Saturday, 27 August 2011

No. 15, Frog Street

Despite its small size and apparent insignificance, No. 15 in Frog Street left was one of the Exeter's historically interesting buildings, a lone survivor and a unique example of its type.

Situated just beyond the city walls and the West Gate, and on the edge of the industrial area known as Exe Island, Frog Street had largely retained its medieval appearance late into the 19th century, with gable-ended, timber-framed houses from the 1400s and 1500s lining both sides of the narrow route, their upper floors oversailing the street below.

The street's picturesque character was gradually eroded through sporadic demolitions in the first three decades of the 20th century until, in 1961, just two of the street's historical properties remained. One stood on the corner of Frog Street and Edmund Street. A small mid-15th century merchant's house, it was salvaged and gained some local fame as "The House that Moved" when it was transported on wheels into a new location on West Street. No. 15 Frog Street wasn't so fortunate.

What made it a unique survivor was its layout. Unlike the other timber-framed houses that survived in Exeter into the 1960s, No. 15 was built with its roof parallel with the street. Derek Portman in his book 'Exeter Houses 1400-1700' suggests a plausible explanation for why this layout was less commonly seen in the city centre. The importance of having street frontage in the commercial centre of Exeter was paramount. It was therefore customary to have long, thin plots of land (burgage plots) at right angles to the street with narrow shop fronts, thereby maximising the number of properties that could be built on any given thoroughfare.

Frog Street's location beyond the city walls meant that there was simply more space to build and so wider street frontages were both possible and desirable. According to Portman "only one building of this kind, No. 15 Frog Street, remained to be surveyed". The photograph right shows the entrance into Frog Street from Edmund Street c1940 with No. 15 highlighted in red. The white timber-framed property on the right, demolished c1950, appears to have had a similar layout to No. 15.

No. 15 was built c1570 and was typical of the sort of house occupied perhaps by a successful late-Elizabethan tradesman. It was timber-framed and was built on two floors with stone party walls at either end (although at some point the western wall had been rebuilt in brick). Access into the property was originally through a side passageway that ran underneath the first floor and out into a courtyard at the rear. Entry into the house itself was via a doorway in this passageway. On the ground floor was a single large room with a fireplace in the eastern wall. The first floor was divided into two rooms by a studded partition which, according to Portman, was "completely preserved and visible". The 16th century roof structure had also survived with little alteration. The property had been extended at the back, probably in the late 18th century, but the overall plan of the Tudor building was "easily discernible".

Unfortunately Frog Street was in the firing line of the council's inner bypass road system, first proposed by Thomas Sharp in 1945. As the bypass edged its way towards the river in the late 1950s and 1960s dozens of historical properties were demolished, including a large number of mid-17th century houses at the Southgate, the city's earliest brick-built house on Magdalen Street and Dr Dicker's early-18th century mansion. No. 16 Edmund Street was saved from destruction and moved, but No. 15 Frog Street was to have no such reprieve and in the summer of 1961 it was torn down.


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