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Local and Community History Month

By Ellie Jones, Cathedral Archivist

May is Local & Community History Month, which seems like a good opportunity to highlight the astonishing range of places covered by the Cathedral Archives. The collecting remit of the Archives is simple: the documentary record of the Dean & Chapter of Exeter Cathedral. This does not include the records of Devon parishes, or those of the Bishops and Diocese of Exeter, but you may be surprised to learn just how many communities the activities of the Dean & Chapter have touched over the centuries.

The Place Index in the Reading Room of the Cathedral Library & Archives is a good place to get a quick overview of the geographical coverage in the Archives. The first card – from the biggest section, “Devon” – is for Alphington and starts with a listing for an 1845 schedule for the proposed Dartmouth, Brixham, Torbay, Exeter and North Devon Junction Railway concerning Dean & Chapter property at Alphington. The last card, in the “Overseas” section is for New England and includes a record of five guineas being sent towards the building of a new episcopal church at Boston, Massachusetts in 1739.

Between Alphington and Boston you will find more than 291 named places in Devon (from Alphington to Yarnscombe), and 71 in Cornwall (from Altarnun to Withiel). Elsewhere in England and Wales, places in counties including Berkshire, Dorset, Denbigh, Oxfordshire, and Somerset, are also present. Even further afield, we can go from France to Newfoundland to Thika in Kenya. It is true that for some of these places there may be just one or two short references, but for others there may be dozens of documents. Sometimes all it takes is one document to uncover a story and build connections.

You may be an experienced local historian with a detailed knowledge of a particular town or village, but you’ve met a brick wall with your research and need a new lead to follow. Or perhaps you’ve never thought of yourself as a historian at all, yet you have found yourself wondering about the origins of a particular property, street name, or business familiar to you. This Local and Community History Month you could visit the Cathedral web pages to search the online catalogue, email us with your questions, find us at an open day, book some research time in the Reading Room, or organise for some friends or a special interest group to explore some documents with us. If you are even slightly curious, take a look. The Cathedral Archives may have information about the places that matter to you.