Beatrix Cresswell

Article by Tony Gale on late 19th / early 20th century local historian and author Beatrix Cresswell, with interesting Crediton references.


Beatrix Feodore Cresswell (d. 1940) produced dozens of publications on a range of subjects over many years. The earliest appears to be, “The Royal Progress of King Pepito”, published by the SPCK in 1889 with illustrations by the well-established Kate Greenaway. It was early in the twentieth century that Cresswell got into her stride as a local historian. In 1908 she published, “Architectural Antiquities of Exeter and the Neighbourhood”. Two volumes appeared in 1910; “A Survey of Devon Churches” and “Chained Books and Libraries in Devon Parish Churches”.

Cresswell became a regular contributor to the Transactions of the Devonshire Association in the following decade. Her article on, “The Church Goods Commission in Devon, A. D. 1549-1552” (TDA, 1911) is a thorough piece of work. It is unashamedly partisan - “Unlike most thieves, who conceal as far as possible the details of their plunder, the Church Goods Commissioners have left elaborate records of their proceedings” – but she is nonetheless aware that, “a considerable amount of information of local and historical interest may be found in these apparently monotonous entries”. Assuming that she deciphered and transcribed all the entries herself, she must have been a proficient and patient student of paleography. More of her articles appeared in the Transactions in 1912 (“The Exeter Bond of Association”), 1915 (“Churchyard and Wayside Crosses in the Neighbourhood of Exeter”), 1917 (“Ancient Church Needlework in Devon”) and 1922 (“Hugh Deane, Clerk to the Governors of the Corporation at Crediton, 1551-1583”).

It was the last of these which first drew my attention to Cresswell’s work. She had no doubt come across the name of Hugh Deane while she was transcribing the voluminous, “Warden’s Accounts of the Governors of Crediton 1551-1599” and took a particular interest in a man who was no more than a minor functionary in the local church. The annual meeting of the Devonshire Association was held at Crediton in 1922, and one imagines that her gently-told story of this adaptable local man who kept the accounts, taught the choir, played the organ and (briefly) taught at the grammar school – all evidenced by reference to entries in the Warden’s Accounts – would have been well-received by her audience.

Cresswell continued to turn out a considerable volume of work through the 1920s. Her “Notes on Devon Churches” appeared, deanery by deanery, between 1920 and 1925. She also produced a number of, “Handbooks for Visitors and Residents” around this time, with Barnstaple, Bideford and Bude heading the list.

One of her early works is entitled, “A Profitable Vacation: the Story of a Summer Holiday”. I haven’t read it, but Beatrix Feodore Cresswell was a busy and enquiring woman. I suspect that her idea of a profitable vacation would not have revolved around relaxing in the sunshine.