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



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 End of an Era

We are saying goodbye to one of our colleagues from the North Devon Record Office – Colin who is leaving us today.

Colin, in his own words, “came up with the documents” from the Record Office in Exeter over 28 years ago when the North Devon Record Office was being set up and has worked in the department ever since.


Colin (centre) and Les (former Athenaeum librarian) on the enquiry desk together

During his time here he has worked with three Athenaeum librarians, four North Devon Record Office archivists and five Local Studies librarians. Not to mention over 17 assistant librarians, archive assistants, and volunteers.

He has helped train many of us over the years and despite his aversion to computers has even taught this librarian a thing or two when it comes to dealing with a certain well-known piece of spreadsheet software.


Colin on the enquiry desk

The man who hates fuss, is also a little camera shy, but we have managed to scour the archives for these gems – I even managed to get this one earlier!


Colin on his last day

He will be sorely missed by staff and searchers alike – although he has threatened to return as a volunteer in the near future!

Barum Athena

Behind the Scenes…Stocktaking 2016

Behind the Scenes…Stocktaking 2016

Ever wonder what we get up to when we close for stocktaking? Well here’s what we did this year…

IMG_0300 (2)

Thanks to our staff and volunteers we checked our collection of Barnstaple Postcards, 12 of our original document collections, accessioned and catalogued 37 items into our library collection and checked and tidied the general pamphlet collection.

We also took the opportunity to have our first ever in-house training session for staff, volunteers and directors.


While storm Imogen raged outside we started the day by doing a detailed tour of our online catalogues, followed by an in-depth walk through of our stack and the North Devon Record Office’s strong room. Once the tour was over we let the directors and volunteers loose in our stack to explore all of the wonderful items we have on our shelves – you never know what you may find there!


After an excellent lunch, provided by Sheppherd’s we moved onto cataloguing books onto our library catalogue and scanning images.


During the cataloguing and scanning session this lovely note was found stuck inside a copy of RN Worth’s Tourist’s Guide to North Devon – I don’t think the person who wrote it was very impressed with the author!


“It is easier to find fault than to amend: but it does strike me that of all the fools who have taken to compiling of Guide Books Mr. R.N. Worth is the most irritating. He is a “F.G.S., & c.”, and is therefore obliged to display at least as much knowledge of Geology, “&c.” as the “Fellows” of such “learned” societies, &c. may be supposed to possess. His philology (included, I suppose, in the “et cetera”) is particularly astonishing – he derives the familiar “Tor” from Thor! & is especially keen upon what he calls “Keltic”. His stupendous ignorance of matters literary is evinced every where E.g. upon p.60 where he gives Shebbeare the authorship of Chrysal (really Ch. Johnstone) and describes drunken Capern, as a “more famous worthy”, and styles him “The Devonshire Burns!!””


We (and by we, we mean the Librarian) also took the opportunity to re-organise the most important part of the office – the filing cabinet (and yes it did take the whole fortnight to sort out!).

Another successful stocktake over with we can now start planning for next year’s…Barum Athena

The Jones Connection

The Jones Connection

For the past fortnight we have had Philip with us on work experience. He has written this post on what he found about his Jones ancestors by using the resources we have in the Athenaeum and our partner departments, the North Devon Record Office and the Local Studies Library…Barum Athena

During the previous two weeks, I have studied my family’s past to find out more about them as I didn’t know very much. Using resources such as Ancestry and the North Devon Journal Index, I traced back through my mother’s side of the family and managed to get as far back as the nineteenth century! I found out that my grandmother’s original husband, Edward T Jago, was the son of an Ida Gammon and a Leonard Stanley Jago. To find out the names of his parents, I checked through old issues of the North Devon Journal and found a column that publicly announced his death, though it wasn’t very helpful as there was no mention of his parents. Because of this, I had to find Ida’s parents instead. Fortunately, I had more luck with them and found that her parents were William Henry Gammon and Elsie Jones. Confusingly, William’s father was also called William and even stranger, Elsie’s father was called William Henry Jones! As I could not find out who was married to William Gammon, I decided to track through Elsie’s side of the family and found that William Henry Jones was married to a Clara Jane Sexon. It was here that tracing further back became almost impossible as both William and Clara were very difficult to trace. However, I did find that the two of them had eleven children in total!

Marriage entry for William Henry Gammon and Elsie Jones [from the North Devon Record Office]

Marriage entry for William Henry Gammon and Elsie Jones [from the North Devon Record Office]

The first child was Hannah Gammon Jones who was born in 1889 on the 29th of March, followed by Ida Mary Jones on the 11th of April in 1890. Ida Gammon’s mother, Elsie Perryman Jones, was born on the 21st of March in 1891.

Baptismal entry for Elsie Perryman Jones in the Barnstaple Weslyan Circuit register [from the North Devon Record Office]

Baptismal entry for Elsie Perryman Jones in the Barnstaple Weslyan Circuit register [from the North Devon Record Office]

Yet another William was born on the 21st of November in 1892, followed by John Sexon Jones on the 4th of January in 1894. I found another child called Walter, baptised on the 1st of August in 1895, but was unable to find his birth which possibly took place in 1894 or 1895. After Walter, William and Clara had another child, Howard Nelson, who was born on the 25th of February in 1897. Interestingly, Howard preferred to use his middle name, Nelson, instead of his first name. Next came Charles who was baptised sometime during September in 1900. Two years later, Margery Annie Jones was born on the 27th of September 1902. William and Clara must have liked the name Charles as that was the name they gave to their next child, which suggests that the older Charles died. Charles Henry Jones was born on the 24th of October in 1906. The youngest child, Edgar Alfred Jones, was born on the 5th of October in 1908. I discovered these children by looking through the Parish Baptisms Registers and the Wesleyan Circuit Baptism Registers. I have to say, I was very surprised when I discovered just how many they had. Unfortunately and rather tragically, three or four of the children died at very young ages; one of them having died at the age of just four months.

One thing bothered me though. In each birth record, the parents’ home had been listed differently. Some of them stated that the couple lived in Swimbridge, and some of them stated that they lived in Landkey! Luckily enough, I found that William Jones worked as a Miller at Newland Corn Mill. This explained why the said that they lived in Landkey and Swimbridge on the various registered births. Newland Corn Mill was considered to be in Swimbridge but was really in Landkey; I find it very confusing.

1st Edition OS map (1890) showing Newland Corn Mill and the Parish boundary (marked with the dotted line) between Swimbridge and Landkey with

1st Edition OS map (1890) showing Newland Corn Mill and the Parish boundary (marked with the dotted line) between Swimbridge and Landkey [From the Local Studies Collection]

Originally, the project was to find if any of my family members were involved in the First World War, but I was unable to find any records of William Jones really doing anything at all. I checked through various documents and newspapers, and every time a William Jones was mentioned, it wasn’t him. Part of the reason there were few records was that he and Clara Sexon were non-conformists. I think I was lucky enough to find the records I did about the family!

Philip used several resources from the North Devon Athenaeum, North Devon Record Office and Barnstaple Local Studies Library, including online sources and original documents. For more information about what each department holds please visit the Catalogue page on our website…Barum Athena

Thomas Lock Hill a Fishmonger

This week we have had Josh, a work experience student with us, who has written this post on what he discovered about one of his ancestors by using the resources we have here…Barum Athena.

This past week, I have been studying my families’ past, and I have come across some things I have found fascinating. As I searched back through the Hill family line, came across different relatives and found out new things about them. An ancestor I found quite interesting was a man called Thomas Lock Hill, who was a fishmonger in 18 Butchers Row, Barnstaple, in around 1923. The reason I found Thomas so important in my family was because he appeared in the North Devon Journal, and other newspapers which gave me stories and clues about his life and some of his achievements.

Thomas Lock Hill was born on the 1st October, 1873 in 63 Green Lane Barnstaple. His father, James Hill, was a Pilot, and his mother, Mary Jane Hill, was a dressmaker. I first looked at the Birth, Marriage and Death indexes too find out when and where they were born, and along with any relatives! I looked through the Birth records to find my Grandfather, and from that I could see his parent’s names, Thomas Walter and Doris May. I then looked through the Marriage records, to find Doris and Thomas’s marriage, and stumbled upon their fathers’ names, who were both called Thomas. Thomas Walter’s father was named Thomas Lock Hill.

I started to do some in depth research on the life of Thomas Lock Hill, I found out more information such as his wife, Ellen and his three daughters and one son, who were called Rosina, Ellen, Pollie and Thomas. I then looked at the 1901 census where I could see Thomas Lock, Ellen, and their first born child Rosina were boarding with the Knill family, who lived in one of the poorer areas of Barnstaple, called Azes Lane, with Thomas listed as a fisherman. I then looked at the 1911 census, which showed they had moved on, and now lived in 17 Kingsley Avenue. Because the census shows all the children had been born in Azes Lane, I can infer they moved with in the 3 years of the 1901 census, as Thomas the youngest child was 3 years old, and he had been born in Azes Lane. I looked deeper into their move, and discovered they had moved from a poor area to a more affluent one in a short time. This suggested that he was actually a very good fishmonger at that time!

Using the North Devon Journal Index allowed Josh to find articles about his ancestor...Barum Athena

Using the North Devon Journal Index allowed Josh to find articles about his ancestor…Barum Athena

Looking through the North Devon Journal newspaper surname index and I found some references to some articles with the name Thomas Hill in them which I then looked at on microfilm. There were several different articles which included a story about Thomas Hill who was assaulted by a man who also assaulted a police officer, and another article about Thomas Hill transporting live fish to South Molton by train to sell at the market there. He was the first ever person from Barnstaple to do this!

I also looked at the timeline of Thomas Lock’s life fishmonger business by looking through the Trade Directories to find out when he started up his shop. I started with 1923 but I could just not find him, and when I nearly gave up but then I went to the trades section of the book and found his name under Fishmonger! I went back again by three years to the Directory of 1919, and his name was nowhere to be seen, apart from the private residents entry which showed him living in Kingsley Avenue as a fisherman. So I then went forwards, and carried on finding his name until 1939 and 1941, where it showed that a Thomas W. Hill was living in 22 Kingsley Avenue as a fishmonger, and a Mrs. Hill was living in 17 Kingsley Avenue as the head of the house. This appears to show that Thomas Lock must have died between 1935 and 1939, and Thomas Walter (his son) took over the business.

Finally, to finish off, I looked at maps of the areas they lived in, and plotted where their houses were. I also looked at Butchers Row or Market as it was called and found 18 Butchers row, which was site of Thomas Lock’s fishmongers shop!

Section of a plan for Yeo Vale showing the house in Kingsley Avenue Thomas Lock Hill lived in [NDRO: ]

Section of a plan for Yeo Vale showing the house in Kingsley Avenue Thomas Lock Hill lived in Josh found in the North Devon Record Office collections [NDRO: 2654A/49 ]

You can now find a copy of what Josh discovered in our collection of family history notes and pedigrees…Barum Athena.

The Tale of Ulalia Page

An interesting story in the annuals of Barnstaple’s history is that of Ulalia Page of Plymouth who was sentenced to death for murdering her husband when the Assizes were held in Barnstaple in 1590.

In Sketches of the Literary History of Barnstaple John Roberts Chanter tells Ulalia’s tale using as a guide a diary written by Barnstaple’s town clerk of the time and the Parish Register.

 “On a former occasion, I gave the particulars of the Assizes being held here, and Philip Wyot’s remarks thereon. These entries serve to throw light on a disputed point in traditional history, the statement of one our Judges (Judge Glanville) having pronounced sentence of death on his own daughter for murder. The event was one which made a great sensation at the time, and gave rise to a drama, and likewise to a great number of ballads and broadsides, published in all parts of the kingdom. “The lamentable tragedy of Page, of Plymouth.”

“The story runs that Judge Glanville, who resided near Tavistock, had a daughter named Ulalia, who had become attached to a young man of Tavistock, named George Stangwidge, lieutenant of a man of war, whose letters the father, disapproving of the attachment, intercepted. An old miser, of Plymouth, named Page, availed himself of this apparent neglect of the young sailor, and on setting a good jointure, obtained her father’s good graces and her hand. She took with her a maid servant from Tavistock, but the husband was so penurious, that he dismissed all the other servants, and compelled his wife and her maid to do all the work themselves.

“At this time George Strangwidge returned from sea, had an interview with Mrs. Page, at which, after mutual upbraidings, they found the letters had been intercepted. The maid and the mistress then plotted to get rid of the old gentleman, to which Strangwidge with great reluctance consented. Page lived in Woolster Street in Plymouth, and a woman who lived opposite hearing at night some sand thrown against a window, arose, and looking out, saw a young gentleman under Page’s window, and heard him say, “for God’s sake stay your hand.” A female voice replied, “‘Tis too late, the deed is done.” On the following morning it was given out that old Page had died suddenly in the night, and he was buried. On the testimony, however, of the neighbour, the body was disinterred, and it appearing that he had been strangled, his wife, the maid and Strangwidge were arrested, tried and executed; and it has since been commonly said that Judge Glanville, her own father, tried her, and pronounced her sentence. Philip Wyot not only confirms the truth of the legend, but incidentally proves that her father did not try or condemn her. It appears that owing to the plague being that year at Exeter, the assizes were held at Barnstaple, and that but one Judge Lord Anderson came, who tried the prisoners, and he writes, “The gibbett was set up the Castle Green, and XVIII prisoners hanged, whereof III of Plymouth, for murder.” This execution is corroborated by our parish registers, which have entries of the names of “those who died in the assize week,” and among them appear the names “George Strangwith,” “Ulalya Page.””

Barnstaple Burial Register for 1590

Barnstaple Burial Register for 1590 (From the North Devon Record Office)

The story captured the imagination of the people and as a consequence there have been many versions of the story over the centuries. Some more embellished than others. Some accounts say Ulalia seduced a servant to help with the murder, another that she was burnt at the stake for her crime. Although she was a member of the prominent Glanville family, you won’t find her in any of the published family pedigrees, it also seem certain that Judge Glanville, as he became, was at the Assizes but as a serjeant since he was not made a Judge until 1598.

Bishops Tawton Burial Register for 1590 showing the burial entry for Ulalia Page (From the North Devon Record office)

Bishops Tawton Burial Register for 1590 showing the burial entry for Ulalia Page
(From the North Devon Record office)

The tale has an interesting end…Ulalia appears in two different parish registers, firstly in the Barnstaple register of Burials with others who were hung alongside her and in the Bishops Tawton Burial register where her body was laid to rest. For some reason she was not buried in the same graveyard as George Strangwidge. Did her family decide to have her buried in a quieter spot out of the limelight in the hopes her infamy would be forgotten or did they not want her final resting place to be in the same churchyard as her lover thus, forever, keeping them apart?


You can read various accounts of Ulalia’s story and other information on her and her family in the following volumes.

Barnstaple and Bishops Tawton parish registers for 1590

John Roberts Chanter: Sketches of the Literary History of Barnstaple: EJ Arnold (Barnstaple, 1866) D900/BAR/CHA

Todd Gray: The Lost Chronicle of Barnstaple1586-1611: The Devonshire Association (Exeter, 1998) D900/BAR/GRA

C.W. Bracken: A History of Plymouth and her Neighbours: Underhill (Plymouth, 1934) D900/PLY/BRA

Henry Francis Whitfeld: Plymouth and Devonport; In Times of War and Peace: E Chapple (Plymouth, 1900) D900/PLY/WHI

Sabine Baring-Gould: Devonshire Characters and Strange Events: John Lane The Bodley Head Limited (London, 1926) D920/BAR

Mrs. Bray: The Borders of the Tamar and the Tavy: W. Kent and Co (London, 1879) D910/BRA

John Tuckett: Devonshire Pedigrees: John Russell Smith (London) D929.2/TUC

Frederic Thomas Colby: The Visitation of the County of Devon in the Year 1620: The Harleian Society (London,1872) D929.2/COL

L.J. Vivian: the Visitations of the County of Devon: Henry S. Eland (Exeter, 1895) D929.2/VIV

Leslie Stephen ed.: Dictionary of National Biography; Vol XXI: Smith, Elder & Co (London, 1890)