Devon Heritage Centre holds all types of historical archives relating to the county of Devon and the City of Exeter (excluding Plymouth.) They include records of churches and chapels, of county, district and parish councils and of many families, estates, schools and other organisations. The popular West Country Studies Library is also located here.
In this section you’ll find information about visiting the Devon Heritage Centre and how to access its research resources.
How to Find Us
Please see our Directions page for How to Find Us instructions, as well as information about local and public transport.
Tuesday to Friday: 10.00 am – 5.00 pm (last document orders at 4.00 pm)
One Saturday each month: 9.00 am – 1.30 pm (last document orders at 1.00 pm)
We are closed on public holidays and bank holidays.
Saturday Opening Hours
We usually open on the third Saturday of each month (please see below for exceptions). Please pre-order all documents required by 1.00 pm on Friday. For large orders please order 48 hours in advance.
Please find below a list of the Saturdays we are open in 2018:
Saturday 20 January 2018
Saturday 24 February 2018
Saturday 17 March 2018
Saturday 21 April 2018
Saturday 19 May 2018
Saturday 16 June 2018
Saturday 21 July 2018
Saturday 18 August 2018
Saturday 15 September 2018
Saturday 20 October 2018
Saturday 17 November 2018
Saturday 15 December 2018
We issue South West Heritage Trust readers’ tickets which are valid for four years. If you have not visited us before, please bring some form of identification containing your name, current address and signature (for example a driving licence, utility bill and other ID with signature) so we can issue you with one of our readers’ tickets.
South West Heritage Trust readers’ tickets are valid at Devon Heritage Centre, Somerset Heritage Centre, North Devon Record Office and the North Somerset archive service.
Please be aware that we do not accept passports, tickets from The National Archives or library cards. We are not part of the CARN ticket scheme and do not accept CARN tickets.
If your card has expired please bring some identification with you when you visit, so we can issue you with a new readers’ ticket.
Which Record Office Should I Visit?
Devon has three repositories which hold archives:
- Devon Heritage Centre at Sowton, Exeter
– Plymouth and West Devon Record Office at Plymouth (run by Plymouth Council)
As each holds collections relating to its own geographical area, it is important to check before making a visit where the records you wish to see are held. The following information will help you decide which of these three best suits your own research needs. If you have any further queries about the location of a particular collection, please contact Devon Archives and Local Studies by email, firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone, 01392 888700.
The most commonly used archive items – Church of England parish registers for the whole of Devon, Plymouth and Torbay – have been microfilmed. All three of the above repositories have a full set of these either on microfiche or microfilm. Some registers, particularly those that have been recently deposited, are not filmed, and in this case it is necessary to visit the record office which holds the original.
Many Church of England parish registers have been digitised and are available online via Find My Past. Free access to Find My Past is provided at all three offices and a small number of Devon Libraries.
Microfiche of some other filmed sources such as non-conformist registers, Bishops’ Transcripts and tithe maps and apportionments are also available at all three offices. Microfiche of filmed electoral registers, land tax assessments and the Inland Revenue wills series are available at both the Devon Heritage Centre and North Devon Record Office.
Devon Heritage Centre in Exeter generally holds collections which relate to the whole county, including the Diocesan records, county Quarter Sessions and County Council collections. This includes estate and family collections, and solicitors’ collections which cover more than one area of Devon. Most of these records are not filmed or digitised, and are only available in their original format. The West Country Studies Library, which contains the county collection of local history material is also available at the Devon Heritage Centre. It includes published books, manuscript volumes, pamphlets, journals, maps, prints, engravings, photographs, newspapers and various files relating to local parish and family history.
The North Devon Record Office holds collections from churches and chapels, borough courts, solicitors, estates and families, local authorities and poor law unions, hospitals, clubs, societies and charities, businesses and schools in the North Devon area. Some collections which were previously held at Exeter have been transferred to the North Devon Record Office since 1988. The Local Studies collection relating to North Devon is also available. The North Devon Athenaeum, which is a private library also shares the searchroom facilities.
Plymouth and West Devon Record Office is run by Plymouth Council. It holds archives relating to the city of Plymouth and some West Devon parishes, as well as several other South Devon parishes close to Plymouth. Local Studies collections relating to Plymouth and its surrounding area are held separately. The Local Studies Collections include resources useful to anyone researching naval history, including books, periodicals and illustrations relating to the history of the Royal Navy and its presence in Plymouth.
It is not necessary to make an appointment or to book a seat before visiting Devon Heritage Centre. However, it is possible to pre-order archive documents or local studies material held in strongroom stacks, for the day of your visit. This can be done in person, by letter, by telephoning us at least by lunchtime the day before a visit on 01392 888700 (Monday-Friday 9.30 am – 5.00 pm) or by e-mailing us on email@example.com. If you are visiting on a Tuesday, you will need to pre-order material by lunchtime of the Monday before.
Searchers must arrive before 4.00 pm if they wish to sign in to look at original archival sources, or local studies material held in the strongroom, and by 4.30 pm to look at microfiche or microfilms in the searchroom.
The majority of our catalogues can be viewed online from our Online Catalogues. This provides access to catalogues for items held at the Devon Heritage Centre and North Devon Record Office.
In the searchbox that appears, type any keywords, and click search. The results can be ordered by Relevance, Reference Number or Date depending on your preference. To view a catalogue description in detail click on the reference number of the item in which you are interested. Further guidance on searching the online catalogue can be found in the ‘Help’ section of the Online Catalogue, or by clicking the question mark logos scattered around the page.
Looking at Original Documents
It is possible to pre-order archival documents for the following day. This can be done by letter, email, telephone or in person in the searchroom. Pre-orders by letter, email or telephone need to reach us by lunchtime on the previous day. We recommend that archive documents required on Saturday mornings are always ordered in advance.
When you arrive documents are ordered through staff at the searchroom desk. You will need to provide the reference numbers of the documents you wish to see, and your table number. A member of staff will fill in an order slip for you and can help you find the correct references.
The number of documents produced at one time for each researcher is at the discretion of the archivist on duty, but there is a general limit of three items per researcher (an item may be a volume, a single document, a file or a bundle).
A member of staff will collect the documents from the strongroom and bring them to your table with the necessary support or preservation aids, if you have not already collected these yourself. Documents cannot be produced if they are too fragile for safe handling; these are classified as ‘Not Fit for Production’.
You should be present at your table to receive the documents from the staff member. You are asked to retain your copies of the order slips with their relevant documents, and return them together to a member of staff at the searchroom desk after use.
Original documents are not produced from the strongrooms between 1.00 pm and 2.00 pm. Documents can be ordered until 4.00 pm each day. Documents ordered by 4.00 pm can be used until we close at 5.00 pm.
Handling Original Documents
Please treat all documents with care. When using original documents or microfiche, use a pencil at all times. Do not place your notebook or sleeve on top of the document, or lean on it. This applies to maps as well as volumes and loose documents. Cushions and foam wedge supports are provided for supporting the spines of open volumes, and to prop them up at a convenient angle for reading. Weights are provided to hold maps and other documents flat where necessary. We do not recommend the use of cotton gloves for handling documents, but these can be provided if they are needed in particular cases. Please return the cushions, foam supports and weights after use to the table or shelf where they are stored.
Looking at Local Studies Material
All of the West Country Studies Library materials which were once on open access in the former reading room at Castle Street, Exeter are stored on open shelves in the Devon Heritage Centre searchroom. Our searchroom staff can advise you on the location of material and help you find it.
The local studies material formerly held in the stack at Castle Street, Exeter is now held in strongrooms at the Devon Heritage Centre. You may order these local studies materials at the searchroom desk on arrival, once you have identified the shelf reference. Our searchroom staff can help you do this. Items identified from the local studies catalogue can also be requested as a pre-order by email, by letter or by telephone as long as you can supply a shelf reference.
Please contact us before you visit if you would like to see unfilmed hard-copy newspapers.
You can bring in a camera to take photographs of documents, as long as you purchase a photographic licence from the main reception. Charges apply for Daily, Weekly, Monthly and Annual Licences. Please see our Charges Page for more information.
Photographs of original documents must be for personal use or research. If you wish to exhibit, reproduce or publish a photographic print or an image of a document in printed form, or publish it on a website, please inform us. We can identify and contact the document/photograph owner, and the copyright owner for permission, or assist you to do this yourself. If you do not inform us that you are intending to reproduce or publish an item held in our archives to which copyright applies, you will be infringing the laws of copyright.
Public Access Computers
Several genealogical websites are available free of charge when visiting the Devon Heritage Centre.
The computers provide access to specific online archive and library catalogues, including the Devon Archives online catalogue and West Country Local Studies Library online catalogue. The computers are also available for sources provided on CD-Rom, including digital books and parish register indexes.
Instruction booklets are provided next to each computer terminal. Public access computers are turned off at 4.45 pm each weekday.
Please leave any bags, luggage or bulky coats in the lockers or on the coat rack available in the locker room. Laptops, notebooks, wallets, glasses etc. are permitted in the searchroom. We can supply a clear transparent plastic bag to hold these items.
Outside the entrance there are two machines which dispense hot and cold drinks and snacks. There is also a water machine which dispenses free cold water. A cafe is available serving drinks and snacks for visitors to Great Moor House. These are operated by Devon Norse.
Researchers can bring their own laptops. There are power points on searchroom tables and next to microfiche readers. Wifi access is available. Please note laptop bags must be stored in the lockers provided.
In November 2017 changes to the parking arrangements on this site were introduced. Devon Heritage Centre users will still be able to park in the front car park but spaces will not be marked out specifically for Devon Heritage Centre (DHC) users.
The car park will be for the use of visitors and DHC staff and users. DHC users can park in any non-designated spaces. Spaces are reserved and marked for SWHeritage Staff, occupational health attendees (Wellbeing@work) and for disabled visitors.
Disabled Parking – There are some disabled parking spaces in the Great Moor House car park and the entrance is accessible via a ramp which leads to the main entrance, or via a wheelchair lift situated at the corner of the building. All public areas in the Devon Heritage Centre are on the ground floor.
It is free to visit the Devon Heritage Centre in person to look at the documents and other materials we hold, and to receive general advice about your research.
There are a range of charges for copying, for the use of private cameras, for detailed research, conservation work and outreach services. Please see our Charges Page for more information.
Service Points provide a vital resource to people who find it difficult to travel to the Devon Heritage Centre or the North Devon Record Office. They are generally located in museums, libraries or heritage centres, and hold microfiche and microfilm copies of historical records for the areas which they cover. These include parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials, while some of them hold microfiche copies of tithe maps and apportionments (showing land ownership and use in about 1840), non-conformist registers and some other records of the local area. Some Service Points also have internet access and hold a range of printed source material.
Please see our Service Points page
For more information please contact us
Tel: 01392 888700