Thursday, 24 February 2011

No. 37, North Street: The Elephant Inn

The engraving by Herbert Railton left dates to around 1896. It shows the view towards North Street from a narrow alley which ran between the Elephant inn and No. 38 North Street and which led to the inn's stabling at the rear. The side wall and chimney stacks of No. 38 are on the left of the alley. On the right is the side wall of the Elephant inn itself. As can be seen in the distance, the inn spanned the alley at its entrance into North Street in two places creating a covered passageway.

Unfortunately nobody seems to know the origin of its name, which dated to at least the 18th century. Robert Dymond, in his useful paper on Exeter's old inns and taverns from 1880, mentions the inn briefly: "The Elephant, in North Street, another old inn presenting the characteristic feature of a covered way, is mentioned at least as early as the beginning of the last century [i.e. c1700]." Hoskins put the date of the inn's construction back into the 17th century when, he wrote, it appeared "to have been rebuilt". The inn was sold at auction in 1819, an advertisement appearing in Trewman's 'Exeter Flying Post' announcing the event below right. The advert states that the inn was "roomy, commodious and well-accustomed" having been established "for considerably more than Half a Century". It also mentions a yard and four stables, with stalls for up to 14 horses.

The facade had been rebuilt c1900, probably as a consequence of the city's obsession with road-widening. I'm not aware of any images which show the original facade but it was replaced with a mock-Tudor arrangement of half-timbering although the rest of the inn seems to have remained essentially a 17th century building.

Up until the 1970s, the Elephant Inn sat amongst what Hoskins called "an interesting little group of late fifteenth century houses". Nos. 34 & 35 dated largely to c1600, No. 36 North Street dated to the mid-1400s, No. 37, the Elephant Inn, was 17th century and adajcent to it, across the other side of the narrow passageway leading to the stables, was No. 38 North Street, one of Exeter's most important surviving historic domestic buildings and "a good example internally of a fifteenth century dwelling house" (Hoskins). Further up the road was No. 44 North Street, a Grade II listed building from c1800. Every single one of them was demolished by the local authority in 1972 to construct the Guildhall Shopping Centre. Today there is no sign that the inn, the stables, or the narrow covered passageway ever existed. The site sits somewhere to the left of the ramp shown in the photograph below.


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