Totnes Castle: Guidebook



Totnes Castle in Devon forms one of the Shell Keeps in Devon and Cornwall. The castle was placed in State Guardianship in 1947, and S.E. Rigold wrote the first MPBW pamphlet guide in 1952. This continued as the DOE pamphlet guide (1979) [8 pp.; price 5p] with the blue header making a reference to the fuller ‘blue guides’ available at other sites.


1987 (2nd ed. 1990)

This was expanded, with very slightly adapted text as an English Heritage guide (1983; 2nd ed. 1990 [30p]). It doubled in length and included black and white photographs, a single page plan, and a reconstruction by Alan Sorrell. The description now preceded the history.

Grime’s Graves: Young People’s Guide



The neolithic mines at Grime’s Graves are in the care of English Heritage. Barbara Green prepared the Young People’s Guide to Grime’s Graves (1964), in parallel to the souvenir guide to the site. The cover is by Alan Sorrell, and the guide was printed by Brown Knight & Truscott Ltd., London and Tonbridge.

The guide poses a two questions before addressing wider questions:

  • why were the mines dug?
  • what was the flint used for?
  • mining at Grime’s Graves
  • Exploring the mines (‘… it is often necessary to wriggle on one’s stomach’).

There is little in the text to make it more accessible for the younger visitor.

Inside the cover is a note: ‘Visitors wishing to crawl along the galleries are advised to wear old clothes and take an electric torch’. Those galleries are now closed to the public.

My copy was a handwritten note of the opening times on the back cover. The site was open until 7.00 pm from May to September (5.30 pm, March, April, October; 4.00 pm, November – February).

Guidebooks to Melrose Abbey


1932 (2nd ed. 1949, 6th impress. 1973)

Melrose Abbey was a Cistercian foundation from Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire. It was placed in State Guardianship in 1919.

The first guidebook was prepared by James S. Richardson and Marguerite Wood (1932). A second edition was prepared in 1949, and this continued into the period when the abbey was cared by the Department of the Environment. This phase coincided with a short card guide (1963), and a wider illustrated guide to the Border Abbeys (1964).

Melrose Abbey

1981 (rev. 1989)

The guide by Richardson and Wood was revised by C. J. Tabraham (1981; revised 1989). This was illustrated in black and white, and contained a plan of the abbey inside the back card cover. This was further revised in 1995 and then reprinted in 2003.

Melrose Abbey


This Historic Scotland guide has been revised by the ‘Official Souvenir Guide’ prepared by Chris Tabraham (2005). It is fully illustrated, much in colour. The guide includes the reconstruction by Alan Sorrell.


Guidebooks to Chesters Roman fort


1960 (6th impress. 1970)

The Roman fort at Chesters lies immediately to the west of where Hadrian’s Wall crossed the river North Tyne. The site, along with the Clayton Memorial Museum, was placed in State Guardianship in 1954. The official Ministry guidebook was prepared by Eric Birley, who also wrote the guides for Corbridge and Housesteads.

The sections include: the site; historical outline; the fort bath-house, bridge; civilian settlement; and museum. A foldout map inside the back cover shows the location of the fort and its environs, from Milecastle 26 to Milecastle 28. Plans of the fort and bath-house are included within the guide.


1990 (1999)

The English Heritage guide by J.S. Johnson was published in 1990. It is fully illustrated in black and white. It starts with a tour of the fort and bath-house; the museum; Chesters bridge; the Romans in the north; history of Chesters fort (including a section on the Chesters Estate and John Clayton). It includes reconstructions by Alan Sorrell.



The most recent English Heritage guide is by Nick Hodgson (who also wrote the EH guide to Corbridge). This is fully illustrated in colour. It follows the patter of tour then history. A foldout plan inside the back cover shows the layout of the adjacent civilian settlement.

One of the features includes the so-called Crosby Garrett Roman cavalry helmet.

Brough of Birsay: guidebook

The remains of ancient settlements on the island of Birsay, located just to the north west of Mainland in Orkney, are described in the Historic Scotland guidebook (1986) by Anna Ritchie.

The main sections are:

  • Introduction: ‘Ane litell holme within the sea’
  • History: Picts and Norsemen
  • Tour: an exploration of the island
    • Station 1: The carpark on the Point of Buckquoy
    • Station 2: Pictish symbol stone
    • Station 3: Norse houses
    • Station 4: Norse smithy
    • Station 5: A Norse house
    • Station 6: Norse house and Pictish well
    • Station 7: ‘Grand entrance’
    • Station 8: The church
  • The museum

There is also a short bibliography.

There is a reconstruction of one of the Norse houses by Alan Sorrell.

Like some of the early English Heritage guidebooks there is acknowledgement of the support and sponsorship of Gateway.

Guidebooks to Housesteads


1952 [5th impress. 1960]

The Roman fort at Housesteads stands at one of the most dramatic points of Hadrian’s Wall. The site was purchased by John Clayton (see also Chesters) and the fort was excavated by Robert Carr Bosanquet, a subsequent director of the British School at Athens. During the 1930s there was a major campaign to protect Hadrian’s Wall, and in 1930 the Housesteads estate was presented to The National Trust. The first guidebook to the site was written by Eric Birley (National Trust, 1936).


1952 [8th impress. 1970]

In 1951 Housesteads was placed in the guardianship of the Ministry of Works. Birley’s guide was revised and published as a Ministry of Works guidebook (2nd. ed. 1952). This includes sections on The Site; Historical Outline; The Fort; The Milecastle; The Settlement; and The Museum. There is a fold-out paper plan inside the back cover. This guidebook continued as a blue guide into the 1970s.



English Heritage produced by a guidebook by J.G. Crow (1989). The guide carries advertising for Gateway. This fully illustrated (but black and white) guidebook starts with a Tour of the Fort, and then moves outside: Milecastle 37; Civil settlement; Knag Burn gateway. There are then sections on Northern Britain under the Romans, and a History of Housesteads Fort, including images of Bosanquet’s excavation. It includes a reconstruction by Richard Sorrell after Alan Sorrell.



The current English Heritage guidebook is also by Crow (2012). It contains numerous colour photographs, plans, and historic photographs. It leads with a tour of the fort and then features outside; there is a section on ‘the fort in its landscape’. There are a number of special features including the garrison, and gambling and crime.

This is one of a series of forts on or near Hadrian’s Wall that have (mostly) English Heritage guidebooks: Wallsend, Corbridge, Chesters, and Birdoswald.

A Tour of Criccieth Castle



Tucked inside my DOE Official Handbook to Criccieth Castle is a card tour guide to the castle ‘Prepared by the Department of the Enviornment for the Secretary of Statue for Wales. The cost is 2.5 p. Inside is a short tour of the castle (with plan) showing 12 key spots from the curtain wall (1) to the Great Tower (11) with its external staircase (12). There are two simple views: from the south-west and and from the south-east.  The back cover has a simple history of the castle down to the 1933 when it was placed in State Guardianship.


1970 (2nd impr. 1975)

The original guide for the castle was prepared by Bryan H. St John O’Neil (1934). This was replaced by the ‘blue guide’ prepared by C.N. Johns (who had earlier worked on the Ashmolean Museum’s excavation of the Greek settlement of Euesperides in Cyrenaica). this first appeared in 1970 with a second impression in 1975. The title page provides the Welsh name of the site: Castell Cricieth, and there is a two page summary in Welsh at the end of the guide (pp. 38-39). A fold out paper plan is placed inside the back cover. A reconstruction by Alan Sorrell is provided.