It is thought that Barnstaple is the oldest borough in England, dating back to the 900s. But it was the medieval period that most defined Barnstaple's history. Its location helped it to become a thriving trading centre, a base for merchants doing business with Europe, Ireland and the New World. The era of prosperity was interrupted by the Civil War, during which Barnstaple changed hands four times. Bullet holes from the skirmishes can still be found in some of Barnstaple's buildings. After the war, a period of development contributed to its continuing prosperity, particularly the construction of the railway in 1854. Barnstaple's status later declined as much of the woollen industry moved to other parts of the country and other, larger ports began to take the trade. However the twentieth century saw a resurgence of its fortunes, and as we move further into a new century, Barnstaple continues to flourish as the chief town of North Devon.
Denise Holton is a writer and local historian and has lived in North Devon for over 25 years. She worked for the Town Council for 16 years and was the manager of Barnstaple Heritage Centre for most of that time. Denise is interested in all aspects of history, but her specialist subjects include ancient history and the history of costume. She plays several musical instruments and enjoys watercolour painting. Elizabeth was born and educated in Barnstaple. Her ancestors have lived in the town for at least 150 years and in North Devon for centuries. She has been interested in history for as long as she can remember and has written several articles, as well as the previous book on Barnstaple's history with co-author Denise Holton. She has been a volunteer at Barnstaple Heritage Centre for 13 years. Her work there includes leading tours of Barnstaple and researching and writing about the town's history.