Tuesday 14 December 2010

Frog Street, West Quarter

A number of cities, towns and villages across England had a 'Frog Street' or 'Frog Lane', including London, Sheffield, Trowbridge, Lichfield, Worcester, Bristol, Swansea, Minehead, Cannington and the nearby market town of Tiverton.

In many instances the streets were located close to water, either mill ponds, rivers or lake. The example in Tiverton is near the moat of the castle and the watery connection seems to appertain to the example in Exeter too as Frog Street was located very close the medieval bridge that once spanned the river Exe and surrounding marshes.

The watercolour of c1900, above left, shows the entrance into Frog Street from Edmund Street. At the end of the 19th century the street retained much of its medieval appearance and a remarkable number of timber-framed properties still existed from the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries.

During the Middle Ages the marshy ground was gradually reclaimed and became known as Exe Island. As Hoskins says, "before that [Frog Street] was simply the swampy bank of the wider river Exe, frequented by frogs which gave their name to the new medieval street." Archaeological evidence proves that until the 1960s Frog Street had been continuously inhabited since at least the 13th century. One particularly large assemblage of medieval pottery discovered on the site of the tenements that once fronted onto Frog Street dates to c1230.

The illustration, right, is based on an 1851 drawing by George Townsend. It shows the view from inside Frog Street looking out towards Edmund Street. The house with the cockloft window in the roof, far left, is the same one visible to the left in the image at the top of this post and eventually became known as 'The House That Moved'. The four gabled houses almost certainly dated to the 1500s, their timber-framing hidden behind rendered facades. They were demolished c1870.

The postcard view below left, dating to the 1930s, shows that between 1900 and 1930 many of the timber-frame properties have been demolished, probably as a result of the slum clearance initiative that laid waste to medieval architecture in Stepcote Hill, Paul Street, Smythen Street and Preston Street. At least three remained in Frog Street though, the house on the left, (formerly 16 Edmund Street and later known as The House That Moved), the jettied three-storey house halfway down on the right, dating at least to the 1500s and another 16th century property out of view at the end of the street. In the early 1960s pressure from local archaeologists forced the City Council to relocate No. 16 Edmund Street when the decision was made by the Council to drive an inner bypass road through the city's old West Quarter. No. 16 was duly moved to its new position on West Street, unfortunately the other buildings weren't so fortunate.

No. 15 Frog Street, a two-storey timber-frame house from c1570 with an over-sailing upper floor was demolished and the rest of Frog Street was bulldozed out of existence, along with Edmund Street, most of West Street, most of Tudor Street, most of Coombe Street, and a huge swathe of 17th and 18th century properties at the entrance into South Street at Magdalen Street and Holloway Street, to name just a few of the affected areas; and this was after the huge demolition and redevelopment of the slum clearances of the 1930s and after the massive destruction and reconstruction of World War Two.

It is easy to understand why so little of Exeter's historic cityscape made it into the 21st century. Four waves of demolition washed over the city from 1900 to 1980 involving slum clearances, World War Two bombing, post-war rebuilding and post-war redevelopment in the 1960s and 1970s. The problem was that each of these phases affected different parts of the city. For example, the areas most affected by the slum clearances were also the areas which escaped the Blitz of 1942 largely unscathed. A more difficult question to answer is exactly how it was allowed to be lost in the first place as Exeter has been subjected to the sort of almost total clearance usually associated either with Haussmann's Paris, Ceausescu's Bucharest or with certain old towns which fell into Communist hands at the end of World War Two.

The map below shows a modern aerial view of Frog Street's former location overlaid onto which is a street map of 1905. It shows a tiny portion of the area which was demolished to build the inner bypass and the Exe Bridges road and river management system. The only surviving remnant of Frog Street today is the relocated house in West Street. Formerly No. 16 Edmund Street, its original location is highlighted in purple. Its present location is highlighted in yellow. The rest of Frog Street sits underneath a twin-lane carriageway. The section of the inner bypass which replaced the ancient street is still called Frog Street. What an insult to its medieval forerunner!!


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