LONG lists of tenants, landholdings and rents – written in Latin – don’t sound like a good read, but a talk on November 13 to the Crediton Area History and Museum Society (CAHMS) dispelled that idea.

Dr Des Atkinson revealed some intriguing facts and stories hidden in John Norden’s early 17th century survey of 10 manors in Devon which were then part of the Duchy of Cornwall.

Des led a team of researchers from Friends of Devon Archives (FoDA) who have painstakingly worked through the survey, translating it into English and highlighting some of the unexpected glimpses into the lives of local people.

Norden was almost obsessive about the value of trees.

The survey is peppered with notes about how many trees there were on each landholding, and where tenants had chopped them down and sold them or used the wood without paying for it.

The Duchy – which had commissioned the survey – was losing out on a valuable source of income.

In Exeter, the surveyor reported that the grounds immediately outside the castle walls belonged to the Duchy, and could have been rented out - but people from the city were using them without permission, and paying nothing for the privilege. Once again, he reminded the Duchy that they were losing out.

FoDA has published a book detailing the survey which is available for sale at the Devon Heritage Centre at £15 a copy; or by post at £15 plus £2.99 p and p. For further details, email: [email protected] .

There is no CAHMS talk in December, but our programme of talks starts up again on Monday, January 9, when we will be hearing the latest developments in the quest to discover a possible local link to the story of the “Princes in the Tower”.

Tony Gale