About the Devon Heritage Centre
The Devon Heritage Centre is located at Great Moor House, Bittern Road, Sowton, Exeter, about 3 miles east of the city centre. It is the headquarters of the Devon Archives and Local Studies Service (previously known as Devon Heritage Services).
It holds the archive collections from the former Devon Record Office, which moved to Great Moor House from the centre of Exeter early in 2005, and also the local studies collection formerly held at the Westcountry Studies Library in Castle Street, Exeter.
The archive collections from the Devon Record Office had previously been held in three separate repositories - the Exeter City Library, the East Devon Record Office (formerly known as the Exeter City Record Office) and the old Devon County Record Office. In 1977 these three repositories had been amalgamated to form the Devon Record Office in Castle Street, Exeter which had remained in those premises until early in 2005. When the record office at Great Moor House opened in March of that year, it replaced both the premises at Castle Street and a large outstore on the Marsh Barton industrial estate.
The contents of the former Westcountry Studies Library reading room at Castle Street and the collections of the Devon and Cornwall Record Society moved to Devon Heritage Centre in October 2012, followed by almost all of the remaining local studies material held in stacks, which had been transferred by the end of June 2014. Some re-shelving and sorting of transferred collections continues behind the scenes at Devon Heritage Centre. The only items now remaining at Castle Street are some of the original (hard-copy) newspapers.
What Do We Do?
The Devon Heritage Centre collects archival and local studies material relating to the county of Devon and families resident here, except where the primary connection is with Plymouth or North Devon. The archive records collected include those of local government, the Church of England and other denominations, of individuals, families, businesses, societies, schools - any of the groups who have contributed to the past life of the county, or who do so today. The local studies material which is collected also relates to Devon, with a focus on secondary sources, published books, pamphlets, illustrations, moving images, journals, newspapers and other reference material.
Devon's documentary heritage has survived because the creators and inheritors of these records have taken care of them, and we are very grateful to those owners who place their archival documents in the Devon Heritage Centre. We accept archive material either as a gift - securing their public availability for all time - or on deposit, with the depositor retaining legal ownership. We then store these archives in temperature and humidity-controlled strong rooms protected by fire and intruder alarms. They are sorted, catalogued and indexed to ensure that they are accessible for researchers in the future. The Devon Heritage Centre staff also examine papers kept in private custody or by an institution (whether these are old or of recent date) and advise on their safe-keeping.
We also endeavour to add to our local studies collections by acquiring material in printed, duplicated or digital format. The majority of these acquisitions were previously by purchase or subscription, for which there was a discrete allocation within the Heritage Services revenue budget. Although we are still able to add to the collections in this way to a certain extent, donations are now a key source of additions to the collections and we are keen to receive donated publications from individual authors, local history societies and other organisations which publish books, reports and printed material relating to Devon.
The conservation staff apply their skills to the preservation and physical needs of the archive and local studies collections as appropriate within the overall programme of the heritage centre. Staff and volunteers work on repairing and packaging these collections in a purpose-built conservation studio. Our conservators also provide information and advice on the best way to create records which will last into the future, and to preserve and store records still in the care of other institutions or in private custody. They also offer advice to organisations wishing to display documents in an exhibition.
Providing Access to our Collections
We will provide facilities for members of the public to look at and use our collections for their own research, as we have at the former record office and local studies library. If you are interested in the archives and local studies material which we hold you are welcome to visit our searchroom. We will provide basic information on the types of material we hold and our finding aids, before you visit us.
Some of our records, particularly popular, heavily used sources such as parish registers, cemetery registers, shipping registers, land tax assessments and local newspapers, were filmed and are still available in that format in our searchroom. However digitizing of such records has replaced filming, and some records are now accessible in this format, particularly online through commercial websites, which are free to access if you visit our searchroom.
Providing Information from our Collections
If you are unable to come to the heritage centre in person, you can write or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org for information on the sources which we have available. Members of staff can give advice on the types of records we hold, and direct you to online catalogues which list some of these.
We offer copying services and a specific records checking service for certain types of records. For more information see our webpage on Enquiry and Copy Services
We do not have our own research service, though we do deal with enquiries which require research under the Freedom of Information and Data Protection Acts. We do not offer a general family history or other historical research service; we only accept requests for a member of staff to carry out a search in collections closed to general access – for example, hospital and asylum patient records and poor law union inmate records less than 100 years old. This specific type of research is carried out for a fee based on time spent. Enquiries about coroners’ files and inquest reports less than 75 years old must be made through Her Majesty’s Coroner for the Exeter and Greater Devon or Torbay Districts.
See our research enquiries website page for more details, and for information on how to contact private and professional researchers to undertake other types of research enquiries.
Staff are able to give talks on the work of Devon Archives and Local Studies Service, and on various aspects of historical research, including local and family history.
Exhibitions are regularly mounted in the Heritage Centre display cases outside the refreshment room, and in the searchroom.
Tours of the Devon Heritage Centre can be arranged for students, family history and local history groups. If you wish to request a talk or tour for your group, please telephone or e-mail the Community Learning Officer, Brian Carpenter.
Tel: 01392 384253
More information on Events and Activities
Devon Archives and Local Studies Service has previously issued its own newsletter once or twice a year. Past issues of the Devon Record Office and Devon Heritage Services newsletters can be accessed online
Guides to sources and research topics
Both the former Devon Record Office and the Westcountry Studies Library used to produce a series of information sheets on various types of sources and about popular research topics. These have been updated for only a few topics, but are still available free of charge at Devon Heritage Centre.
Most of the guides to archival sources and research topics which are published online have been regularly updated and are available through this website. Local studies information sheets are now mostly updated as well, and can also still be accessed online.
We display and sell local history publications in the shop located in our reception area. We also sell general family history books published by the National Archives, and other organisations, as well as parish register indexes and other sources offered by the Devon Family History Society and other publishers on CD-Rom.
Who can use the records?
Anyone may come along to the Devon Heritage Centre and carry out their own research using original material, or filmed copies of these. Our visitors come from a wide range of backgrounds. You may wish to research family history in Devon, or find out about the history of your house. You may be completing a school or university project on an aspect of general or local history, or researching the history of your own parish. Professional record agents, archaeologists, architects, land agents, planning staff, school teachers and academic staff of universities and colleges also continue to be regular visitors to our centre.
It is advisable to prepare for your visit by obtaining information on our holdings and services from this website before you arrive. If the information you require is not on our web-pages, please contact us by email, letter or telephone. We can tell you about our online indexes, check card indexes not yet on-line, and suggest sources for you to consult. Our search-room is sometimes extremely busy - especially now that we offer an integrated service. Thus, we may not have as much time as we would like to discuss your particular requirements if you arrive unprepared. This applies particularly if you are a student planning an essay, dissertation or project. If you are unsure whether suitable sources exist for your research topic, it is best for you to consult us at an early stage in the planning of your work, and before you actually make your first visit.
We also try to direct you to other repositories if the sources you are seeking are not held at our centre.