 having been established in around 1860 in a smaller building on the corner if Holland Street and Paiges Lane a few hundred yards or so away. The buildings had originally been part of a much older institution, the Bridewell or Parish Poor House.

The Bridewell was established in the first half of the 17th Century and was designed to be a place to house the poor of the parish. It is believed there were just a few small buildings which served the purpose to begin with, but over the years these were added to.

The buildings housed spinning wheels and looms used by the inmates to produce serge which was sold on. Another of the buildings within the Bridewell was used to store and distribute coal to the poor who lived in the town paid for by the income from the poor rate.

By the early 19th Century a school run by Dr Bell was established within the complex of buildings which now made up the Bridewell. The school taught children from the poorer families in the town and could well have taught the children of the inmates. A master or caretaker of the Bridewell may also have lived in a building on site during this time.

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Aerial View of Castle House with Dornat’s just behind and the Castle Mound to the right [BSPF-A3-02-061]

It also housed a small number of prisoners by this time was well. In 1824 there were references in the North Devon Journal to a number of prisoners being kept in one of the buildings which comprised a few small rooms with no way of isolating them from one and other. This practice ended in 1829 when a new prison opened on the Square.

Under the Poor Law Act of 1834 the old parish poor law system was replaced and in 1835 a new Barnstaple Poor Law Union was created who oversaw the building and running of a new workhouse in Alexandra Road.

There are several references in the Barnstaple Borough records (now held by the North Devon Record Office) to the Bridewell. Many of the references concern repairs to the buildings and the payment of money to those charged with running the Bridewell. After the poorhouse was closed it was leased to Messers. Hiscock and Maunder who were wool-combers and serge makers and it is possible they used any spinning wheels and looms left behind.

The business ran into trouble and in 1867 a bank in Bristol repossessed the property and tried to sell it an auction without success allowing Charles Camille Dornat to purchase it in 1870 for a bargain price.

Dornat was originally from France and moved to England sometime in the 1850s. He was a chemist and apothecary and could speak up to 7 European languages. Other business were also based on the site including a blacksmiths which caught fire in 1879 causing severe damage to the property. The insurance, however, allowed Dornat to make improvements to both the building and equipment used to create their drinks  and by the end of the 19th Century they were producing an estimated 1,000 bottles per day.

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Dornat’s from Castle Green [Birchall Bx04-015]

Charles Dornat died in 1883 leaving his daughter Annie and son-in-law Charles Youings in charge of the business. The family originally lived on-site before moving to Litchdon House, just off the Square, and turned it into the Imperial Hotel, which they later sold. Following their deaths in 1922 the business passed to two of their sons Charles Camille Dornat Youings and Horace Youings.

During the first part of the twentieth century electricity was installed, machinery upgraded more than once and motor vehicles replaced the horse-drawn carts used to transport their goods. The Second World War saw Dornat’s do its part for the war effort. They produced soda water and fruit drinks for the hospitals and nursing homes and started to bottle beer from some of the London Brewer’s whose bottling plants had been damaged in the bombing. They also bottled Pepsi for the American troops stationed in the area.

After the war the machines were in need of some serious repairs and in 1951 they were replaced completely. The factory continued under Charles’ son Richard after his death in 1965 until 1980 when Richard Youings decided it was time to retire.

A few years after the closure of Dornat’s the building was demolished and in 1988 the new library building which now stands in its footprint was opened to the public.


The Library Building from Castle Green [BSPF-A4-07-0423]

Further Reading:

Rosemary Akers and Owen Friend: The Barnstaple Bridewell and Dornat’s Mineral Water Factory: North Devon Community Publications (Barnstaple, 1991) DP362/BAR/AKE

B.D. Pidgeon: Dornat’s Mineral Water Maunfacturers & Beer Bottlers: B D Pidgeon (Bideford, 2008) D663/BAR/PID

Thomas Wainwright & John Roberts Chanter: Reprint of the Barnstaple Records vols 1 & 2: JR Chanter & Thos Wainwright: (Barnstaple, 1900) D900/BAR/WAI

…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.

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

Discover the World of Beatrix Potter…On Our Shelves!

Discover the World of Beatrix Potter…On Our Shelves!

This year marks the 150th Anniversary of Beatrix Potter’s birth. Best known for her illustrations and tales of Peter Rabbit, Jeremy Fisher and Jemima Puddle-duck amongst others, she was also an expert on fungi, Herdwick Sheep, a keen supporter of the National Trust and was key in the preservation of the Lake District and it’s heritage.

Born in London in 1866, Beatrix and her family would spend their holidays in the Lake District. Many holiday makers would have bought guide books to the areas they visited and on our shelves we have various guide books to the Lakes and surrounding areas with suggested walks and places of interest to visitors.

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Three of our 19th Century guides to the Lake District [914.21]

It was in the Lake District she met Rev Hardwicke Rawnsley who would become a founding member of the National Trust. Rawnsley was a mentor and friend to Beatrix, so it was unsurprising that she would use the money from the success of the Tale of Peter Rabbit and an inheritance from an aunt to purchase Hill Top Farm in Near Sawrey in 1905.

The area surrounding Hill Top and the market town of Hawkshead proved a rich source of inspiration to Beatrix and her stories and illustrations. She also began breeding Herdwick Sheep with great success. There are several books on farming and husbandry on our shelves, some chronicling the history of farming alongside other contemporary items which would have been consulted by farmers local to Barnstaple, some Beatrix herself may even have been familiar with.

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In 1913 Beatrix married local solicitor, William Heelis and on her death in 1943 she left the majority of her property, including several other farms and surrounding land, to the Trust her friend had helped to set up. William died not long after, leaving the remaining property in care of the Trust. Her and William’s legacy helped to preserve and conserve the heritage and culture of the place they both loved.

You can find out more about the places under the Trust’s care and its history in items on our shelves. They include more about Beatrix’s friend and mentor Hardwicke Rawnsley, the properties the Trust went on to look after as well as the places looked after in North Devon and the South West.

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Beatrix will always be most known for her tales and the beautiful illustrations she produced for them. Including the Tale of Jeremy Fisher which was published in 1906. Jeremy had a close shave with a trout who tried to eat him, perhaps if he had consulted some books on fishing and trout like the ones we have on our shelves by one of our former directors, Eric Taverner, before he set off to catch minnows for his dinner he may have been a little more prepared!

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You can find out more about the items on our shelves by visiting our website or searching our catalogue

…Barum Athena

The Priscott Twins

The Priscott Twins

Fred and Reg Priscott, twin brothers, served with the 1st 6th Devons in both India and Mesopotamia during the First World War. Born 18th October 1895, in Barnstaple, they were the Regiments only serving twins.

Before the war both Frederick John and Reginald James Priscott were working for local furniture maker Shapland and Petter and their names can be found on the Roll of Honour listing all those who signed up to fight from the firm, now held at the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon. Fred took an active part in the Rackfield Mission and would also play the organ for the Baptist Sunday School.

The brothers joined the 6th Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment, a territorial unit primarily drawn from the North Devon area. Shortly after the outbreak of war the 6th Devons were amongst those who were due to be sent to France, however, a change in plans saw them being sent to India instead. The men of the 6th Devons, including the twins, found themselves spending Christmas in Lahore.

7th January 1915 With the 6th Devons in India Headline

North Devon Journal 7th January 1915 page 6 column a  – To read the full article visit our Facebook album North Devon War Items


They remained in India for just over a year. Fred found himself being posted to Amritsar, whilst Reg remained in Lahore. Both took the opportunity to do some sightseeing, Fred visited the Golden Temple in Amritsar, and Reg the museum and zoo in Lahore. Reg also found time to visit a cabinet shop! Fred was also appointed as organist to the Church of England church of St. Paul by the Colonel.

Christmas 1915 saw the 6th Devons prepare to leave India for Mesopotamia to relieve the besieged town of Kut-el-Amara. There was excitement and apprehension over the task ahead of them. The letters the twins sent home, which were published in the local newspapers, were full of hope of reaching all the way to Baghdad but they also asked for prayers to be said for them. You can read the published letters in previous posts 6th Devons in Persian Gulf – Barumites Who Hope to Reach Bagdad and Sixth Devons -Leaving Lahore for Active Service

Landing at Basra in January 1916 the twins faced a long march ahead of them to reach Orah, over 220 miles away. The journey was long, the days hot and the nights bitterly cold. Rations were often late in getting to them and there was the constant threat of attacks and looting from the locals they encountered. Many of the Devons developed illnesses including dysentery and pneumonia  due to the conditions they faced.

The 8th March saw the 6th Devons involved in the Battle of Dujailah, a defensive post held by the Turks and a key objective towards securing the besieged town of Kut. The battle saw the heaviest loss of life in a single day for the battalion. In total they lost 49 Officers and hundreds of men within the space of 24 hours, with hundreds more being wounded.

News of the battle started to appear in the local newspapers eight days later, on the 16th March and there was more to come in the weeks that followed. For those back home, information about what had become of their loved ones was slow to come through prompting the Mayor of Barnstaple to write to the War Office to try to expedite matters.

It wasn’t until three months later did the North Devon Journal newspaper publish news about the fate of the Priscott twins. Reg was in hospital after becoming sick, presumably with dysentery or something similar, having fought in the Battle of Dujailah. Fred was seriously wounded a month after Dujailah when a final attempt to relieve Kut took place.

Fred was shot in the neck and the bullet grazed his spinal column before becoming lodged under his shoulder-blade. In a letter home he wrote “The doctor is always telling me I am a lucky fellow, as another one-eight of an inch and I should have been paralysed.”

15th June 1916 5b Reg Priscott note

North Devon Journal 15th June 1916 page 5 column b

15th June 1916 5c Fred Priscott letter

North Devon Journal 15th June 1916 page 5 column c

Both twins survived the war but eventually went their separate ways. Reg stayed in Barnstaple, returning to Shapland and Petter. He also became involved with the Unions, setting up a branch of the Furniture, Timber and Allied Trades Union in Barnstaple, and also served as chairman of the Barnstaple Trades Council. Fred moved to Royston, in Hertfordshire where he became a travelling bible salesman and preached regularly, he too was involved in trade union and labour movements.


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The Priscott Twins in 1953 at the 6th Devons annual reunion

The twins were to be reunited in 1953 at the annual Devonshire Regiment reunion to mark the Battle of Dujailah. They had not seen each other for nearly 30 years! Fred died in June 1961 a week before he was due to preach at the Rackfield Mission. Reg passed away in July 1987.


Further Reading:

You can read more about the 1/6th Devons and their experiences in the First World War in our Discover the Battle of Dujailah & the 1/6th Devons…On Our Shelves post.

“Dujailah” Days by Colonel GB Oerton (DP355/OER)

The Bloody Eleventh by WJ Aggett (D355/AGG)

The 6th Devons and their Origins by John Rowe (DP355/ROW)

The Sixth Battalion Devonshire Regiment in the Great War by Lieut-Colonel CL Flick (D355/FLI)

We also hold a pedigree files for the Priscott twins

Contact us or visit our website for more information

..Barum Athena