Thousands of historic documents giving historians a unique insight into Totnes during the past 300 years may have been lost to the town forever.
Many of the documents are thought to have been destroyed following a clearout at one of the oldest solicitor’s practices in Totnes after the business was put into administration.
Some are already turning up on eBay and for sale at auctions, revealed local historian James Bellchambers.
“It’s a real tragedy for a town such as Totnes,” he told Totnes town councillors, explaining that the documents could have been handed to the county records office in Exeter, where they would have been preserved.
“Some have appeared on eBay and some have turned up at a sales room,” he said. “Totnes Museum could have handled some of them and most could have gone to the records office.”
The documents were part of an archive that was kept by solicitors’ firm Kellock & Johnson, which was situated in Totnes’s High Street, stored for hundreds of years in the building’s cellar.
Mr Bellchambers explained that they represent an historic record of Totnes’s legal dealings involving property, court rolls, plans, maps and all sorts of other things.
“In terms of understanding the history of Totnes, it would have been a perfect archive of the former clients of Kellock & Johnson,” Mr Bellchambers added.
The High Street building that housed the solicitors’ business is currently up for auction, with a guide price of between £150,000 and £200,000.
The practice was closed down last July by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the building ended up in the hands of the receivers.
Mr Bellchambers believes the records would have been removed in the building clearance operation. A similar situation arose 20 years ago when another long-running solicitors’ business cleared out its old records, which ended up being burnt, he told councillors.
Documents that included things such as the record of the old
Totnes Union Workhouse – later Broomborough Hospital and now converted into homes in Plymouth Road – were lost forever, he said.