Exeter Local History Society provides six lectures every year on a wide variety of subjects. Summaries are below. Click on the title on the left hand column for the full write-up or, to return to the Home page, click on "Home" in the banner at the top of this page.
Farthing Breakfasts and Penny Dinners:
Images and Realities of Poverty in 1920s Exeter
Talk by Dr Julia Neville on Thursday, 14 April 2022
at Jurys Inn, Exeter
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.
For more information, press "Farthing Breakfasts" button below.
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.
Devon & Emancipation in 1834
Talk by Dr Todd Gray on Thursday, 17 February 2020
Exeter's Roman History
Talk by 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.
For more information about John's talk click on "13.01.2022" below.
CHRISTMAS IN DEVON
Talk by Todd Gray on Tuesday, 14 December 2021
at Jurys Inn, Exeter
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.For full details of this talk click on button below.
Talk by Richard Holladay
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.
For full details of his talk, click on Elands button below.
CHARLES DICKENS’ DEVON CHRISTMAS PRESENT :
Originally scheduled forThursday, 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.
For full details of his talk, click on MyButton below.
King George III, An Underrated King.
Talk 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.
For full details of this talk, click on "MyButton" below.
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.
For full details of this talk, click on "MyButton" below.
EXETER'S TUDOR AND REGENCY BUILDINGS
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.
For full details of this talk, click on "MyButton" below.
“Woollen cloth-making - Exeter’s most important export for many centuries”
with 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 stevensbooks.co.uk.
For full details of this talk, click on "MyButton" below.
St Pancras in the Middle Ages
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.
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.
ALL TALKS AND WALKS WERE CANCELLED BETWEEN AUGUST 2020 AND JANUARY 2021 DUE TO LOCKDOWN.
THEY THEN RESUMED USING ZOOM.
WEATHER AND WAR
Thursday, 13 August 2020
Thursday, 9 April 2020
Thomas Gregory, Lifesaver
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.
Thursday, 13 February, 2019
A Miscellany of Little Known Facts about Churches
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.
Wednesday, 11 December 2019
Christmas Special with Christmas surprises
A new slant on history, seen through the contemporaneous thoughts and voices of ordinary people and the folk songs they wrote. Songs from Jim Causley, an English folk singer (who previously sang for us in June). Jim specializes in the traditional songs and music of the West Country. Born in Exeter, he is a relative of the Cornish poet Charles Causley. For more details press on "My Button" below.
with Dr Todd Gray
Jurys Inn, Western Way, Exeter
Thursday, 17 October 2019
An examination of the lives of many individuals who were singled out in Exeter and treated as “different” – not one of us. Some were celebrated and others derided, banished or executed. Crowds, mobs, local and national governments, churches and vested interests all singled out individuals considered problematic, inconvenient, belligerent, awkward - or illustrious.
Chance, circumstance and choice played a part in bringing these individuals to public fame or notoriety. Heroes and villains are included as well as many who were neither one nor the other.
A talk which is both funny and sad. Those who have heard Todd speak before will attest to the delight he brings to any lecture.
For full details of his talk, click on My Button below:
Andrew has worked on cathedrals, minsters, parish churches, country houses and private houses with English Heritage, National Trust, Devon Historic Churches Trust and the Council for the care of Churches.
Andrew is committed to the principle that glass should be cared for and passed on for next generations to enjoy.
FORTY YEARS OF LOCAL HISTORY
Wednesday, 10 April 2019
7pm at Jurys Inn, Western Way, Exeter
Talk by Peter Thomas. A highly visual presentation which covered a 40-year period of involvement with local history. The talk covered the wide range of Exeter books Peter has created including controversial aspects in relation to fighting to maintain Exeter''s cultural profile!
Peter also presented his concerns that the Isca Historical Photographic Collection, established in 1974, could now be at risk. This would mean that the city would lose an irreplaceable historical resource.
Click banner below for full details
EXETER BEFORE THE RAILWAYS
Wednesday, 13 February 2019
7pm at Jurys Inn, Western Way, Exeter
Public transport in the days of real horsepower was slower, costlier and possibly less comfortable than travel today. Until we met Alan Rosevear, we hadn't realised how difficult life could be if you wanted to visit a friend or relative even though they lived as near as Sidmouth or Exmouth. And as for travelling beyond Devon .....
Our speaker, Alan, described how travellers reached Exeter when the roads were turnpiked, the coaches were pulled by a team of four and tickets cost more than the wages of a working man. Using maps, contemporary diaries and archival material he illustrated the journeys made along Devon’s roads in the 18th and 19th centuries.
12 December 2018
An opportunity to learn all about life in Tudor times and how they celebrated their festivities, particularly at Christmas. There were dancers both to entertain and to explain. The poor were not discussed - we left their sad lives to another day !
For full details press green button below
Wednesday, 8 August 2018
Illustrated Talk at Jurys Inn
"Exeter Workmens' Dwellings" with Richard Holladay
This talk was a summary of Dr Charles Newton Lovely’s life and his involvement in the foundation of this innovative undertaking to alleviate and replace some of the appalling slum conditions and tenements abounding in Exeter in the mid 1920s.
The significant achievements that he, together with like-minded colleagues, attained in supplying affordable and well appointed social housing within our City has largely been overlooked,(although the successors to this undertaking still operate today as Cornerstone Housing). This presentation is another step toward rectifying this oversight.
Dr Lovely was the Founding Chairman of the company they created - the Exeter Workmen's Dwellngs Company Ltd - and remained in that position for ten years until he retired. He was also heavily involved in the St John Ambulance, he was for a period a Prison Doctor and, whilst living in Exeter, his medical practice was in St Leonards.
Full details by clicking the entry on the green banner on the left.
John Allan, by popular request, returned on 10 October 2018 to tell us more about the building of Exeter Cathedral. Back in April John took us through its history from Norman times to the middle of the 14th Century. Today he took us through to this century. Full details by clicking the entry on the green banner on the left.
The battle for women’s right to vote was fought up and down the country, in Exeter as much as anywhere else. Dr Neville, in an illustrated talk, uncovered the stories of local activists: Jessie Montgomery, widely regarded as 'godmother' to the University of Exeter; Edith Splatt, later to be Exeter's first woman councillor; Mary Willocks, early Mills-and-Boon novelist; and Robert Newman, who became Exeter's MP in 1918. Julia also described open-air meetings at the Triangle and the prison where the 'Exeter hunger strikers' were locked up.
For full details, click on banner on left: 2018.06.13 "Votes for Women"
This illustrated talk by the Cathedral’s own archaeologist, in informed us in great and often amusing detail the history of the cathedral.
John is a great speaker and his skills in providing a high standard of buildings analysis, research and assessment while producing talks that are reliable, well-illustrated, and free from jargon are highly regarded.
Wednesday, 14 February 2018 Talk at Jurys Inn
DELLER'S OF BEDFORD STREET
Jurys Inn — 7pm
Wednesday, 11 October 2017
Ed Williams-Hawkes talked to us about the famous and sumptuous Deller’s of Bedford Street which was so sadly destroyed in the Blitz. He showed us a selection of slides showing Deller’s in its heyday – part of the remarkable collection which he and his colleagues have worked so tirelessly to amass. For full details click on banner on left: "2017.10.11 Deller's of Bedford Street"
History of Exeter Through Its Maps
Jurys Inn on 10 August 2017
Dr Todd Gray and Chris Reed of Freeline Graphics showed us and talked about maps covering a period from 1587 to the insurance maps of the 1930s. A wonderful skim through the history of Exeter over nearly 400 years. For full details click banner on left - 2017.08.10 Exeter's History via Maps.
Exeter’s busy Tudor bakers, their wares, their families, their homes and their working lives.
Jurys Inn — 7pm — Thursday, 8 June 2017
Exeter’s Elizabethan bakers produced the staple food that everyone depended on, whether wealthy merchant or poor relief recipients. Dr Kate Osborne has created individual biographies for over 70 Tudor bakers from local archival sources and she described their daily lives, family connections, homes and family businesses. She also explored the issues that affected their busy working lives.
For full details click banner on the left: 2017.6.8 Tudor Bakers
EXETER'S FIRST WORLD WAR HOSPITALS
Jurys Inn - 7pm - Thursday, 13 April 2017
Exeter’s First World War Red Cross Hospitals were amongst the earliest to be commissioned by the War Office after war broke out. Buildings all around Exeter were converted into hospitals by the end of August. They took their first patients in early October and by Christmas 1914 they provided more Red Cross beds than any other provincial town in Britain. This was a lead they maintained, under their redoubtable administrator Georgiana Buller, the only woman to keep her post as Administrator, in defiance of military protocol, under the War Office takeover of large Red Cross hospitals in 1916.
For more details click on "2017.03.13 Exeter's WW1 Hospitals" on the banner to the left of this page.
POLISH AIR FIGHTERS IN WORLD WAR II
Thursday, 8 December 2016 at Jury’s Inn
Over 70 years ago Exeter was defended from the Luftwaffe’s bombing raids by a small band of comrades, the Polish 307 Squadron RAF known as "The Eagle Owls". That night-fighter squadron has become widely forgotten, not just in Exeter but even in Poland.
When local amateur historian Michael Parrott discovered a wooden plaque in a chapel within the Higher Cemetery, little did he know that it would take him on an amazing journey of discovery about that Squadron.
He toldl us how he has spent the last four years researching and promoting the role of that Polish squadron. He has met and recorded interviews with veterans, helped family members discover more about relatives who served in the squadron, and, as a member of the 307 Squadron Project, a British-Polish registered charity, held a number of exhibitions both in the UK and Poland. They have thousands of followers on Facebook.
INVASION, TWO SIEGES AND A CIVIL WAR
Thursday, 13 October at 7pm at Jury’s Inn
William the Conqueror, to consolidate his power, besieged Exeter when the Saxons openly defied him. He won. Not a hundred years later, civil war raged through England and Exeter is once again at the centre of things. This time the city was besieged by King Stephen while Exeter Castle was held in the name of the Empress Maud.
Malcolm Foster has always been passionate about Medieval English history. His book “The Eyes of Exeter” was a stunning historical novel about Exeter’s resistance to William the Conqueror. He followed this up with a second book, “The Demon in the Bones” in September 2013.
He taught the subject at St. John’s, Sidmouth, for many years. He has also written many pieces for piano, as well as a song cycle “On Romney Marsh not far from Rye”, which was recorded in 1986. On top of these accomplishments he has written and produced more than a hundred plays for his pupils at St. John’s as well as producing plays at the Manor Pavilion in Sidmouth and at the lovely theatre in Stonehouse, Plymouth.
100 Things You Should Know About Exeter
On Tuesday, 6 September 2016, members enjoyed an exceptional evening when the well-known and entertaining historian (and member), Dr Todd Gray, took us skipping through the city’s history by relating little-known but fascinating events that have occurred in the City over the last 500 years.
Todd is well known throughout Exeter for his many books on the city’s history (numbering over 40!) and for his delightful and often very humorous presentations of our past. We were delighted that Todd explored some little known events in our history and there certainly were some startling revelations.
EXETER AND THE GREAT WAR
On 14 April 2016, Tony Lethbridge, who is a local historian and who also has a life long interest in military history, gave us a talk on the First World War from the viewpoint of Exeter. He had visited many historic battlefields and in the last ten years particularly those of the First World War.
His talk outlined life in Exeter during the war years along with events in Flanders and other places where Exonians were involved in the conflict.
SIDNEY ENDACOTT, Artist
Talk by Christine Trigger
On 11 February, 2016, immediately after our AGM, we were honoured by a talk from our
well-known member, Christine Trigger, about a little-known artist, Sidney Endacott. His paintings are delightful and show an Exeter long gone.
Christine took us through his life and showed us slides of his superb canvases of the Exeter area. His painting of the meeting room at Tucker’s Hall graces the front cover of Christine’s book (members will remember this room from having our own meeting there on 12 June 2014). Endacott died in 1918 leaving as his legacy beautiful records of Exeter around the turn of the century.
Retailing in Exeter 1880-1940
On Thursday, 10 December 2015, Richard Holladay explained that Exeter's city centre in the 60 years before 1940 has changed almost out of all recognition.
Through adverts of the period he showed us at the familiar and the unfamilar, and we saw how products were promoted and marketed – a far cry from the restrictions of the Trades Description Act that we have to abide by nowadays. And of course we observed how the style and format of advertising has changed, not to mention the products.
With the help of over 50 images Richard took us back to the inter-war years – and beyond. . . back into Victoria’s reign. . .
For full details double click on: 11.12.15: RETAILING IN EXETER 1880-1940
On Thursday, 8 October, 2015, Society members were delighted with a talk by David Force of Force & Son, Estate Agents. Here are a couple of anecdotes from his talk; full details of the talk are available by clicking Force & Son on the left column.
"...An ancestor, too crippled by arthritis and therefore unable to mount the horse-drawn trams which he favoured, paid a small boy to carry fo him a mounting stool. The boy was then expected to run along beside the tram to have the stool ready outside Force & Son to enable his employer to dismount. The boy then took the stool home and the process was repeated in reverse every evening!"
"...Force were also funeral directors but gave up the business after Arthur (David’s father) went to collect a corpse who had died sitting up. Attempts to straighten the body caused it to fall forward and wrap its arms round poor Arthur. After that they sold the business!
On 13th August, 2015, David Cornforth showed us photographs from every walk of life - children "sledging" on the frozen river, the Tower Bridge look-alike over the river, a wingless plane being pushed along the road having landed in a cornfield and been unable to take off again from the long corn! Also the railway, canal and river, the site of what became Middlemoor, the Deaf School, Colleton Crescent, the Gas Works, the Cattle Market, the greyhound track and Speedway, and many many more.
TEIGN VALLEY RAILWAY: 11.06.2015
A fascinating talk exploring the railway which carried goods and people to and from Exeter, the former for export around England and indeed the world, the latter to enjoy themselves and get the last train home (when the pubs closed). There are photographs taken fifty years ago of stations, bridges and engines which have since been destroyed (some by nature, some by man).
For full details click here:
WITCHCRAFT IN THE WEST COUNTRY: 9.04.2015
Steve Patterson is a woodcarver and a folklorist whose main interests are the magical traditions of the West Country. Steve will be sharing some local accounts of witchcraft and magical practices and will also be looking at the development of our ideas of magic and witchcraft …and indeed the very ideas of folklore and history themselves.
WYNARDS ALMSHOUSES These old and very beautiful buildings have a long history. Now privately owned, for many centuries they provided shelter for the Christian poor (who were fined if they missed Church!) though their managers/owners were often in trouble for not following the terms of the endowment.