Robert Hesketh

Location: Bovey Tracey, Devon
About me...

I am a writer and photographer with a strong interest in local history (my first degree subject). Since 2002, I have been giving talks Devon organisations including history clubs, Women’s Institutes, societies, U3A and Probus on Devon and its history. To date, I have published 38 now 70 Devon, Cornish, Dorset and Somerset titles (see please delete and replace with ) and written numerous illustrated articles for Devon Life, Dartmoor Magazine, Country Walking and other publications.

About my talks...

All the talks are illustrated with high quality colour digital images on Powerpoint (except Armageddon which is in black and white and Devon’s Geology which is 35mm slides please delete “and Devon’s Geology which is 35mm slides”) and last between 45 minutes and an hour, depending on what the audience wants. Questions from the audience are always welcome. I can supply all equipment needed for projection: laptop, projector, projection stand and projection screen. I can also give my talks on Zoom.


For bookings my fee is £55, plus 30p per mile travel each way from Bovey Tracey (£60 and 40p per mile for talks scheduled after 1st January, 2024). Of course, there is no travel charge for Zoom talks, but my basic fee is the same.

I am prepared to travel anywhere within Devon and border areas of Dorset, Somerset and Cornwall.

My Contact Details:

01626 833887

Dartmoor Myths and Legends

This talk is a selection from the rich trove of Dartmoor myths and legends, including well known stories such as Childe the Hunter and Bishop Bronescombe’s Temptation, as well as several lesser known myths and legends. Most of the material was collected in the Victorian era and is drawn from several sources. I’ll tell it to you in the words of the collectors, though I’ve lightly edited it in places to avoid excessive detail, archaic words and phrases.

The Story of Devon’s Bridges

Devon is a county of rivers and thus of bridges – there are over 5,000 all told. This is the story of how builders have developed Devon’s network of bridges to meet changing needs and greatly increased trade and traffic, adapting and adopting new materials and new engineering techniques as occasion offered and needs demanded.   Illustrated with over 100 digital images, this talk takes the story through from the earliest river crossings – fords, stepping stones, clam and clapper bridges – through stone arched structures, turnpike bridges, railway bridges and viaducts; concluding with 20th and 21st century road and footbridges.

Exploring Plymouth’s Heritage

Similar in format to my Exeter Heritage talk, (scroll down for details) this explores Plymouth’s rich history and naval heritage from medieval times to the present with well over 100 images.  These trace Plymouth’s development from small fishing port to major trading centre and Britain’s chief naval defence of the Western Approaches.

Exeter’s Tudor and Regency Buildings

This talk will relate Exeter and Topsham’s rich heritage of Tudor and Regency buildings to some of the main events that happened here during these two periods.  It is illustrated with over 130 high resolution digital images of both public and residential buildings, the fruit of many hours exploration.


Weirdest Buildings of the West Country

The West Country has more than its fair share of weird buildings.  This talk explores an eclectic selection.  This includes the last castle built in England and a pub constructed like a pack of cards in Devon; a chapel sprouting from the rocks and King Arthur’s Halls in Cornwall; a lighthouse on stilts and a sham castle in Somerset and a ghost village in Dorset.

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.

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.

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.

Devon Place Names

Place names are an integral part of England’s history and the evolution of the English language and identity. 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.

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 and this talk developed from my earlier researches into place names. 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. I will also discuss generic occupational names such as Smith and Baker, as well as generic place/surnames like Hill and Brooks.

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 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.

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, some associated with periods of national crisis such as the Civil War, others with individual tragedies and dramas. 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. Contributions from the audience are especially welcome at this presentation.

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.


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 trail 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.

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.

Armageddon -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.

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.

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. As well as locomotives and rolling stock, both vintage and modern, steam and diesel, these illustrations show how Brunel and other engineers solved the problems of challenging terrain with cuttings, bridges,  seawalls and embankments

My Photo Quizes

Devon Photoquiz One

Test your knowledge of the county and its history by identifying the slides and where they were taken from the information and clues given. Competitors’ sheets are provided and a book 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. This presentation has proved very popular at social events and dinners.


Devon Photoquiz Two

As several clubs who saw the first Photoquiz asked for a second, I have produced another on the same lines.

Devon Photoquiz Three

Photoquiz Two proved popular as well, so I’ve produced a third!

Christmas Photoquiz:

This takes the same format as the other Devon Photoquizzes, but focusses on the Christmas season, its traditions and festivities, as well as the pleasures and challenges of winter photography.  Illustrated with sixty photographs, many taken under the transformative magic of snow.


Robert Hesketh Contact Details:

01626 833887

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