Medieval Bridge over Exe
Medieval Bridge over Exe

Exeter Local History Society provides between six and twelve lectures every year on a wide variety of subjects. Summaries are below starting with the most recent. You can find the details by following these links (or the links at the bottom of each summary):

Crediton and the Great Fire of 1743

with Tony Gale on Thursday, 14 March 2024
at 7pm at The Mint Methodist Church Centre, Exeter (Wesley Room)

Crediton and the Great Fire of 1743 looks at two striking things which happened in Crediton that year. An unusually detailed map of the town was drawn up for the Lord of the Manor, and just a few months later, most of the town centre was destroyed by fire. There is a rich archive of contemporary documents about the fire and its aftermath. This talk covered the period before, during and after the fire, revealing some intriguing stories about life in 18th century Devon.

Tony Gale is a Devonian with a lifelong interest in history. Since retiring from paid work, he has taken an MA at the University of Exeter and is working with the Crediton Area History & Museum Society, Devon History Society, Devon & Cornwall Record Society to further his interest in and contribution towards local history.

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The Magic Lantern

views of the local, views of the far away
with Dr Richard Crangle on Thursday, 8 February 2024
at 7pm at Southernhay URC Church, Exeter (Garden Room)

The Magic Lantern has been used for more than 360 years to represent and feed into every aspect of human life and culture, in every part of the world. Yet today it is almost unknown or put aside as 'just' an ancestor of the cinema. Dr Richard Crangle explained a bit more, with an original 1890s lantern and slides, including some local views not often seen.

Richard Crangle has a PhD in early film and related media and has been researching magic lantern slides for over twenty-five years, with a particular focus on British commercial slide manufacture of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His most recent post was as an Associate Research Fellow at the University of Exeter, working on the ‘Million Pictures’ European collaboration project researching the use of the projected image in educational and heritage contexts in several EU countries. Among other projects he has been largely responsible for creating and developing the Lucerna Magic Lantern Web Resource,

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Martha’s Memories

The Later History of St. Nicholas Priory
with Ben Clapp on Thursday, 11 January 2024
at 7pm at The Mint Methodist Church

St Nicholas Priory, Exeter's oldest building has had a long history, which has included its time as a monastery and many years as a grand Tudor home. However, its later history has many interesting stories to tell which bring the building to life. Ben Clapp has been involved with St. Nicholas Priory for some sixteen years and during his time being involved there, initially through his job at RAMM and now as a volunteer, he has studied this interesting but previously almost unknown period of the building's history. This has included the periods when it was used as a penny kitchen run by local nuns and when its parts were used as a school gym. This talk will explore the history of St Nicholas Priory in general and this period in particular, perhaps illuminating some of the things seen by our longest resident, Martha the (stuffed!) Raven who has watched the building for nearly a century.

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Fire in Exeter

with Dr. Todd Gray on Wednesday, 13 December 2023
at 7pm at The Mint Methodist Church Centre, Exeter

In this illustrated lecture, Dr. Todd Gray looked at the incidence of fire and the subsequent loss of buildings in Exeter in comparison with other urban areas in Devon. Arson and the accidental outbreak of fire changed particular streets in the city, and these losses continue to leave their mark four generations later.

Dr. Todd Gray is a well-known historian of Exeter and Devon, has published numerous volumes on the history of the county, and has frequently spoken to the Society.

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General Sir Redvers Buller VC (1839-1908)

In his Own Time and Our Time


with Dr. Robert Guyver on Thursday, 9 November 2023 at 7pm at The Mint, Exeter

Some kind of joining up the dots is needed to appraise (a) the military and to some extent the associated diplomatic-political career of Buller (if his time in Ireland is regarded as not entirely military) in the context of his own time, with (b) current post-colonial concerns about the effects of the actions of the British on the lives of indigenous people (and others, like the South African Afrikaners or ‘Boers’) in different parts of the British Empire (especially in Africa), and in those other places that are named (but including some like Ireland that are not named) on his statue. The new information board which has been placed opposite the statue at the top of Hele Road reflects these concerns.

Buller was clearly not a stranger to controversy even in his own lifetime, having been accused of military inefficiency in the opening stages of the Second Boer War, and then of indiscretion in talking after his return to England about a telegram which might have been interpreted as an invitation to surrender the besieged town of Ladysmith. Nevertheless, his physical bravery and disregard for his own safety, and his concern for the welfare of those serving under his command, inspired great respect and indeed love across Devon. As a strategist and military organiser, his reforms had a lasting effect.

Sir Redvers was involved in several colourful campaigns, some of which involved immense physical endurance, and many of which had travel by river as the central challenge (e.g., the Red River in Canada; the Nile in Sudan; the Tugela in Natal). Aspects of his life reveal rivalries and jealousies between military factions (the Africa group under Wolseley against the India group under Roberts). Despite the difficulties faced in his long-distance experiences well away from home, and some of those faced in London after he returned, he remained at heart a country squire and could see his military responsibilities and his relationships with others through this lens.

Dr. Robert Guyver showed us the General Sir Redvers Buller of his time and talked about the controversies over his legacy in the present-day discourse.

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Exeter’s Lost Buildings, Destruction from 1800 to 1899

lecture by Dr. Todd Gray on Thursday, 26 October 2023
at 2pm at the Guildhall

In this two-part lecture, Dr Todd Gray changes the way we think about Exeter's history by opening up the topic of the loss of the city's historic buildings in the 1800s. He began by introducing the hitherto-unappreciated collection of images that chronicle destruction in the city centre. In the second part Gray outlined the main reasons for loss which have not been previously understood.

Recent Excavations and Building Studies in Exeter Cathedral Cloisters

with John Allan on Thursday, 14 September 2023

Since the 1990s the cathedral cloisters have been the subject of much detailed archaeological work: excavation, studies of the standing buildings, and documentary study. This talk by John Allan described and explained the findings.

The earliest remains date from the Roman legionary fortress (c. AD 50-75), followed by portions of Roman town houses. The excavations have also revealed post-Roman graves and have been studying the post-Roman soils. Above them, evidence for a previously unknown medieval cloister has been found, as well as new evidence for the form of the later medieval cloisters. Finally, the standing buildings include 17th-century, Georgian and Victorian buildings, both domestic and ecclesiastical.

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Workshop: Lost Buildings of Exeter, the 1800s

with Dr. Todd Gray on Thursday, 13 July 2023
at 10am at St Katherine's Priory

This workshop took place at St Katherine's Priory and was led by Dr. Todd Gray. We discussed Todd's ongoing project — and his upcoming book — on Exeter's buildings lost in the 1800s.

Dr. Todd Gray is a well-known historian of Exeter and Devon, has published numerous volumes on the history of the county, and has frequently spoken to the Society.

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How to look at Exeter's Colourful Heraldry

with David Oates on Thursday, 13 July 2023
at 7pm at Leonardo Hotel Exeter [Jurys Inn Exeter Hotel]

Heraldic designs and coats of arms are a common sight in our streets, churches, and many other places. From pub signs to elaborate shields on tombs in cathedrals, they tell us much about the individuals, places, and organisations that they represent.

Using a wide variety of examples from Exeter and its neighbourhood, we learnt what to look out for to interpret this rich symbology and determine its relationship to our local history. Heraldry has a fascinating language of its own to describe the devices. We will look briefly at that and what determines the right to bear arms.

David Oates has been interested in heraldry since his schooldays. Latterly he helped produce the Devon section of the “Hatchments in England” series. He speaks regularly on heraldic topics, recently including to the Heraldry Society and the Cambridge University Heraldry and Genealogy Society. He is a member of both.

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Grievous Bodley harm?

The strange affair of Exeter's medieval manuscripts

with Ian Maxted on Thursday, 8 June 2023
at 7pm at Leonardo Hotel Exeter [Jurys Inn Exeter Hotel]

Who is Sir Thomas Bodley? What are his links to Exeter and the Exeter Cathedral Library? What are some of the remarkable libraries (and manuscripts) in Exeter’s history, how were they established, built, and re-built over centuries? These are some of the questions that were addressed in Ian Maxted’s talk. He discussed the figure of Sir Thomas Bodley in the history of the Exeter Cathedral Library, showed images of some of the manuscripts involved, talked about the rebuilding of the library in the north cloisters in 1412, and ended with the long view on the rise, fall, and resurrection of Exeter's libraries over the centuries.

Ian Maxted has been a vagabond through the world of the book in Devon and beyond for half a century. He was Devon's local studies librarian from 1977 to 2005 and the compiler of the Devon bibliography.

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Devon General

History of Bus Transport in Devon

with Paul Jenkins on Thursday, 11 May 2023

The Devon General Omnibus and Touring Company started its operations in 1919 with two lines connecting Exeter and Torquay. Over time, its area of operation expanded to include most of south and east Devon, and many people will remember Devon General, either as local residents travelling by bus to school, to work or out shopping, or as visitors touring the South West.

Paul Jenkin’s talk outlined the history of the Devon General bus company up to its absorption into Western National in 1971, and the efforts of bus enthusiasts at the Devon General Omnibus Trust to keep memories of the company alive. The trust advances the education of the public in the history of public road transport, and especially regarding the history of the Devon General Omnibus & Touring Company and its successors.

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Men of the Royal Navy

with Charlotte Coles (AC Archaeology) on Thursday, 13 April 2023

In 2018, AC Archaeology excavated within a Royal Navy cemetery in Plymouth. The remains of the sailors have helped us build up a detailed picture of the medical and social developments of the day and what everyday life was like in the Royal Navy in the 18th and 19th centuries. In this talk we discovered who the sailors were, where they came from and the diseases like scurvy they suffered from as well as the more dramatic battle injuries. We also learnt about how they were treated after death including post mortems and the items they were buried with.

Charlotte Coles has been working in commercial archaeology for ten years. She has a master’s degree in Osteoarchaeology and she carries out animal and human bone analysis as well as archiving and other finds reporting.

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Devon’s Railway Heritage

with Robert Hesketh on Thursday, 9 March 2023

Railways came to Devon in the 1840s and profoundly altered it. On the 9th of March, Robert Hesketh gave a talk exploring the rich and varied heritage of railways in Devon. We heard about Devon's two mainlines and four branch lines, as well as our excellent preserved railways, two cliff railways and the cycleways/walkways established on former track. The talk included over 130 images.

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with JoJo Spinks on Thursday, 9 February 2023

A Squilometre defines (roughly) a square kilometre where residents can nominate any street or feature in their area for a creative project. Everyone then gets a chance to vote for the nominations and the topic with the most votes is the one that moves forward first. The Squilometre enables the people in that area to commission their own creative activity, to be fully involved in it and to make the decisions about how it should be.

On Thursday, 9 February 2023, JoJo Spinks talked about the fascinating hidden histories that this approach had uncovered - including the Heavitree Quarry Trails, the lost Great House of Wonford and slavery compensation in Mont-le-Grand.

JoJo Spinks is the founder of Interwoven Productions CIC, a not-for-profit company that works alongside local residents helping them explore and celebrate the heritage of their place – one street at a time. This work started in early 2015 in Heavitree and has expanded since to see a further four neighbourhood projects in Exeter and one in Exmouth, each facilitating a range of community-connecting activities for residents using local history as a bond.

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Seen through the lives of some extraordinary Freemasons

on Thursday, 12 January 2023

Exeter hosts one of the oldest Freemasons lodges in England and they have minute books dating from 1757 which contain some very interesting evidence of life in Exeter over the centuries. The minutes also confirm the membership of some very famous and infamous Exonians, including FJ Widgery, Andrew Brice, and Bishop Surtees.

Brian Thornton, the Secretary of the St John the Baptist Lodge, introduced us to the fascinating tales about many of the past members.

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on Wednesday, 7 December 2022, with Dr. Stuart Blaylock

On Wednesday, 7 December, Dr Stuart Blaylock gave a talk based on research carried out since 1985 and drawn together in a recent book by Dr Blaylock and Dr Robert Higham, published last year by the Devon Archaeological Society.

The talk discussed how knowledge of the extent and features of Exeter Castle had advanced in the light of modern archaeological fieldwork (in its widest sense, i.e. 'above' as well as 'below' ground). Some 28 separate episodes of work over more than thirty years covered an examination of the standing walls and towers, and a detailed survey of the gatehouse tower. Along with these were numerous archaeological observations ranging from formal excavations to opportunistic peering down holes in the ground. All were backed up with a study of rich pictorial and cartographic sources relating to the castle.

This work resulted in a new understanding of the topography of the castle precinct, its place in the townscape, the way the construction of the castle modified the earlier topography of the city, and the nature and development of the castle's structures. It also produced much new information on its 'prehistory', namely the area of the castle precinct in the Anglo-Saxon period.

Until 2004, the inner bailey of the castle accommodated the Crown and County Courts and therefore gave only limited access to the general public. It afforded some amusement that miscreants up before the beak had better access to the castle than the law-abiding public!

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More Tales of Exeter's West Quarter in the 1920s

by Dr Julia Neville on Thursday, 10 November 2022

Dr Julia Neville, already well known to members of Exeter Local History Society, has been continuing to research the West Quarter’s early twentieth century history.

She and her colleagues at the Devon and Exeter Institution have, over the last few months, looked at the evidence from the recently released 1921 census. This gives a snapshot of the families, the jobs they did, and the houses they lived in. In this talk, Julia drew on these records, together with information from local papers and oral history, to paint a picture of the busy life of the Quarter — and debated the question of whether it was as bad a place to live in as its detractors made out!

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on Thursday, 13 October 2022

This illustrated talk by Peter Wingfield-Digby on 13 October 2022 described some of the 63 memorials in Exeter Cathedral with links to Empire. These memorials encompass a wide range of experience: soldiers and sailors, missionaries, explorers, colonial administrators, people employed by the East India Company, and – almost inevitably – some connected with slave plantations in the Caribbean. In his talk Peter gave descriptions of many of the lives memorialised in the Cathedral.

The descriptions are divided up according to the part of the world in which the person (or some close relative) was involved; there are sections for India, the rest of Asia and the Pacific, the Caribbean, North and South America, and Africa.

Peter spent his working life as an international statistical consultant, living and working in developing countries. Since retiring, he has been a guide and steward at Exeter Cathedral for ten years and has written a book describing some 63 memorials in the Cathedral with links to Empire. Each entry in this illustrated book displays the memorial of interest and provides a fascinating description of the person’s life.

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St Martin's Island

by Dr Todd Gray on Thursday, 8 September 2022

St Martin's Island describes those buildings facing the High Street from Martin's Lane to Broadgate and those that back on to them in Cathedral Yard — including the Royal Clarence Hotel until its disastrous fire in 2016. So many of these buildings are of ancient construction and rich historical documentation still exists.

Six years on, that Cathedral Yard fire has cast a long shadow over the city centre but one of its few positive consequences has been the amount of research done into the history of the hotel and the buildings around it.

Todd Gray provided us on 8 September with a fascinating and wonderfully approachable history of these buildings which are so recognisable to so many and which have been shops, workshops or homes for many centuries. Studies of the historical documents and architectural records by Todd Gray and Sue Jackson have enabled them to bring to fascinating life details of the occupants of these properties.

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Exeter City Sightseeing Tours

by Richard Holladay on Thursday, 11 August 2022

Exeter City Sightseeing Tour's ​Inaugural Run was on May 1st 1993. It was opened in great style by the then Mayor, Yolonda Henson, and was attended by loads of Exeter personalities including many former Red Coat Guides, Harry Blundred (boss of Devon General at the time), Peter Thomas, and all sorts of people who thought they were important!

The Open Top Double Decker bus was a former Devon General vehicle. The idea of a City Sightseeing Tour was conceived about a year before and input from Peter Thomas (well known to many members and sadly missed) was essential to getting it off the ground. The service ran for five years until the demise of the Red Bus Services business.

The talk included a video of the Inaugural Run and there was also a fascinating display of literature and publicity material.

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History of Exeter's Prisons

by Charles Scott-Fox on Thursday, 14 July 2022

The establishments used to house offenders are part of the history of imprisonment in this country, as are the means that society chose to deal with men and women who committed, or were alleged to have committed, offences of all categories dating from the Normans to the Elizabethans of this twenty-first century.

Today the role of the Victorian building (above) on New North Road, known as Her Majesty’s Prison Exeter and built in 1853, is to serve the Courts of the south-west counties as a Remand Centre and Local Prison for short-term offences.

This extensive building, which dominates the view from Exeter’s Rougemont Castle and gardens across the valley and Queen Street railway station, is the sole remaining prison from the six that previously fulfilled the role of holding felons, debtors and petty criminals in Exeter.

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History of Exeter's Hospitals

with Mike Richards on Thursday, 9 June 2022

This talk detailed the history of many hospitals and similar establishments in and around Exeter from Roman times to the 21st century. It doesn't deal with ALL local establishments for that would be impossible in the time allowed, nor does it deal with Asylums and Psychiatric care....that is a work still in progress.

Mike was a Chief Inspector with the Devon and Cornwall Police who developed an interest in local history in his retirement. He is a Redcoat Guide and a Cathedral Guide, helps to train aspiring guides in both organisations and is also a member of the Civic Society and the Exeter Forum. He is married with three children and lives in Exeter. Mike enjoys meeting people, learning new things, walking and playing golf (very badly!).

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History of the Friends of Higher Cemetery

with Michael Parrott on Thursday, 12 May 2022

Michael Parrott is well known to Society members all for his work promoting the achievements of the Polish 307 Squadron during the Second World War with exhibitions and support for relatives. He also gave us a magnificent talk about the Gregory family who lived by the Exe River and who saved over 500 people from drowning during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

On 12 May he turned his attention to the beautiful Higher Cemetery and the superb work that the Friends have done to maintain its excellent standards.

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Farthing Breakfasts and Penny Dinners:

Images and Realities of Poverty in 1920s Exeter
Talk by Dr Julia Neville on Thursday, 14 April 2022

Dr Julia Neville is already well known to many members of the Exeter Local History Society. Many will remember her Exeter's War Hospitals Exhibition held at St Stephens Church in 2017 as well as her promotion in 2019 of her research project on Devon in the 1920s.

As part of that project she has been working with a research group on the history of Exeter’s West Quarter in the 1920s and has uncovered the stories that lie behind a group of paintings by Charles Tucker who lived in the West Quarter. The paintings are now in the ownership of RAMM.

In this talk, using his paintings and other pictures from the 1920s, Julia explores what it was like to grow up in Exeter in extreme poverty, as Charles Tucker did.

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Gristing and Tucking

Talk by Martin Watts on Thursday, 17 March 2022

Exe Island, situated between the river and the city wall, was historically the industrial area of Exeter, using water taken from the river Exe to power waterwheels and machinery. In medieval times this power was used primarily for grist – grinding grain to produce flour for bread and malt for brewing – and for tucking or fulling, that is, for finishing woollen cloth. Later other industries such as pumping water, grinding dyewoods for use in the cloth industry, turning and sawing timber, paper making and metal working were also carried on there.

This talk will look at the history and development of the leat system and the principal mill sites. Although the higher leat still carries water, only Cricklepit Mill - which was established some 800 years ago - now survives as an important representative of Exeter's water-powered past.

After restoring a derelict watermill in south Devon to working order and setting up a stoneground flour business, Martin Watts worked for over 30 years as a freelance millwright, repairing and conserving a wide variety of water- and wind-powered machinery, including the restoration of Cricklepit Mill. Now retired, he is still actively researching various aspects of Devon's water-power heritage.

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Devon & Emancipation in 1834

by Dr. Todd Gray on Thursday, 17 February 2022

On 1 August 1834 enslaved people across the British Empire were emancipated. The lack of published research on Devon’s role in slave ownership has given rise to many assumptions but in this lecture Dr Gray focussed squarely on what the evidence can tell us about the past. This subject is the most divisive in Devon but the emancipation period has left behind documents which uniquely reveal ownership at one point in time.

Dr Gray is a historian who, for nearly forty years, has specialised in the study of Devon through primary sources and has edited twelve volumes of Devon documents. His most recent book is "Devon’s Last Slave-Owners" which is available through

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Exeter's Roman History

with Dr John Salvatore on Thursday, 13 January 2022

In 1972 John Salvatore worked as a novice excavator on the excavation of the Roman military bath-house beneath the Cathedral Green. He was subsequently involved in the excavations throughout the city which proved that Exeter had been the fortress base of Legion II Augusta – one of the four legions which invaded Britain in AD 43. Inspired by the discoveries John went on to study Roman military archaeology at Birmingham University emerging with a Doctorate in 1996. Returning to Exeter in 2000, he has seen further discoveries which have demonstrated that Exeter and the riverside strip between the fortress and Topsham accommodated the largest complex of sites of the Neronian and early Flavian period in Britain. One of these, the as yet unpublished site of St Loye’s on Topsham Road, appears to be that of a small civilian town which was occupied at the same as the fortress.

John last talked to us in 2004. Since then, excavations at Princesshay, the Bus Station and numerous sites along Topsham Road have added to the story. We had a fascinating evening as John brought us up to date with the latest discoveries relating to Roman military Exeter and he will be adding the relatively new story of how an archaeological discovery of 1990 may explain why the Boudican revolt of AD 60/61 had significant repercussions at Exeter.

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Christmas in Devon

by Todd Gray on Thursday, 14 December 2021

The celebration of Christmas has altered in Devon as it has elsewhere but there have been particularly Devonian features of the holiday. Mummers, the Ashen Faggot and A'Thomasing were once particular features of the holiday in Devon. Outdoor festive lights have become a feature of modern Christmas as have seasonal cards and indoor trees but these too were innovations. In the midst of the Commonwealth, when Christmas was cancelled, it was claimed that it was in Devon that the old traditions continued. In this illustrated lecture Dr Gray looked at how Christmas has evolved since the early 1500s.

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Eland Books

by Richard Holladay on Thursday, 18 November 2021

Many society members will remember the wonderful Elands, the book store located in Cathedral Close until its demise in 2016. It had existed for 107 years, dating from 1909 when HENRY SEPTIMUS ELAND bought an existing bookselling business and renamed it “Henry S Eland”.

He extended and rebuilt the premises with an internal gallery and an exhibition art gallery, to exhibit original paintings, at the rear. He also introduced a lending library and continued to be a principal agent for religious books. He was known to “maintain cordial relationships with Roman Catholics, the Cathedral and others"!

Richard Holladay, the great grandson of Henry Septimus, told us all sorts of tales about Elands on 17 November. It was a fascinating evening.

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with John Fisher
Originally scheduled for Thursday, 15 October 2020, but postponed, due to Covid, until Thursday, 9 September 2021

John Fisher, writer, author, script and sketch-writer, cartoonist, public speaker. National Trust Volunteer and would-be ukelele virtuoso, re-visited Christmas hereabouts in Exeter and in particular Charles Dickens’s immortal “A Christmas Carol”.

Winter or summer, at home or abroad, Dickens always wore a button-hole of holly when he gave a public reading of A Christmas Carol. He first picked his holly sprig during an after supper stroll through Rougemont Gardens on a warm August evening in Exeter in 1858.

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King George III, An Underrated King

by Professor Jeremy Black on Thursday, 12 August 2021

Professor Jeremy Black says of George III (who visited Exeter in 1789): “Madness is hilarious when it occurs two centuries ago. The character of King George III — bewigged and bonkers — provides comic relief for many.” Poor George has not figured highly in British minds. His reign from 1760 to 1820 was marred by that American debacle, trouble in Ireland, war with France, the Gordon Riots, discord in parliament and an embarrassing descent into lunacy.

Professor Black has been teaching a wide range of courses at Exeter University since 1996. He says he greatly enjoyed the teaching and developed a lecturing style of speaking without notes offering contrasting interpretations which he sought to drum home in lectures, seminars and tutorials. Extensive past debating experience at school and university, always extempore, helped greatly.

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Exe Bridge

by John Allan on Thursday, 22 July 2021

At this event, the wonderful John Allan talked to us via Zoom about the Exe Bridge, the most substantial survivor of the great bridges built in England in the 12th and early 13th centuries. These were novel and daring feats of engineering built over wide spans of fast-flowing water; nothing like them had been seen in Britain since Roman times, and even then stone bridges were rare.

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Exeter's Tudor and Regency Building

by Robert Hesketh on Thursday, 10 June 2021

On Thursday, 10 June 2021 at 7pm, Robert Hesketh related Exeter and Topsham’s rich heritage of Tudor and Regency buildings to some of the main events that happened in Exeter during these two periods. The talk was illustrated with over 130 high resolution images of both public and residential buildings, the fruit of many hours exploration.

Robert Hesketh is a writer and photographer who lives in Devon. To date, he has published over sixty West Country books illustrated with his own photographs including walks books, guidebooks, local histories and special interest titles. Country Walking, Trail, Countryman, Dartmoor Magazine, and Cornwall Life are among the magazines to which he contributes.

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Woollen cloth-making:

Exeter’s most important export for many centuries
by Dr. Todd Gray on Thursday, 8 April 2021

For hundreds of years cloth making was Exeter’s principal industry and the recent discovery of an Exeter manuscript containing 2,475 swatches of Exeter cloth made in the 1760s has been hailed by Prof. Catherine Rider, Associate Professor in Medieval History, as `the discovery of a generation’.

In his talk Todd discussed the work of twelve specialists who have examined various aspects of cloth making in Exeter. The Exeter Cloth Dispatch Book 1763-5 is currently available at a launch price of £25 through

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St Pancras in the Middle Ages

by John Allan on Thursday, 11 March 2021

John Allan described who lived where in St Pancras Parish in the Middle Ages and what they did for a living - and other things they got up to ! Due to Covid restrictions, this talk was via Zoom.

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Rehousing Exeter after the War:

Factory Made Houses and Model Estates
Talk by Clare Maudling on Thursday, 11 February 2021

“EXETER WAS A JEWEL AND WE HAVE DESTROYED IT” boasted German radio in May 1942. The extensive damage to the city centre caused by those air raids obscured another problem created by war damage: housing. The raids destroyed around 1,500 houses and seriously damaged another 2000; by some estimates there was barely a house in the city which emerged unscathed.

Added to the plight of the bombed out was the pre-war problem of poor housing which, alongside a growing number of newly-married couples and young families in want of a home of their own, created a post-war Council housing list of 5000.

Clare Maudling, who described to us in 2014 how Exeter’s centre was revamped, took us through a tale of innovative temporary ‘pre-fabs’ and new, award-winning, housing estates. The estates at Stoke Hill, Whipton Barton and Countess Wear were built according to the new concept of ‘neighbourhood planning’ i.e. based on the concept of the ‘garden suburb’ to create new communities complete with their own shops, schools, churches, pubs and leisure buildings. They were designed with thought and care, with the Stoke Hill Estate receiving national recognition for its design.

Clare described the thinking that went into the building of these estates and the problems the council encountered in its efforts to ensure that the people of Exeter had homes they could be proud of.

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Weather and War

with Nicola Gale on Thursday, 13 August 2020

"Fine day, but cold and dull" - even on the day of Armistice, November 11, 1918, Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig recognised the importance of the weather in his dairies. But at the start of the First World War the British generals, under the leadership of Sir John French, were a little less willing to involve the Meteorological Office in the conflict. That was until April 1915 when the first gas attacks were launched.

This talk is about how Meteorology came from the sidelines to play a vital role in military planning during the First World War, especially in gas and air operations, and how it went on to influence strategic decision-making down the years.

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Thomas Gregory, Lifesaver

with Michael Parrott on Thursday, 9 April 2020

This illustrated talk was about an amazing father and son, both called Thomas Gregory, who saved over 500 people from drowning. We will also learn how Thomas, the father, helped prevent a massive iceflow from destroying the Exe Bridge.

During the late 19th and early 20th century the Gregory family was well known in Exeter, especially near the Quay and the river where they lived. Thomas Gregory worked at the Quayside as a boatman and over 35 years he amazingly saved over 400 people who had fallen into the water. His son, also named Thomas, followed in his father's footsteps and likewise saved many Exonians from drowning.

Michael Parrott, the Chair of the Friends of Higher Cemetery, has researched the life of Thomas, and is delighted to provide the script of this talk on a very interesting and not very well known Exonian.

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A Miscellany of Little Known Facts about Churches

with Martin Horrell on Thursday, 13 February 2020

Our AGM lasted about 20 minutes and was immediately followed by this fascinating talk by Martin Horrell, with over 100 photos many from local churches. Martin started with the Ogham script brought in by Celtic monks in the fifth century,and went on to explain and show us Celtic and Saxon styles of building and Saxon crosses as well as Norman Beakheads (see pic) and peculiar animals taken from Bestiaries.

Also included were Apotropaic Symbols and evil spirits, mermaids, poppy heads and Funerary Helms and many others.

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