Friday, 3 December 2010

Nos. 41 & 42, High Street

Blink and you'll miss it, but here, finally, is an authentic historic remnant in Exeter's much demolished High Street. Nos. 41 & 42 constitutes the only surviving example in the High Street of a twin-gabled, timber-framed building with both its facade and some of its interior intact. I can think of only one other similar example in the entire city, in South Street. The few timber-framed properties which do remain either have much-altered facades, have only a single gable or have had their interiors demolished.

The example in the High Street is admittedly very lovely though. It was constructed as a pair of matching townhouses c1564 (this date appears on the facade) and is typical of how much of the entire city looked up until the beginning of the 18th century. The infamous 'Hanging' Judge George Jeffreys is alleged to have stayed here in 1665 when the property was known as 'The Mansion House', although this may be another local legend created to whip up interest in a commercial venture and the Mansion House was actually elsewhere in the city (see 'Mol's Coffee House' for more Exeter myths). For many years Nos. 41 & 42 was a pharmacy and was known as Hinton Lake, after the business's founder, John Hinton Lake.

The postcard right shows the building c1905, prior to the removal of the render. It should be noted that most of the exposed timber-framing isn't genuine but has been applied during 20th century restoration. When completed in the 16th century the building would've been covered in render with only the timber around the windows left exposed. It was constructed on four floors, with a cellar. Each townouses would've had a shop on the ground floor with a parlour on the first floor, bedroom chambers on the second floor with further rooms in the attic. There was probably a gallery and back block arrangement at the rear, similar to that which existed at No. 38 North Street prior to its demolition in 1972.

One feature of note is the corbelled party-wall of Heavitree stone on the left side. It was constructed as a firebreak to try and prevent the spread of fire between houses at a time when nearly all the domestic buildings in the city were constructed of timber. Perhaps the most interesting feature inside, found in the cellar, are the remains of the security wall which was built around the Cathedral precinct in 1286 following the murder of the precentor Walter Lechlade in 1283.

A few 16th century features survive here and there, like chamfered beams, fireplaces and a staircase, and during refurbishment a 14th-century fireplace was uncovered on the first floor and restored, perhaps reused from an earlier building on the site. Despite the survival of these authentic elements, much of the interior has been gutted to provide retail space, but the property has still been granted Grade II* listed status.

Until the 1950s an almost identical pair of townhouses existed nearby on the High Street. Despite surviving the bombs of May 1942, this property, No. 37 High Street, was foolishly demolished in the late 1950s. The postcard left dates from the early 20th century and shows the now demolished No. 37 highlighted in red, with the still-existing Nos. 41 & 42 further down the High Street, highlighted in green.


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