Tributes have been paid to a local history writer with a farming background and a focus on industrial archeology who has died aged 96.

Helen Harris, a veteran member of the local history society and the Tavistock branch of the Devon Association, lived in Whitchurch.

A keen walker, she walked on Whitchurch Down daily unless exploring Dartmoor researching her many industrial archeology books. She attended St Eustachius Church for nearly 50 years and one of the earliest members of the Plymouth and West Devon Talking Newspaper for the Blind as a reader for 40 years.

She wrote books and hundreds of articles on industrial archaeology and farming. Born in Buckfastleigh and brought up in Tiverton. She studied for a National Diploma in Dairying at Studley College, Warwickshire, managing a small herd as her first job, before working for the Ministry of Agriculture’s (MA) National Agricultural Advisory Service (NAAS). She worked as a dairy advisory officer across North Devon advising farmers on clean milk production to improve quality and quantity.

Helen met Desmond, her husband-to-be, at this time, also with the MA. They married in Tiverton in 1952 and were later both posted to Tavistock. Their first home was in Chillaton. They adopted Christopher and Jane as babies and moved into Tavistock in 1964 where the children attended St Rumon’s School.

Helen left the MA to look after the children and began her writing career with early articles for the Western Morning News. When Desmond was promoted they moved to Bakewell, Derbyshire and then Oadby in Leicestershire before finally returning, with great joy, to Tavistock for his last posting. Desmond died after a progressive illness in 1982.

Helen edited the church magazine for 20 years and was on the parochial church council and a lay minister. She was deputy registrar in Tavistock, a founder member of the Devon History Society, Tavistock and District Local History Society and the Dartmoor Tinworking Research Group. She was also a member of the Devon Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature and the Arts, chairing the Tavistock branch from 1996-2005 and then again from 2008-2013.

Her daughter Jane said: ”When my father died in 1982 mother was much younger than I am now and had to carve out a new life. Encouraged by my father in the 1960s, she developed a great interest and expertise in industrial archaeology and aspects of farming, writing several books and numerous articles, she also gave many lectures and talks. Her first book, The Industrial Archaeology of Dartmoor, published in 1968, has been described to me as a seminal piece of work. She loved walking over Dartmoor, broader Devon and the Peak District when we lived at Bakewell, research her writing and meeting interesting people. Mother was very determined, staying fit and independent for as long as possible was important. She said staying active, eating well and drinking plenty of water was key to her longevity, along with clotted cream and Stilton cheese. She wrote three articles on making the cheese, hoping she would be given a Stilton, or at least half a Stilton each time she was.”

Helen was a strict on common courtesy, table manners, grammar and behaviour. Her mother even persevered with Jane’s speech, well into her thirties. She encouraged her children to work hard, be enquiring and active – even climbing Snowdon when Jane was four.

Helen was even more inspirational later in life - body boarding until her mid-eighties and loving the cold water. She also drove until she was 92, living a very full and active life.