Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The Globe Inn, Cathedral Yard

Another part of Exeter's past which went up in smoke on 04 May 1942, the Globe inn had been one of the most prominent inns in the city for over 270 years. The inn, also known as the Globe Hotel, joins the former New inn, the Chevalier inn, the New London inn, the Old London inn and the Country House inn as just some of the many historical inns and taverns which have been destroyed over the last century.

The Globe inn occupied a prime site, facing out into the Cathedral Yard, backing onto houses which fronted onto the busy thoroughfare of South Street at the rear. In his book, 'Aspects of Exeter', local historian Peter Thomas admits that no-one knows exactly when the Globe inn was first established. The earliest reference to it as an inn appears in the parish register of the nearby church of St Martin. The register records the baptism of Thomas Fowler, the son of "William Fowler, tapster at The Globe", on 25 October 1675. A tapster was essentially a barman so the Globe inn was certainly open for business in the 1670s.

The image right shows a modern aerial view of the Globe's location overlaid onto which is a detail from the 1905 map of Exeter. The Globe is highlighted in red, with the curved facade facing out onto the cathedral precinct. Of particular note is the very narrow alleyway, just five feet wide, which lead down the side of the Globe and into South Street. This was known as Little Stile and was one of the original 13th century gateways into the Cathedral Yard. The gateway structure itself was removed in 1820 but access remained as a right-of-way for pedestrians until it was obliterated by post-war redevelopment. South Street runs to diagonally to the south-west.

At least part of the Globe itself was considerably older than the late-17th century. The photograph below left shows the full extent of the rambling Globe inn prior to its destruction. The oldest part of the Globe was the section to the left, with the dormer windows set into the roof. This had been constructed as a private house, possibly as early as 1600, but by the mid-17th century the house had been subdivided into two separate tenements, one of which was the original Globe inn building.

Over the following century the Globe expanded to include not only the second tenement but also a later extension (masked by the plain stucco facade to the right which was added c1800.) Part of St Petrock's church is visible to the far right and the narrow entrance into the cathedral precinct known as Little Stile is to the far left. Up until 1942, the interior of the Globe inn still retained much of its character, with oak panelling, carved doors and 18th century bow windows. The Globe was, frustratingly, another of Exeter's landmark buildings which was destroyed before it could be properly surveyed and so its precise architectural history will probably always remain unknown. The history of the inn ended on 04 May 1942. Incendiary bombs dropped onto South Street as part of a 'Baedeker' air raid ignited much of South Street and the flames spread to the Globe inn. By the following morning all that was left standing were the walls. Everything else had perished in the flames. Presumably the ruins were unsafe and so the remains were cleared away as part of the post-war rebuilding.

The post-war reconstruction of the area is insipid. A wide entrance right was constructed over the site of the Globe, giving easy access to the cathedral precinct. However this also had the unfortunate effect of opening up views from the Cathedral Yard into the 1950s wasteland of post-war South Street and the rebuilt top of Fore Street. It also involved the scandalous demolition of a surviving half-timbered facade from c1600 which stood at the back of No. 72 High Street. According to Pevsner and Cherry, "the ceremonial steps have the effect of "unfortunately focusing attention on the unworthy rebuilding of the war-damaged SW corner of the Close". As with most of the buildings which arose in Exeter after 1942, the architecture which replaced the Globe Inn was uninspired, anonymous and pedestrian.

Where the Globe Inn once stood there is now a three-storey, low-roofed shack of the utmost mediocrity. The wall to the right of the new entrance is almost as bad. Made from concrete blocks with a hexagonal motif, it looks particular dated and cheap. The city council's own conservation report for the area acknowledges that the post-war redevelopment is a "major disappointment in terms of how it defines this important space". But perhaps the most unforgivable act of the reconstruction here was the obliteration of Little Stile. Since the late 1200s people had used this route to enter the Cathedral Yard but after the war it was blocked by redevelopment below and it now only leads into a small service area. It's hard to imagine the sheer arrogance of either the town planner or local authority which could destroy a part of the city's long history so casually and after so much had already been destroyed during World War Two.


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