Local Studies

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Westcountry Studies Library, Exeter

Address: Castle Street, Exeter EX4 3PQ

Telephone: Exeter (01392) 384216

Website: localstudies/115498/1.html.

Opening hours:
Monday: 9.30-6.00
Tuesday: 9.30-7.00
Wednesday: 10.00-5.00
Thursday: 9.30-7.00
Friday: 9.30-6.00
Saturday: 9.30-4.00

Situated next to Exeter Central Library, the Westcountry Studies Library is the largest local studies library in Devon. It aims to preserve all types of non-archival documentation relating to the four south-western counties and to organise it for information and research at all levels. It originated in the reference library in the Royal Albert Memorial, founded in 1869. The collections were evacuated to a place of safety and so largely survived the Blitz of 1942, when the building itself was burnt by an incendiary bomb, and they were considerably enlarged when the old Exeter City collections were merged with the County Library's collections on local government reorganisation in 1974.



More than 60,000 volumes relating to all aspects of Devon and the adjoining counties are available for reference in the Library with a working selection on the open shelves arranged by a modified version of the Dewey decimal classification used in the main lending and reference libraries. Histories and guidebooks are arranged alphabetically by place within county in a separate sequence. Coverage includes the standard county and town histories published from the 17th century onward, guidebooks starting in the late 18th century, directories from 1783 to date, and modern planning documents. Although the Library has many manuscripts, these are of a non-archival nature, archives being held by the Devon Record Office, located in the same building as the Library. Searchable listings are available on the local studies website.


Runs of the major county historical periodicals are held, including the Transactions of the Devonshire Association, Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries and the publications of the Devon and Cornwall Record Society. Runs of the more important of the several hundred periodical files are shelved at the start of the classified sequence of books. Also in the collection are runs of Council minutes for Devon from 1905, Exeter from 1890 and district councils from 1974. An index of periodical titles is available on the internet.


Because of their fragility newspapers must be consulted on microfilm, where available. The Library has microfilms of local newspapers for every year from 1738 to date with some files for the period 1715-31. A selection of current newspapers has been cut for files on places, subjects and persons since the 1920s. A bibliography of Devon newspapers including details of the holdings of the Westcountry Studies Library, can be found on the internet.


The major series are:
1765 1 inch to 1 mile Donn's survey of Devon
1784-1809 2-6 in to 1 mile Ordnance Survey drafts
1809-1972 1 inch to 1 mile Ordnance Survey
1826 1 inch to 1 mile Greenwood's survey
1864-1890 1:10560, 1:2500 County series 1st ed (microfiche)
1855-1892 1:500 etc O.S. town plans (microfiche)
1905-1939 1:10560, 1:2500 County series 2nd edition
1945-date 1:2500, 1:1250 O.S. national grid series
1945-date 1:10000, 1:25000 O.S. national grid
1974-date 1:50,000 O.S. Landranger series

These are supplemented by earlier maps, from the the 16th century onwards. Thematic maps include geological and land use maps, navigation charts and shopping centre plans. Lists of most types of maps are available. The Library also runs MapView, computer software which enables the viewing of recent large-scale digital mapping of Devon.


Some 50,000 prints, drawings and photographs provide a graphic record of the county from the late 18th century to date and there is also a collection of portraits. Illustrations are not all indexed and advance notice is advisable to see illustrations. Devon photographs from the Francis Frith collection are available on microfiche. The Etched on Devon's Memory lottery funded project displays early engravings on the internet.


These include broadsheets, posters, playbills, trade cards and similar items. They are largely unindexed but it may be possible to produce some material.


Besides the newspapers and maps mentioned above, the main collections of material in this form are the Mormons' International Genealogical Index of baptisms and marriages, held for England, and the census enumerators' returns for Devon from 1841 to 1901. You are advised to book a reader in advance to consult microfilms.


The Library provides public access to Devon related sites on the internet and a growing collection of materials is available on CD-ROM.


Fragility and storage problems mean that much material is not on open access. All material is available for public consultation although during periods of low staffing it may not be possible to fetch items from the store. If you intend to use the collections during evenings or lunch hours you are advised to request material in advance.


The arrangement such a diverse range of material is inevitably complex. If you do not find the information you require, please ask the staff. The following are the main finding aids:

Catalogue of books. There are terminals in the Library where you can interrogate the database of books, pamphlets and some ephemeral items by author, title, place and subject. The local studies database is also available on the internet.

Illustrations index. The Library has a card index arranged by place, subdivided by subject. There is no index to artists but an increasing amount of material is now available on the database. Beside the Etched on Devon's Memory project, has digitised and indexed some 4,500 topographical prints on the local studies database.

Map indexes. There are indexes to Ordnance Survey plans and other categories of maps, as well as key maps.

Information index. This provides an alphabetical subject index to miscellaneous items of information in periodical articles and other sources. A computerised version of this is under development.

Burnet Morris Index. Compiled by R. Burnet Morris between 1915 and 1940, this contains over 1,000,000 cards with information on Devon persons, places and subjects. A printed guide to this complex index is available.

Exeter Flying Post index. A card index to the newspaper for 1763-1885, covering subjects, places and persons.


The Society's collection of transcripts of parish registers and similar records is deposited in the Library for the use of members only. Temporary or full membership can be taken out in the Library. A handlist of the Devon and Cornwall Record Society's collection can be consulted on the internet.


This is located on the landing outside the Westcountry Studies Library, following the move of the record Office to Great Moor House in 2005. It contains microfiches of parish registers and some other material and is operated on a self-service basis.


Seating: 22 seats are available at tables.

Microform readers: four film and three fiche readers are available. Time on these should be booked in advance.

Microform printers: these are available for public use with staff assistance where necessary.

Computers: five People's Network PCs access the internet and there are stand-alone facilities for the consultation of other digital resources.

Photocopier: a coin-operated copier is available. The copyright legislation must be observed by users who should bring sufficient change with them. For conservation reasons some items may not be copied.

Photography and scanning: this is undertaken only by the Library's designated photographer.

Genealogical research: this can be undertaken by a professional genealogist based in the Record Office. For details of the research service see the Record Office website.

Disabled access: There is only short-term parking space near the Library. A ramp leads up to the main entrance and a staff lift to the first floor can be summoned from a telephone in the entrance foyer.



Staff is not available to visit organisations to give talks. Small groups of not more than six can visit the Library to be given talks on the resources in the collection. Larger groups can be split with the Record Office, or the Music Room can be booked.


The Library is anxious to support educational work in the field of local history and environmental studies. It is essential however that teachers contact the Library before setting assignments or sending students in, to ascertain that suitable material is available. Visits by groups of students are welcome but must be notified well in advance so that accommodation and material can be reserved.


No one resource can hope to be comprehensive in the field of local studies and the brief list below is intended to assist serious researchers with ideas for extending their investigations. Fuller information including web links can be found through the local studies service collections homepage or by enquiring at the Library.


North Devon Local Studies Centre
Tuly Street, Barnstaple EX31 1EL. Tel: 01271-388607
Plymouth Local Studies Library (administered by Plymouth City Council)
Drake Circus, Plymouth PL4 8AL. Tel: 01752-305909
Torquay Local Studies Library (administered by Torbay Council)
Lymington Road, Torquay TQ1 3DT. Tel: 01803-208305

Most branch libraries have material on their own area and the following non-public libraries have good collections:
Devon and Exeter Institution, 7, The Close, Exeter EX1 1EZ
North Devon Athenaeum, Tuly Street, Barnstaple EX31 1EL


Devon Record Office
Castle Street, Exeter EX4 3PU. Tel: 01392-384253
North Devon Record Office
Tuly Street, Barnstaple EX32 7EJ. Tel: 01271-388608
Plymouth and West Devon Record Office (administered by Plymouth City Council)
Unit 3, Clare Place, Coxside, Plymouth. Tel: 01752-305940


Many of the smaller museums are staffed on a voluntary basis and have restricted opening hours. The largest museums are:
Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Queen Street, Exeter
Plymouth Museum and Art Gallery, Drake Circus, Plymouth
Torquay Museum, 529 Babbacombe Road, Torquay


The main county-wide organisations are:
Devon History Society
Devon Archaeological Society
Devonshire Association
Devon Family History Society
Centre for South Western Historical Studies

The heritage section of the Community information website has lists of organisations and is always grateful to receive additions and corrections.

Creator: Devon Library Services
Title: Westcountry Studies Library, Exeter
Imprint: : Devon Library Services
Date: 2003
Format: Web page : HTML
Series: Resource collections ; R12
Ref. no.: WEB WSL
Coverage: Devon . Exeter . Local studies libraries . Westcountry Studies Library . Guides

Last Updated: 03/06/2009

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