The North Devon Journal Archive

The largest collection we hold by far is the archive of the local newspaper the North Devon Journal. We hold some 133 volumes of the original newspapers which cover over 120 years of news and events in the North Devon area.

North Devon Journal

The Journal was first published in July 1824 and we hold the first full year in hard copy – the only known copy left in the country. We then have a complete run of the newspapers from 1853-1980. We also hold copies of the newspapers on microfilm from 1824-1988 which are available in the public area alongside the more current films which the local studies library look after.

We also hold 29 volumes of North Devon Herald newspapers which was a rival newspaper set up in 1870 and was merged with the Journal in 1941 to become the North Devon Journal-Herald. Some of these copies are the only ones known to have survived.

Journals in Stack

Bound volumes of the North Devon Journal on our shelves. Many of them are now too fragile to handle and so microfilm substitues are used so we can protect the originals for as long as possible.


In the 1980s a project under the auspices of the Manpower Service Commission saw a group of people index the newspapers by hand and create a subject index covering the years 1824/25 and 1853-1895. A surname index was later created by one of the librarians using the original index. While the index has been superseded by the online version of the newspapers, the subject and name index is still useful for finding articles within the newspapers by subject, parish and name.

North Devon Journal Index

More recently volunteers and staff have produced a separate index to the Birth, Marriage and Death notices in the Journal and we now have indexes covering the years 1824-1857, 1868-1876 & 1880-1949. The index is particularly useful when searching for elusive ancestors and possible reports for marriages and funerals which can provide a mine of information on both the person and their family.

The largest section of the archive is the images collection. We hold thousands of glass and film negatives from the Journal which provides a unique and fascinating window on the North Devon area. The Journal started publishing images in its pages in the early part of the 20th Century and used a local photographer to supply them. By the 1940s and 50s they were commonplace and the Journal had its own photographers.

The glass negative collection was given to us in 1983 and contains 5,774 negatives covering the years 1946-1959. In 2011 a grant from the Bideford Bridge Trust allowed us to have them digitsed. These images can be searched and viewed – in a low resolution format – on our online images and NDJ catalogues.


When the Journal moved from its old premises in Barnstaple High Street to Roundswell in the mid 2000s we were given thousands of film negatives covering the year 1963 – 2003. Further grants from the Bideford Bridge Trust allowed us to digitse all of the 1960s and 70s negatives and most of the 1980s and early 1990s negatives. In 2012 we released 2,545 images from the 1960s collection onto the catalogues and we are still in the process of indexing the 4,678 images from the 1970s. We also have some 11,346 individual images covering the 1980s waiting to be indexed and 3,633 images from 1990-1992 awaiting indexing!

In total we have some 27,885 digitised images as part of the North Devon Journal image collection with thousands more waiting to be done as part of a massive future project.

The negatives and digitised copies are all store in date order allowing us to search them by date even without a full index.

Find Out More:

You can find out more about the history of the North Devon Journal by reading our Brief History of the North Devon Journal post

Discover the images we hold via our online catalogue

Visit us to see the microfilm copies for free.

…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.

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



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.


160-02 - The Priscott Twins

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

Mervyn Ninnis – Trenches Like Canals

Whilst scanning items for our North Devon War Items project on our Facebook page, I came across several stories about the men who served in the war which made me want to find out more about them. One of these men was Mervyn Ninnis of the Devonshire Regiment.

Born on the 9th January 1889, in Barnstaple, his parents were William (a draper) and Ann. Mervyn was one of eight children, two boys and six girls. He went to school in Bear Street until 1898 when he was forced to leave due to being “In very delicate health”.

After being apprenticed to R B Slee, a butcher, he joined the 4th Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment towards the end of 1906 at 18 years old. His surviving Army records show he was 5ft 4inches tall and weighed 106 lbs. He had blue eyes and dark brown hair.

By the outbreak of World War One, Mervyn had been transferred to the 2nd Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment and was stationed in Egypt. The Battalion was mobilized on the 6th August 1914 and arrived in Southampton at the beginning of October from whence they moved to Winchester to join up with the Eigth Division. They moved out at the beginning of November and soon found themselves in the thick of it around Neuve Chapelle.

14th January 1915 5d Back to the LandIt was from these trenches Mervyn Ninnis wrote to his friends and family back home. The first of his letters to be published in the North Devon Herald on 14th January 1915 came with the heading “Back To The Land”. In it he spoke about the Christmas truce and thanked his relatives for their gifts. In subsequent letters published in both the North Devon Herald and the North Devon Journal he compared the trenches to canals, a theme which runs through his published letters throughout January 1915.

The 11th March saw his letters describing life in the trenches published in both of the local newspapers for a second time. As members of the public back home in Barnstaple and North Devon read about Mervyn’s experiences, he was in the midst of the battle for Neuve Chapelle, being hit by a shell and wounded in the right leg and ankle. Ten officers and 274 men from the 2nd Devons lost their lives in the action which lasted four days.

Mervyn’s brief note home telling his family he was injured was published a week later and then he went quiet.

18th March1915 5f Stopped At Last

North Devon Herald 8th March 1915 page 5 column f

What had happened to Mervyn? He hadn’t been killed as his name didn’t appear on the War Memorial.

A year later and in an article headed Barumite’s Return in the North Devon Herald, I finally discovered what became of him. Mervyn had, at last, returned home to Barnstaple. After being wounded he was sent to Folkstone where he spent three months in a military hospital before being sent to hospitals in Sandgate and Eastbourne, then to a hospital in Croydon, before finally being discharged from both the army and hospital.

On returning home he was quoted as saying “It’s twelve months since I left the fighting line, and I am trying to forget what I saw there.” He went on to say “I have done my bit, and am now satisfied to remain home in Britain.”

However, this is not the end of Mervyn’s story, in 1918 he married Emma Dorcas Glasby at St Mary Magdalene Church, Barnstaple. They had a daughter, Millicent, in 1923. Mervyn became a postman and they lived in Bickington, where he was also a member of the local choir.

Mervyn died 29th April 1962 aged 73.

NDJH 10th May 1962 10a Thank You (2)

Further Reading:

You can view all of Mervyn’s published letters alongside other newspaper articles about his life on our Facebook page

We also hold a pedigree file about him and his family in our collections

You can also access online collections, including service records and school admission registers for free in the North Devon Record Office and Local Studies Library. Please contact us for more details.

…Barum Athena