Saturday, 16 July 2011

Nos. 48 and 49, High Street

The single structure that comprises Nos. 48 and 49 on the High Street is easily my favourite 20th century building still surviving in Exeter, a highly innovative mix of various architectural styles which somehow manages to emerge as a success in its own right. Unfortunately, I know almost nothing about it. The building isn't listed, even at a local level, but it ought to be as it far outshines nearly all of its 20th century companions, particularly those built after 1945.

The year 1922 allegedly appears in Roman numerals on a date stone set high up on the parapet so presumably this is when the building was constructed (the parapet itself is indisputably Art Deco in style). Standing almost opposite the narrow entrance into Goldsmith Street, Nos. 48 and 49 was built to replace a very large 18th century property which had once been a local office for the Plymouth-based newspaper, the Western Morning News (see the postcard view below right from c1910). The 1922 four-storey facade is constructed of a beautiful, honey-coloured limestone. Shallow, oriel bay windows with metal frames inset into the elevation rise through three floors. With such a strong vertical emphasis the building wouldn't have looked out of place in 1930s New York.

Despite their modernity, the oriel windows also echoed the numerous late-Elizabethan and Jacobean townhouses that still survived in Exeter at the time the building was constructed (for example, the former townhouse of the Earls of Morley that was located further up the High Street or the still extant Well House tavern in the Cathedral Close). Running from side to side at the top is a huge modillion cornice above which is the graduated Art Deco parapet. Fortunately the stone surround of the shop front has remained nearly intact.

It's an impressive and unusual facade and makes a welcome addition to the surviving range of pre-war structures in the lower High Street.


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