Saturday, 9 April 2011

Nos. 199, 200 & 201, High Street

Carrying on up the north side of the surviving pre-war section of the High Street, between Parliament Street and the Guildhall, stand another three buildings of some historical interest: Nos. 199, 200 and 201 left.

Despite its unprepossessing 18th century exterior, with plate glass installed into sash windows and the odd arrangement of the windows within the facade, No. 199 is older than it appears. The first clue is the extremely narrow site on which it sits and which is almost certainly an echo of a 14th or 15th century medieval tenement plot, a long, narrow strip of land that stood at right angles to the main street.

Hidden behind the shop sign (Whittard) is the suggestion of a jettied first floor and the core of the building is thought to date at least to c1500. A mid-18th century painting of the High Street shows that the the fourth floor is a relatively recent addition and that the property originally had a pitched roof with the gable end clearly visible from street level. All becomes clear in an article written by Harbottle Reed in 1931. The article, entitled 'Demolition of Ancient Buildings of Exeter', recalls that No. 199 underwent significant modification and demolition in 1904. The building originally consisted of a front block and a rear block with a courtyard in the middle. Within the courtyard, according to Reed, was a "massive timber front of 15th century date having cusp-headed lights". If left untouched then this would've been an exceptional survival in the city but unfortunately much of the 15th century work was apparently demolished in 1904. Still, No. 199 is a Grade II listed building and although it wasn't inspected internally when it was granted listed status in June 2000 it's possible that earlier features remain in situ.

Its neighbour, No. 200, also Grade II listed, is a much more attractive building, marred only by the ugly modern shop front. Dating to the mid-18th century and spread over four floors, with an attic room in the truncated gable end, it has rusticated quoins at the corners and a decorative frieze emblazoned with rosettes above the fourth floor windows. The gable end with its three-light semi-circular sash window looks like a later addition but is in fact contemporary with the rest of the facade.

This building appears in a late-18th century painting of the High Street (detail right, No. 200 highlighted in red with No. 199 to its immediate left).

Exeter City Council's 2002 Conservation Report believed that No. 201 is the "pair" of No. 200 but it's clearly of a totally different build. It would've been given Grade II listed status had the facade not been mauled in the mid-1960s. Up until then No. 201 had a pitched roof, the gable end visible from the High Street, with a single large sash window on each floor.

These were all replaced with the current flat roof, modern windows and the curved bow window on the first floor. Combined with the intrusive modern shop front and the peeling paint on the facade, these regrettable changes successfully mask the 18th century or earlier core of the building itself. The photograph below, dating to c1870, shows the Guildhall. The facade of No. 201 as it appeared prior to the 1960s 'modernisation' is highlighted in red.


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