Sidbury archivist’s legacy will last a century

Retiring Sidbury church archivist Alan Softly hands over the reigns to Neil Thompson. Sir John Cave

Retiring Sidbury church archivist Alan Softly hands over the reigns to Neil Thompson. Sir John Cave and Neil hand over a leaving gift to Alan. Picture by Alex Walton. Ref shb 9451-16-13AW. To order your copy of this photograph, go to and click on myphotos24 - Credit: Archant

Sidbury’s new archivist said his predecessor will go down in history for his ‘magnificent’ work as he took over on Tuesday.

Alan Softly has dutifully maintained the parish records for more than quarter of a century, but now Neil Thompson is taking the mantle.

The retiring archivist was thanked for his service to the parish by Sir John Cave, the Vice Lord-Lieutenant of Devon and owner of Sidbury Manor.

Alan said: “Quite frankly, it’s been heaven on earth - I had more than 20 years of really happy work and friendship with [wife] Barbara.

“Thank you so much for all your help over the years – I’m so glad Neil is taking over.”

His successor said it would be tough to follow a man who always went the extra mile to help the people who made requests for information and would leave such a legacy.

“Sidbury’s history will long be synonymous with the Softlys,” said Neil.

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“He and Barbara probably knew the village better than anyone who has ever lived.”

The 60-year-old said he believed people would still be talking about the couple’s work in a hundred years’ time.

“I’m going to be standing in their shadow for quite some time,” he said.

Neil was working with the octogenarian on the guided tours of St Giles that are put on every Thursday throughout the summer.

Discussion one day came to Alan’s natural successor, and the former school inspector was delighted to take the role.

He moved to the village seven years ago and lives in the old vicarage, a building itself steeped in history.

In 1850, the vicar had the idea to move all of the records from the church to the thatched vicarage, which was soon struck by lightning, causing much destruction.

Alan’s role has involved meticulously poring through Sidbury’s history and making sense of it. He ‘always went the extra mile’ in responding to requests for information from people all over the world trying to trace their lineage.

The archivist also creates a narrative from history as it unfolds, and constantly tries to look at the village in a new way.

Alan still hopes to stay on at St Giles as a guide when the tours return on the last Thursday in June.