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Devon is a, predominantly rural, county in the south-west of England. It shares borders with Cornwall to the west, Somerset to the northeast and Dorset to the east. Compared to other English counties, population is sparse, with 1.1 million inhabitants within its 2590 square miles (6707 square kilometres). The cities of Exeter and Plymouth, with its dockland heritage, are the main centres of population.

Devon derives its name from Dumnonia, the territory of the Celtic tribe the Dumnonii. Following the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain, Dumnonia was partially absorbed into Wessex. King Æthelstan confirmed the River Tamar as the western boundary in 936.

As the only English county with two coastlines, maritime activity has always been important. Fishing, trading and shipbuilding are, in recent times, being replaced with tourism as the predominant industry. Apart from the rugged coastline of the north and the river estuaries of the south, inland Devon contains spectacular scenery, including the Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks. The granite moorlands give way to fertile rives valleys in the south. The climate is warm but wet making it more suited to sheep farming than crop production.

Historically, the economic activity and religious complexion of north of the county differs from the south. This is partly a result of contrasting geology. North west Devon being closer in nature to Cornwall than south Devon. Some of these distinctions are still apparent, with centres of employment remaining in the south. Devon, particularly south Devon, made its fortune from wool in Medieval times, when it was one of the richest areas of the country.

Old dissent, in the form of Baptists and Independents, was predominantly found in the wealthy wool growing south. As the woolen industry declined, the centres of non-conformity moved to the north west of the county, with Methodism and in particular Bible Christianity, appealing to many Devonians.

Further Reading:

Michael Duffy et. al., The New Maritime History of Devon Vol. 1: from early times to the late eighteenth century, Conway Maritime Press (1992).

Stephen Fisher, Michael Duffy et. al., The New Maritime History of Devon Vol. 2: from the late eighteenth century to the present day, Conway Maritime Press (1994).

Kirsty Gray, Tracing your West Country Ancestors, Pen and Sword (2013).

Helen A. Harris, Handbook of Devon Parishes: a complete guide for local and family historians, Halsgrove (2004).

W. G. Hoskins, Devon, New Edition, Phillimore (2003).

Vancouver, Charles, General View of the Agriculture of the County of Devon: With Observations On the Means of Its Improvement, Board of Agriculture (1808), reprinted in paperback 2012.

Devon Heritage Services

Devon History Society for information about many local groups and events

Devon Family History Society

Genuki Devon

Devon Wills Index, searchable by place

Friends of Devon Archives for transcriptions of the tithe schedules, freeholder’s lists, Anglican Visitations, 1723 oath of Allegiance and 1715 Militia Assessments and related documents.

Devon Heritage for transcriptions of documents for numerous Devon parishes.

Devon’s Heritage on

Devon Rural Archive

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