Sunday, 14 November 2010

No. 229, High Street II

No. 229 High Street was one of Exeter's most important Elizabethan townhouses but it was completely demolished in 1930, the exceptional Tudor and Jacobean interiors flogged off to William Randolph Hearst in the United States.

At least the building which replaced it, above and highlighted in red c1932, attempted to blend into the overall appearance of Exeter's historic High Street. One wonders why a 16th century townhouse was replaced with an imitation early-17th century townhouse but the new building certainly looked old even if it wasn't. The external firewalls at the sides were constructed from stone in a style similar to Nos. 41 & 42 further down the High Street. The two gables overlooking the High Street were both given timber-framed decoration, below which were two second-floor oriel windows. Both these windows and the enormous five-sided bay windows on the first-floor dated from the early 1600s and were reclaimed from No. 20 North Street when it was demolished at the end of the 19th century (one of the windows was actually a copy as only a single window was reclaimed from No. 20. The matching window at No. 19 North Street had disappeared by 1827).

So the building was only a pastiche with some genuine components in the facade salvaged from another house, but the overall appearance maintained the visual interest of this side of the High Street, complimenting a number of genuine examples which still survived intact. The photograph above shows No. 229 High Street today, almost unrecognisable as the same building. This marked the western boundary of the war-damaged High Street. The photograph illustrates how the post-war widening of the High Street pushed the line of the street back almost to the rear of No. 229, the exposed wall now covered with a mural.

During the Blitz of 04 May 1942 fire spread from burning properties nearby into the roof of No. 229, destroying the two gables and the small oriel windows on the second floor. The large five-sided windows somehow survived and during the post-war reconstruction the building was refurbished, and what an utter mess was made of it. The burnt-out oriel windows were replaced with steel replacements and the two gables was replaced with a flat roof!! They managed to make an acceptable pastiche look like a 1950s block with some oriel windows shoved into the facade. How much extra effort would it really have taken to rebuild the gable roof?? The ground floor shop was gutted to provide a walkway underneath the first floor which now overhangs the pavement.

Anyway, No. 229 today marks the point where the post-war reconstruction of the upper High Street really began. Although it was only built in 1930 No. 229 is the oldest building from this point eastwards for nearly half-a-mile (excluding St Stephen's church on the other side of the street). Of the rest of the pre-war High Street, and most of Sidwell Street, nothing remains.

The mural on the side of No. 229 today was painted in 1993 and shows three famous Exonians from the late-16th and early-17th century: Nicholas Hilliard, Thomas Bodley and Princess Henrietta Maria, born at Bedford House in 1644. (Edit: this mural has now been destroyed.) The photograph above left shows the view eastwards from No. 229, looking up the vast banal expanse of the rebuilt High Street. As Pevsner and Cherry state: "One is plunged into a mediocre post-war world, long dull ranges on each side...a total break with the character of the old town". Or, as Gavin Stamp put it: "largely inappropriate, incoherent and dismal". The images below show some details from the oriel windows which once belonged to No. 20 North Street and which are now part of the sad facade of No. 229 High Street. They give some idea of the spectacular quality of the building from which they were salvaged.


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