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Miss Tothill and the Ravens

Dear Friends,

You know Martha, our raven – she’s found a new home in the undercroft and Ben Clapp has researched and updated what we know about her.

Miss Maud Tothill (1872-1959) was the first curator of the St Nicholas Priory museum, from 1916 to 1938. Born locally in Heavitree, she spent her early adult years in Dorchester working at a booksellers. Appointed Curator of St Nicholas Priory in October 1916, she was paid £65 a year and opened the building on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sunday afternoons.

She clearly loved the building, and went above and beyond to improve it over the years, including raising the donations necessary to have a statue of St Nicholas made. This statue, which still lives on the spiral staircase was unveiled on the 6th December 1921 (St Nicholas’ Day).

Over the years Miss Tothill gave numerous talks about St Nicholas Priory across Exeter, including to such groups as the Exeter Rotary Club in 1924, the Exeter Drama League in 1930 and at the Cathedral in 1931 where ‘the Cathedral Guild of St. Peter listened with great interest to a lecture given by Miss Tothill on St Nicholas Priory’ Miss Tothill retired as Curator in 1938 and briefly moved to Dartmoor, before returning to Exeter in her last years where it seems she remained active up until her death in 1959.

Miss Tothill kept numerous pets at the Priory, including a guinea pig and a rabbit. However, the most notable pets she kept were ravens, including one named Martha. Some remember that she used to do tours of the building with one of her ravens on her shoulder, and at the end it took her hat in its beak and offered it up for donations.

Martha was very well loved, as shown by her obituary from one of the local papers where it notes she was to be stuffed to remain at the Priory.

Unfortunately, this left George, the remaining raven alone. However, a local man donated another raven ‘Honk’ to keep George company and the two seemed to have enjoyed their time here until Miss Tothill retired. George in his later years took up residence at St Luke’s College, where Miss Tothill occasionally visited him. George was by then around 30 years old, a good age for a Raven.

Ben Clapp has been involved with St Nicholas Priory for some fifteen years. A Museum Assistant at The Royal Albert Memorial Museum, he first worked at the Priory when the Museum ran the building. Don’t miss his talk about the priory’s recent history on Wednesday, 3rd February at 1pm. Click here to book.

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