Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The Half Moon Inn, High Street

In the 18th century over 370 coaches left Exeter every week, destined for London, Bath and Bristol. For over two centuries, along with the New London Inn, the London Inn and the Mermaid, the Half Moon left was one of the principal coaching inns in the city. Coaching inns differed from taverns in as much as they supplied teams of horses for stagecoaches and mail coaches and often acted as points of departure in the way that modern railway stations do today.

The Half Moon at Exeter stood on the corner of the High Street and Bedford Street and dated from the 1680s, a direct consequence of the increased traffic between Exeter and other large cities across England. At the time of its demolition at least, it was huge; a rambling, sprawling establishment which covered the entire site, extending from its main entrance on the High Street all the way back to Catherine Street. The stables and the coachhouses were all located on the other side of Catherine Street in Egypt Lane, and following the demise of horse and carriage as a means of transport it became a very popular hotel.

The image right shows the location and extent of the Half Moon in 1905 overlaid onto a modern aerial view of the same area. The inn is highlighted in red. The site of the ancient New Inn is highlighted in purple. St Stephen's church is highlighted in yellow. The building labeled 'Savings Bank' marked the beginning of Bedford Circus and is shown to the far right in the photograph at the top of this post. The area was affected by bombing in World War Two and during the post-war rebuilding Bedford Street was realigned the west.

It's easier to write about the people who used the inn than it is to write about the building itself as so little architectural evidence survives. The Half Moon wasn't just a hostelry, it was also frequently used as an auction house and as a place for social gatherings. For example, in 1824 the governors and benefactors of Exeter's hospital "proceeded to the Half Moon Inn" to celebrate the hospital's foundation in 1741 and where "an elegant dinner was provided"; and in 1842 a "grand dinner" took place at the Half Moon with a guest list which included "Magistrates, Members of the Council, Gentry and respectable inhabitants of Exeter". These are two of many dozens of 19th century examples that were deemed worthy of mention in Trewman's 'Exeter Flying Post'.

In the 1850s the Half Moon was run by William Routley and later by Robert Pople, later to be thrice mayor of Exeter. In October 1868 Pople moved on to the New London Inn and the licence for the Half Moon was transferred to Thomas Gardner. Gardner, originally from London, had already taken out a lease on the Royal Subscription Rooms and was to remain at the Half Moon until the 1880s. Like both Routley and Pople before him, Thomas Gardner was a Freemason and a member of the city's St John the Baptist Lodge. Masonic dinners at the Half Moon were regular occurrences throughout the 1800s. In 1856 a "Grand Masonic meeting" took place at the inn, for which "the large Masonic room was adorned with laurels and other evergreens". Another report from 1872 recorded that "the brethren adjourned to the Half Moon Hotel, where a sumptuous banquet was served by Brother Gardner". In 1871 Gardner turned one of the rooms into a billiard room. This room was described at the time as being "lofty, the ceiling beautifully and richly moulded, and the sides are most elaborately adorned". This must've been one of the rooms which still contained late-17th century plasterwork decoration. One interesting historical event occurred at the Half Moon in August 1882 when Gilbert and Sullivan met in the coffee room of the Half Moon to discuss the finale of Act One of 'Iolanthe'.

Much less is known about the building itself. It was certainly established by the 1680s but it is impossible to say how much of the 17th century structure survived into the 20th century. James Cossins in his 1877 'Reminscences' stated that in 1827 the Half Moon "had a very different appearance". We can only guess as to what the building's original appearance was like before it received its 19th century makeover.

As shown in the image above left © Devon County Council, for most of the 19th century the street frontage was three-bays wide and spread over four floors with tiered oriel windows extending from first-floor level to a modillion cornice. The third-floor windows were crowned with triangular pediments. In the centre of the ground floor was an open passageway through which it was possible to access a central courtyard. This stucco facade was only dated to c1830 though. Presumably the late-17th century version was smaller with a gabled, timber-framed facade. I'm not aware of any illustrations showing the exterior of the inn prior to its modernisation. A building on the same site is shown on Caleb Hedgeland's early 19th century model which depicts the city as it appeared in 1769. This building, highlighted in red above right, stands on the corner of Bedford Street and the High Street but it would be unwise to assume that it's an accurate representation in miniature of the Half Moon itself.

One notable architectural feature of the Half Moon which has been documented though were several fine late-17th century plasterwork decorative ceilings and these survived up until the building's demolition in 1912. In terms of style they were similar to the great 'Apollo' ceiling at the New Inn, a few properties further down the High Street towards St Stephen's church. Although simpler in design, it's possible that the ceilings at the Half Moon were the work of Thomas Lane, the craftsman responsible for the ceiling at the New Inn in 1689. It's bizarre that Harbottle Reed could write retrospectively in 1931 that the Half Moon "did not appear to have much of interest".

The Half Moon inn was demolished in 1912 to make way for Lloyd's bank and the extraordinary neo-Baroque, quasi-Jacobean, Art Nouveau-inspired Deller's Cafe. No record was made of the building as it was being destroyed and so most of its structural history is now lost for ever. The Royal Albert Memorial Museum managed to salvage some of the plasterwork ceilings during the demolition and one of them can still be seen at the museum today above. It's ironic that, if the inn hadn't been demolished and the ceilings salvaged, then they would've been completely destroyed in the bombing of May 1942. During the post-war reconstruction the alignment of Bedford Street was significantly altered and the site of the Half Moon inn, and later Deller's Cafe, is now actually in the middle of Bedford Street itself below.



Jacky Hughes said...

I am really pleased to find your site as I am trying to write a family history for my parents who did a lot of research into it. Mostly the family lived in Catherine Street where there was a coachmakers they owned and it once caught fire because fire spread from a pub to one side of it sometime in the 1800s - I thought this might be it but maybe not. I am looking forward to finding out more from your site. Jacky Hughes (nee Sellers)

Jacky Hughes said...

Hello again Wolfpaw,

I will give you the exact wording as long as I keep copyright as sooner or later I will write a book or at least a pamphlet for my family and do a Sellers website for my dad. I was just looking through some notes my mum made when they did research years ago.

I just found that the coachworks was actually sold at the Half Moon inn in 1877. The manager of the coach works at that time was Cedric Nurse, and the auctioneer, R.W Best. Mr H Turner was probably the solicitor. It is described as a coach factory rather than a coach works and there was also a dwelling sold which was in occupation of a Mrs Gale, again on the North side of Catherine Street. They also sold a cellar in the occupation of a Mrs Gidley. There was a courtyard behind and the premises included a carriage show room, trimmings shop, blacksmith's forge, office, iron store, painter's loft, coal store. There were also tenements sold in the sale that were occupied by Porter, Stoke and Stocker (I am not sure from the wordings if that is three people or a firm.)

The factory had a frontage of 49'.9" feet on the ground floor and a first floor with a depth of more than 56'9."

Anyhow, One of the many John A Sellers decided to retire. He must have made his fortune or alternatively, my great grandfather was out of work as a result because his son, yet another John Alexander Sellers is listed on my grandfather's birth certificate as a gentleman of independent means. I guess it was his father who sold up because the family is found to be in Surrey and Windsor after that date.

The auction took place on 13th November 1877 at 3 O clock at the Half Moon Hotel and by all accounts they were selling off a large establishment.

An advert had previously been placed in ?The Flying post (at a guess,) on 31st October 1877.

The advert describes the coach factory as "extensive" and "well known." It states that as I think you say, it was situated on the North side of Catherine Street.

John Sellers, a coach driver was declared innocent of causing an accident 27 May, 1802 and it is either him, or his father who started the coach works - or possibly bought out a bankrupt. There was a coach works in Catherine Street/Bedford place before this whose owner went bankrupt.

The Sellers coach works was started in Egypt Lane in 1829 by a John Sellers who was nominated as a constable in 1832.

By 11th June 1829 there is a John Sellers living in North Street telling the gentry in an advert ( we have the wording,) that he has started his own coach works in Egypt Lane, Bedford Circus covering all aspects of coach making. Thereafter there is a John Sellers involved with the coach works until it is sold. It passed through several generations, probably father to son although not in all cases to the oldest child.

Every form of coach was sold, new and second hand, including Landau, Drotzky,Magique.

I am told that to this day there is a coach somewhere fairly near - my parents say they searched it all over but could not find evidence it had been sold by the coach works. However, it could have been!

Jacky Hughes said...

p.s I know I saw a reply from you previously, about the fragments of Pottery found in Catherine Street in the house of John Sellers. Thank you, I did know about this, but had not really researched it.

wolfpaw said...

Hi - the date of 1877 is interesting. Robert Dymond wrote a paper called 'The Old Inns and Taverns of Exeter' which was published in 1880. In this paper he writes about the New Inn which was very close to the Half Moon Inn on the same side of the High Street, next to St Stephen's church and part of the same block of buildings. He says that "The New Inn extended as far back as Catherine Street, including what was till lately Mr Seller's coach factory". He then says that an old medieval well belonging to the New Inn was discovered "under this part of the old premises". If he was right, and he must be considering he was writing so soon after 1877, then perhaps the coach factory occupied the north side of Catherine Street between St Stephen's Street (Egypt Lane) and Bedford Street. The problem with that is that the Half Moon Inn stood on that corner of Catherine Street and Bedford Street. If you've not seen it, have a look at my post on the New Inn.

Jacky Hughes said...

Thank you that is a bit of information that neither I or my family had found and I was wondering who bought the place! I think you are right about where the factory was as the first advertisement we had places the factory in Egypt lane. The other day my mother said that she had found that the Sellers family had owned some hotel premises (maybe they had shares in the new place?) or something like that so it might be that they were also involved with the Half Moon?

Definitely, the Gentry of Exeter were informed that Mr John Sellers had begun a coach business in Egypt Lane, Bedford Circus and that he hoped that with strict attention to orders and very moderate charges to secure the custom of the Gentry.

I will go and see my parents soon and see if they have any other information - I seem to get bits each time I go home. By the way, the son of the John Sellers who sold the coach works married a Rosetta Barsby who began her working life by running away at the age of 12 to become one of the girls in the entrance parade to Lord George Sangers circus and was one of the first ladies to be sawn in half by Horace Goldin.......but of course non of that has much connection to Exeter.

John Stoker at 6 Catherine Street w
was either a perfumier or a hairdresser or both and there was a coach lace maker in the street as well. (1850)

I had not looked at the New Inn so am going there now....

Jacky Hughes said...

Thinking about it, the address kind of varies from Egypt Lane at the start, to Bedford Street and to Catherine Street. I think I have also seen it as High Street - maybe they extended IN to the hotels because of the coaching connection and if the place was also where the Exeter London Coach arrived and departed then they would be picking up business from both hotels easily given the large amount of coaching space they had. By 1877 I guess people were using the railway more and it would have been more profitable to sell the building.

Unknown said...

Mention is made in this article regarding the meeting of Gilbert and Sullivan at the hotel, but wrongly attributes this to 1884 and names the opera as THE MIKADO. In actual fact the meeting took place on 7th August 1882. Sullivan was travelling back to London from Pencarrow (home of Lady Molesworth), and Gilbert was yachting of the coast of Exmouth. Sullivan broke his train journey at Exeter and the two men met to discuss the final shape of the Finale to Act One of IOLANTHE. The meeting is still commemorated to this day in the Beacon Heath area of the city with streets such as Savoy Hill, Chancellor's Way, Iolanthe Drive and Celia Crescent.

Had the two men met in the summer of 1884 it would have been impossible for Sullivan to have played any MIKADO music to Gilbert as not only had Gilbert not written any of the libretto, but Sullivan did not commence composition until 8th December.

wolfpaw said...

Thank you for the correction, Ian. I've amended the article according.

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