Sunday, 30 August 2009

A New Englander’s view of Old England

A US-born writer who has settled in Devon and become of the county’s best known historians will be holding a local history workshop in the picturesque village of East Budleigh on 5 September. (Left: East Budleigh's prettily twisting High Street with its many ancient thatched houses, looking down from the church)

Dr Todd Gray was born and raised in the Massachusetts towns of Ipswich and Gloucester, and first came to England on a school trip in 1973. He now has dual nationality.

He returned in 1978 to complete his undergraduate studies and in 1989 was awarded his Doctorate in History from the University of Exeter. He remains an Honorary Research Fellow of the University.

Dr Gray has written more than 40 books on the history of Devon and Cornwall and more than a dozen scholarly articles. He is Chairman of the Friends of Devon’s Archives, and a past Chairman of the Devonshire Association.

He has not shied away from awkward subjects in his writing. His Blackshirts in Devon studied the history of Sir Oswald Mosley's fascist followers in the county between 1933 and 1940, and won the Devon History Society’s ‘Devon Book of the Year’ award in October 2007.

In Devon and the Slave Trade he used local and national archives to provide examples of the ways African slavery was part of Devon's history. The book was chosen as the winner for ‘outstanding contribution to black heritage in 2007’ in the South West by the Black History Foundation.

He also courted controversy with his discovery that the Cornish pasty is in fact a Devonian delicacy, having discovered in a Plymouth document dating back to 1510 that the earliest recipe for the dish pre-dated Cornish accounts by a clear 200 years.

Dr Gray’s workshop will explain how to use local document resources to conduct research into local history subjects. The workshop, in East Budleigh Church Hall on 5 September from 10.00 am to 12.30 pm, has been arranged by the Otter Valley Association as part of the formal launch of OVApedia, its historical archive.

OVA, based in the Lower Otter Valley, is in the words of its website “an amenity (Civic) society formed to interest residents and visitors in the history, geography, natural history and architecture of the area.” For more details, see

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