Friday, 30 December 2011

"Two Antique Buildings" and the South Street Baptist Chapel, South Street

According to W. G. Hoskins, the Baptist congregation in South Street was founded in 1652. The chapel was still located in South Street in 1806 when Jenkins described what he called "the Anabaptist Meeting House" as being "very commodious, and frequented by a large and genteel congregation". The chapel which Jenkins saw was "neatly seated" with "large galleries" and was "kept in good repair". The one drawback was "its situation behind the houses, which intercepts any exterior view".

The drawing left © Devon County Council shows the same houses which precluded Jenkins from getting a good look at the meeting house. To the far left can be seen an arched entrance, with 'Baptist Chapel' written on the arch. This entrance led down a narrow, covered passageway to the chapel itself, which was completely hemmed in on all sides by other properties. The exact nature of this early chapel remains unknown, although Hedgeland's model below gives some indications. In 1822 it was reported that the chapel had been closed because it was structurally unsound and a report of its condition contradicts Jenkins' assessment that the building was in "good repair". In the early 1790s the south wall collapsed, following which four ribs had to be placed inside to prevent the roof falling down. In 1814 "long, substantial props were passed through the adjoining houses, as buttresses", and in the autumn of 1822 nine other props were added "to preserve the neighbourhood from destruction"!

Rocque's 1744 map of Exeter right shows the constricted location of the chapel, highlighted in red. The narrow passageway from South Street is clearly visible. The section of South Street running outside the passageway is called 'The Large Market', a reference to the cloth market which had been relocated to South Street in the mid-17th century. Bear Lane was the site of one of the late-13th century gates into the Cathedral precinct. The Bear inn, shown just to the north of the chapel, was formerly the town residence of the Abbots of Tavistock Abbey until the Reformation, and in the bottom right corner of the map can be seen the quadrangular layout of the sprawling medieval house which belonged to the Archdeacons of Exeter.

Plans for a new Baptist chapel had been made as early as 1814 but it wasn't until 1823 that a new building arose on the same site of its much-propped forerunner. (A second Baptist chapel had been constructed in Bartholomew Street West in 1817, where it can still be seen today). The new chapel in South Street was a large red-brick building in a simple late-Georgian style but it was still completely obscured by the two old houses in front of it. These houses were part of an endowment and belonged to the chapel anyway, one of the rooms being used by the chapel as a vestry. By the mid-1850s portions of both houses were being let, one to Mr Dare, a greengrocer, and the other to Mr Mayo, a butcher, and in 1855 the properties were sold at auction, presumably for very little as the intention was to demolish them both completely. Fortunately two reports in the 'Exeter Flying Post' document the demolition and hint at the architectural and historical losses incurred.

(The image left shows a detail from Caleb Hedgeland's wooden model of the city which he completed in 1824. The model was based on how the city appeared in 1769, and although it's not completely accurate the overall layout is surprisingly precise. The barn-like Baptist chapel is to the right. In front of it are the backs of the two houses in South Street. Both chapel and houses are highlighted in red.)

The first report is dated 03 May 1855 and begins "We are happy to see that the two antique buildings in front of the Baptist Chapel, South Street, are in the course of demolition." The "quaint style of the old houses...excited more than ordinary interest and the street was "visited by several well-known antiquaries, who took hasty sketches of this relic of the good old times". It's difficult to know if the property was originally a single large house or, as is perhaps more likely, built as a matching pair. (The closest thing like it surviving in Exeter today are the pair of houses at Nos. 41 & 42 High Street.) Combining the information from both newspaper reports it is possible to piece together something of the houses' long history. During the demolition a testoon, or shilling, from the reign of Edward VI was discovered. Stylistically the houses could've been constructed in the 1550s or 1560s, the coin then lost soon after they were built. Each house was constructed on three floors and almost certainly had a cellar. In each house the ground floor room fronting onto South Street was probably used as a shop with a large hall on the first floor lit by a fine 10-light oriel window. The bed chambers would've been on the top floor. It's possible that there was a further block of accommodation housing the kitchen and other rooms behind but this might've been replaced by the first incarnation of the Baptist chapel.

There is evidence that the houses were enriched at several periods with some spectacular interior decoration. The second newspaper report refers to the buildings as being "richly stuccoed", probably a reference to plasterwork ceilings, the "patterns of stucco" being "rich and curious and of every variety of arabesque". Contained within the houses was "a great quantity of wainscot of the napkin or drapery [i.e. linenfold] and the mask and lion's head patterns". One room in particular, "supposed to have been the banqueting room of a wealthy woollen merchant", was particularly fine.

Something of the truly exceptional quality of the workmanship contained within the houses can be seen in the two images right and below. They show oak pilasters and sections of panelling carved in the Renaissance style with Classical capitals, cherubs and lion heads, the shafts of the pilasters festooned with great swirls of interlacing vines and foliage. Dating to c1600, the pilasters and panelling were ripped out of an unknown house in Exeter and ended up in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Probably carved on the continent, the opulence of the pilasters and the frieze are particularly remarkable. Although they probably didn't originate from the houses in South Street they do give some indication of the high-calibre decoration inside the houses. (Bampfylde House and No. 229 High Street were just two other properties in Exeter which contained similar interiors. Given the wealth of some of the city's merchants in the 16th and 17th centuries, there would've been many others). When the rooms in South Street were broken up in 1855 John Gendall, an Exeter artist with antiquarian interests who was living at No. 10 Cathedral Close, purchased "many beautiful and elaborate specimens of the carved and wainscot panels, diversified with acanthus, lion's heads and arabesques". Gendall paid £12 12s for the panels when they were auctioned.

There were several other features of great interest. In the room used as the vestry was a representation of the Royal coat of arms of James I along with the date 1621. One of the newspaper articles repeated a tradition that James I had once stayed in one of the houses although unfortunately he never actually visited the city! Some people at the time believed that the date of 1621 recorded the commencement of the houses' construction, although if true the houses would've perhaps had more lavish external decoration, such as appeared at Nos. 19 & 20 North Street or Nos 78 & 79 Fore Street. The date might simply have recorded the year in which the coat of arms was installed. Over a fireplace in the same house was another "neat tablet", adorned with scrolls, upon which were the initials T.T and S.T above the date 1627. The second newspaper article suggests that these were the initials of Thomas Tooker (or Tucker) and his wife, Sarah or Susan. Thomas Tooker was a Sheriff of Exeter in 1638, his father executed at Heavitree in 1611 for having murdered his mother. The year 1627 could commemorate a marriage or a further enrichment of the property, but it's probably not the year when the house was completed as the 'Exeter Flying Post' believed.

The demolition of the "delapidated and dangerous" houses revealed numerous other forgotten items including a sixpence from the reign of James I and numerous 17th century trading tokens, one of which came from Nuremberg. The salvageable remains of the interiors were auctioned off and the site was cleared. The Commissioners for Improvement contributed £20 to the clearance and a written agreement was made with the Baptist chapel that the houses were not to be rebuilt. The site has largely remained empty ever since. The chapel was modified in 1875 and a five-sided extension was added which intruded slightly upon the old plots of the two houses.

The chapel narrowly escaped destruction in the Baedeker Blitz of 04 May 1942 but the replacement in the post-war period of the 1870s Gothic arched entrance with the current plain brick one is regrettable. The Baptist chapel today is a Grade II listed building. The image above right shows a 21st century aerial view of the area overlaid onto which is the street plan from 1905. The approximate site of the two "antique houses" is highlighted in red behind which is the original extent of the 1823 Baptist chapel, marked as 'Ch." The photograph below shows the Baptist chapel at street level with its five-sided extension from 1875. Set back from the road, it's easy to see the empty site of the two old houses, now used as a parking lot.


Friday, 16 December 2011

The Medieval College of the Vicars Choral at Kalendarhay, Cathedral Yard

The image left is one of the most remarkable surviving photographs ever taken in Exeter. As far as I am aware it is the only photographic record of what was the inner gatehouse at the complex of medieval buildings known as the College of the Vicars Choral. Dating to the late 1860s, it is an image of such rarity and interest that it's difficult to overstate its importance.

The long history of the College of the Vicars Choral stretches far back into Exeter's medieval past, possibly even pre-dating the Cathedral itself. Had the buildings survived intact the College would've ranked as being of national importance. Instead its fate now reads as a history in microcosm of the city as a whole: spectacular survival followed by disastrous piecemeal demolition leading ultimately to almost total destruction in the 20th century.

The story begins during the reign of Henry I with the Kalendar Brethren. The Kalendar Brethren was simply a guild consisting of members of the Cathedral's clergy and citizens of Exeter, both male and female. It was established c1140, although Nicholas Orme believed that the guild could've begun as early as c1030, around twenty years before the Cathedral was founded in 1050. It was a voluntary organisation with the members performing charitable work and holding religious services, a bit like a Rotary Club but with a religious dimension. The arcane-sounding name derived from the fact that the Brethren celebrated a Requiem mass on the first day of each month to remember members of the guild who had died. In the Roman calendar the first day of each month was known as the 'Kalend' (just as the 13th or 15th days were known as the 'Ides'). Between c1140 and c1340 members of the Kalendar Brethren included a dean, chancellor and a treasurer from the Cathedral as well as five bishops and seven city mayors.

The image right shows a modern aerial view of the site of the College. The war memorial in the Cathedral Yard is visible at the top. The West front of the Cathedral is just out of sight to the right. Laid over the aerial view is the same area from the 1905 street map of Exeter, by which time most of the College's buildings had been demolished. The numbers show the locations of the College's main buildings:

1 The Church of St Mary Major
2 The 'Oldham' Gatehouse
3 The Inner Gatehouse
4 The northern row of houses
5 The southern row of houses
6 The Dining Hall
7 The College Kitchen

The Kalendar Brethren used two chapels for their religious services. One was the small chapel of St Peter Minor, believed to have been located in the Cathedral Precinct near the site of what was later to become the Eagle House. The other was St Paul's, which stood on the corner of Paul Street and Goldsmith Street until its demolition in 1936. In around 1200 the Brethren swapped churches with the Cathedral canons. The canons used St Paul's and St Peter Minor and in return the Kalendar Brethren used the church of St Mary Major, located near the West front of the Cathedral and once the old Saxon minster. The Kalendar Brethren built a guildhall and almshouses close to St Mary Major and this site was to form the nucleus for the College of the Vicars Choral. The site became known as Kalendarhay at around the same time and just means 'the enclosure of the Kalendar Brethren' (the name is still used for this part of Exeter today).

The drawing left shows some of the medieval houses in the north row which remained c1890 (No. 4 on the map above). An identical row of houses was once on the opposite side of the street. Two Gothic windows in the dining hall of the Vicars Choral are visible at the far end of the street (No. 7 on the map above).

By the mid-14th century the Brethrens' Requiem masses were being conducted by the Vicars Choral, junior members of the clergy who sang at the Cathedral's many services. Prior to the 1370s the Vicars Choral were living in various houses scattered throughout the city. They often missed services and there are indications that they were fraternising with Exeter's citizens in a way which the Bishop of Exeter, Thomas Brantingham, founded unacceptable. He therefore decided in 1381 or 1382 to create a college at Kalenderhay where the 24 Vicars Choral could live together and eat together. The Kalendar Brethren were moved out and the Vicars Choral were moved in. In order to accommodate them Brantingham ordered the construction of what was in effect a miniature self-contained village built around a quadrangle. Permission for the new buildings was granted by the Dean, as long as they didn't interfere with either the great hall of the nearby Deanery or the windows of the Dean's private chapel. It's worth mentioning that a number of other colleges for the Vicars Choral were built at a similar time in several other cathedral cities across England e.g. at Wells, Lincoln, Hereford, Salisbury and York. (The Vicars' Close at Wells, strikingly similar in design and layout to the one at Exeter, has survived in its entirety. The buildings predated Exeter's own college by approximately two decades. It is now Grade I listed and reputed to be the oldest purely residential street with its original buildings in Europe.)

Entry into the quadrangle at Exeter was via a gatehouse (No. 3 on the map above). This gatehouse is shown in the photograph at the top of this post and in the drawing from c1827 right © Devon County Council. For centuries the chamber above the stone-vaulted passageway of the gatehouse acted as a muniment room, used to store the documents relating to the college. When the gatehouse was demolished in 1872 the documents were transferred to a large coffer in the college dining hall.

Beyond the gatehouse was a narrow street with a row of 12 two-storey houses on each side. These little houses originally consisted of one room on the ground floor with another room above. In the late-14th century the street was a cul-de-sac, blocked off at its far end by what was the College's dining room. To the right of the dining hall was a huge kitchen attached to which were a buttery and a pantry. All of the structures were built from purple volcanic trap sourced from various locations around Exeter. The construction work was almost complete by 1388 and Bishop Brantingham officially founded the 'Vicariorum Hospicio' on 04 November that year (although the fact that 18 new chimneys were added in 1401 suggests that work continued on the site for an extended period of time). But it seems that the Vicars Choral had no intention of behaving themselves.

One of the College rules was that the Vicars Choral were to desist in visiting the houses of the laity and eat together in the common hall provided. Another rule stated that any member of the College who "rashly lay violent hands" upon another within the College boundaries would be fined, but they persisted in breaking the rules of the foundation to such an extent that Brantingham threatened them with excommunication.

The College continued to be used into the 16th century. In 1586 a bitter quarrel between the Vicars Choral and the city authorities over some disputed land resulted in several of the vicars being imprisoned. The College possessed the deeds to a number of properties in Exeter, some of which were on the corner of St Martin's Lane and Catherine Street, an area known in the 16th and 17th centuries as Little Kalendarhay. But all the time the number of Vicars Choral was being reduced. By 1614 there were only four priest-vicars and ten lay-vicars. The College's silver plate was sold in 1644 for £30 7 shillings and 6 pence and the money lent to Charles I to support the Royalist cause during the English Civil War. In 1647, at the time of Cromwell's Commonwealth, the College was confiscated and the beautiful dining hall left © Devon County Council was turned into a wool hall. It was probably at this time that an entrance from South Street was forced between the dining hall and the kitchen through what was once the hall's screens passage. The College was returned to the Vicars Choral after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 but the collegiate days of the Middle Ages were over. The image below shows how the College might've looked c1850. 

The houses were let to private tenants. The College's vast 14th century kitchen (No. 7 on the map above) was converted into houses and by the late 18th century was an inn called The College Kitchen, later known as The Bear, which was accessed directly from South Street. Before the demolition of the Cathedral Close gatehouses it was possible to walk through the College Kitchen inn and into the Cathedral Precinct via a "doorway knocked through its six feet stone wall". The landlord kept the curfew in the Close by locking the "great oak door" every night at 10pm. The college's medieval kitchen was largely demolished in 1871. During the building work the kitchen's original ogee-arched fireplace was discovered. According to Lega-Weekes, writing in 1915, it was possible to see parts of the old kitchen in the cellars of the building which took its place but these remains were presumably destroyed when the area was blitzed in 1942.

One peculiarity was what appears to have been a second gatehouse. I've called it the 'Oldham Gatehouse' and it's listed as No. 2 on the map above. Alexander Jenkins left a description of this gatehouse in 1806: "The Gate-house of the College is a strong stone building, in the front of which are the arms of England and France, quarterly; and under them are the arms of Bishop Oldham, supported by Angels. Adjoining to this Gate-house is an ancient building in which the Registrar's office for the Archdeaconry of Exeter is held". This shouldn't be confused with the inner gatehouse which led into the quadrangle. Hugh Oldham was the Bishop of Exeter between 1505 and 1519.

Very little is really known about this gatehouse. Was it part of the original late-14th century College? Or was it a later 16th century addition which was only loosely connected to the College? Jenkins explicitly called it "the Gate-house of the College". James Crocker also described this gatehouse in 1886: "Over the other [gatehouse] stood a three-storied house, and immediately above the arch itself were the Arms of Bishop Oldham, who was a munificent contributor to the funds of the College. Above these were the Royal Arms, and on either side, there was a niche for a figure. This three-storied house was of a much later date than the buildings generally". Fortunately the gatehouse appears in several depictions of the church of St Mary Major prior to the church's demolition in 1865. One these is shown above right © Devon County Council, the gatehouse highlighted in red and standing to the left of the chancel of St Mary Major. The pointed arch of the gateway itself and the decorative details mentioned above are all visible. There are hints of stone mullioned windows on the first floor. I think the gatehouse was built c1519 and was part of a general overhaul of the College's buildings which took place at the same time. The three-storey house could've been built at any time between c1700 and c1800 but a date in the early-18th century seems most likely, the Tudor gatehouse peering out from beneath the later additions.

The photograph left shows Kalendarhay today. The vicars' houses would've been on either side of the narrow street. The inner gatehouse stood near the car in the mid-distance. The gate in the wall to the right can also be seen in the photograph at the top of this post.

The entire complex survived intact until 1850. In 1848 a report by the city's surveyor stated that the College was in a "very offensive and filthy state", although the Commissioners for Improvement doubted they had the power "to interfere there" being within the precinct of the Cathedral. Instead of restoration and refurbishment, the demolition began. In 1850 the 'Exeter Flying Post' reported that while "pulling down some old houses" at the College a number of archaeological finds were uncovered. These included a Roman copper coin from the 4th century, a copper weight from the 15th century, a silver whistle, tokens from Nuremburg, and a gold and enamel ring inscribed with the words "Remember the giver". Most of the houses in the south row were demolished at this time and much of the site became part of the Deanery's garden. Some of the houses on the north side were pulled down in 1865 when the church of St Mary Major was rebuilt. Lega-Weekes reported a recollection that "the south wall and west end [of the church] are entirely closed up by the ancient building of the Vicars' College and a house belonging to the Close, some of the leaning roofs of which rest on the church walls".

The image right shows how the College's inner gatehouse might've appeared today had it survived demolition.

The Oldham Gatehouse either came down at the same time or in 1872. It's difficult to imagine now, but until the 1870s the south side of the Cathedral Close was once filled with numerous houses as well as the church of St Mary Major.

During the restoration of the Cathedral in 1872 the Dean and Chapter decided that most of these houses were "unsightly" and "incongruous" and spoilt the view of the Cathedral from the south, so down they came. This was certainly when the College's inner gatehouse top was demolished. As mentioned above, the College's kitchen had already been almost completely demolished in 1871. By 1893 the rest of the houses on the north side had gone, to be replaced with what Harbottle Reed called "ugly brick workshops". By the beginning of the 20th century only the dining hall remained as the last surviving fragment of the College of the Vicars Choral.

The Hall of the Vicars Choral

The 19th century demolition of the College was a great loss to Exeter's historical architecture, but at least the dining hall above survived. It was probably the College's finest feature even when it was first built in the 1380s. As well as using it as their refectory, the Vicars Choral gathered in the hall to vote for a warden, two proctors and a collector to help oversee the running of the College. Above the entrance from Kalanderhay were inscribed the words: 'Aula Collegii Vicariorum de Choro'. It was a little treasure chest of medieval and post-medieval craftsmanship. The hall was spanned by a fine open-timbered arch-braced roof. There were three very fine late-14th century windows with Decorated Gothic tracery. A particularly beautiful feature of these windows was the way in which the decoration on the rere-arches reflected the tracery in the window itself. A screens passage divided the hall from the kitchen to the north and above the passage ran a minstrels' gallery.

The dining hall was refurbished c1519 by the Cathedral's treasurer, John Ryse. Ryse installed the magnificent carved stone fireplace decorated with the heraldic shields of Henry Marshall, John Grandisson, Thomas Brantingham, Edmund Lacy and Hugh Oldham, all of whom were Bishops of Exeter. Above the shields, in the centre of the lintel, was the coat of arms of the treasurer. At the top of each jamb on either side of the fireplace was a circle carved into the stone and intertwined with the letters 'T', 'J' and 'R' in Gothic script for 'Treasurer, John Ryse'. Ryse was also probably responsible for the installation of the lovely linen fold oak panelling which covered the walls. Further panelling was added in the 1620s along with a carved representation of the coat of arms of Charles I under which was the date 1629. Another feature was the large Tudor oak table, probably carved in Devon during the reign of Elizabeth I. Although the top was a Victorian replacement the table itself was regarded as being one of the finest of the period with highly elaborate and intricate bulbous legs and a very ornate freize around the top. After the Oldham Gatehouse was demolished the stone tablet bearing Bishop Oldham's coat of arms was placed above the South Street entrance into the hall. The Exeter Diocesan Architectural Society used the hall for their meetings throughout the 19th century as did the Exeter Choral Association and a number of other groups, including the city council if the Guildhall was being used for trials.

The Baedeker Raids of 1942 made a point of targeting England's most historic cities, and with buildings like the Cathedral, the Hall of the Vicars Choral, Bampfylde House and Bedford Circus, Exeter found itself in the firing line. The hall was almost completely destroyed on the night of 04 May 1942. The photograph above left © Express & Echo shows the ruins of South Street shortly after the air-raid, the remains of the hall highlighted in red.

The destruction of the hall was the coup de grĂ¢ce for the College of the Vicars Choral and completed a process of demolition which had begun nearly a century earlier. After the war the ruins were tidied up and preserved. Only one wall, the arched doorway from Kalendarhay through which the Vicars Choral entered their hall right, and the remains of two of the windows survive. A few fragments of John Ryse's early 16th century fireplace found their way into the Royal Albert Memorial Museum along with the battered remnants of the late-14th century water stoup. In his book 'Exeter Architecture', Hugh Meller wrote that "the remains of the college are now so pathetically meagre that they even fail to merit an explanatory plaque". The ruins of the 14th century hall below sit incongruously amongst the mediocre post-war rebuilding of what was once one of the city's main thoroughfares. Of the College's other buildings, of its gateways, kitchen or residential housing, not a single trace remains.


The Broad Gate at Broadgate

The beautiful late-19th century bronze plaque left commemorates the location of Broad Gate, the most substantial and impressive of all the gatehouses which were built as part of the Cathedral Close wall at the end of the 13th century. It reads: "Site of Broad Gate. One of the seven gates of the Close for which Royal Licence was granted 1286. Gate removed 1825".

The plaque now rests on the Broadgate facade of Nos. 65 & 67 High Street. The Close wall and the seven gates were constructed as a security measure following the murder of the cathedral's Precentor, Walter Lechlade, in 1283. The Broad Gate is the only one of the Close gates for which relatively accurate contemporary drawings survive.

It seems likely that some sort of passageway or alleyway existed at Broadgate prior to the gate being built. Broadgate is referred to as 'Fishfoldyete' in 1344 because of a nearby fish market in the High Street. In the 16th century John Hooker recorded that the gate was sometimes called Fissand, either a reference to the fish market or a commentary on what was still a relatively narrow, fissure-like opening between the High Street and the Cathedral Close. Situated almost opposite the West door of the cathedral, the Broad Gate was the ceremonial entrance into the Cathedral Precinct, a status which was reflected in the weighty architecture of the gate.

Some of the most famous kings in English history would've entered into the precinct via the Broad Gate: Henry VI in 1452, Richard III in 1483, Henry VII in 1501, Charles I in 1644, Charles II in 1670, George III in 1789, and the gate was probably already completed when Edward I made his second visit to the city in 1297. There is also a tradition in Exeter of the city mayor welcoming a newly-appointed Bishop of Exeter at the East Gate before processing down the High Street to Broadgate from where the Bishop enters his cathedral.

Hooker's 1587 map of Exeter right shows a rather crude representation of the Broad Gate, highlighted here in red. The West front of the Cathedral is on the far right. The High Street runs up towards the East Gate on the far left.

In his interesting booklet 'Gates of the Close', Michael Fodor wrote that the Broad Gate depicted in early 19th century drawings was probably 15th century in date, a remodelled version of the late-13th century original. Many of the city's parish churches were rebuilt in the 1400s so it's entirely possible that the Close's most important gatehouse was given a makeover at the same time. If true then it was this version of the Broad Gate which remained until its demolition in the 1820s. An inn called The Beaufitz or Beavis' Tavern is known to have adjoined the outer face of the Broadgate in the mid-15th century. The mayor at the time, John Shillingford, accused members of the Cathedral's clergy of entering The Beaufitz via a wicket gate where they caused such "noyse, affrays and debates" that they woke the citizens living in the High Street.

The illustration left, from a work by J Farington, is one of the most accurate representations of what the Broad Gate looked like at the beginning of the 19th century. It shows the interior face of the gatehouse from inside the Cathedral Close looking down through Broadgate towards the High Street.

It was built on three floors although according to Lega-Weekes there was once an arched tunnel which ran beneath the Broad Gate from east to west. This tunnel led into the groin vaulted undercrofts at No. 65 prior to that building's demolition c1904.

An arched gateway with wooden doors was on the ground floor of the gatehouse. The thoroughfare connecting the Cathedral Precinct to the High Street was approximately 12ft wide, large enough to take horse-drawn carts and waggons. The gatekeeper, who was also a member of the clergy, resided in the accommodation on the first floor. Between the two cusped, two-light Gothic windows was a niche containing a statue. Alexander Jenkins left an invaluable eyewitness description of the Broad Gate in 1806: "The principal gate is now called Broad-Gate, anciently St. Michael's, from its having the statue of that Archangel, overcoming Satan, placed in the interior front". Jenkins added that "this embellishment is now much mutilated". Lega-Weekes wondered whether the alternative name of St Michael's Gate wasn't actually derived from the Anglo-Saxon word 'micel', meaning 'great', an epithet also attached to the nearby church of St Mary Major. Above the gatekeeper's accommodation was a third floor containing another chamber with a cockloft inserted into the roof. It's possible that the third floor and roof visible in Farington's picture were a later addition.

At each corner of the interior face stood tall polygonal turreted towers. A doorway leading into one of the towers can be seen at ground level on the right. From here a spiral staircase probably rose through the full height of the building. The right-hand tower is shown capped with a squat roof. The interior of the ground floor passageway which ran underneath the gatekeeper's accommodation had a stone vaulted ceiling decorated with what Jenkins described as "elegant tracery". There was some decoration on the outer arch. A rough sketch by John Gendall from c1820 shows what appear to have been alternating blocks of different coloured stone used for the voussoirs (something similar can be seen on a couple of the surviving arches of the early 13th century Exe Bridge above right). More decoration consisting of a form of blind arcading existed on the walls of the passageway itself.

Despite the descriptions and the drawings, architectural details remain tantalisingly sketchy. No representation of the exterior High Street facade survives and there are no details about the layout of the interior. Little is really known about the decoration either, including the statue, and even the precise history of the different phases of construction is a mystery. One intriguing question is what was the gate actually built from? Clearly it was stone but various types of stone were used in Exeter during the medieval period. The late-13th century gatehouse would've been contemporary with the rebuilding of the cathedral, much of which was constructed from limestone, although the gates in the city walls were nearly all constructed from locally-sourced purple volcanic trap. An edition of the 'Exeter Flying Post' dated 29 December 1824 reported on the gate's demolition stating that "Several different kinds of stone were used in the building; some specimens, which we have seen, taken from the upper part, appear to abound in marine productions". These "marine productions" are almost certainly fossils and strongly suggest that the material was cretaceous limestone from East Devon. Several illustrations indicate that the lower levels of the gatehouse were constructed of purple volcanic trap with a paler stone used for the floors above although other illustrations suggest otherwise. If the gatehouse was rebuilt in the 15th century was the old stone recycled into the new structure? Or was the stone reclaimed from the demolition of another building? The questions are almost endless and most of the answers will remain unknown for ever.

The photograph left shows Broadgate today looking towards the High Street from inside the Cathedral Precinct. The white property in the background, now the entrance into the Guildhall Shopping Centre, was formerly No. 196 High Street. It was a Grade II listed building constructed around the core of a Tudor townhouse. It was demolished in 1973.

Unfortunately the destruction of the Broad Gate is much easier to uncover. The gatehouse was seen as an awkward obstacle to carriages wishing to access the Cathedral Precinct and in 1823 the Commissioners for Improvement, supported by the City Chamber, decided to remove the Broad Gate in its entirety. The decision wasn't accepted by all of Exeter's citizens. In August 1823 a letter appeared in the 'Exeter Flying Post' denouncing the plans to destroy the gatehouse. The letter begins: "Is it possible that Exonians can have so little respect for what was so valued by their forefathers, as to suffer Broadgate, the last remnant of ancient grandeur, to be levelled with the dust? How will men of taste and science cry out against our public spirit and sense of honour? What answer shall we make to their censures and reproaches?" The author wondered whether the clergy could remain silent when the gate, that "beautiful accompaniment and outwork of the very Cathedral" was being threatened with "Vandalic violence" and hoped that the "Classical minds" of several members of the City Chamber would prevent "this monument of former renown and and splendour" from being "annihilated for ever". His optimism was to be misplaced. A piece of doggerel verse was also apparently circulating at the time: "Broadgate now yields to Gothic sway, despoiled of every feature. St. Michael's driven thus away, the Lord defend St. Peter!" St Peter is the saint to whom the cathedral itself is dedicated. It was also suggested that the gate could be dismantled and re-erected at the entrance into Northernhay Gardens but, yet again, these plans came to nothing.

An editorial in the same newspaper, dated 01 July 1824, stated: "We understand that the Broad Gate will certainly be taken down in a few months". Another editorial appeared on 29 December 1824: "The final demolition of this venerable relic of antiquity was set about yesterday, and we shall soon have to congratulate our fellow citizens and visitors of the city on possessing a fine and appropriate approach to that beautiful and admired structure, the Cathedral". Presumably the demolition was completed in the early weeks of 1825, the date usually given for the destruction of the Broad Gate; and that was the full stop at the end of the Broad Gate's five hundred years of history, although its name lives on in the short street in which it stood. Horse and carriages needing to access the Cathedral Yard were re-routed down St Martin's Lane "while the site of Broad Gate is being cleared away". The gatehouse in St Martin's Lane had already been removed in 1819. Broadgate was 'improved' again in 1833 with more demolition. Thomas Hourston, tailor and draper, was forced to relocate to new premises in St Martin's Lane because his "house at Broadgate" was "about to be pulled down by the Commissioners". In 1826 posts were placed at the sites of the all of the demolished Cathedral Close gates. Some of these remain at Broadgate above right, St Martin's Lane and at Palace Gate.

The Broad Gate is long gone. To see similar surviving buildings in England you'd have to visit either the Exchequer Gate at Lincoln, the central portion of which has similar polygonal turreted towers, or the great Christ Church Gate at Canterbury which also has polygonal corner towers and a niche for a statue between two two-light Gothic windows. Below is an image showing how Exeter's finest precinct gatehouse might've appeared had it survived into the 21st century.


Thursday, 15 December 2011

Cathedral Walls & Gates: The Medieval Murder of Walter Lechlade

As the 13th century drew to a close in Exeter the violent death of a member of the cathedral's clergy resulted in the construction of a fortified wall studded with gatehouses around the entire cathedral precinct. This security wall created what was in effect a walled city within a walled city, a version of the city's own walls and gates in miniature and a physical expression of the separation between the civic authority of the mayor and the ecclesiastical authority of the medieval bishop.

The background to the murder was complex but at its heart lay a feud between the Dean of the cathedral, John Pycot and the Bishop of Exeter, Peter Quinil. In 1280 Pycot managed to convince a majority of the cathedral's Chapter to elect him to the office of Dean during Quinil's absence from the city for his own enthronement at Canterbury. However, because Pycot failed to obtain a unanimous vote from the Chapter, and probably for other reasons relating to what appear to have been worldly and avaricious character traits, Bishop Quinil overturned the Chapter's decision and declared that Pycot's election was invalid. But Pycot wasn't going to be removed from his office quite so easily.

The tensions between Bishop and Dean rumbled on into the summer of 1281 with each side in the dispute trying to use various legal arguments placed before the Archbishop of Canterbury. Dean Pycot even travelled to Rome to try and enlist the support of the Pope. In 1282 Quinil took the opportunity of elevating one of his supporters, Walter Lechlade, to the office of Precentor. Lechlade had been the vicar-choral at Wells Cathedral and was therefore suited to his role at Exeter as the lead chanter during the cathedral's services. Even more importantly, the position of Precentor came with that of President of the Chapter who could act as the head of the Chapter during Dean Pycot's year-long absence in Rome. Upon his return to Exeter Lechlade became the unwitting focus for Pycot's enmity.

Pycot was on close terms with Exeter's mayor, Alured de la Porta, and together they hatched a plot to remove the troublesome Lechlade permanently. On the night of 09 November 1283 Lechlade left his house at the Chantry to fulfil his duties at the midnight matins. (Demolished in 1870, the rebuilt Chantry is now the Exeter Cathedral School in Deanery Place.) Following the end of the matins, at about 1.30am, Lechlade left the cathedral and walked down Palace Gate right towards the Chantry. A group of assailants, who had entered the city through the South Gate, sprung out of the shadows and attacked Lechlade. In the words of Bishop Quinil, the attackers dragged Lechlade "here and thither in the mire until at dawn their horrible outrage was seen by many - his canonical robe soiled with blood and his brains issuing from two ghastly wounds." Lechlade lay dead and his attackers had fled back through the South Gate.

Bishop Quinil and his followers had a clear idea who was responsible for the assault on Lechlade but a protracted dispute raged for over eight months with no judicial outcome. Finally an appeal was made to Eleanor of Provence, the widow of Henry III and the mother of the reigning king, Edward I. Following her intervention, on 22 December 1285, Edward I, his wife Eleanor of Castile, and three of their daughters arrived in the city to celebrate Christmas and to preside over the trial of those accused of Lechlade's murder. The king and his family probably stayed in the castle at Rougemont with other members of the large retinue accommodated in various locations throughout the city.

The photograph left shows the Norman gatehouse of Rougemont Castle in the north-west corner of the city, including the now-blocked archway through which Edward I would've entered in 1285. The castle was constructed by William the Conqueror in 1068. The Grade I listed gatehouse remains as England's oldest stone-built Norman castle structure, predating the White Tower at the Tower of London by about a decade.

The trial began on Christmas Eve in the castle's great hall and ended on 28 December with numerous convictions for various offences. Among those found guilty were Dean Pycot, Mayor Porta, Richard Stonying, who was the porter of the South Gate, and Canon Reginald Ercevesk, found guilty of harbouring one of the murderers, a servant of Porta's called Hugo. (Canon Ercevesk is believed to have resided in the 13th century canonry in Catherine Street, parts of which survived until the Blitz of 1942.) Of those convicted, eleven claimed benefit of clergy and were handed over to the relevant ecclesiastical authorities for punishment. Three others were released on bail and five more were sentenced to death, including Mayor Porta and Richard Stonying, both of whom were hung, probably at Northernhay just beyond the walls of the castle. Dean Pycot underwent canonical purgation and was released after six months. He was replaced as Dean by Andrew de Kilkenny. Hugo, Porta's servant sheltered by Canon Ercevesk, is said to have got away and disappears into history without a further trace.

The photograph right shows a medieval king from the mid-14th century image screen on the West front of Exeter Cathedral. When first installed the statue would've been brightly painted.

Before Edward I left Exeter he had a meeting with Bishop Quinil and signed a Royal licence on 01 January 1286 allowing the cathedral authorities to construct a 12ft high security wall around the entire cathedral precinct, punctuated at intervals by a sequence of lockable gates and gatehouses. Other cathedral cities in England built similar walls and gates at the same time. Such walls already existed at Norwich and Winchester. The Bishop of Lincoln was granted a Royal licence by Edward I to build a wall around the cathedral in 1285. Lichfield followed in 1299, Salisbury in 1327, and other examples can still be seen at Chester, Canterbury, Worcester and Wells.

At Exeter the wall formed a very irregular rectangle, bounded on three sides by South Street, the High Street and Egypt Lane. The south-east portion of the circuit used the standing Roman wall, parts of which can still be seen in the gardens of the Bishop's Palace. The rest of the Close wall was probably a mixture of additional new masonry combined with pre-existing barriers. Properties which backed onto the Close had their rear entrances blocked up, a much cheaper alternative to building an entirely new, free-standing wall.

The photograph left shows part of the exterior of the Roman city wall which bounds the grounds of the Bishop's Palace and which formed a section of the late-13th century Close wall. Much of the fabric of the wall here, made from heavily-weathered purple volcanic trap, dates to c200AD.

What is believed to be part of the Close wall still exists in the cellars of Nos. 41 & 42 High Street although little or nothing remains of it above ground except for the much-repaired section of the city wall in the Bishop's Palace gardens. The antiquarian Ethel Lega-Weekes reported in 1915 that "in the cellars of nearly all the premises from Broadgate to St Martin's I have found remains of very massive walling, ranging from 6 to 15ft in thickness...neatly constructed, being faced with large ashlars in some parts and exhibiting in some places round-headed arches". It's possible that these were the remains of the Cathedral Close wall, although a similar piece of exposed walling at No. 2 Cathedral Yard has been shown to date to no earlier than the 16th century.

Seven gates were created in total: St Martin's Gate, St Catherine's Gate, St Petrock's Gate, Little Stile, Bear Gate, Palace Gate and the largest and most magnificent, Broad Gate top © RAMM. Broad Gate, St Martin's Gate and Palace Gate were all wide enough to accommodate horse-drawn carts. Bear Gate and St Catherine's Gate were wide enough to take a pack horse. The medieval church of St Petrock was used as a postern gate for pedestrians, a decision which seems to have resulted in the dramatic realignment of the High Street from the south of the church to its current position to the north. Little Stile was also a postern gate. All the gates were shut and locked at night, at 8pm in the winter and at 9pm in the summer before being opened again at dawn the following day. The gatekeeper lived in purpose-built accommodation above the Broad Gate itself.

In 1806 Alexander Jenkins wrote that "the Walls are now demolished, and houses built on their site; but the Gates are still remaining." Unfortunately, between 1812 and 1825 all of the gates were demolished too. St Petrock's church above right was already in existence by 1286 and still survives today. The church has been much enlarged and it's no longer possible to walk through from the High Street into the Cathedral Close. Jenkins also claimed that prior to the construction of the Close wall there was only a small wall separating the Close from the High Street which would've been easy to step over. This seems far-fetched to me.

After over 700 years it is now difficult to plot the course of the wall precisely. It was gradually subsumed into later buildings which have in turn been either modified or demolished, but the positions of the gates are all known and it's possible to make a vague guess at where the wall ran through the streets of Exeter. The positions of all of the gates are numbered in the aerial view left:

1 Broad Gate
2 St Martin's Gate
3 St Catherine's Gate
4 Palace Gate
5 Bear Gate
6 Little Stile
7 St Petrock's Gate

The site of Walter Lechlade's Chantry is highlighted in purple. A rough indication of the course of the wall is highlighted in red. In reality it was probably a lot more uneven as it darted in and out of various properties. It's worth remembering that at the time Lechlade was murdered the cathedral we know today barely existed. Work on its transformation from the Norman building to the present supreme example of Decorated Gothic architecture had only just begun on the Lady Chapel at the east end in 1283.

Commemorative plaques and stone posts record the locations of some of the gates, installed after all of the gates had been demolished. A few of these still retain iron rings from which, until 1928, a chain was hung by the Dean and Chapter once a-year as a symbolic reaffirmation of the church's claim over the cathedral precinct.


Sunday, 11 December 2011

Nos. 61, 62 & 63, High Street

The current building on the site left only dates to 1976 and occupies what was once three separate plots: Nos. 61, 62 and 63. It sits in a prominent location on the corner of the High Street with Broadgate, the ancient ceremonial entrance way into the Cathedral Close and the site of the largest and most ornate of the Close's medieval gatehouses. (The Broad Gate itself was demolished between 1824 and 1825.)

The city council's conservation report from 2002 describes No. 63 as "a rebuild of a listed building demolished in 1976". The report continues: "Stretching across three historic frontages, it is built from pale stone with the windows being simple, rectangular dark brown single panes of glass. A three storey oriel window on the corner and a similar window close to the junction with No. 60 provide some interest".

Unfortunately I don't know much about the listed building which was demolished in the 1970s. I don't know when it was listed or why it was listed, and this section of the High Street seems to have been one of the least photographed areas of the city centre! The conservation report mentions "three curved bays at ground floor level reflecting the earlier plot widths" which can be seen on the High Street facade of the current building. They conveniently divide the High Street frontage into thirds.

The image right is a detail from an aerial view of the city c1930. It shows the previous building on the site, highlighted in red. Its most distinctive feature was probably a two storey oriel corner window on top of which was a squat lead dome. The facade was made of brick alternating with bands of stone with a stone parapet running across the top. Clearly the facade was all built at the same time and, from the street at least, there was little sign of the three older plots mentioned in the conservation report.

But hidden behind the parapet can be seen three hipped roofs of quite different sizes. I think it's probable that Nos. 61, 62 and 63 were indeed three completely separate buildings and that sometime around the end of the 19th century their frontages were all replaced with the brick and stone facade shown in the photograph leaving the older cores remaining intact behind. This happened throughout Exeter on a number of buildings and it's one reason why the fabric of the city was in fact much older than it often appears in pre-war photographs (Nos. 17 & 18 North Street are classic examples). This might well account for why the buildings had received listed status prior to their demolition in 1976.

The listed buildings were badly affected by fire in the mid-1970s. Photographs taken of the rear of the buildings after the fire showed that the houses were of a relatively light-weight timber-framed construction. To me this suggests a date of between 1660 and 1700 which would be in keeping with other Exeter houses built in the same period which are of a similar construction. (In July 1778, in the cellar of a house belonging to Mr Upham "situated in the High Street at Exeter, at the corner of Broad-gate" workmen uncovered five superbly cast little bronze statues of Roman gods. Upham's house was probably either at No. 63 or at what is now Nos. 65 & 67 on the opposite corner of Broadgate, although No. 197 on the other side of the High Street has also been suggested.)

Unfortunately no other investigation of the ruins was possible and the remains were demolished without further record. The fire-damaged structures were removed and the replacement building now stands on the site. As a piece of Modernist in-fill it is admittedly very successful. It retains a sense of scale which relates well to the surrounding properties and it has hardly dated at all. The subtle oriel windows are an attractive feature which break up the monotony of the plain facade, and the chamfered corner and the pale stone mirror the early-20th century Neo-Classical bank at Nos. 65 & 67 on the opposite corner. It is preferable to the repellent 1960s in-fill building at Nos. 50 to 52 or anything in the recent redeveloped Princesshay area.

The postcard above left from c1910 shows the view up the pre-war High Street with the now-demolished building at Nos. 61, 62 and 63 highlighted in red. The densely-packed housing and varied street frontages continued in a remarkable, almost unbroken line from this point up to the end of Sidwell Street well over a kilometre away. Unfortunately the vast majority of it has since been destroyed through wartime bombing and post-war demolition. The photograph below shows the entrance into Broadgate to the right with the High Street stretching away to the left.


Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Nos. 212 to 219, High Street

Accurately described by Hugh Meller as "wretched" and "an inept lump, crudely detailed with ugly red bricks and massive concrete shafts that bear no relation to its neighbours", Nos. 212 to 219 is an intrusive presence on Exeter's High Street.

The city council's conservation report tellingly describes it as "assertive". The fact that it was constructed in what was allegedly a conversation area and in a section of the High Street which was totally unaffected by the Blitz of 1942 makes its presence even more unwelcome.

In reality it's a mess that occupies an enormous plot on the corner of the High Street with Queen Street. Incidentally, the opposite corner had already been crudely defaced with the demolition of a fine row of mid-19th century townhouses in 1971. The image below right combines a 1905 map of Exeter with a modern aerial view of the same area. The buildings which were demolished in the late 1970s to construct the "inept lump" are highlighted in red. The surviving Guildhall is highlighted in purple. All of the plots highlighted in yellow indicate just some of Exeter's pre-war buildings which survived the Blitz of 1942 but which were demolished by the local authority between 1963 and 1979.

Some of the buildings affected in Queen Street were a row of Grade II listed townhouses which were deemed structurally unsound. A rubber silicon mould was taken of the facades and the frontages were recreated in cast concrete (this building will be covered in a separate post). The Grade II listed Higher Market to the north-east had been severely mutilated during the construction of the Guildhall Shopping Centre a few years earlier.

The upper floors of the building squat over the pavement, propped up on pillars which only act as obstacles in an area which is already congested with pedestrians trying to avoid the buses trundling up and down the High Street. Obviously the reason for the oversailing floors is to squeeze more retail space out of the plot but it also has the deeply unfortunate effect of thrusting the building far out into the street, totally dominating its surroundings at the expense of the surviving historical frontages on the opposite side of the High Street. Maybe this is what the conservation report meant by "assertive", and like most of Exeter's other post-war architectural disasters, it probably seemed like a good idea at the time. The architects were Norman Jones Sons & Rigby and the building apparently "echoes the materials and forms already found in Exeter". Whatever. When completed in 1980 it was described by one architectural journal as "a dog's dinner".

The creation of the building for Marks and Spencer between 1979 and 1980, and the small but contemporary development at No. 211 High Street, involved the demolition of a number of late-19th century buildings.

Until c1880 the site was occupied by several towering timber-framed properties from c1700 (shown in the rare c1865 photograph left). Only the strange old house at No. 210, the little pair of houses at Nos. 211 and 212, dating to c1650, and the medieval parish church of Allhallows, were older. The church was removed in 1906, and the other buildings on the site were all replaced gradually between c1880 and c1910 in conjunction with the widening of Goldsmith Street at the end of the 19th century. Nos. 211 and 212 were the last of the group to be rebuilt c1910. It was these replacement properties which were demolished in the late-1970s. At the end of 1979, as the foundations for the new building were being excavated, workmen unearthed six skeletons dating from the 17th century which had formerly been buried within the church of Allhallows on Goldsmith Street.

The late-Victorian and Edwardian replacements admittedly weren't exactly ground-breaking as architecture. The most attractive was probably the building occupied until 1975 by the Waltons department store. Made of brick with numerous dressed stone accents, the facade was dotted with architectural decorations: pointed pediments over the windows, a small pediment above the roofline of the central bay, bay windows overhanging the street, circular oculus windows, panels of stonework carved with a florid quasi-Jacobean strapwork design, etc. The replacement Edwardian building at Nos. 211 and 212 featured a top storey of Tudor Revival black and white timber framing. Underneath this were two floors of brick with stone mullion windows. The most mediocre of these new buildings was on the corner of the High Street with Queen Street, and unfortunately it's the only one for which I have a decent photograph right. The top of the cupola from this building was recycled and shoved on top of the 1980 structure, where it still sits today.

The postcard view below left is from c1965. Highlighted in red are the late-19th and early-20th century buildings which were demolished in 1979. The photograph was taken from almost exactly the same spot as the early pre-1880 image above left. The structure with the mock-Tudor black and white timber-framing curved around in Goldsmith Street. It was an infinitely more attractive building than its replacement and at least blended successfully with the remaining historical frontages on the High Street.

It's possible that elements of much older buildings remained intact behind the Edwardian facades. Unfortunately no archaeological investigation took place and all of the buildings were destroyed without any record being made of their architectural history.

No-one would suggest that any city should be preserved unchanged in aspic for perpetuity. But it could be argued that in Exeter a moratorium on the demolition of other areas of the city should've been implemented after the huge destruction following the Blitz of 02 May 1942. Unfortunately the very opposite occurred and with so much of the pre-war fabric destroyed during World War Two it appears that the rest of the city was seen as 'fair game' and expendable in the subsequent decades. Very few buildings were regarded as sacrosanct in the post-war period. I would suggest that only the Guildhall, the castle gatehouse at Rougemont, the Cathedral itself, Tuckers Hall in Fore Street, the remaining fragments of St Nicholas's Priory and two or three buildings in the Cathedral Close would've been beyond the reach of the local authority's bulldozer had they found themselves in the way of a new road or a new retail development opportunity. Almost everything else which has survived into the 21st century has done so mostly through sheer luck and/or local campaigns organised by groups like the Exeter Civic Society, regarded by the city council in the 1970s as "an ineffectual nuisance".

What are now some of Exeter's most prominent pre-war buildings and areas were ear-marked for demolition between 1950 and the 1970s, properties like Nos. 225 & 226 and No. 227 on the High Street, the Higher Market in Queen Street and the Georgian houses at the top of Bartholomew Street West, all of which are now Grade II listed buildings. In his book 'Aspects of Exeter', Peter Thomas cites a scheme that emerged from the city council's planning department in 1961 which would've resulted in the total demolition of every surviving building bounded by Queen Street, Paul Street, North Street and the High Street, with the sole exception of the Guildhall and the Turk's Head inn. Fortunately it didn't come to fruition but clearly the intention was there (and many of the buildings concerned were indeed demolished in the 1970s). Given the cumulative effects of the pre-war slum clearances, the Blitz of 1942 and the subsequent post-war demolitions, it is actually surprising that any part of old Exeter has survived.

The postcard view above right of the junction of the High Street and Queen Street remained unchanged from c1910 until the 1970s. The lovely mid-19th century terrace, highlighted in green, was demolished in 1971. The buildings highlighted in purple, Nos. 206 & 207, were demolished in 1979, their Grade II listed facades recreated in a modified form using concrete. The block highlighted in red was demolished in 1979, and the building shown at the top of this post now occupies the site.


Monday, 5 December 2011

No. 210, High Street: An Exeter Curiosity

The image left shows part of a rare albumen print of Exeter's High Street from c186
5. The photograph is one of the very few surviving visual records of a number of buildings which were replaced over the course of the 1880s. One of these buildings was No. 210 High Street, highlighted in red. Had it escaped demolition No. 210 would've become one of the most recognisable sights in the city, a magnet for any tourist wanting a photograph of something unique and memorable. Only the passing of centuries could throw up something so peculiar.

The property was located on the corner of the High Street with Goldsmith Street. The entrance into Goldsmith Street is traceable in the print by the curving of the curbs stones at the base of No. 210. To the left of No. 210, separated by the narrow entrance into Goldsmith Street itself, is No. 207 High Street showing its original facade before the property was demolished in the late-1970s. To the right of No. 210 are the mid-17th century pair of townhouses at Nos. 211 and 212. The late-Elizabethan portico of the Guildhall is just shown to the far left.

What made No. 210 remarkable was its relationship with the church of Allhallows. The church also sat on the corner of the High Street and Goldsmith Street and had been in existence since at least 1222. As Exeter's population increased throughout the Middle Ages and into 16th and 17th centuries building space within the city walls became more scarce. A location on the High Street, Exeter's most prestigious residential and commercial area, was an added bonus. It was probably for these reasons that No. 210 was constructed literally over the top of the chancel of Allhallows, almost enveloping the entire east end of the little medieval church.

The drawing by James Crocker c1879 right shows the extraordinary extent of the building's encroachment over the chancel of the church. Only the east window and part of the slope of the chancel roof are visible. The rest has been engulfed by No. 210, only a small part of which is actually resting on its own footprint. Crocker's drawing shows a small door to the left of the east window. Perhaps it was used to access the exterior of the church. Another view of No. 210 by George Townsend © Devon County Council is shown below left.

The story of No. 210 High Street begins during the reign of James I. In 1618 the Exeter Corporation (the 17th century equivalent of the city council) granted to Nicholas Duck, Robert Vilvaine and 13 other parishioners in the parish of Allhallows a newly-built shop with rooms above for a period 36 years. Both this shop and another one had belonged to a goldsmith called Peter Shapley and were rented out to the parishioners for 8 shillings a-year. As James Crocker rightly says in his 1886 publication 'Old Exeter', the "precise date of the encroachment over the Chancel is not known, and the fact of its being permitted is still more mysterious".

The house was four storeys high and only one room deep, but the shop on the ground floor was tiny, measuring just 8ft wide by about 6ft deep. Each of the floors jettied out over the other and the top floor must've been comparatively roomy. There was an entrance from the High Street with a side entrance in Goldsmith Street. The Crocker illustration even shows a chimney stack in the roof which must've only served the upper floor.

The image below right is a detail from John Abbot's 1797 painting of the High Street. It shows No. 210 from the opposite view compared with the 1870s albumen print top, the Guildhall visible to the left. Some freshly washed laundry can be seen strung on a line between No. 210 and its neighbour. At the time Abbot painted his picture No. 210 was the premises of Mr Newton, a chemist or pharmacist. One of Newton's apprentices was Matthew Wood, later Sir Matthew Wood, who became twice Lord Mayor of London and a Member of Parliament for the City of London in 1817. One of his sons was selected by Gladstone to become Lord Chancellor.

The building remained in use as a pharmacy when George Huggins took over from Newton, a function it fulfilled until George Huggins' death in 1876 at the age of 78. The demise of its owner was to foreshadow the demise of the building itself. The city council had long been eager to demolish the church of Allhallows as part of a road-widening scheme in Goldsmith Street. The church, and the ancient house which had grown over the top, were seen as a major obstruction.

In 1878 the house came up for sale and was sold at an auction held at the Globe Inn for £900 to Mr E Knapman. Just six months later the house was bought under a compulsory purchase order by the city council for £1500! An Act of Parliament was necessary before the council could force the issue of the removal of the church with the Cathedral's Dean and Chapter. At a council meeting in November 1879 discussion turned to the demolition of No. 210. One member advocated that no steps be taken to remove the old house as the outcome of the road-widening scheme was still uncertain. The city surveyor replied that "there was no difficulty in the way of pulling down the house, and the repairs which would be needed to the church would not cost more than £25". He added, to much laughter, that the house was in a state of disrepair anyway and that even if it hadn't belonged to the council then notice would've been served on the owner to either repair it or have it demolished. The meeting closed with agreement that the house be "pulled down". The house was demolished a few days later and so ended the history of one of Exeter's most unusual sights.

During another council meeting at the beginning of December 1879 one councillor remarked that "now the corner house was down it seemed that the council had paid a very large sum for so small a property". To the great annoyance of the city council, the Dean and Chapter refused to play ball and refused to consent to the demolition of the church! Someone complained that the "council pulled down Mr Huggins' house, and the site has remained open ever since, but unpaved and unsightly". The site was used as a pull-in for carts on busy market days.

As ever, the city council's determination to demolish a building that it had set its sights upon eventually came to fruition and Allhallows was indeed demolished in 1906.

All of the properties in the vicinity now only date to the 1970s. The photograph left shows the entrance into Goldsmith Street today. The postcard below shows the view into Goldsmith Street from the High Street c1900, after the removal of No. 210. The chancel of Allhallows sees daylight for the first time since the beginning of the 17th century. The east window was replaced and re-centered in the east wall following the demolition of No. 210. Unfortunately nothing in the photograph still exists today. The two 17th century houses to the right of the church were demolished c1910. The brick buildings to the far right were demolished in the 1970s, and as we've seen, the church itself came down in 1906.

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