Devon Archives and Local Studies Service

Our Collections

Devon Heritage Centre Searchroom

Main archive collections at the Devon Heritage Centre, Exeter

County of Devon

QS Maimed Soldiers

Devon Quarter Sessions, 1592-1971, covering criminal jurisdiction for the county and civil administration (including records of county roads and bridges, police stations, alehouses, poor law unions, plans of public undertakings, gaols, lunatic asylums).

Devon County Council, 1889-1974, covering county administration (including council and committee minutes, accounts, records of local authority schools, etc.)

District Councils
Records of the former Urban and Rural District Councils in East, South (including Torbay), and Mid Devon, 1889-1974, with some earlier material (mainly minutes and accounts, with some rating records and planning applications). A few records from post-1974 District Councils.

City of Exeter

Exeter Cathedral c.1590

Records of city administration, c.1100 to the present day (including council minutes, accounts, court rolls, customs accounts, charters, deeds, and legal papers, with exceptional coverage of the medieval period).

Diocese of Exeter
Records of the diocese (which included most of Cornwall up to 1875), 13th-20th centuries (including bishops' registers of institutions, ordinations, licences, and consecrations, faculties, marriage bonds and allegations, tithe maps and apportionments, glebe terriers, consistory court act and deposition books, testamentary and other papers).

Anglican Parishes
Records of churches and congregations, 16th century to the present day, including registers, churchwardens' accounts, overseers' accounts and papers, charity deeds, tithe maps and apportionments, Parochial Church Council minutes and other records..

OSM PR 1-14

Parish Councils
Minutes and other records of civil Parish Councils from 1894.

Nonconformist Churches
Records of Baptist, Unitarian, Congregationalist/Independent congregations and Society of Friends, 17th century onwards; also Methodist connexions, from 18th century onwards, including registers after 1837, minutes, accounts, and other papers, though coverage varies throughout the county.

Families and Estates
We have many family and estate collections, both large and small. Some of the principal collections are: Bedford Estates (1258M), Courtenay of Powderham (1508M), Fortescue of Castle Hill (1262M), Acland of Killerton (1148M), Addington of Sidmouth (152M), Rolle of St Giles (96M), Petre of Axminster (123M and 49/26), Mallock of Cockington (48/13), Pratt of Prattshayes, Littleham (1043M) Simcoe (1038M), Ford of Branscombe (1037M), Ilbert of West Alvington (316M), Clarke of Bridwell, Uffculme (3321M) and Iddesleigh of Upton Pyne (51/24).

Clubs and Societies
These collections are varied and sometimes small, but some are of considerable interest.  They include the records of Women’s Institutes, Round Tables, Young Farmers’ Clubs, Friendly Societies, operatic societies, Devon Gardens Trust, flower clubs, district and county nursing associations, other medical associations, trade unions, other political organisations, hunt clubs, and other sporting clubs.



Firms of solicitors make up the majority of this group, but there are a few important deposits relating to manufacturing and retail trades, including Garton and King (2783B), F. Parkin and Son Limited (6234B and additional deposits) Bodley Brothers and Company Limited of Exeter (5808B), Willey and Company, Exeter (4711Z), Finch Foundry (7853F), Rossiter and Son of Paignton (7451B), Buckfastleigh Mills (BFM) and James Townsend and Sons.

Public Records
These include records of courts, hospitals, prisons, and coroners. Because of their sensitivity, public access to some records in these collections is restricted and information is only available through applying to have research carried out by heritage centre staff. .

Dartington Hall Trust Archive at Devon Heritage Centre

Between 2010 and 2012, when the archive repository at Dartington Hall was finally closed, the Trust transferred most of its large archive collection to the Devon Record Office at Sowton.   Its archive (with the exclusion of Dartington Hall School pupils' individual records, its filmstock and digital images of its illustrations and photographs) is therefore now housed here, at the Devon Heritage Centre (the former premises of the Devon Record Office) at Sowton.

In 2015 the Trust began revamping its own website and since then its own online archive catalogue has been unavailable.   This catalogue was developed by the former archivist at Dartington Hall, and was the best finding aid to the collections now held at Devon Heritage Centre.   However most of the archive has also been added to our own online archive catalogue and before a visit you should search our Online Catalogue to find the material you wish to consult, and in order to find archive references for documents, photographs etc.

After searching the online catalogue, researchers wishing to visit the heritage centre should read the pages on this website which relate to visiting the Devon Heritage Centre.  Those who wish to order copies of documents should read about our enquiry and copy services.

The following requests should still be made direct to the archives & records administrator at The Dartington Hall Trust, who still works one day a week.

  • Copies of images as seen on The Dartington Hall Trust online catalogue with appropriate reference number (Ref. No.)
  • Permission to quote from any document, or publish any image or document held in the Dartington Hall Trust Archive
  • Former pupils of Dartington Hall School wishing to view their records

Contact details: Yvonne Widger
Archives and Records
The Dartington Hall Trust
Dartington Hall
Totnes TQ9 6EL
tel:  01803-847200

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Local Studies Collections at Devon Heritage Centre, Exeter

Local studies books and other materials are now almost all held in local studies collections at Devon Heritage Centre and North Devon Local Studies Centre.  The largest collection is that of the former Westcountry Studies Library, which is now held at Devon Heritage Centre, Sowton, Exeter.  North Devon Local Studies centre is located in the North Devon Library and Record Office building in Barnstaple.  

Branch libraries in other parts of Devon such as Exmouth, Newton Abbot and Bideford, which once had considerable local studies collections of their own, now hold less material of this type, though they may still hold some local newspapers on film.  

The collections in Devon Heritage Centre which are still currently identified as Westcountry Studies Library collections [location code WSL] on the online catalogue, are gradually being altered to be identified Devon Heritage Centre collections [location code DHC]. See our Online Catalogues webpage for the various online catalogues and indexes to the local studies collections.

Printed books

The book collection of the former Westcountry Studies Library is now held at Devon Heritage Centre. This does not include reference library volumes previously available in Exeter Central Library’s reference area. Our collection includes more than 50,000 volumes relating to all aspects of Devon and the adjoining counties. Our former Devon Record Office searchroom library books have been incorporated into the local studies book collection, with duplicates removed from the searchroom shelves. Books held in Devon Heritage Centre and North Devon Local Studies Centre collections are available for reference only, and cannot be borrowed .

The Exeter Working Papers in Book History website, created by former county Local Studies librarian Ian Maxted, contains biographical, bibliographical and historical information on book history in Devon, particularly for the later eighteenth century. The earlier Exeter Working Papers originally appeared as limited issue publications from the 1970s to the 1990s. These are now out of print except for The London book trades 1775-1800. They aimed to make biographical information on book trade personnel gathered in the course of research generally available. In a revised form they were subsequently included on the website of Devon Library Services. They were migrated to the present website in 2005 where the information is constantly being updated and extended.

Research cannot be carried out by Devon Heritage Centre staff on behalf of enquirers, so any requests for research in these books should be referred to a private record agent or researcher. However, various types of copying service – subject to copyright rules – and a checking service - is available through Devon Archives and Local Studies Services

Devon and Cornwall Record Society Collection at Devon Heritage Centre, Exeter

The Devon and Cornwall Record Society’s collection, previously held on the mezzanine level at the former Westcountry Studies Library, is now under the care of Devon Archives and Local Studies Services at the Devon Heritage Centre, Sowton, Exeter.

Microfiche and Microfilm copies

The following archival records for the whole of Devon, Plymouth and Torbay are available on microfiche or microfilm at all three archive repositories in Devon:

  • Church of England parish registers which have been filmed. This does not include recently deposited registers
  • Pre-1837 nonconformist registers and those post-1837 nonconformist registers which have been filmed
  • Bishops' transcripts of parish registers for Devon and Cornwall, pre-1813
  • Tithe maps and apportionments

The following additional records for the whole of Devon, Plymouth and Torbay are available on microfiche or microfilm at both the Devon Heritage Centre, Exeter and the North Devon Record Office, Barnstaple:

  • Electoral registers, 1832-1900
  • Inland Revenue wills series, 1812-1857
  • Land tax assessments, 1780-1832

A substantial number of parish records (other than registers) from North Devon parishes are also available on microfiche at both the North Devon Record Office and the Devon Heritage Centre, Exeter. These include churchwardens' accounts, vestry minutes, Overseers of the Poor accounts and charity accounts.

The following records are available on microfilm at the Devon Heritage Centre and at the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office:

  • Shipping registers

Microfilm of the Devon newspapers formerly held at the Westcountry Studies Library  are available at the Devon Heritage Centre. Microfilms of other local newspapers are held in local studies collections at some Devon branch libraries.

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Digitized collections

Most of the Church of England parish registers held at the Devon Heritage Centre and North Devon Record Office have been digitised and some of these have been searchable online on the Find My Past website since 2014. A further 49 parish registers have recently been digitised and digital images of these were made available online on the members’ area of the Devon Family History Society website early in 2016. It is expected that these will also become available on the Find My Past website sometime in the future.

Many of the parish registers held at Plymouth and West Devon Record Office were also digitised and were made available online through the Find My Past website in 2012.  

For more details about the progress of this project, please see Devon Parish Registers Online

Devon school admission registers were digitised and the images published online on Find My Past for the first time in 2014.  Devon Heritage Centre and North Devon Record Office were both involved in the first phase of this project, and pre-1914 admission registers which have deposited as part of school archive collections in both offices were included.   

This was made possible because the Archives and Records Association - the leading membership body for those who work in UK and Irish archives – had signed an agreement, on behalf of a large number of archives and schools, with digital publishing company Brightsolid, to make pre-1914 school registers from England and Wales online.  This was the first project to be undertaken under the framework of the National Digitisation Consortium, which comprises up to 120 English and Welsh archives and schools working together to offer records for digitisation.

Devon Crew Lists held at Devon Heritage Centre which were digitised and indexed by CLIP Project volunteers can also be found online on Find My Past as part of the database of England & Wales Merchant Navy Crew Lists 1861-1913

Many of the illustrations and photographs held in the local studies collection at Devon Heritage Centre were previously digitized, and thumbnail images of these can be found through the local studies illustrations catalogue webpage.

Many pages on the Devon Local Studies site include images but there are several which are composed almost entirely of images digitised from originals held in the local studies collection, including portraits and photographs of bomb damage in Devon during World War 2.  For more information and links to these pages see the  local studies illustrations catalogue webpage.

Indexes and Lists

An ongoing programme of online listing and indexing of holdings is in progress at both the Devon Heritage Centre and the North Devon Record Office.

Paper copies of lists are also available for use in the search-rooms, together with card indexes of places, subjects and personal names appearing in the lists, although none of these card indexes are being added to any longer.

Copies of the lists have been sent annually to the National Register of Archives (Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts) in London.

An increasing number of our indexes and catalogues are becoming available on-line, through our online catalogues.

Guides to sources and research topics

These will be updated as time allows, to incorporate the changes involved in the integration of Devon Record Office and Westcountry Studies Library collections as part of Devon Heritage Services.

In the meantime, you can find links to guides to some archival sources and historical research topics online on our following webpages:

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