This collection represents the only known surviving research, professional and personal papers of Ernest Martin, with the exception of the few minor parts sold off during his lifetime as detailed above.
The most significant parts of the collection are the sequences of correspondence accumulated by Martin throughout his lifetime, although they constitute only a fragment of what must once have existed. Martin had a particular interest in the work of Henry Williamson (1895-1977), a well-known resident of North Devon of long-standing who had forged a national and international reputation for himself as a writer, primarily on the topics of warfare and natural history. He knew Williamson personally; a few letters (originals or copies) from Williamson to Martin survive within the collection. However, the bulk of the correspondence with the biographer Malcolm Elwin who also had a keen interest in Williamson, and who was a close friend of Martin for many years. Author of published full-length biographies on William Thackeray, Robert Louis Stevenson, Lord Byron and the Dorset writer Llewellyn Powys (who had contributed to Martin's anthology Country life in England, 1965, as well as writing forewords to other Martin works), he published articles on Williamson in various periodicals, and also contributed to Brocard Sewell's symposium on Williamson of 1957 to which Martin also contributed. The collection contains numerous typescript articles and drafts by both Martin and Elwin on Williamson and his significance as a literary figure in particular connection to Devon. The collection includes numerous letters from Elwin to Martin (and vice versa), as well as letters from Brocard Sewell relating to Williamson and his work. Interestingly, the collection also contains much correspondence to and from Elwin which has somehow come into Martin's possession, relating to well-known literary and historical figures such as Oliver Stonor, Asa Briggs, Michael Holroyd, Denys Val Baker and John Redwood-Anderson. And of course, correspondence to Martin himself is also prominent, including letters from the Cornish poet Jack Clemo (1916-1994), as well as other literary figures with connections to the southwest, such as C C Vyvyan, Jan Mills Whitham. A few audio recordings contain an interview of Martin with Jack Clemo, as well as Martin's views on hunting and other topics (not currently catalogued or transcribed).
Martin's interest in literary figures of the Southwest is also evident in his broadcasting career and the collection includes the script for several episodes of the BBC radio programmes 'Writers in the West'. Papers relating to the Channel 4 film 'Going Home', for which Martin acted as Historical consultant, are also contained in the collection.
Although well-published during his lifetime, many apparently unpublished works and articles are represented within his research papers, as well as the original datasets for the pioneering work which he undertook in the area of oral and social history in Devon, based at the now defunct Beaford Central Archive. Martin set out to document rapidly vanishing old patterns of village work and life, exploiting his "insider's" knowledge and native skills in the Devon dialect. This oral history material has been described as "one of his most important legacies", but appears to have had little research or publication drawn from it to date, by Martin or others. In addition to the original 1970s tape recordings, the collection contains numerous interview transcripts and profiles of Martin's interviewees, who were elderly inhabitants of villages throughout the county of Devon, ranging from Shebbear, Holsworthy, Exeter, South Zeal and North Tawton.
The principal part of the collection (in volume) constitutes typescripts, manuscripts and drafts for his historical and sociological research. Data in the form of numerous manuscript notebooks and loose papers is also included, on a similarly wide scope of subjects, such as workhouses and the Poor Law, the eminent Westcountry historian and novelist Rev Sabine Baring Gould, Devon dialects, and John Eliot. Martin's work was highly influential in what was a formative time for rural research in the mid 20th century, giving rise to new sociological and historical approaches.
A subsidiary group of family papers form only a small part of the collection; these are early (late 19th-early 20th c) family photographs, correspondence between Martin and his wife, and a couple of personal diaries from 1988 and 1990.