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


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 Battle of Hastings…On Our Shelves!

The Castle Mound in Barnstaple, just outside our window, is a reminder of an event which took place 950 years ago in the modern day fields of Sussex. The Battle of Hastings in 1066 was the last time Britain was successfully invaded and is a key turning point in British history.

The circumstances which led to this important event are too well known to need repeating here : suffice it therefore to observe, that on the 14th of October, 1066 after an engagement, which lasted from morning till sun-set, and which seemed worthy, by the valour displayed by both armies and both commanders, to decide the fate of a mighty kingdom, William obtained a complete victory with the loss of near 15,000 men. The slaughter of the English was far more considerable : their slain, if we may believe the accounts of some of our historians, amounted to 60,000; but it seems more probable that this may have been the total number of those who fell on this occasion.

[Frederic Shoberl: The Beauties of England and Wales – Vol XIV:J. Harris (London, 1813) 914.2/ENG/BEA/xiv]

However, our shelves have several accounts of the event leading up to the battle and it’s aftermath including the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle which describes how William of Normandy came to invade Britain and assert his rule on the Anglo-Saxon population.


There are also items covering the greatest battles in history including Sir Edward Creasy’s Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World: From Marathon to Waterloo. His account of the events leading up to the battle and beyond are taken from both English and French Histories.


You can find items about the areas where the events took place and what life was like during the Saxon and Norman periods.

Places like Battle Abbey where the actual battle is supposed to have taken place and where King Harold fell. Berkhamsted, in Hertfordshire, where William the Conqueror accepted the official surrender of the Saxons before being crowned in London can all be found on our shelves.


The events of 950 years can still be seen in the landscape today in the castles built by William to keep control of the land he conquered and in the early documents which survive like the Domesday Book which told William how much tax he could expect from his new Kingdom.

Barnstaple still has the remnants of its Norman castle and on the shelves in the modern building next to it we hold copies of the Domesday Book which has become an invaluable source to historians throughout the centuries since it was written.

…Barum Athena

Discover the Great Fire of London…On Our Shelves!

Amongst the cranes and tall buildings of the City of London stands the Monument, erected not far from the infamous Pudding Lane. The monument stands there as a reminder of the devastating fire which started there 350 years ago today.


“On the second of September, 1666, this dismal fire broke out at a baker’s shop in Pudding-lane by Fish-street, in the lower part of the city, near Thames-street, (among rotten wooden houses ready to take fire, and full of combustible goods) in Billingsgate-ward; which ward n a few hours was laid in ashes.” [Dr. Harvey The City Remembrancer vol. II 914.21/LND/HAR/II]

By the end of the following day approximately 50% of the City of London had been destroyed. Fanned by high winds the fire raged for 5 days, however smoke from some of the cellars which were still smoldering could be seen 6 months later.

In total some 13,200 houses and 89 parish churches were destroyed along with several civic buildings, leaving 80% of the population homeless. It has been estimated the population of the City of London was around 100,000 at the time of the fire.


At the height of the fire both the King (Charles II) and his brother (the Duke of York) took charge of the efforts to bring about an end to the fire and prevent further destruction. This can be seen in the copies of the Calender of State Papers (Domestic) held on our shelves. Instructions and proclamations issued by the King and the government on fighting the fire are recorded alongside some of the actions taken by those involved as well as other more day-to-day items.

You can also find various accounts of the fire and the aftermath written by  Samuel Pepys, John Evelyn and Dr Gideon Harvey. The City Remembrancer, published in 1769, contains a narrative of the disaster taken from Dr Gideon Harvey’s notes along with other first hand accounts and reports on the fire.


Benjamin Kidney

The flyleaf of Dr Harvey’s Remembrancer contains this interesting name

The items also contain accounts of what was done for those affected by the fire. Many people fled the city with whatever they could carry and headed towards the safety of Islington and Highgate. John Evelyn wrote there were “people of all ranks and degrees dispersed and lying along by their heaps of what they could save from the fire, deploring their loss; and, though ready to perish for hunger and destitution, yet not asking one penny for relief, which to me appeared a stranger sight than any I had yet beheld.” [John Evelyn Diary and Correspondence of John Evelyn, F.R.S. 92/EVE/II] Orders were given to provide food and security for those affected. Temporary markets were set up to replace those destroyed and feed those displaced.

It could, however, have been worse. At the time the fire broke there were some 600,000 lbs of gunpowder being stored at the Tower of London and a huge effort was made to remove as much of it as possible to prevent and even greater tragedy. Thankfully the fire didn’t quite reach the Tower itself, stopping just outside the gates, and most of the gunpowder was removed out of harms way.


Following the fire, the authorities had to come up with the best way to rebuild the city and ensure that another disaster could not occur. Several plans were put forward to completely redesign the layout of the city, one of these plans was by Sir Christopher Wren. In the end, however, it was deemed to difficult and costly to rebuild the city to a new design. Instead measures were taken to widen the streets and put restrictions on the materials which could be used to rebuild what had once been there.

Sir Christopher Wren played a key part in designing and rebuilding many of the churches which had succumbed to the flames, including the work he is most well-known for today – St. Paul’s Cathedral. There are several items about Wren and his work, many of which include wonderful reproductions of his designs, on our shelves as well as other book on London which cover the capital’s rich and fascinating history.

Further Reading Includes;

John Bell: The Great Fire of London in 1666: 914.21/LND/BEL

Charles Welch: History of the Monument: 914.21/LND/WEL

Samuel Pepys: Diary and Correspondence of Samuel Pepys, F.R.S.: 92/PEP/III

Sir Christopher Wren A.D. 1632-1723: 92/WRE

James Elmes: Memoirs f the Life and Works of Sire Christopher Wren: 92/WRE


For More Information;

Visit our website to find more about our collections and our catalogue to find more items from our shelves.

…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

Discover the Battle of Agincourt…On Our Shelves!

October marked the 600th Anniversary of Henry V victory at the Battle of Agincourt and you can find various items on our shelves from across the centuries which give an historical account of the famous battle where the English were outnumbered by the French…


Henry at Agincourt from: British Battles on Land and Sea, vol. I by James Grant [940.1/GRA]

The French…took post between Rousseauville and Agincourt, and gave notice that they would engage him on the twenty-fifth of October. Finding it impossible to avoid an action, he accepted the challenge, and presented the herald who brought it, with a rich robe, and two hundred crowns. During this interval of three days, he employed every means, which prudence could suggest, in order to prepare his men for the approaching combat.” Clarendon’s History of England [942/CLA]

Some of the items, like the British Battles on Land and Sea by James Grant, give a very atmospheric description of the run up to the battle…

The night before Agincourt was dark and rainy, and to the toil-worn English it was one of hope and fear, for 100,000 French lay there before them; thus the odds against them were as seven to one. Amid the darkness of the October night, and the sheets of descending rain, they could see the whole landscape glittering with the watch-fires of the French; and frequent bursts of their laughter and merriment were borne on the passing wind, from those who were grouped about these fires or their banners, as they fixed the ransom of the English king and his wealthy barons…” p77 British Battles on Land and Sea[940.1/GRA]

There is also an account of the battle, all be it brief, from the French historian and poet Emile De Bonnechose’s History of France in our General History section which also holds items on various place across the world…

They engaged in battle at break of day. The French cavalry, restricted by want of space, flung themselves pell-mell upon a soil moistened by rain, and, under a shower of arrows, rushed upon the sharp stakes which the English had planted.” p280 History of France vol. I [944/BON]

The battle was immortalised in Shakespeare’s play Henry V and not only are there copies of the play on our shelves, but also a copy of Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotlande and Irelande (originally published in 1577) in the collection, which Shakespeare used as a source for his historical plays…


from; Chronicles of England, Scotlande and Irelande by Raphael Holinshead [942/HOL]

Thus after a long and cruell battell, by the demerits of their great pride, there approached no man of the French to battell, but to death, of whom after that an innumerable company were slaine, and that the victory surely remayned to the Englishmen, they spared to slay, and tooke prisoners of the French, both Princes and Gentleman in great number. In this mortall battell, the Noble king of England never failed his men, for no danger of death, but fought with his enemies with an ardent heart, as a famished Lion for his pray, receiving on his helmet and on the residue of his armour, many and great strokes.” Holinshed [942/HOL]


From; A Complete History of England: vol I [942/COM o/s]

These are just a few of the items in our collections which cover the Battle of Agincourt and there are many more on the shelves including, A Complete History of England, which contains biographies of the Kings and Queens of England and this impressive portrait of Henry V himself.


Find more by searching our library catalogue

Discover Gallipoli and the Dardanelles…On Our Shelves

This month marks the anniversary of the Royal North Devon Hussars arrival in Gallipoli in 1915. By the time they arrived the  British and ANZAC troops had already suffered heavy casualties and there were already calls for the Peninsula (also known as the Dardanelles) to be evacuated.

The Royal North Devon Hussars landed in Suvla Bay on 8th October. By the 17th October they had lost one of their commanding officers, Major Moorland Greig, in a shell attack on their trenches and Sir Ian Hamilton, the man in charge of the Gallipoli operation, had been recalled to London to give his account of what was happening there. Hamilton was replaced by General Munro who immediately started to plan for the evacuation of the Peninsula.

13th January 1916 3 b-c RNDH At Gallipoli

From; North Devon Herald 13th January 1916 page 3 column b

There were more losses to come for the Hussars both on and off the battlefield as many of their number fell victim to dysentery and the effects of frost bite and other conditions related to the harsh climate they faced. Articles carrying news of the fate of some of the Hussar’s and letters from the men appeared in the local newspapers and included descriptions of the Hussars’ landing and how bread was made to feed the troops. The articles and letters published in the North Devon Herald and North Devon Journal can be found in our newspaper archive and a selection of them have been posted on our Facebook page.

Other first hand accounts of the campaign were published after the war in volumes such as The Great War…’I Was There’ edited by Sir John Hammerton and contained the stories of those who served on both sides of the conflict throughout the war. Fuller accounts of what went on during the Gallipoli campaign; The Uncensored Dardanelles by E. Ashmead-Bartlett and Gallipoli Memories by Compton Mackenzie can also be found on our shelves. Ashmead-Bartlett was a war correspondent and the first one to report on the ANZAC landings, while Mackenzie was in counter-intelligence in Gallipoli but is probably most well known for his novels Whiskey Gallore and The Monarch of the Glen.

The Times newspaper produced volumes entitled The Times History of the War throughout the conflict and contained some of the more haunting images of the war as it progressed. The Illustrated London News also produced images of the conflict with each edition containing pictures of some of the commanding officers who had perished since the previous issue had gone to print and produced a supplement covering the Dardanelles Operations.

Cover of the Illustrated London News July-Dec 1915

Cover of the Illustrated London News July-Dec 1915

We have the pleasure of presenting our readers this week with a supplement of most unusual interest and value. It consists of eight pages, and four of them in colour from the paintings made by Mr. Norman Wilkinson, R.I., as the outcome of his personal and trained observation while serving in the Navy at the Dardanelles. These are the first coloured pictures of these historic operations to be published…Mr. Norman Wilkinson has painted scenes which he saw with the accuracy which is characteristic of all his work, and the result is a series of pictures which possess the charm of art and the distinction of historic value. [The Illustrated London News, Nov. 27, 1915-686]

The supplement included 10 colour reproductions of Wilkinson’s work alongside photographs taken of the operations.

Alongside these volumes are also histories of the war, many of which were published before 1939 and written by some other familiar names (including a certain Winston Churchill).

As for the Royal North Devon Hussars – they were evacuated from the Peninsula on 18th December 1915 and spent Christmas en route to Egypt where they were to spend a quiet few months before their next role.

They were only eleven weeks on the Peninsula, and they consequently suffered less–both from the enemy action and from disease–than troops that had landed earlier; but the experiences wer trying enough, and they faced them in a manner that won the approval of the high authorities. Their staunchness was not tested in the evacuation, which was successfully accomplished without the firing of a single shot… [The Yeomanry of Devon 1794-1927 by Engineer-Com. Benson Freeman, R.N. p196 (D355/FRE)]

You can find all the items mentioned in this post on our shelves for more information about the resources we hold visit the General Collection page on our website or search our Library Catalogue. You can also find out more about the Royal North Devon Hussars at the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon which serves as the regimental museum.