Saturday, 16 July 2011

No. 40, High Street: A Late-Stuart Brick Facade

No. 40, High Street is one of the prettiest and most unusual buildings in Exeter despite the fact that the ground floor has been trashed by the inclusion of modern retail space. The facade conceals an older timber-framed building which probably dates to the mid-17th century, but the orange-red brick elevation which overlooks the High Street dates to c1700 making it one of the earliest surviving brick constructions within the city. The red-brick Custom House on the Quay is about 20 years earlier in date as is the facade of No. 5 and the whole of the Notaries' House, both in the Cathedral Close. An even earlier brick building, the first known example of its type in the city, was the vast house constructed for the Exeter merchant John Matthews in 1659 just outside the South Gate. Although the facade was replaced in the early 19th century the property survived until it was demolished by the city council in 1977 as part of the inner bypass development. Other examples were the remarkable Paragon House near South Street (destroyed in 1942) and the exceptionally fine Pinbrook House near Pinhoe of 1679.

The six 12-light sash windows of No. 40 are an addition from the late 18th century. The quoins and deeply-moulded ovolo cornice are all made of stone as are the small lengths of cornice over the windows that function as pediments. The semi-circular pediment over the central window on the third floor is a very attractive touch. The central windows also have fine ogee-shaped heads above the window frames. The hipped slate roof is barely visible from the street.

The photograph right c1900 shows No. 40 with its late-19th century shop front when it was used by the firm Gould & Allen to sell tea and groceries. The bricks are exceptionally small and are laid in a Flemish bond pattern. Decorative brickwork panels appear above and below the third floor windows and the central bay protrudes slightly from the rest of the elevation. As Hugh Meller states, the facade is "full of subtleties and elaborations". It's like a little Queen Anne mansion in miniature, and when new the facade would've been unlike most other buildings in Exeter, the vast majority of which were still timber-framed with gable ends and multiple storeys jettying out over the street (similar in fact to the neighbouring house, Nos. 41 and 42). Like other timber-framed buildings in the city, No. 40 originally consisted of a front block and a rear block, joined across a courtyard in the middle by a gallery. The courtyard has been glass over and the back block has been totally rebuilt.

You would expect such a property to have a shallow tread staircase with plain oak panelling and tasteful plasterwork ceilings, but according to the listing description there are "no visible internal features" of interest. It's a great shame that nothing appears to survive inside but as a whole No. 40 is fully deserving of its Grade II* listed status.


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