Exeter Civic Society

Exeter Civic Society

Hoskins, W G

W. G. Hoskins, 1908 – 1992, local historian and the man behind “The House That Moved”

The plaque is at 26-28 St David’s Hill, Exeter, EX4 4DT.

The wording on the plaque is:

W. G. Hoskins. C.B.E., F.B.A., D.Litt. 1908-1992 Historian of Devon, Exeter and the English landscape born here ‘Hic amor, haec patria est’.

The plaque was put up by Devon History Society in 2003. The Latin quotation from Virgil’s Aeneid means ‘This is love, this my native land’.

Susie Hewitt, daughter of W G Hoskins, writes:

WILLIAM GEORGE HOSKINS was born on 22 May 1908 at his grandmother’s house, 54 St David’s Hill, Exeter (now number 28). His parents lived in Little Silver, where he spent his early days until the family moved to St David’s Hill in 1916. He was the son and grandson of Exeter bakers and the eldest of four sons.

The Hoskins family had lived in Devon for some 500 years and his fierce pride in descent from Devon yeomen was one of the strongest forces shaping his personality. His family home was close to Exeter city centre, so his early life partly revolved around the city’s attractions and opportunities. Exeter’s qualities made a powerful impact on him early in life. Although he later became ambitious, and as a young man had to move away, he never wanted to escape his home town. He expressed his loyalty to it almost until his life’s end.

He was enrolled at Hoopern Street Girls and Infants school at the age of three. In 1915, he went to the Episcopal Boys School until the summer of 1918 when he won a scholarship to Heles School, Exeter. He attended the University College of the South West and completed his degree by the age of 19, and went on to complete an MSc degree on ‘The Rise and Decline of the Serge Industry in SW England” by the age of 21.

After teaching in Exeter for a year, he taught at Bradford Technical College and then at Leicester University College as a lecturer in economics. He was able to pursue his passion for local history and became immersed in the history of Leicestershire and Rutland. During the Second World War he worked at the Board of Trade in London as a statistician. In 1946 he returned to Leicester and from 1948 onwards, spent part of every vacation in Devon, working in the archives and visiting all Devon’s 450 parishes. He relied on buses and trains but also covered long distances on foot. His book, Devon, was eventually published in 1954 and remains the definitive work on the county to this day.

In 1951 he became reader in economic history at Oxford until 1965. Living in Exeter enabled him to pursue his love of Exeter and Devon and in 1960 Two Thousand Years in Exeter was published. In 1961 he became increasingly involved with the newly established Exeter Civic Society and his dismay at the plans for the renovation of the Guildhall area led him to stand and be elected as a Liberal councillor for the St Leonard’s ward in 1963 to raise his voice against damaging developments and demolitions. He became Hatton Professor of English Local History at Leicester in 1964 until in 1968, he returned to Exeter determined to resume his research and writing in peace. In the 1970s he made two television series but these took a toll on his health. He was awarded the CBE in 1971 for services to local history. His most influential book was probably The Making of the English Landscape, first published in 1955, and his most famous legacy probably “The House that Moved” which he was instrumental in saving.

He died in Cullompton in January 1992 aged 83, and his ashes were scattered in meadows at Brampford Speke. He married Frances (Jane) Jackson in 1933 and had one daughter and one son.