North Devon and Exmoor books

50 Gems of North Devon: The History & Heritage of the Most Iconic Places 

North Devon is famous for its rugged coastline and beautiful beaches, its dramatic moorland scenery and much more.

The region is filled with places of both natural and man-made appeal. 50 Gems of North Devon takes the reader on a fascinating journey through the many delights of the area. Along the coast, from the spectacular Hartland Point where land meets the Atlantic Ocean, to the twin villages of Lynton and Lynmouth on the edge of Exmoor, there are a myriad of fascinating places to visit, including the fishing village of Clovelly with its steep streets down to the harbour and the ancient ports of Bideford and Barnstaple.

Inland, North Devon has many diverse attractions, from the ancient landscape of Exmoor, forests and rural countryside, attractive market towns and villages, historic buildings and magnificent country houses and gardens.

In 50 Gems of North Devon local authors Elizabeth Hammett and Denise Holton explore the many places and their history that make this part of the country so special.

Alas Poor Johnny: A Memoir of Life on an Exmoor Farm

In 1951 Buster Johnson moved from Surrey to Exmoor with her husband Johnny, four children, a couple of dogs and a vanload of pigs and poultry. Naturally gregarious, she exchanges a life of domestic servants and bridge parties for a remote and spartan existence at West Nethercote, a farm in the heart of Exmoor national park. Alas Poor Johnny, written some ten years later, is her vivid and fascinating account of their life there, and of farming on Exmoor in the fifties, told with a strong sense of drama and of the absurd.

The void left by her lost cultural and social pursuits becomes filled by the minutiae of everyday life, and by her husband Johnny and their four children. Above all, it is filled by the animals. These take the place of absent friends in her affections, their personalities permeating the book. There is a small but strong supporting cast, including busybody Mrs Stevens at the next door farm; Arthur the ex-cowman who moves with them from Surrey; SRN Tommie, the butt of an aggressive ram – and Alby the rabbit catcher, who plays the mouth organ and dances wild dances, enchanting the children.

Finally, threading through all this with a glint of steel, is Johnny. He is her antithesis; strong and undemonstrative, generally preferring animals to people. Their relationship is the heart of the book.

Hope Bourne’s History of Exmoor

Hope Bourne, doyenne of Exmoor writers, was fascinated by the history of her home, its landscape and its people.

She published much on the subject, but the most substantial work was A Little History of Exmoor, published in 1968 and never reprinted.

Although not a professional historian, in that book Hope traced – in her customarily evocative and eminently readable prose – the key developments in Exmoor’s long heritage: the Celtic and Saxon colonisation; the Norman development of the Royal Forest; the disafforestation and acquisition by the Knight family of a vast tract of the Moor in the nineteenth century; and the advent of the National Park in the twentieth century.

The text was accompanied by a selection of Hope Bourne’s fine drawings, which further brought to life the key themes of her story.

In this entirely re-set version of the book, new generations can now experience Hope’s unique interpretation of Exmoor’s history, which was tempered and informed by her direct experience of living the sort of existence that would have been familiar to Exmoor dwellers many centuriesbefore.

Hope Bourne’s Exmoor Village

Hope Bourne is renowned as perhaps the greatest Exmoor writer of the twentieth century.

For half of her lifetime, Hope lived in and around the village of Withypool on the southern side of the Moor. In the late 1960s, at a time of great personal unhappiness, she sought increasing solace in her friends, neighbours and the landscape around her.

Finding her daily business restricted to Withypool and its environs, she set about writing a tribute to the place. She recounts a time before mobile phones and the internet had come to dominate daily life, when communication was a gossip over a half-open stable door and “wireless” meant the radio.

She takes the reader around the village, along the river and out again around the parish boundaries, describing people, local events, farms and the changing landscape.

Hope’s love for Exmoor is apparent in the detailed descriptions and sketches which capture a way of life gradually slipping from living memory. Having so carefully set down the history and living rhythms of the village, Hope’s manuscript was carefully filed away and lost to view for nearly half a century.

Then in 2014 Dr Helen Blackman, archivist to the Exmoor Society, rediscovered the text at the Society’s headquarters, in a nondescript box labelled simply “Village Surveys”. It quickly became apparent that Hope Bourne’s love song to her home village was a significant work that fully deserved to see the light of day. Dr Blackman has subsequently prepared the manuscript for publication and chosen a selection of Hope’s hitherto unseen evocative line drawings to complement the luminous text.

Hope Bourne’s Exmoor Village will be a “must have” for Hope Bourne’s many admirers, and for all lovers of Exmoor, its people and places.

Ilfracombe Through Time

From its scenic vantage point on the North Devon coast, the seaside town of Ilfracombe has seen many changes in its long history.

In this unique selection of old and new images from the archives of the Ilfracombe Museum, many of which are previously unpublished photographs, the reader is invited to share a nostalgic glimpse of Ilfracombe in days gone by. Its situation as the only port on a long stretch of dangerous coast made it ideal for smaller trading ships and fishing vessels who docked in the harbour to load and unload their cargo, while the clear sea air made the town a popular destination for tourists from the cities.

We explore the hotels, theatres, halls and public rooms where the crowds were entertained, and visit the streets and lanes, houses, schools, shops and people that have played a part in shaping the town of today.

Accompanied by informative and detailed text, this outstanding collection offers a valuable record of the past that is sure to appeal to both residents and visitors alike.