Monday, 5 September 2011

A 14th Century House at No. 8, Milk Street

Until its destruction in 1942 No. 8 in Milk Street was one of the oldest surviving domestic buildings in Exeter, despite being much-altered in the intervening centuries. (The so-called 'Norman House' in Preston Street, damaged in 1942 and demolished soon after, probably dated to no earlier than the 15th century).

No. 8, Milk Street is highlighted in red on the 1905 street plan of the city left, overlaid onto a modern aerial view of the same area. The house on Milk Street was built c1320 on a very simple plan. It was only two-storeys high and one room wide, with a cellar beneath. Only half of the cellar was actually below ground and the house was entered via steps from Milk Street. Originally with a timber-framed facade, the other walls were built from the purple volcanic trap quarried at Rougemont.

The main entrance from Milk Street opened directly into the hall with a second room at the rear. Inset into the corner of the hall, within the very thick north wall, was a garderobe which was ventilated by a slit window that looked out into Milk Street. The garderobe would've emptied directly onto the street! There was also an early-14th century fireplace in the hall. The room at the rear had a surviving two-light window and in one of the corners were the remains of a stone spiral staircase which would've led up to the first-floor chambers, one of which also contained a medieval fireplace. A narrow alley at the back of the house gave access into George Street. This alley is highlighted in purple on the image top.

And that's it. Little else is known about the building. It appears to have remained undiscovered until Milk Street and the surrounding area were badly damaged during the Exeter Blitz of 04 May 1942. As the rest of the street burned the tough volcanic rock of the walls of No. 8 remained standing. Fortunately the architectural historian, Arthur Everett, surveyed the building in the aftermath of the bombing raid. (He also recorded the remains of the Anglo-Saxon church revealed by the bombing in nearby George Street.) The walls of No. 8, Milk Street, which predated the ravages of the Black Death, were subsequently demolished as part of the post-war reconstruction and the site is now part of a car park below. No. 8 stood approximately where the sign with the arrow is today.


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