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Copies of the major county histories are to be found in the larger libraries in Devon with a selection in the larger branches. Loan copies of some titles are available. Extracts from Polwhele and Lysons are frequently included in the parish packs which are available in most branch libraries and schools outside the major conurbations. The earliest county histories are partially topographical surveys and were compiled from the early 17th century onward. A useful survey of ten county histories is provided by A.A.Brockett "The historians of Devon: a bibliographical appreciation" (1949), typescript, but available in Exeter and Plymouth. Devon by W.G.Hoskins (1954) also gives a summary in his bibliographical supplement.

There is no multivolume history of Devon to compare with such authorities as Hasted for Kent or Collinson for Somerset. Only the first volume of the Victoria county history of Devon has appeared (1905) and this is confined largely to natural history and prehistory although it also has an edition of the Domesday Book.

Tristram Risdon, The chorographical description or survey of the county of Devon (1811, reprinted 1970). Begun in 1605 and finished in 1630, it circulated widely in manuscript, several versions being held in WSL. A mangled version was published by Curll (2 vol, 1714, reissued 1723, 1725, 1733). Before it was published in extenso in 1811 William Chapple began A review of Risdon's survey of Devon (1785, repr 1970) but only the first part was published before the author's death. Chapple's working copy is deposited in the DRO. It is confined largely to accounts of descents of estates. Apart from its own index, see: A.B.Prowse "Index to Risdon's survey of Devonshire: personal names: edition of 1811" Trans Dev. Assoc. 26 (1894), 419-50.

Thomas Westcote, A view of Devonshire in MDCXXX, edited by George Oliver and Pitman Jones (1845). Like Risdon it is confined largely to accounts of descents of estates but is attractively written and is arranged according to the river valleys. Indexed in: A.B.Prowse "Index to personal names in Westcote's view of Devonshire in 1630" Trans. Dev. Assoc. 27 (1895), 443-85.

Sir William Pole Collections towards a description of the county of Devon (1791). Pole died in 1635 and most of his papers were destroyed in the Civil War. While incomplete, this publication is valuable as it is based on papers which have otherwise disappeared, but its interest is almost exclusively genealogical.

John Hooker "Synopsis chorographical of Devonshire" (1599). The earliest topographical account of Devon. Survives as British Library Harleian Ms 5827. Microfilm available in Westcountry Studies Library. Extracts printed in Trans. Dev. Assoc. 47 (1915) p334-48. Used extensively by Westcote and Risdon.

Richard Polwhele, The history of Devonshire (3 vol 1797-1806, repr 1977). The most ambitious history attempted to date but incomplete and ramshackle. The general historical sections are of little value, especially for the earliest period. The parochial descriptions are most useful for the south of the county but tail off badly.

Samuel and Daniel Lysons, Magna Britannia. Vol 6: Devonshire (2 vol, 1822). The best of the early county histories. Volume 1 contains a general introduction with useful accounts of industry and volume 2 parish histories. A major source for most later writers. Based on extensive questionnaires held in manuscript in the British Library; a microfilm is available in Westcountry Studies Library.

Thomas Moore, History of Devonshire (3 vol, 1829-36). Incomplete as none of the intended parochial history appeared. A workmanlike text though inaccurate for the earliest periods. The second volume is made up of biographies, drawing extensively on John Prince's Danmonii orientales illustres (the second edition had appeared in 1811) and there are numerous good quality engraved plates.

Among early unpublished collections are those of Jeremiah Milles, Dean of Exeter from 1762 to 1784 in preparation for a book on Devon history. Milles circulated a questionnaire (see Trans. Dev. Assoc. 23, 154-57). The original returns are in the Bodleian Library but a microfilm copy of the completed questionnaires and a second series of "parochial collections" is in WSL. See: B.F.Cresswell "Milles' parochial collections for Devon" DCNQ 11 (1921), 320-4. In the Devon and Exeter Institution is to be found the Stockdale Collection of material collected towards a history of Devon. The fullest index is provided by cards in the Burnet Morris Index in WSL (see section 3.118). The collection is discussed by Ian Stoyle in "F.W.Stockdale: begetter of the Stockdale Collection" (Devon historian, 46, 1993, p.3-8).

Charles Worthy Devonshire parishes: or, the antiquities, heraldry and family history of twenty-eight parishes in the Archdeaconry of Totnes (2 vol, 1887-89) is an example of a partial historical survey.

R.N.Worth, A history of Devonshire (1886). A readable and useful one-volume account, but "not what we should call a history today" (Hoskins).

W.G.Hoskins. Devon (1954). The best modern history of Devon, thematic rather than chronological with a full gazetteer and valuable bibliography. The second edition (1972) was not updated; a commemorative edition with an appreciation and a supplementary bibliography appeared in 1992. Other works by Hoskins include Old Devon (1966) and Devon and its people (1959). Hoskins did not cover Exeter in his general county history, Devon, for this see his Two thousand years in Exeter (1960 etc).

R.Stanes. A history of Devon (1985). A good recent concise chronological introduction.

A listing of county histories and accounts of travel is given by Ian Maxted and Mark Brayshay in "A list of of works on the topography of the south-west counties" in Topographical writers in South-West England (University of Exeter, 1996).


The area local studies collections have a good collection of town histories and libraries in the area covered by the histories normally have reference and frequently also lending copies. The earliest published histories appear in the 17th and 18th centuries. Examples are R.Izacke Memorials of the city of Exeter (1676) and Martin Dunsford Historical memoirs of the town and parish of Tiverton (1790).

Most early histories have little on social history but reprint lists of office holders or texts of early charters and other documents or else are annalistic in nature. Recent town histories are frequently little more than collections of illustrations. Even with publishers which specialise in local histories, individual volumes vary in the quality of historical research and interpretation and in the level of documentation provided. Some towns, such as Cullompton and Crediton still have no large-scale published history, although the latter has a typescript compilation by T.W.Venn which is quite widely available.


Parish histories are usually to be found in the area local studies collection where the parish is located and a copy is frequently to be found in the nearest branch. Many such histories are produced for limited circulation and it is not always possible to find lending copies.

The Parochial history section of the Devonshire Association drew up guidelines for the compilation of parish histories, and a number were published from 1930 to the 1960s, e.g.
Okehampton, compiled by E.H.Young (1931)
Holsworthy, by W.I.Leeson Day (1934)

These are all arranged under a series of up to 38 main headings (e.g. manorial history, population, markets and fairs, education), many with subdivisions. H.F.Fulford Williams completed several dozen parish histories in typescript using the format drawn up by the Devonshire Association, and these are held in WSL. Also in WSL are folders of parish information compiled by the Devonshire Association in preparation for the publication of further histories, but most of these contain little material and they have not been added to for many years.

Local history groups and adult education classes frequently produce parish histories. A recent example is: Out of the world and into Combe Martin (1989), a collection of essays by the Combe Martin Local History Group.

Many parishes still lack a printed history although much historical information can be found in such sources as the local church guide. A listing of town and parish histories held in WSL is available: Abbots Bickington to Zeal Monachorum: a handlist of Devon parish histories (Devon Library Services, 1994).

Creator: Devon Library and Information Services
Title: Histories
Imprint: : Devon Library Services
Date: 2003
Format: Web page : HTML
Series: Local studies source guide ; S12
Coverage: Devon . Histories . Historical sources

Last Updated: 02/02/2005

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