Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Nos. 211 & 212, High Street

Probably built as a pair c1650, Nos. 211 and 212 survived until the beginning of the 20th century. In appearance at least the property was similar to No. 241, High Street (destroyed in 1942) which I've also provisionally dated to c1660.

Between 1650 and 1700 there was a gradual development in Exeter towards a much lighter style of timber-framed construction. This new style tended to be characterised by the use of more slender pieces of wood, especially when compared to the massive framing used in such houses as the old Chevalier Inn on Fore Street (also destroyed in 1942) which dated to between c1610 and 1630.

As fashion changed, and after the city had been pounded during the English Civil War in the 1640s, there was less desire for the exuberant display of carved timber and multiple oriel windows once seen in such houses as Nos. 19 and 20 in North Street.

The lighter method of construction, both quicker and more economical, also probably had its origins in two other factors. One was the amount of devastation wrought on the city outside the East Gate and the South Gate. New housing was needed and much of the Eastgate and Southgate areas were completely rebuilt in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War (a large number of these rebuilt houses survived at Southgate until they were demolished in the 1960s). The other factor was a sharp increase in Exeter's population as, by 1700, Exeter was the fourth or fifth largest city in Britain.

The postcard view right shows Nos. 211 and 212 highlighted in red c1900. The portico of the Guildhall is to the left.

Another characteristic of post-Civil War timber-framed construction in Exeter was a drastic reduction in the oversailing jettied stories which are such a typical feature of the archetypal timber-framed house (and still represented at Exeter in such rare examples as the much-mauled No. 226 in the High Street or Nos. 41 and 42, also in the High Street). Between 1650 and 1700 these jettied floors were either reduced to a few inches or, more commonly, completely replaced with a totally flat facade.

Unfortunately, apart from my rambling supposition, I don't know much more about Nos. 211 and 212. It was located on the north side of the High Street, next to the medieval church of Allhallows. The very rare postcard above c1900 shows Nos. 211 and 212 to the right of the church. The entrance into Goldsmith Street is to the far left. Note the children balancing on the railings by the east window who provide the scene with a sense of scale. According to Peter Thomas in his book 'Aspects of Exeter', in the first two decades of the 19th century a hosier called Thomas Brown had his premises on the upper floor of the house next to the church and these premises were reached via a narrow passageway called Excise Passage.

Allhallows was demolished in 1906 to widen the entrance from the High Street into Goldsmith Street and, within a few years, Nos. 211 and 212 went the same way. They were replaced with another four-storey building. It was constructed of brick with dressed stone window surrounds, the third floor having timber-framed black and white decoration with an oriel window in the gable end overlooking the High Street. It is shown in the image left c1972. (The two buildings painted blue were Nos. 206 and 207, High Street. They were both demolished in 1979 and the original facades substituted with modified concrete replicas.)

The attractive Tudor Revival building lasted until 1979 when it too was demolished along with most of Goldsmith Street as part of the new Marks and Spencer redevelopment scheme. It was replaced with a very plain, shed-like structure with a single gable and drab, featureless walls interspersed with regimented rows of windows, below. People will have to decide for themselves if it is an improvement on the Edwardian building it replaced. According to the city council's conservation report for the High Street, Nos. 211 and 212 attempts "to complement the older buildings opposite". In truth there are many buildings in Exeter that are uglier than this but very few that are more insipid:



Rob said...

This is one example of a nasty little group of eyesores that were allowed to get into this surviving historic part of High Street. Other ones I particularly dislike are the blank concrete facade of Burger King and the dark red brick ugliness of the old C&A now Tesco Metro building. Burger King spoils an otherwise picturesque row of old buildings and the Tesco building spoils the entrance to Queen Street which otherwise remains a genuinely beautiful and elegant street.
I strongly believe that after it completes the major redevelopments in the modern areas of the city the Council needs to undertake a big programme of work to tidy up and re-establish the architectural unity of the old city.
This not require that any of the modern buildings currently spoiling the old city be demolished; they just need to be given fake facades, which can be replicas of the original structures they replaced. In the early 1990s, if I remember correctly, a 1950s eyesore spoiling the end of Bartholomew Street West was given a mock-Georgian facade; which although plain and bland and not the real thing, did wonders in restoring the visual unity of this wonderful old street. The point it just fits in and no-one notices it. Compared to the other recent and very costly developments elsewhere in the city, this "re-facading" process is really cheap and has a massive and immediate visual impact. Burger King and Tesco Metro are prime candidates for this kind of redevelopment.
Finally, many thanks for this great site, which helps bring to public attention the damage done by war and redevelopment to what was once one of England's, if not Europe's, most beautiful cities.

wolfpaw said...

I despise the Tesco Metro building but it's sort of funny that the council has tried hiding the facade of Burger King by planting a tree in front of it. That's also why there are trees outside of Tesco Metro, to try and blank out the view from the lower High Street into the post-war section up to Debenhams. Burger King is a disaster. No amount of multi-million pound shopping malls in the centre can disguise the fact that Exeter today, as a visually historic city, is a very slight shadow of its former self. Thomas Sharp reckoned that before the war Exeter was already living off a medieval reputation which had architecturally ceased to exist, and I think this is true to some extent. The slum clearances of the early 20th century wiped out a huge number of timber-framed buildings but the city was still peculiarly picturesque and attractive (which of course is why it was bombed in 1942). As for rebuilding historical facades, it would be a big improvement. I don't personally believe that the council would go for it though. I think/hope that my blog shows that since 1945 the council has resolutely set sail for Modernism, in all of its architectural forms and would never countenance rebuilding parts of the High Street in a historicist manner. Although one successful historically-informed post-1945 building I can think of is the end property at No. 17, Castle Street. Unfortunately I think Princesshay is 'where it's at' as far as ECC is concerned, and you just know that in 30 years time it'll be knocked down and replaced with something else.

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