I am very sad to learn that Francis Bennett has died. Francis had been ill for some time but passed away peacefully surrounded by his family this week.
At the end of the 1980s as a budding map collector I contacted a dealer who had some maps of Devon for sale. Unfortunately the maps had already been sold to “another Devon collector”. I asked that my name and address be forwarded to said buyer and some months later received a message from Francis Bennett. At the time I had naively set out to compile a “Stanley Gibbons” of Devon maps and had used my PC skills to produce a mock-up including information (gleaned from other’s work) on roughly 80 maps of Devon.
The letter from Francis was business-like but not exactly encouraging. Nevertheless I persevered and forced a meeting on the poor man. When I showed him what I had produced so far he was immediately supportive and from that moment I had a friend as well as a contact. Although I visited Newton Ferrers too infrequently I was warmly welcomed and I had many hours when I was able to enjoy his company.
Everyone who knew Francis will have their own story to tell: mine is of a very expensive Devon cream tea. I intended writing a story about the little island off Bigbury with its St Michael’s Chapel. Having arranged to meet the then owner of the famous hotel on Burgh Island, Francis and Joan together with myself and my family proceeded to have what I expected to be a free cream tea on the lawn. As we started to leave I was handed a bill for the teas; at £6 each they were probably double the amount charged anywhere else in Devon at the time and fifteen years later it is still the most expensive cream tea I have ever had.
His picture is pinned to the wall above my desk in my map room; Francis interviewed by the Evening Herald after the publication of the first of our two books on Devon maps. In many ways this is how I will always remember him; sat in his study surrounded by maps and books, eyes alert but friendly, and wearing the omnipresent baggy pullover.
The books and the two websites Printed Maps and Victorian Maps would not have been possible without Francis’ tireless legwork. While I sat in front of my PC (in the beginning an old Amstrad!), Francis would visit all the institutions in Great Britain searching for maps of Devon. However, he soon taught himself computer skills, bought a PC and we would exchange 3 ¼” disks through the post. He was the methodical, analytical brain and I was the fast and furious text writer; consequently errors would appear – all of my making.
Nevertheless, I am sure that Francis was immensely proud of our two books, as he rightly should have been. They still represent the only county bibliography covering the complete period from 1575 to 1901 which is fully illustrated. He then proceeded to write two books of his own that he might never have attempted without this impetus.
This and its sister website are in many ways his legacy. I am very grateful that I met him and my life has been richer as a consequence.
Illustration copyright Evening Herald - April 2nd 1996.
Printed Maps of Exeter
Our latest publication is The Printed Maps of Exeter. This is only available from Devon County Council and is sold through the Devon Heritage Site. Only 500 copies of this book were published so it is quite scarce. And at only ten pounds it is very affordable.
To order view the web site at: http://www.devon.gov.uk/the_printed_maps_of_exeter_city_maps.htm.
The aim has been to include every printed map of Exeter published on one sheet in the period up to 1901. The maps catalogued here mean that every Exonian interested in mapping of any sort should find something of interest. These 62 maps include the first printed map by John Hooker of 1587 plus two other maps executed by him but not actually printed until the 1890s. These are early plans attempting to show how the city looked even before Hooker's time and plans of the castle and precincts. Each map is described and illustrated and an attempt has been made to put it in its historical context.