Sunday, 24 July 2011

Nos. 43, 44 and 45, High Street

When the notable architect and Georgian specialist Sir A. E. Richardson visited Exeter in 1920 he correctly stated that "many sturdy relics of the past have been buried alive, and a fair proportion of houses belonging to the Tudor period still await investigation." Unfortunately the further investigation never occurred and many of the buildings were destroyed, unrecorded, during the Blitz of 1942.

But Nos. 43, 44 and 45 on Exeter's High Street above are three properties which survived both the Blitz and post-war demolition, Tudor houses buried alive beneath nondescript 19th century facades and later alterations. (Another medieval example was in Milk Street, the bombing of which in 1942 revealed the long-forgotten remnants of a 13th century dwelling which were regrettably demolished during the post-war reconstruction. The war also uncovered the substantial 14th century Bear Tower in South Street, the remains of which were eventually demolished in January 1966 and large fragments of the medieval townhouse of the Priors of Plympton Priory, also in South Street and also demolished in the post-war reconstruction.)

Nos. 43, 44 and 45 High Street all date to the 1500s and are some of the oldest houses still surviving in Exeter. The first point of interest are the very narrow plots which each building occupies, especially that of No. 45, which is just over 9ft (3m) wide. Many of these narrow strips of land are the remains of medieval burgage plots and it's likely that there have been buildings of some sort on exactly the same footprint for perhaps one thousand years. At the beginning of the 20th century many of the buildings in the city centre still respected this ancient division of land. Now it is something of a rarity. The facade of No. 43 (to the far left in the photograph above) is early-19th century with attractive sash windows on the second and third floors, the roof hidden behind the third floor parapet. The round-headed windows on the first floor are a nice touch but it's all a rather poor substitute for the original timber-framed frontage.

No. 44 right is also a mid-16th century timber-frame building and it's likely that it was built as a pair with No. 43 (much like Nos. 41 & 42 and Nos. 46 & 47). In the 18th or 19th century the front was ripped off and replaced with what is little more than a square of rendering with a sash window stuck into the middle of it. Until the beginning of the 20th century this bleak facade was capped with a low pediment which has now disappeared. The building is only two-storeys high. It's possible that it was originally built with more floors but, if so, these were removed a long time ago. The most interesting aspect of the exterior is how the first floor facade jetties out slightly over the High Street, a faint echo of its Tudor forebear.

The frontage of No. 45 (to the far right in the photograph top) is even worse! From the outside it must rank as one of the most forgettable exteriors in the entire city. It looks like a three-storey garden shed. The late-Elizabethan facade was also replaced, probably in the 19th century, and was modified again in the 20th century when a second floor window was blocked up and the current gable installed. The first floor also slightly overhangs the street below. It is slightly later than the other buildings surrounding it, dating to c1600. Inside there are moulded oak beams on the first floor which at least suggest the building's ancestry. There is also a cellar, lined with Heavitree stone, with the remains of steps that once led up into the High Street. It's also likely that when first constructed it didn't replace an earlier building as it occupies a portion of Lamb Alley which led past the side of No. 46 and into the Cathedral Close.

The properties are unfortunate in as much as they are sandwiched between two genuine, if much-restored 16th century facades which only serve to emphasise the loss of the original elevations (below), one of which is the lovely Nos. 41 and 42. Still, apart from a handful of notable exceptions this tiny group is about as good as surviving timber-framed Tudor domestic architecture gets in Exeter now. All three buildings are Grade II listed.



Steve said...

I've always wondered about this little collection of buildings. They look somewhat uneasy. Thanks for explaining the history of them. I feel its unfortunate that the facades currently do not reflect their true ages. Seeing as you say they are only Grade 2 listed, hypothetically speaking of course, how would you feel about the facades of these buildings being restored? It could go a long way to improving the look of the High Street in my opinion. I would like to think of no. 43 and no. 44 perhaps having their parpets removed, and no. 45 perhaps having its second floor window reinstated. Then perhaps finish them all off with a sympathetic reinstatement of the timber framing facades on all three. A lot of historic buildings in Europe have restorations of this kind and are sucessful, and seeing as you have a interest in this city I just wondered how you would feel about something similar being done to these buildings perhaps one day? I also feel the same could be achieved with no. 199 and no. 229 High Street. Yeah they would be a pastiche but they would help restore a medieval feel to the High Street for visitors. Great blog by the way. Keep up the great work.

steve said...

....and restoration of no. 198 and no. 201 High Street aswell. I really am in a architectural dreamland fantasy here!

wolfpaw said...

Hi Steve - Nos. 44 & 45 would definitely be improved with rebuilt timber facades! They could hardly be much worse and it's a shame that they don't show their age more clearly from the outside. I'm sure most people don't even give them a second glance. Unfortunately I can't see it ever happening though. Money is obviously a problem and without a will there'll never be a way. Exeter turned its back on its past after 1945 and almost everything done since (with some notable exceptions) has been 'progressively' Modern. I don't think it's done the city any favours but others will disagree :)

Best wishes!


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