Sunday, 28 April 2013

Little Stile: A Mutineer & A Medieval Gatehouse

On 01 January 1286 Edward I signed a Royal licence allowing the cathedral's Dean and Chapter to construct a security wall around the cathedral precinct punctuated at regular intervals by seven gatehouses. The creation of the precinct wall and gatehouses was a direct response to the murder of the precentor Walter Lechlade in November 1283. During the subsequent trial, overseen at Exeter Castle by the king himself, the city's mayor was implicated in the murder and executed. Little Stile was the name and site of one of these late 13th century gatehouses.

Little Stile was located at the top of South Street. Before 1942 it was really nothing more than a narrow entrance from South Street into Cathedral Yard, similar to St Martin's Lane today. Part of the Globe inn was on the north side and Nos. 1 to 5 Little Stile and the Church of St Mary Major were on the south side.

The image above left shows the narrowness of Little Stile c1900 looking from the Cathedral Yard towards South Street. The side of the Globe inn is visible to the right. Nos. 1 and 2 Little Stile are on the left. A house in South Street can be seen in the distance. Surely it was streetscapes such as this that contributed towards Exeter's former reptuation as being one of the most picturesque cities in Southern England. None of the buildings shown were particularly attractive in their own right. It was more the quaint interplay between the angles of the walls and roof lines, the different textures derived from brick and plaster and the haphazard arrangement of windows and chimneys which gave parts of the city their antique charm. Such scenes can only ever be produced after centuries of gradual evolution and few images convey more vividly the Old World atmosphere of old Exeter.

The image right shows the location of Little Stile overlaid onto a modern aerial photograph. The plots highlighted in red, including the Globe inn, were destroyed during the Exeter Blitz. Nos. 1 & 2 Little Stile and St Mary Major, all highlighted in yellow, survived only to be demolished during the post-war reconstruction. Nos. 3, 4 & 5 Little Stile, known as the 'Three Gables', are still standing and are highlighted in purple. The eastern facade of the Globe inn is clearly visible as it curved round into Little Stile.

One reason that the entrance into Little Stile was so narrow might've been because the gate constructed in 1286 was designed for pedestrians only. The original document from 1286 which detailed the construction of the gates still survives. It describes the Little Stile gate as "one foot gate, five feet wide, opposite the Church of St George where the gate was wide". This suggests that by the end of the 13th century there was already a wider gate at Little Stile, possibly the main entrance gate into the churchyard which the pedestrian gate replaced in 1286. The 1286 document also mentions that the Little Stile gate was of wattle and daub or latticework ("craticula"). It can't have been very substantial and must've required frequent replacement.

The detail from Hedgeland's model of Exeter in 1769 left shows the location of Little Stile highlighted in red. The three buildings on the far right comprised the Globe inn (technically in Cathedral Yard). The houses on the left side of the passageway, Nos. 1 to 6 Little Stile, extended as far as the tower of St Mary Major until it was demolished and rebuilt in the 1860s. The towers and west front of the cathedral are at the bottom of the photo.

The Little Stile gate has some anecdotal connection with the Protestant martyr, Thomas Benet. In 1531 Benet had already secretly nailed notices to the door of the cathedral claiming that the Pope was the Antichrist. According to John Foxe, soon after the notices had been attached to the cathedral Benet "caused his set the said bills upon the gates of the churchyard. As the boy was setting one of the said bills upon a gate, called the Little Stile, it chanced that one W. S., going to the cathedral church to hear a mass...found the boy at the gate, and asking him whose boy he was, did charge him to be the heretic that had set up the bills upon the gates: wherefore, pulling down the bill, he brought the same, together with the boy, before the mayor of the city; and thereupon Benet, being known and taken, was violently committed to ward." Benet was burnt at the stake in 1531 at Livery Dole just outside the city walls.

The gate crops up now and again in various medieval documents. For example, in 1418 the Dean and Chapter paid 4d for repairing the gate's lock. Unfortunately not much seems to be known about the physical form of the gate itself. All Jenkins had to say in 1806 was that "Little Style-gate" was "not void of ornaments", presumably meaning that it had some kind of decoration or tracery on it. Perhaps it had a coat of arms above the entranceway. A plan of the Cathedral Close by John Hooker dated c1590 shows Little Stile as a single storey gatehouse with an arched doorway in the middle of it, a much less impressive structure than Broad Gate or St Martin's Gate. It was undoubtedly a small gatehouse and was probably renewed several times in the five centuries between the end of the 13th century and the beginning of the 19th century.

The image above shows the view towards Little Stile from Cathedral Yard c1930. No. 1 Little Stile is the building with six sash windows visible to the right of the tree. The Globe inn had been in existence since at least 1675 and most of the structure dated to the 17th century or earlier.

In 1820 there was a serious fire at a baker's house "adjoining to Little Stile". The fire began in the cellar and spread to a number of other properties. According to the 'Exeter Flying Post', the baker's house was "entirely consumed and three or four others in great part destroyed". According to the Lega-Weekes in 1915, No. 1 Little Stile "is said to have been the birthplace of Richard Parker, the famous mutineer of the Nore, who was hanged on HMS Sandwich 30 June 1797. His father, of the same name, was a well-to-do baker". Being within the cathedral precinct the property belonged to the Dean & Chapter.

Richard Parker was born at Exeter in 1767 and baptised at the Church of St Mary Major about 20 seconds walk from No. 1 Little Stile. He was educated at St John's Hospital School on the High Street and rose through the ranks of the Royal Navy to become a lieutenant before being discharged for insubordination in 1794. He returned to the city and married the Scottish Anne McHardy at St Sidwell's Church on 10 June 1795. After a spell in a debtors prison in Edinburgh in 1797 he re-enlisted and was assigned to the HMS Sandwich stationed at the Nore, a sandbank at the mouth of the Thames Estuary. The mutiny broke out in May 1797 following hot on the heels of a mutiny among sailors at Spithead.

Probably as a result of his previous rank in the navy, Parker was made 'President of the Delegates of the Fleet' by the mutineers. The HMS Sandwich had about 1600 men on board when it had only been built to accommodate 750. Such conditions provided a fertile ground for dissatisfaction. The mutineers, led by Parker, listed their grievances in a series of articles handed over to Admiral Buckner on 20 May. The mutineers' main claim was one of better conditions: more time off to visit family and friends; a bigger share of the financial rewards from taking enemy ships; payment prior to the voyage; no officer previously dismissed to be allowed control of a ship without consent of the crew, etc. William Pitt sent a bill through Parliament that would allow the Admiralty to label all mutineers as 'pirates', a charge punishable by death, and the mutiny fell apart when the government refused to give in to the mutineers' demands. On 14 June Richard Parker was arrested and charged with various acts of mutiny. He was hanged from the yardarm of the HMS Sandwich along with 29 others, jumping to his death before he could be executed by the hangman. The fact that Parker had called the 28 mutinous ships "the Floating Republic" only increased the resolve of a British government still reeling from the French and American Revolutions.

The image right shows Parker's 'flagship' the HMS Sandwich at the battle of Cape St Vincent in 1780. Within a short time after Parker's execution popular ballads with Parker and the Nore Mutiny as their theme were circulating around London. In 1845 the tale of Anne Parker's extraordinary attempt to retrieve her husband's body was the topic of a short story by the American poet Walt Whitman called 'Richard Parker's Widow'. Parker was eventually buried at St Mary Matfelon in Whitechapel. The Victorian church was destroyed by bombs in 1940. It's a pity that there's nothing in Exeter to commemorate the birth of Richard Parker whose name, according to Whitman, "shook with terror the foundations of the throne itself".

Anyway, the Little Stile gatehouse was demolished in 1820 probably as a result of the fire which destroyed the baker's house at No. 1. A notice was placed at the site which read: "No passage at night except by leave of the Dean and Chapter". The photo below is another of Hedgeland's model showing the same areas highlighted in red. The only difference is that Nos. 3 to 5 Little Stile are highlighted in purple. It's easy to see from this angle how the buildings on the south side of Little Stile essentially formed one half of a small street running from South Street to the right as far as St Mary Major to the left. The High Street can be seen at the bottom of the photo along with the great Broad Gate, the ceremonial entrance into the cathedral precinct from the late 13th century onwards. The turreted tower of St Petrock's can also be seen, its north wall obscured by properties on the High Street.

The venerable parish church of St Mary Major was demolished in 1864-65. The plan was to reconstruct the church slightly further west to improve the view of the west front of the cathedral. To do this it was necessary to demolish No. 6 Little Stile which became the site of the new church's tower. Built around an open court, No. 6 was an ancient building visible to the left of the 'Three Gables' on Hedgeland's model above.

The photo left shows Nos. 3, 4 & 5 Little Stile (the 'Three Gables') after the reconstruction of St Mary Major and the demolition of No. 6 Little Stile. The church itself was demolished in 1971, but the three houses are now all Grade II listed.

They were described at the beginning of the 19th century as "a tenement built on part of the antient workhouse". In 1540 the site housed craftsmen working at the cathedral although the current buildings were almost certainly constructed between 1650 and 1700.

Many of the oriel windows aren't original e.g. those of No. 4 in the middle are reproductions in a 17th century style, but the three properties form an attractive ensemble. They are typical of many houses built in Exeter over the course of the second half of the 17th century. Several still exist in the High Street but with altered facades e.g. No. 195 High Street.

Nos. 3, 4 & 5 Little Stile narrowly escaped destruction during the Exeter Blitz. The Globe inn, part of which formed the north side of Little Stile, was almost completely destroyed. The buildings on South Street at the narrow entrance into Little Stile were also destroyed. Remarkably, Nos. 1 & 2 Little Stile both survived the Exeter Blitz unscathed.

The photo right was taken in about 1948 after the remains of bomb-damaged buildings, including the Globe inn, had been removed. The cathedral and the Victorian tower of St Mary Major are in the  background. The 'Three Gables' are highlighted in purple. Nos. 1 & 2 Little Stile are highlighted in red.

As we've seen, No. 1 Little Stile, shown closest to the camera in the post-war photo, was rebuilt following a fire in 1820 but was the site of Richard Parker's birthplace in 1767. No. 2 Little Stile was a very narrow property, just one bay wide. Its corner stones and Georgian sash windows are visible to the far left in the photo at the top of this post. For some bizarre reason Nos. 1 & 2 Little Stile were both demolished by the city council in the 1950s as part of the post-war reconstruction. The pre-war aerial photo below shows the dense concentration of housing which surrounded Little Stile prior to 1942.

I can only think that the city's post-war townplanner, Thomas Sharp, was partially responsible for both this and other senseless demolitions undertaken by the city council in the post-war years. When Sharp released his 1946 proposals for the reconstruction and modernisation of the city, 'Exeter Phoenix', he included a detailed, tenement by tenement map of the city centre depicting areas affected by bombs in 1942.

However the map also included a grading for the remaining buildings. Some of these were rated as 'outworn', such as everything in Coombe Street and Frog Street, and others were rated as having 'architectural value', like the surviving terraces in Southernhay or the medieval canon houses in the Cathedral Close. However Sharp adopted a neutral stance towards many other areas i.e. those buildings which weren't outworn nor, in Sharp's opinion, of architectural value. Into this latter category fell the whole of Gandy Street, Goldsmith Street, North Street, Waterbeer Street, Holloway Street, Magdalen Street, the many standing buildings in Sidwell Street, the remaining fragments of South Street, including the 16th century White Hart Hotel and the Jacobean townhouse at No. 67 South Street, both of which Sharp regarded as expendable, as well as the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (which Sharp loathed), a number of buildings on the High Street and the early Victorian terraces in Northerhay.

It seems that either the city council was unable to make its own mind up on what to keep and so relied on Sharp as the arbiter of its taste or the council used Sharp's map as a way of legitimising the removal of perfectly sound structures.

Whichever, the city council seemed to defer to Sharp's judgement as late as the 1970s. I doubt it is just coincidence that the eastern side of North Street, almost the whole of Goldsmith Street, much of Waterbeer Street, Nos. 206 & 207 High Street, Nos. 212 to 219 High Street and the corner of the High Street and Queen Street were all demolished in the 1970s and were all areas highlighted by Sharp as having no architectural value. Nos. 50 to 52 High Street and No. 21 Cathedral Yard were demolished in the early 1960s and they too were rated as being of no value by Sharp. Two others that fell into this category were Nos. 1 & 2 Little Stile and so they were demolished.

Perhaps even worse was the fate of Little Stile itself. Instead of retaining the narrow entranceway into the cathedral precinct, in use since at least 1286, the council decided to follow Sharp's suggestion and obliterate it. A new, much wider entrance was created in 1960 passing over the site of the blitzed Globe inn. Little Stile was built over above right and ceased to exist. The opening in the wall where the passageway once led into South Street just opens into a service area for nearby shops. Following the demolition of St Mary Major in 1971 the Three Gables are now left isolated as the sole survivors of Little Stile below.

The demolition of No. 1 & 2 Little Stile seems inexplicable today. There was no reason why they couldn't have been retained and the narrow route into South Street reinstated. Such areas were part of the city's character, and even with rebuilt structures on its north side Little Stile could still have been an interesting small corner of Exeter, perhaps even with a plaque on the wall of No. 1 to remember the mutineer, Richard Parker.

Drag the slider on the image below to see the Globe inn and Little Stile before 1942 and the same view today. Alternatively, click on 'Show Only Then' or 'Show Only Now'. The site of Little Stile is to the far left in both images. The post-war pedestrian entrance into the cathedral precinct is to the far right in the modern photograph. The less said about the structure which was partially built over the site of the Globe inn the better.




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Security Seymour said...

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