Sunday, 22 January 2012

The Treasurer's House, Cathedral Close

The Treasurer's House has almost vanished into the past. However, although it was demolished in 1798, it is still just about visible through some descriptions and a tiny handful of images, and it had one very famous royal guest. The earliest recorded treasurer at Exeter Cathedral was a man named John in 1133 and the treasurership was probably founded around the same time. According to Lega-Weekes, the Treasurer's House occupied the same site from at least 1311 until its demolition in 1798.

Along with the dean, precentor and chancellor, the treasurer was one of the most important ecclesiastical positions at Exeter Cathedral. The medieval treasurer was responsible not only for the valuable liturgical utensils and money but also for such things as the tolling of the bells, the provision of candles, bread and wine for the altars, and for books and vestments. An inventory of 1327, compiled by the then treasurer at Exeter, Thomas de Hinton, listed around 150 books, over 100 gold and silver chalices and vessels, and over 100 articles of clothing.

The photograph top shows a detail from Caleb Hedgeland's model of Exeter. The model was created between 1817 and 1824 and depicts the city as it appeared in 1769. The most prominent part of the Treasurer's House is highlighted in red, attached at one end to the north tower of the Cathedral. One thing to notice is how there were once houses on both sides of what is now the Cathedral Close (or Canon Street or St Martin's Street as it was also known).

Unfortunately it's difficult to gauge the accuracy of Hedgeland's version of the Treasurer's House. In general the model itself is often surprisingly detailed, particularly in regard to the larger, more significant structures, and Hedgeland would undoubtedly have seen the Treasurer's House himself. He was nearly 30 years-old when it was pulled down. Some of the smaller buildings shown grouped around the house and fronting onto Canon Street were certainly part of what was once a complex of inter-connected structures and courtyards. The photograph above right shows an aerial view of the Cathedral. The approximate area covered by the Treasurer's House and its associated buildings, based on Rocque's 1744 map of Exeter, is highlighted in red. The image below left is a detail from Benjamin Donn's 1765 map of Exeter with the extent of the 'Treasury' highlighted in red.

In 1497 Perkin Warbeck landed in Cornwall and marched on Exeter proclaiming himself to be Richard, Duke of York, the youngest son of Edward IV and one of the Plantagenet princes allegedly murdered in the Tower of London by Richard III in 1483. It was a direct challenge to the throne of the Tudor usurper Henry VII. Warbeck tried, and failed, in his attempt to conquer Exeter and was later captured at Beaulieu Abbey in Hampshire by which time Henry VII was riding from London to Exeter at the head of an army. Having captured Warbeck, the king continued towards Exeter where he stayed for several days, lodging at the Treasurer's House.

Clearly the house itself, and the role of treasurer, must've been regarded as being of sufficient status to accommodate and host the king. John Hooker, writing in the 1570s, left behind a much-quoted report of what occurred during the king's stay. Some of the rebels had been brought to Exeter and were paraded through the Cathedral Precinct in front of the king. The Dean and Chapter authorised the felling of eight trees close to the Treasurer's House "by cause [the king] standinge in the newe window in Mr Treasurer's house might see the Rebells which came there with halters aboute their neckes before him for pardon". Hooker adds that Henry VII "came forthe out of his chamber and stood in the fayre large wyndowe newelye and of purpose builded towardes the said churcheyarde". The site of the trees which were felled to improve the king's view can be seen on Hedgeland's model. They formed an avenue with banks on either side which led to the north porch of the Cathedral. The king gave a short speech to the rebels and then pardoned them, much to the prisoners great excitement. Perkin Warbeck was kept captive in London and eventually executed in 1499 at Tyburn.

The image right is a detail from Rocque's 1744 map of Exeter. It shows the approach into the Cathedral Yard from Catherine Street. The canted bay windows of No. 1 Cathedral Close i.e. Mol's Coffee House are just visible to the far left. The Treasurer's House, almost completely obscured by trees, is highlighted in red. This is one of the very few known drawings of the building.

During the Commonwealth in the mid-17th century many of the canons houses connected with the Cathedral were confiscated and sold off. At least part of the Treasurer's House was purchased in 1651 by a London cook called Henry Starkie who then sold it on to a brewer called Henry Gandy. (Henry Gandy later became twice mayor of Exeter and Gandy Street in the city centre is named after him.) The City Chamber purchased the property from Henry Gandy in 1652 and the Treasurer's House was "Converted for a Workhouse for the poore of this Cittye and also a house of Correction for the vagrant and disorderly people within this Cittye". In 1657 a brick wall was constructed in the Cathedral dividing the nave from the choir so that the Independent and Presbyterian congregations could worship separately without interference. At the same time a window was removed from one of the chantry chapels creating a doorway and passageway which ran directly from the Cathedral "through the Garden Wall and outrooms of the late Treasurer's House ". This doorway was later blocked and is now the site of the early 19th century monument to Henry Seymour. The Treasurer's House was presumably returned to the Dean and Chapter after the Restoration of Charles II in 1660.

Another view of Hedgeland's model left shows the west facade of the main building. It was through the windows on this elevation that Henry VII surveyed his prisoners in 1497. As it appears on 18th century maps, the entire complex stretched as far east as the Chancellor's House. The High Street can be seen running from left to right at the bottom with St Martin's Lane giving access from the High Street into the Cathedral Precinct via St Martin's Gate.

According to Lega-Weekes, there is a reference from June 1388 of Bishop Brantingham enquiring into the state of the treasurer's houses and enclosures. It has been suggested that the Treasurer's House was rebuilt in the early-15th century although by the end of the 18th century it would've undergone a number of alterations. The medieval Bishop's Palace, the Deanery, the Chantry and the Chancellor's House were all very prestigious properties and there's no reason to believe that the Treasurer's House wasn't of a commensurate status. Using Hedgeland's model as a rough guide, the Treasurer's House in 1798 probably looked very similar to the surviving elements of the Deanery today: a long range made up of different rooms from various periods constructed of red Heavitree breccia. An indenture of 1675 recorded a number of the buildings which comprised the Treasurer's House complex. There was an outhouse called "the Little Pasterys", a room adjoining the kitchen called "the old woodhouse", stables, what was called "the old Mansion House" (perhaps the range shown in Hedgeland's model), and "a passage leading from the Great Hall to the outer courts on the west side".

It's impossible to say what the medieval structure was like or how it was adapted during the 17th century, or what precisely remained inside when it was demolished at the end of the 18th century. In his 1806 history of the city, Alexander Jenkins recorded the demolition of the building: "Among the late improvements, one in particular claims observation, which is the judicious removal of the Treasurer's house; this extended from the North Tower quite across the churchyard, and entirely intercepted the view of the Cathedral from the North transept, Eastward...The part which was formerly the garden belonging to the Treasury now forms a fine grass plat planted round with evergreens". Elsewhere he noted that "the house was (very judiciously) taken down in 1798, to open a view of the eastern part of the Cathedral". The Treasurer's House and all of the associated buildings were demolished.

In 2001 a portion of the site was excavated by Exeter Archaeology as part of the floodlighting scheme around the Cathedral. No evidence was found of the Treasurer's House except for a metalled floor surface and a couple of pits containing animal bones in what was an open area at the rear of the property. But indirect evidence for the house does still remain in full view of everyone who walks past the Cathedral every day. High up on the north face of the 12th century North Tower a scar in the stone work is the ghost of the gabled roof of the Treasurer's House. It marks the exact point where the house itself was attached to the Cathedral above right. It appears as though the roof was modified or rebuilt at least twice as two distinct roof lines are visible in slightly different positions. This is the only indication above ground that the building ever existed.


1 comment:

The Hub on the Green said...

I'll be looking a little more closely at the North Tower on my way across the green tomorrow. Fascinating as always. Thank you

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