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Dr Todd Gray given Freedom of the City

Published: 30 November 2018

historian given Freedom of the City Dr Todd Gray is handed the replica key by Lord Mayor Cllr Rob Hannaford

A University of Exeter expert will today receive a fitting keepsake to mark being awarded the Freedom of the City for his services to history - the key to an iconic lost building.

Dr Todd Gray MBE will today (Friday 30 November) be presented with a 3D reproduction of the key to Exeter’s East Gate during the ceremony, held to mark his tireless work to uncover Devon’s past.

Dr Gray has written more books on Exeter than any other historian – 14 of his 48 books are about the city – and his research has played a role in helping Exonians become more aware of their history and the ancient buildings around them.

The key was made by experts at the University of Exeter’s Digital Humanities Laboratory using a 3D printer. It will be given to Dr Gray by Exeter’s Lord Mayor, Cllr Rob Hannaford at the ceremony organised by Exeter City Council at the Guildhall.

Dr Gray was born and raised in New England, USA, but has been fascinated by Devon’s history after first visiting for a school trip in 1973. After completing his degree in London he moved to Exeter in 1984 to study for a PhD. He completed his doctorate in 1988 and has been a Research Fellow at the university ever since. 

Dr Gray became a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 1992, in 2006 he became a British citizen and was awarded an MBE for voluntary services to Devon’s history in 2014. He has organised 12 exhibitions in Exeter’s Guildhall, including one featuring the Royal Salt, otherwise known as the Exeter Salt – the only loan ever made of the Crown Jewels or Plate from the Tower of London. 

Dr Gray has organised more than 50 history conferences and has given nearly 2,000 public lectures in Britain, North America and Asia. He is, or has been, a committee member, chairman or president of Devon & Cornwall Notes & Queries, the Devonshire Association, Devon History Society, Devon & Cornwall Record Society, Devon Gardens Trust, Devon Family History Society, the Centre for South-Western Historical Studies and the Friends of Devon’s Archives. He is currently co-organising the first Exeter History Day to be held in 2019.

In the course of researching his books Dr Gray has examined every document collection in Devon’s three public archives - 16 linear miles of papers. He is also the only historian to have worked in all 80 local authority archives in England and Wales and his most recent book is based on material from archives, libraries and museums in the UK, the continent & North America. Dr Gray has led campaigns to ensure continued access to the public archives in Plymouth and Exeter.

This extensive use of archives has allowed him to shine a light on previously forgotten or overlooked parts of Devon’s history such as slavery in the late 1600s, the rise of fascism in the 1930s and the outbreak of looting in 1942. But he has also examined lighter aspects of history – two years ago he discovered forgotten Tudor swear words used in Devon and another Exeter word, quilling, is currently being considered for inclusion in the Oxford English Dictionary

During the Cathedral Yard fire two years ago Dr Gray acted as an expert for journalists, explaining the history of the area during more than 50 interviews. He later organised two public meetings in the city for people to discuss the impact of the fire and his book, St Martin’s Island, written with Sue Jackson, is a lasting account of the fire and its aftermath. 

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