Devon history talks by Robert

Adrienne Hesketh, Devon music and stories, web banner-

Robert Hesketh portraitTalks & Slideshows on Devon themes offered by Robert Hesketh:

Robert, my better half, is a writer and photographer. He gives talks and slide shows on Devon themes. (His contact details are the same as mine). Visit his website here

A bit about Robert: He’s a freelance writer and photographer with a strong interest in local history (his first degree subject). To date, he’s published over 40 Devon and Somerset titles (see as well as books about Dorset (publisher: Inspiring Places). Robert has written numerous illustrated articles for Devon Life, Dartmoor Magazine, Country Walking and other publications. He also contributes West Country landscape and people photographs to a photographic library, see &

Since 2002, he’s been giving talks to local history clubs, Women’s Institutes, societies, U3A and Probus Clubs on Devon themes on:

• Devon Inns
• Devon Ghosts
• Devon’s Churches
• Smuggling in Devon
• Devon Photoquizzes (4)
• Surnames in Devon and Beyond
• Devon Castles
• Devon’s Geology
• Armageddon 1914 – how Devon Newspapers Reported the Outbreak of the First World War.

Scroll down for expanded details of each talk…

Please contact us if you would like further details or to offer him a booking. All the talks are illustrated with high quality colour slides / digital images and last between 45 minutes and an hour, depending on what the audience wants. Questions from the audience are always welcome. He can supply all the necessary equipment: digital projector, projection stand and projection screen.

To see Robert’s LinkedIn profile visit

Charges: £45 plus 30p per mile travel from Bovey Tracey.

Talks by Robert Hesketh in more detail:

1. Devon Place Names:

This talk is offered as an introduction to the subject and focuses on the key aspects of place name study and specifically place names in Devon. I will outline the origin and evolution of Devon place names and give an explanation of common place name elements such as ton, ford, leah and ham. The slides are intended to show how place names relate to the landscape. I will bring a selection of books on the subject for the audience to look at, including my own, plus back issues of the Journal of the English Place Name Society.

2. Surnames in Devon and Beyond:

Like place names, surnames are an integral part of our county’s and nation’s heritage. Indeed many, Combes and Hext for instance, are local place names too. There are also occupational names some, such as Tucker, with a strong local flavour; family names like Bennett and Hicks and many nicknames (some quite outrageous!) from Brock and Fox to Fairweather and Wellbeloved.

3. Devon Inns:

This talk delves into the story behind the names of Devon’s inns. Many of Britain’s most historic buildings are inns (this certainly applies to Devon) – and many of them are also listed buildings with long and often varied histories. The 80 slides illustrate this point and show the sign painter’s art is very much alive in this richly varied county. I will bring a selection of books on the subject for the audience to look at. These include my own pub walks books; collections of inn sign photographs and back issues of the Inn Sign Society Journal.

4. Devon Ghosts:

This talk is an illustrated tour of some of Devon’s most haunted places and their stories, focussing on those that can be visited by (living members of) the public. Devon has many ghosts and supernatural phenomena. Haunted houses, castles and churches are spread liberally around the county. Roads and lonely places are also often associated with the supernatural, especially on Dartmoor.

5. Haunted Pubs in Devon:

Many believe that behind the painted veil of the present lies a richly populated supernatural world . Based on interviews with landlords, landladies and bar staff recounting their personal encounters with spirits, this talk includes twelve of Devon’s most haunted inns from around the county.

6. A Curious Look at Devon’s Churches

In most Devon communities the parish church is the oldest extant building, rich in architectural beauty and historic interest. There’s a wealth of artistic and historic treasures to discover, especially if you look carefully. The talk ranges from the splendid wrought iron door at Dartmouth to the quarter jacks at St Mary Steps in Exeter, taking in green men, “tinners’ rabbits”, humorous monuments, a murder, some impish gargoyles and a lot more on the way.

7. Smuggling in Devon:

the Truth Behind the Fiction Between 1700 and 1850 smuggling became a huge industry in Devon, with the majority of Devonians active in it, profiting from it, or at least colluding in it. All social classes were involved. Clergymen and aristocrats were among the backers. None thought cheating the government of exorbitant taxes was wrong and smugglers brought to trial were usually acquitted by sympathetic Devon juries and magistrates. Smugglers were particularly active in Devon because there were so many sailors and fishermen who could assist. There was also easy access to France and the Channel Islands. In reality, “Free Trade” was far from romantic. Smugglers could be violent and ruthless. This talk attempts a balanced view of an illegal trade which long flourished in Devon despite the government’s best efforts to stamp it out – and was eventually defeated by the simple expedient of cutting duties on imported goods.

8. Devon Photoquiz One:

Test your knowledge of the county and its history by identifying the slides. Clues and competitor’s sheets are provided and a small prize is offered to the person with the highest score. In case of two competitors achieving the same score there is a tie breaker of six extra questions.

9, 10 and 11. Devon Photoquizzes

Two, Three and Four: As the first Photoquiz proved so popular, I have produced three more on the same lines, so that if a club/society has seen the earlier ones they have the option of booking others.

12. Introduction to Devon’s Geology:

From the saw-toothed reefs of Hartland to the chalk landslip of Hooken Undercliffs near Beer by way of bright red rocks, dramatic sea cliffs and Dartmoor’s imposing tors; Devon’s geology provides constant drama. Every geological period but the most ancient is found in Devon and knowing more about these fascinating and varied formations adds another dimension to exploring the county.

13. Armageddon 1914:

How Some Devon Newspapers Reported the Outbreak of the First World War This talk is based on a close study of some Devon newspapers – principally the Western Times and the Express and Echo – from late June to late August 1914. It shows how the fateful events that lead from the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 29 to the outbreak of war and the battles of August were reported. News of the Home Front – especially key issues such as recruiting, food hoarding and the requisition of horses – are contrasted with the (heavily censored) news from the Fronts. Editorials and readers’ letters give a strong flavour of a crucial moment when the course of European history was altered forever. 14. 1918, The Last Hundred Days: How Some Devon Newspapers Reported the Final Phases of the First World War Like Armageddon 1914, this talk is based on a close study of Devon newspapers – mainly the Devon and Exeter Daily Gazette and the Western Times. Beginning with the massive Allied attack on August 8th, 1918, it shows how the fortunes of war turned against the Central Powers and especially against Germany, which had made impressive gains on the Western Front during the spring with reinforcements released from the Eastern Front in a last desperate gamble to win the war before the mass arrival of American troops. Through the use of new tactics and the “All Arms Battle” the Allies won an unparalleled series of victories in only a hundred days to force the Armistice of November 11th – but at a terrible cost. Battle reports and editorials reveal the dramatic unfolding of events in what historians later called the Last Hundred Days. 15. Devon Castles Devon has a fascinating array of castles and historic fortifications. In this talk, I explain how they were developed and altered over the centuries to meet the changing military, political and domestic needs of the people who used them. Whilst I have concentrated on true castles – medieval strongholds that doubled as homes – I have included examples from every major period from the Iron Age to England’s newest castle, Castle Drogo.

16. Devon’s Railway Heritage

Railways have profoundly altered Devon, leaving a rich and varied heritage. This talk explores that heritage; including our two mainlines and four branch lines, as well as our excellent preserved railways, two cliff railways and the cycleways/walkways established on former track. Illustrated with over 130 images.

17. Exploring Exeter’s Heritage

This talk explores Exeter’s remarkably rich heritage of historic buildings, from its Roman city walls to its 21st century shopping precincts. As well as more familiar sights such as the splendid Gothic Cathedral and its lovely Close; Exeter and Topsham Quays and the medieval Guildhall; many fascinating nooks and corners are included and illustrated with over 100 images.

Please visit Robert’s website here for more details of his talks.

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