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16 January 2007

Devon Book 75

Exeter Working Papers in British Book Trade History; 12
A history of the book in Devon, by Ian Maxted
75: Publishers and grey literature

The cluster of firms which Robert Maxwell brought with him when he took over Wheatons meant that several national publishers had premises in Hennock Road on the Marsh Barton Trading Estate. These included Pergamon Press and the Religious Education Press. Elsewhere in Exeter national publishers have had a base in Exeter since the War, not often attracting local interest as the works they published were not aimed at a local market. Such for example is Africa Research Ltd, with premises in Parliament Street during the 1970s and 1980s. For more than thirty years Paternoster Press, a religious publisher, had premises in Mount Radford Crescent.

But from time to time a local publisher makes more than local ripples. Webb and Bower was started by Richard Webb and Delian Bower in June 1975 and they made a lucky find when they discovered the nature notebook kept by a 34 year old book illustrator Edith Holden in 1906. The country diary of an Edwardian lady was published in six-colour facsimile in 1977 and became an international best-seller, selling over three million copies worldwide. It was translated into twelve other languages and the accompanying merchandise soon began to appear. There was even a Country Diary Gallery for several years in a 16th-century building in the Cathedral Close, retailing bucolic bric-a-brac and displaying material associated with the publication. The royal tour 1901: or, the cruise of H.M.S. Ophir by Harry Price, a second manuscript dating from the same period, was published in 1980 but the original was not as technically accomplished and it was not as successful, although it still reached the Sunday Times bestseller lists. Webb and Bower published over 350 titles in all, including 15 other national best-sellers, and won many international design and production awards. They published in association with a wide range of organisations, including the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Ordnance Survey, the National Trust and Debrett's. By 1991 the firm was offered for sale. A buyer failed to materialise and the operations were scaled down (E&E 2 May 1991). The successor company, run by Richard Webb, now operates from premises in Dartmouth and also has a number of successful publications to its credit, including The chronicles of Dartmouth: an historical yearly log 1854-1954 by Don Collinson, a winner of the Devon Book of the year award.

There are several smaller publishers which specialise in publications of local interest. Prominent among these is Obelisk Publications, based in Pinhoe, which was founded by Chips Barber who, as his name would suggest, is a former teacher. His slim, well illustrated A5 sized publications catch the tourist souvenir market with their modest prices. Each deals with a particular town or a popular topic, such as ghosts and many are researched and written by Chips and Sally Barber. Similar publishers in Devon include Forest Press at Liverton and Orchard Publications in Chudleigh, which specialise in items on Dartmoor. Mint Press was set up by Dr Todd Gray who was previously Leverhulme Research Fellow in the Department of History and Archaeology at the University of Exeter. His ambitious programme mixes reprints of historical documents with anthologies and titles specially written by himself or other authors. Among the series which have been initiated are one reproducing early engravings, including Dartmoor engraved and two volumes of Exeter engraved, Travellers' tales anthologies of extracts written by visitors to Devon across the centuries, and a small format series of "concise histories of Devon", each covering a different period and written by a specialist.

Several publishers in Exeter produced magazines, and the county magazine has become a feature of life in the region. After various short-lived country magazines, such as Devon county magazine which appeared just after the war, Devon life was established in 1965 by DRC Publishing Ltd at 22, Southernhay West. Modelled on Country life, it included visits to historic houses in the county and features on fashion and sport. It has had a chequered career, as the following selective list of names which appeared in the imprint demonstrates only too clearly:

1965-66 DRC Publishing Co. Ltd
1966-67 Westcountry Magazines Ltd
1967-70 Roy Faiers Ltd
1970-72 R F Western Ltd
1973-74 R.F.County Magazines (Cheltenham)
1974-75 R.F.Western Ltd
1975-76 English Country Magazines
1979-81 English Country Magazines (Cheltenham)
1982-83 Devon Life
1983-86 South West Publishing and Arts Ltd
1986-88 Regional Magazines Ltd
1988-90 Town and Country Magazines, Preston
1991-93 Malcom Davies (Today Publications)
1994 County Life Magazines

Some of these publishers were involved with more than one title. For example Regional Magazines was a BPCC company based in Exeter and also published Cornish life, Somerset and Avon life, Arts west and other titles. The incarnation of Devon life appearing in 2000 is a new publication unconnected with any of its predecessors.

The continuous growth in the numbers of publications issued by commercial publishers during the twentieth century has been paralleled by an ever increasing flood of printed paper from a wide range of institutions. These outpourings had modest enough beginnings. For example Devon County Council, one of the chief perpetrators, was established in 1889 but its minutes were not even printed until 1905. The real growth in County Council publications began with the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947. The development plan produced a range of publications starting with the Analysis of the survey, published in 1952 and the Written statement, a modest 53 page document produced in 1953. There were a series of amendments and local studies before the structure plan replaced it in the 1970s. The Report of the survey appeared in 1977 and the Written statement in 1979. A series of alterations followed - the third alteration appeared in 1991 for example and a shoal of publications attended each of these, the statement on public participation and the comments by the appropriate government department and so on. Under later legislation the annual publication of a Public transport plan and Transport policies and programme were required from 1974. The arrival of the National Curriculum in the 1980s produced a series of publications from the Education Department with advice and statements on all curriculum subjects as well as titles dealing with special needs and other problem areas.

The growth in County Council Publications can be seen from an analysis of the numbers of publications of corporate authorship recorded on the Westcountry Studies Library catalogue:

1960s1051990s656 (- 1997)

Some, but certainly not all of this growth might be accounted for by the increasing comprehensiveness of library acquisitions.

By the early 1980s there was a feeling that many of the County Council's statutory and other publications could be presented to a wider public and indeed commercially marketed. Capital Planning Information was commissioned to produce a report Local government publications: their packaging and marketing in 1983. They also assisted in running a seminar in Torquay in 1993, the proceedings at which were reported in Publishing and local government: report on a seminar on the packaging and marketing of local government publications, and the following year Don Kennington of Capital Planning Information produced Devon County Council publishing programme: report of a monitoring study.

The result of all this discussion in Devon was the formation of a consortium of three companies operating under the imprint of Devon Books, described in the rubric as the "official publisher to Devon County Council". Chief among the consortium was A.Wheaton and Co. Ltd, Exeter's largest publisher, prominent in the field of education whose history, stretching back to the 1830s, has already been outlined. Less venerable was Town and Country Books of Kingskerswell, responsible for sales and distribution in the early years, and even more ephemeral was Limelight, responsible for editorial and design, operating from small premises at 15 Castle Street which vanished in a puff of smoke within a year or so. The programme was based on official publications, reprints of items in libraries and archives and submitted manuscripts of local interest. Some of the early publications bore witness to a somewhat shaky start. A 1984 publication of John Ogilby's road maps of Devon and Cornwall, facsimiles of maps from his Britannia of 1675 was expensive and poorly presented. Plymouth in the Civil War reprinted four Civil War tracts incongruously tied with pink ribbon. The official publications never really took off. There was a publication of the statistical volume Devon in figures in 1985, more handsomely produced than the previous in-house editions by the Central Information Service, and a guide to Devon's places of interest 1984 was also one of the first publications. The facsimiles and reprints also lost prominence after the first few years and they sometimes proved to be less straightforward than had been hoped. For example Honiton: a history of the manor and borough (1984), based on a manuscript by the late J.R.W.Coxhead, bequeathed to the Westcountry Studies Library, had to be extensively revised by John Yallop, curator of Allhallows Museum in Honiton. Nevertheless by 1987 the catalogue of Devon Books could boast some seventy titles. There were reprints of various works on Dartmoor, for example Samuel Rowe's A perambulation of Dartmoor, which had first appeared in 1896 and several works by William Crossing. The expertise of County Council personnel was called on to edit and compile several volumes. Peter Hunt was responsible for two coffee-table offerings: Devon's age of elegance (1984), reprinting extracts from early ninteenth century diarists such as the Rev. John Swete, Lady Paterson and Mary Cornish and illustrated by contemporary prints in the Westcountry Studies Library and Payne's Devon, (1986), illustrated with water-colours by the Plymouth artist William Payne dating from about 1790, preserved in two volumes in the Westcountry Studies Library accompanied by a text extracted from early 19th century topographical writings. There were worries about the future of the imprint in 1991 when Maxwell Pergamon Publishing Corporation plc wished to dispose of parts of its empire and close Wheatons Publishers Ltd. This was averted by a deal with D.A.Atkins Ltd and the firm moved the centre of its operations to Tiverton. Devon Books became an imprint of Halsgrove. Over the years the emphasis shifted toward newly written items of local interest. Authors have included university staff as well as local historians and the over the years Devon Books has occupied a slot in the middle ground, between the more popular and cheaper offerings of publishers such as Obelisk and the more weighty academic tomes of the University of Exeter Press. Nevertheless some significant works have appeared under the Devon Books imprint, for example the five volume Dartmoor atlas of antiquities by Jeremy Butler (1991-98) and Printed maps of Devon by Kit Batten and Francis Bennett (1996).

The University of Exeter Press formalised its house style in about 1990, replacing a series of publications which had no corporate identity with a clearly identifiable product. In the University of Plymouth the Intellect imprint was established more recently to disseminate its publications. The research assessment exercise has made it vital for universities to manufacture publications in order to maintain their ratings and hence funding. The listings produced by the University of Exeter for many years give the impression that more creativity emanates from Exeter in a single year than was produced by Exeter presses during the entire eighteenth century. In 1985/6 for example some 952 publications by University staff were listed, if seven tapes, one video and one film are included. However some 736 of these were periodical articles rather than books, many of them being reviews or letters. In 64 cases the staff member was responsible for editing or translating the item and the number of monographs actually written by unversity staff in that year is a more modest 141. The most prolific department was the Department of Education with 95 items to its credit, 71 of them articles. The science departments also feature highly, Chemistry with 63 items, all but one articles and Biological Sciences with 68, all but four articles. Individual departments produced their own publications, among the most prolific being the Agricultural Economics Unit which for many years has produced a numbered series of statisical surveys and reports including the Farm management handbook and series such as Pig production in south west England.

Outside the groves of academe a wide range of people have access to some means of publication, often through the medium of periodicals. Between 1977 and 1994 83 contributors to the Devon historian can be identified. In many instances its pages were infiltrated by university or college lecturers, fifteen in all, and ten retired teachers also found an interest in researching and writing on local history. Retired people figured largely among contributors: four civil servants or diplomats, an electrical engineer, a chemist, a nurse, a civil engineer. There were others who were professionally involved in the field of history and heritage: four museum curators, two librarians, an archivist, four publishers or editors, eight students, three teachers. Other occupations that can be identified include three local government officers, four poets or writers, a vicar, a furniture conservator, a photographer and two farmer's wives. Authorship is no longer the preserve of a limited number of groups such the gentry and the clergy as in previous centuries and there is now a much wider participation in the writing and publishing process. And the availability of cheaper production processes makes it possible for more goups and individuals to consider publishing items themselves, be it their personal reminiscences, family genealogies or village histories. For many years A.H.Stockwell in Ilfracombe has provided a service for those wishing to have their works published - at a price - but many are prepared to go it alone.

The following table records the number of titles on Devon that have been listed in the Devon bibliography in recent years. The majority are not conventionally published by traditional publishers but grey literature by official bodies or small publications by local groups or individuals.

* This figure includes about 330 titles omitted from earlier years.

In fact this table only covers the tip of the iceberg. Research on the levels of local publication undertaken by Loughborough University in 1999 indicates that there are perhaps 20,000 potential publishers in a county the size of Devon. These include local authorities and other statutory bodies, schools, businesses, voluntary groups and organisations. Their publications include annual reports, newsletters, publicity material, a large quantity of ephemera but also much material of significance which is being missed not only by the national legal deposit libraries but also by local studies collections in the county.

This page last updated 14 Aug 2002
© Ian Maxted, 2002.