Saturday, 26 February 2011

St Kerrian's Church, North Street

First mentioned in 1194 as 'Capella Sancti Kerani', the little church dedicated to St Kerrian that stood in North Street until 1878 had one of the most unusual dedications of any church in Exeter.

Unfortunately no-one seems to know exactly which Kerrian was the church's saint. There are numerous possibilities, including two Irish saints, Ciarán of Clonmacnoise and Ciarán of Saigir, and another Irish saint called St Piran (the patron saint of tin miners), much venerated in Cornwall and possibly an alternative name for either of the two Irish Ciaráns. The village of St Keverne in the far west of Cornwall has a large parish church dedicated to St Akeveranus who had been equated with St Ciarán of Saigir by the mid-13th century. Any of these are possible, 'Kerrian' being simply a corruption of the saint's name. Beatrix Cresswell, along with most other 19th and early 20th century historians, believed that the church in Exeter was dedicated to St Piran but had retained its authentic Irish spelling with a 'C' or 'K' and that it was used by tin miners who came to Exeter to sell the tin mined on Dartmoor and in Cornwall.

The truth behind this unusual and rare dedication in Exeter is likely to remain unknown. The church almost certainly predated the Conquest of 1066 and was probably founded by Christianised Celts who are thought to have inhabited this part of Exeter after the collapse of the Roman city of Isca Dumnoniorum in the 5th century (other churches possibly founded by the Britons included St Petrock, St Paul (of Leon), St Mary Arches and St David). St Kerrian's is one of the churches mentioned by Peter de Palerna c1200.

The image right is based on the medieval parish boundary of St Kerrian's. It shows a 1905 map of the city overlaid onto a modern aerial view of the same area.

Buildings that were once within the parish boundary but which have been demolished since 1905 are highlighted in red. Surviving properties which pre-date 1905 are shown in purple.

The surviving buildings on the south-west side of North Street were largely rebuilt in the late 19th century for road-widening, although several 17th century townhouses of some importance do survive behind later brick facades. The demolished  properties on the north-east side of the street was nearly all destroyed in the 1970s for the Guildhall Shopping Centre. The parish suffered minimal bomb damge in 1942.

The church was united with the church of St Petrock on the High Street after the Reformation and during the Commonwealth, on 11 May 1658, it was sold to its parishioners for just over £63. Despite being put back into use after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 the church appears to have gradually declined, but the parish itself was exceptionally wealthy. Hoskins believed that St Stephen's and St Kerrian's were the two richest parishes in Exeter at the end of the 17th century, a suggestion borne out by the existence of the towering early 17th century merchant houses that existed in North Street until the end of the 1800s. This was the area where the wealth of Exeter's cloth industry was centered and where merchants converted their money into immense timber-framed houses as proof of their financial success. But, as happened so often in Exeter, that money rarely enriched the city's parish churches which remained relatively modest. St Kerrian's was no different. The church only had one bell, recast from two earlier bells in 1758 by Thomas Bayley of Bridgwater and inscribed "John Coombe Clerk of St Kerrian".

Few descriptions of the church survive and one of the very few images of the church is that shown on the 1587 map of Exeter by Braun and Hogenburg, highlighted in red left. Unfortunately no photographs or accurate illustrations survive of either the exterior or the interior. Jenkins has little to say about the building that is complimentary in his description of 1806: "[The church] is dark and gloomy, and from its not being used for Divine Service, little attention is paid to its interior part; the tower, which is over the entrance, is low, and contains one bell and a clock, with a dial fronting the street; this church bears evident marks of antiquity."

It's probable that the church Jenkins saw dated from the 1400s and would've been constructed from the local red sandstone known as Heavitree breccia. It measured 48ft in length with a width of just 18ft. It was aligned east/west, the entrance being underneath the tower which faced onto North Street itself (this doorway is visible in the 1587 map). It seems that the only memorial of significance inside was a monument to Jonathan Ivie who died on 14 March 1717 "on the base of which is an excellent carving in bas-relief, representing the resurrection at the day of judgement" (Jenkins). This mural tablet was carved by a local sculptor called John Weston in the early 18th century and is regarded as one of the finest things of its kind in Exeter. (When St Kerrian's was demolished in 1878 this mural tablet, shown in the photograph at the top of this post, was relocated to St Petrock's on the High Street where it can still be seen today. A similar example from Ashprington church in South Devon, also by Weston, was removed in the 1960s but in 1991 it was purchased by Exeter's Royal Albert Memorial Museum at auction for £4,680.)

The image right shows a detail from Caleb Hedgeland's wooden model of Exeter which he completed in 1824. It shows St Kerrian's, highlighted in red, facing onto North Street. Stylistically, there appears to have been relatively little change to the church since 1587.

By 1800 the church was surrounded on three sides by buildings but until the 14th century it had sat on the corner of North Street with a long narrow lane called Trichay Street. Trichay Street ran from North Street all the way to Pancras Lane, exiting almost opposite another tiny medieval church: St Pancras (now surrounded by the 1970s Guildhall Shopping Centre). Trichay Street had been in existence since at least 1349, the date when the rectory for St Kerrian's was constructed in the entrance from Trichay Street into North Street. The rectory effectively blocked Trichay Street at its western end. Hoskins writes that "it is odd that the city fathers should have allowed the rector of St Kerrian's to block the street like this", but apparently they demanded that right of way into the rectory be given to the city via "a key in time of war or whenever the need or use of the city may demand it". Hoskins believed that the little street's name was formed by the word 'hay', meaning 'enclosure' with the addition of an unknown prefix. Trichay Street survived until the early 1970s when it was totally obliterated by Exeter City Council to build the Guildhall Shopping Centre.

In 1875 the City Council started to plan the demolition of St Kerrian's. The church hadn't been used for regular services for many years and it was a prime candidate for destruction given the Council's intentions regarding the widening of North Street. Trewman's 'Exeter Flying Post' on 06 October 1875 reported that the Council wanted "to apply for power to take so much of the site of the Church of St Kerrian as might be required for widening of North Street at that point". The stumbling block was that the church was still on consecrated ground. A report was sent to a Parliamentary Committee which in turn suggested that the consecrated ground would create unnecessary difficulties and that it might be better to shelve the plans to remove the church. The councillors however were determined, believing that "the matter was rather more serious than the Committee might have first thought". A motion to re-refer the matter to the Parliamentary Committee was passed and on 13 November 1878, just over three years later, the church was demolished.

As happened at St George's in South Street, much of the site was fenced off with railings and a little commemorative stone was erected that recounted a brief history of the church. On 02 July 1879 a notice appeared in the 'Exeter Flying Post' left asking for tenders to construct a "clock turret and house" along with the installation of the railings. The clock tower was duly built of brick, with a small bell turret above and capped with a terracotta slate roof (a photograph of it can be seen here). After nearly a century the tower was demolished by the local authority, along with the Elephant Inn, No. 38 North Street and nearly every other surviving building on the east side of North Street in order to build the Guildhall Shopping Centre, and today there is no sign that the church ever existed:


Thursday, 24 February 2011

No. 37, North Street: The Elephant Inn

The engraving by Herbert Railton left dates to around 1896. It shows the view towards North Street from a narrow alley which ran between the Elephant inn and No. 38 North Street and which led to the inn's stabling at the rear. The side wall and chimney stacks of No. 38 are on the left of the alley. On the right is the side wall of the Elephant inn itself. As can be seen in the distance, the inn spanned the alley at its entrance into North Street in two places creating a covered passageway.

Unfortunately nobody seems to know the origin of its name, which dated to at least the 18th century. Robert Dymond, in his useful paper on Exeter's old inns and taverns from 1880, mentions the inn briefly: "The Elephant, in North Street, another old inn presenting the characteristic feature of a covered way, is mentioned at least as early as the beginning of the last century [i.e. c1700]." Hoskins put the date of the inn's construction back into the 17th century when, he wrote, it appeared "to have been rebuilt". The inn was sold at auction in 1819, an advertisement appearing in Trewman's 'Exeter Flying Post' announcing the event below right. The advert states that the inn was "roomy, commodious and well-accustomed" having been established "for considerably more than Half a Century". It also mentions a yard and four stables, with stalls for up to 14 horses.

The facade had been rebuilt c1900, probably as a consequence of the city's obsession with road-widening. I'm not aware of any images which show the original facade but it was replaced with a mock-Tudor arrangement of half-timbering although the rest of the inn seems to have remained essentially a 17th century building.

Up until the 1970s, the Elephant Inn sat amongst what Hoskins called "an interesting little group of late fifteenth century houses". Nos. 34 & 35 dated largely to c1600, No. 36 North Street dated to the mid-1400s, No. 37, the Elephant Inn, was 17th century and adajcent to it, across the other side of the narrow passageway leading to the stables, was No. 38 North Street, one of Exeter's most important surviving historic domestic buildings and "a good example internally of a fifteenth century dwelling house" (Hoskins). Further up the road was No. 44 North Street, a Grade II listed building from c1800. Every single one of them was demolished by the local authority in 1972 to construct the Guildhall Shopping Centre. Today there is no sign that the inn, the stables, or the narrow covered passageway ever existed. The site sits somewhere to the left of the ramp shown in the photograph below.


Monday, 14 February 2011

Devon and Exeter Subscription Rooms, London Inn Square

More wartime destruction, this time of the late-Georgian Devon and Exeter Subscription Rooms left also known as the Royal Subscription Rooms or the Royal Public Rooms. As always in Exeter, the site upon which the Subscription Rooms were built had a long history stretching back many centuries. Prior to the Rooms' construction the land had been partially occupied by the old Bristol inn and three tenements. Adjacent to this group of buildings, closer to where Northernhay Place is today, were Hurst's Almshouses described by Jenkins in 1806 as "six small houses, with a small garden behind, built for twelve poor tradesmen of this city, or their widows, built by William Hurst, Esq."

William Hurst was a five-times mayor of the city who had endowed the almshouses on 13 October 1567. Situated outside of the East Gate, the gardens of the almshouses would've backed onto the exterior of the city wall. A report on the demolition of the almshouses and the Bristol inn, and the subsequent building of the Subscription Rooms appears in a report made to the House of Commons in 1834. Since the East Gate had been demolished in 1784 it had, states the report, "been in the contemplation of the [Exeter] chamber to improve the buildings on the outside of the gate, which were old and in a very dilapidated state."

The 1587 Braun and Hogenberg map of Exeter right shows what are almost certainly the six almshouses mentioned by Jenkins, highlighted in red. Given that the almshouses were directly in the firing line during the English Civil War it seems likely that they would've been either deliberately slighted by the defenders to prevent them being used by the city's besiegers or they would've suffered damage from cannon fire and musket shot. It therefore seems probable that the physical bulk of the almshouses dated to the second half of the 17th century even if their foundation was much older.

The city's plans to rebuild the site of the Bristol inn, the three tenements and the six small almshouses soon ran into problems. The city chamber got its hands on the Bristol inn in 1795 but the three tenements appear to have been part of the original deed of 1567, their rents being used to help with the maintenance of the almshouses and occupied on a lease-for-life basis. The chamber could do nothing until the tenants in the three tenements died. The last tenant died in 1818, and from 1795 until then the Bristol inn had been leased out on a yearly contract. According to the parliamentary report, in 1818 the three tenements were found "to be in a very ruinous and scarcely habitable state". It was agreed between the chamber and the lessors that the three tenements would be demolished and new houses constructed in their place.

The image left shows a detail from the 1905 map of Exeter overlaid onto a modern aerial view of the same area. The oval bulk of the recent Next building is to the bottom. The Debenhams tower block is the top right. A wide range of interesting pre-war buildings can be seen around Eastgate. The New London inn is highlighted in purple. The Eastgate Arcade and Coffee Tavern are highlighted in green and yellow respectively. Nos. 266 and 267 High Street, built in the 1770s from the recycled stones of the East Gate are highlighted in blue. The Subscription Rooms are highlighted in red. The area was totally rebuilt after it was bombed in 1942. It can be seen that the entrance into the Subscription Rooms was via London Inn Square and not the High Street.

The original intention seems to have been to keep the Bristol inn but, according to the same report, after the three tenements had been rebuilt the Bristol Inn "formed such a contrast to them, that it could not with propriety be continued in its then state". It was considered too expensive to modernise the Bristol inn but it is also apparent that from an architectural perspective the old inn, probably gabled with oriel windows and constructed from timber-framing under a stucco exterior, didn't fit into the modernising vision of the city chamber. In May 1819 the site of the Bristol Inn was offered up as a leasehold "for the purpose of erecting public rooms thereon". The report goes on to state that it "appears to have been an essential part of this proposal, that the almshouses should be removed, and their site included in such a lease".

A letter in Trewman's 'Exeter Flying Post' on 08 April 1874 gives a brief description of the Bristol inn and almshouses prior to their demolition. Written by 'A Former Resident', the letter states that the Bristol inn had "two entrances; one in the London Inn Square, wide enough for coaches to enter, the other in the High Street...Behind this inn was a very large yard and garden, running the whole [length] of the Subscription Rooms. In front of this stood some almshouses, and being very much decayed, were destroyed".

The engraving above dates to c1830 and shows the Subscription Rooms within the context of London Inn Square, looking into the square from the High Street. To the right is Nosworthy's 1794 New London inn. To the immediate right of the neo-Classical facade of the Subscription Rooms is what looks like an empty plot of land, perhaps the original location of Hurst's Almshouses that hadn't yet been built on. Northernhay Place, which leads into Northernhay Gardens, has yet to be built. The scene remained almost unchanged until the demolition of the New London inn in 1936. The rest of the buildings were destroyed in 1942. Hurst's Almshouses were demolished in 1819 and twelve new almshouses were built in Belgrave Road, near Paris Street in 1821. (These almshouses stood until 1959 when, despite surviving the Blitz of 1942, they were demolished by Exeter City Council in order to build the new bus station.)

It seems that some members of the city chamber questioned at the time whether the land on which the almshouses stood didn't actually belong to the city, implying that William Hurst didn't have the legal right to endow the almshouses in perpetuity (and therefore giving the chamber total claim to the land!). It's possible that the almshouses were constructed over the ditch which ran along the base of the city wall, technically the property of the city chamber. The parliamentary report dismissed the suggestion but did state that one of the new houses built near to the Bristol Inn already belonged to the chamber, "the site of it being the spot where the [north] tower of the East Gate stood".

Anyway, despite all of that the scene was set for the creation of the Subscription Rooms. Prior to their construction the only place for public events, concerts, exhibitions and dances within the city was in the assembly room at the Hotel i.e. the Royal Clarence Hotel in Cathedral Yard, which had opened in 1769. An advert in the 'Exeter Flying Post' on 29 July 1819 left announced that a "plan, specification and proposals for building these rooms" could be seen at the New London inn from the 02 August 1819. The architect of the Devon and Exeter Subscription Rooms was William Burgess, a local man who had recently remodelled the medieval church of St Sidwell's just outside of the city walls (damaged in 1942 and later demolished). The Subscription Rooms were financed by subscription from members of the local gentry.

The two chief architectural features of the Subscription Rooms were its huge neo-Classical facade and the ball room inside. The three-bay facade had a width of 44ft. The ground floor featured a large central arched entrance way with two tall, arched windows on either side. The central bay of the facade projected out slightly into London Inn Square and on either side of the central bay were gigantic columns with Ionic capitals. The second floor had rectangular windows surrounded by simple decorative mouldings with a third floor merely suggested by the use of three blind windows. The entablature had a cornice which ran across the entire facade. The whole was probably constructed from brick with stucco applied to the outer face, with 'joints' incised into the lower floor to resemble blocks of stone.

As can be seen on the map above, the Subscription Rooms were an 'L' shaped building with the ball room at a right angle to the main entrance. Internally, the building comprised several small exhibition rooms and the ball room itself. The ball room was 91ft long by 41ft wide with a height of over 40ft. At least one end of the ball room had two pairs of Ionic columns which matched the ones on the exterior while around the walls were pairs of Ionic pilasters. The room was illuminated by an arch-dome ceiling from the centre of which hung a large chandelier. As the 'Devon and Cornwall Illustrated' said in 1832, it was "on a scale of magnitude and elegance commensurate with the city to which it belongs". As far as I know, the illustration above right © Devon County Council is the only depiction of the interior of the Subscription Rooms which exists. It shows the ball room being used as a space for an art exhibition c1860.

The Subscription Rooms opened on 17 October 1820 with a "Grand Musical Festival" left which consisted of six separate performances spread over four whole days. The concert was organised by James Paddon, the organist at Exeter Cathedral who conducted the orchestra, soloists and choir from the piano. There were extended extracts from 'The Messiah', and music by Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven (who was still alive in Vienna at the time). From its opening until 1908 the Subscription Rooms were the centre of the city's social, cultural and political life. For almost a century the regional newspaper is full of references to musical concerts, plays, talks, meetings, auctions, speeches, balls and exhibitions of everything from paintings and sculpture to archaeological remains. For example, the rooms were used as part of the city's celebrations to mark the coronation of George IV in 1821. According to the 'Exeter Flying Post', the decorated ball room presented a "most magnificent appearance".

The Subscription Rooms survived in their late-Georgian form until November 1908 when it was converted into a cinema called the Hippodrome. The Hippodrome survived until February 1931 when it reopened as The Plaza, another cinema. Throughout these changes the neo-Classical facade survived intact, and it's likely that much of the Regency interior survived too, hidden beneath the conversion. Surviving photographs from the 1930s show a sadly neglected and run down exterior although it is to be hoped that had the building survived it might've been restored to its former glory. All the other properties which had replaced the Bristol inn, the almshouses and the three tenements in the 1820s had also survived relatively unchanged.

The entire building was engulfed by a giant fireball during the Baedeker Raid of 04 May 1942. By the following morning there was nothing to see except rubble. The area was rebuilt after the war and the site of the Subscription Rooms is now Boots the Chemist. London Inn Square has also ceased to exist following the construction of what is now Waterstones bookshop. The small covered passageway between Boots and Waterstones below, leading through from the High Street to Bailey Street and Northernhay Place, runs past the long-vanished facade of the Subscription Rooms, which would've been on the right. Today there is no sign that the building was ever there.


Thursday, 10 February 2011

The Eastgate Arcade and Coffee Tavern, Eastgate

Almost opposite Nos. 266 and 267 was the Eastgate Arcade. Eastgate was the name of the small area immediately outside of the city wall that had built up over centuries in the shadow of the East Gate. Similar areas existed at the city's other gatehouses e.g. at Southgate. By the beginning of the 20th century Eastgate was almost indistinguishable as being anything other than an extension of the High Street. The East Gate had gone and much of the city wall which had stood on either side of the gatehouse was buried behind other buildings.

On the left side of Eastgate was the London Inn Square onto which fronted both the New London Inn and the Regency Royal Subscription Rooms with exits into Northernhay Place and Longbrook Street. A little further on, on the right, was the entrance into Southernhay and then the entrance into Paris Street before Sidwell Street began. Today the entire area has been so completely altered by post-war rebuilding that it is almost impossible to recognise how the old street plan fitted into the 21st century city.

The image right shows part of Eastgate as it existed at the beginning of the 20th century overlaid onto a modern aerial photograph of the same area. The site of the old East Gate fortification is marked with a cross. Nos. 266 and 267, built from the remains of the gate, are highlighted in light blue. London Inn Square is to the north of Eastgate, with the New London Inn itself highlighted in purpe and the Royal Subscription Rooms of 1820 in red. The Eastgate Arcade, running parallel with the exterior face of the city wall, is coloured green and the Eastgate Coffee Tavern in yellow.

From c1770 until 1880 the site of both the Eastgate Arcade and the Eastgate Coffee Tavern had been occupied by the substantial residence of the headmaster of St John's Hospital School, later Exeter Grammar School. Attached to the back of the headmaster's house was a very large playground. The site of the school was sold in November 1879 and the headmaster's residence, along with the accompanying playground, was purchased for £4,500 by the Exeter Coffee Tavern Company.

The plan left, drawn in 1878, shows the 18th century headmaster's residence fronting onto the High Street, the ancient city wall acting as a physical boundary between the playground and the rest of the school. (This entire section of the wall, a Schedued Ancient Monument, was demolished by the local authority during the post-war redevelopment in the 1950s). This was the extent of the parcel of land purchased by the Exeter Coffee Tavern Company in 1879, a company backed by the Temperance Movement. The problem for the Company was that the site was massive, occupying nearly three-quarters of an acre and it far exceeded the amount of land they actually needed to build their new coffee tavern.

The idea for an indoor shopping arcade in Exeter on the same site had first been raised several years earlier but had come to nothing. It was only after the site had been purchased by the Exeter Coffee Tavern Company that interest in creating an arcade similar to those still found in many other cities in Britain resurfaced. The Exeter Coffee Tavern Company needed to get rid of the land which was surplus to their requirements. As reported in Trewman's 'Exeter Flying Post', a "company was then formed to purchase the remainder and build thereon an Arcade which should connect High Street with Southernhay". The Exeter Arcade Company purchased the surplus land for £4,000.

The photograph below shows the completed Eastgate Arcade c1910. The Arcade itself is to the left, its arched entrance clearly visible with a clock set into the gable of the roof. Most of the buildings shown were destroyed in 1942 and none survive today.

The headmaster's residence was demolished and by May 1880 work on the foundations of the new building was in progress. During these excavations the remains of one of the drum towers of the old East Gate was uncovered along with many animal bones which had thrown into the city's defensive ditch. Despite the fact that both the companies were two completely separate entities they worked in tandem in creating both the Coffee Tavern and the Arcade within a single, architecturally unified building. Its architect was James Crocker, a local architect who worked from Queen Street, although known to most Exeter historians now for his invaluable 1886 work 'Sketches of Old Exeter'.

The unusual postcard left shows a rare view into the interior of the Arcade c1900. The main facade on the High Street was shared by both the Coffee Tavern and the Arcade.

Built from red and white brick with limestone dressing, the facade was 40ft high, divided into three floors under a roof of Welsh slate. In the centre was the entrance into the arcade, a large archway above which was a limestone panel engraved with "Eastgate Arcade". To the left of the entrance, accessible from both the High Street and the Arcade was the Coffee Tavern. To the right of the entrance were two shops. The Coffee Tavern consisted of a basement containing the kitchens and storerooms. Above this, on the ground floor, was the coffee tavern, fitted out with a semi-circular mahogany and marble counter behind which were four floor-to-ceiling mirrors. Around the sides of the room were seats upholstered in maroon velvet with marble-topped tables. Next to the bar was a private members' room containing a billiard table. Access to the upper floors was via two staircases with mahogany handrails and wrought-iron balustrades. The first floor had a large lecture room while the second floor contained five bedrooms and a committee room.

The Arcade was 225ft long with eleven shops on each side and with entrances from both the High Street and from Southernhay. The distance between the shops on either side was 15ft and the whole building was spanned by an ornamental glass and ironwork roof measuring 35ft from the floor to the apex. Set into the southern gable of the roof was a large glass and iron rose window while the interior of the atrium was given additional illumination by gasoliers i.e. gas-powered chandaliers. Each of the 22 shops had a basement, a plate-glass shop front on the ground floor with a dining room at the back and two rooms on the first floor. The foundation stones, one for the Coffee Tavern and one for the Arcade, were laid on 02 August 1880 accompanied by a "numerous and influential company of ladies and gentlemen" and a speech prepared by Robert Dymond on the long history of the East Gate site. The Arcade's foundation stone read: "This Arcade was erected by the Exeter Arcade Company Ltd., and this stone was laid by the Mayor, chairman of the company, on the 2nd day of August 1880. James Crocker, architect; Stephens and Sons, builders". The Bishop of Exeter laid the stone for the Coffee Tavern.

Both the Coffee Tavern and the Arcade opened for business in 1881. The Arcade seemed to be particularly popular. Every year the Arcade was decorated for Christmas. An 1892 edition of the 'Exeter Flying Post' reported that "a centre of much attraction just now is the very pretty decorations which, according to the usual custom, have been effected in the Eastgate Arcade." Evergreen foliage, stars, coloured lights and flags were festooned throughout the Arcade which, combined with the "artistically set out shop displays" would "tend to popularise this much frequented avenue." One of the first shops to open was 'The Fernery' above left which sold fresh flowers, ornamental fish and exotic birds.

Both the Arcade and the Coffee Tavern survived relatively intact until 04 May 1942 when the entire building was severely damaged by high-explosive bombs and incendiaries. By the following afternoon the structure had collapsed and nothing remained except a smouldering pile of bricks, twisted iron and broken glass. The Victorian arcade was replaced with Eastgate House right © Devon County Council, part of which consisted of the concrete Co-op building that had been built in the 1930s and which was the only building in the badly bomb-damaged section of the High Street which was reused in the post-war reconstruction of the area. A giant fibreglass statue of Henry VII stood high up on the side of the post-war building commemorating the king's visit to the city in 1497 and replacing an earlier statue that had stood in the High Street prior to 1942.

In 2005 work began on the demolition of Eastgate House as part of Exeter City Council's redevelopment of the Princesshay area. The statue was taken down and put in storage and Eastgate House was replaced with the inappropriate glass behemoth which now squats on the corner of Paris Street and High Street below. I can't think of anything positive to say about it so I'll leave the story of the Eastgate Arcade there.


Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Nos. 266 & 267, High Street

Buildings that are historically interesting aren't necessarily the most architecturally important. A good example were Nos. 266 and No. 267, located just inside the boundary of the city walls at the eastern end of the High Street. From an architectural perspective this building, two shop fronts within a single structure, was a fairly unremarkable late-18th century townhouse, spread over three floors with a simple cornice at roof level. But it was exceptionally interesting and of great historic value because the facade had been constructed out of the building materials of the old East Gate, which, until 1784, had stood just a couple of metres away.

The photograph above left © Devon County Council shows Nos. 266 & 267 to the right, the statue of Henry VII just visible in its niche on the first floor, c1915.

The East Gate, rebuilt in 1511, was demolished in 1784 to improve access into the city from the east, and someone had the brilliant idea of recycling the tough purple volcanic ashlar blocks from the early-Tudor gatehouse into a refined neo-Classical edifice. The blocks weren't the only element of the East Gate that found their way into Nos. 266 and 267. When the East Gate was rebuilt in 1511 a memorial to Henry VII had been placed in a niche over the arched entrance into the city (Henry VII had died in April 1509).

The photograph right shows a model of the East Gate with the Henry VII memorial in its original position.

The upper half of the memorial consisted of a two-thirds life-size statue, carved of limestone, showing the king dressed in robes and carrying an orb and sceptre with a crown upon his head. The lower half of the memorial, also carved from limestone, featured a series of heraldic details. In the centre was the royal arms of England, three lions quartered with the fleur-de-lis of France, above which was a large crown. Supporting the arms on either side was a collared greyhound and a dragon (the greyhound was often used by Henry VII as a replacement for the more usual lion as it was particularly associated with the House of Richmond). Framing the supporters were two decorated twisted columns. In the background were four portcullises. The portcullis was an heraldic device used by Henry VII's mother, Margaret Beaufort. Both the statue and the heraldic motifs were originally painted in bright colours. For example the dragon would've been red and the greyhound would've been silver with a red collar.

The image left shows a drawing of the statue that appeared in "An Elizabethan Guild of the City of Exeter", printed in 1873.

When the East Gate was demolished both the statue and the coat of arms were carefully taken down and then reset within its original niche in the centre of the first floor of Nos. 266 and 267. From the beginning of the 19th century until 1942 many people writing about the city's history mentioned it: "This Statue, and the Arms, are preserved, they are placed in the front of a house erected on the scite, and built with part of the materials of the old gate", Jenkins (1806); "A statue of Henry VII, which graced the East Gate, now decorates the front of a house in High Street", History, Gazetteer and Directory of Devonshire (1850); "Near the site of the East Gate in High Street we find a curious statue of Henry VII", The Archaelogical Journal (1873); "In a niche of the house opposite the new Post Office is a small statue of Henry VII, removed there from the ancient East Gate", The Guide to Devonshire (1898). In 1880, in Trewman's 'Exeter Flying Post', Robert Dymond wrote that the statue "now graces the front of Mr Mark Rowe's establishment".

The photograph below right © Devon County Council shows Nos. 266 & 267 looking down the High Street from the site of the East Gate. Every building shown on both sides of the street disappeared during World War Two.

Mark Rowe was a local entrepreneur whose name often appears throughout the commercial records of mid-to-late 19th century Exeter. During the last half of the 19th century he acquired Nos. 266 and 267 and the premises were used to sell drapery, curtains, sheets, bed linen, mattresses, and bed frames. The company, later known as Mark Rowe & Sons, also owned warehouses where space could be hired to store furniture. Mark Rowe was a shareholder in both the Exeter Coffee Tavern Company and the Exeter Arcade Company, and the company fitted out cabinets in the Arcade as well as the carpet, seats and hangings in the rebuilt Theatre Royal in 1889.

Nos. 266 and 267 were still in the possession of the company when the entire building was obliterated on 04 May 1942. The facade built from the stones of the East Gate was completely destroyed as was the 431-year-old statue of Henry VII. The only part of the building to be salvaged was the bronze plaque set on the wall in the late 19th century to commemorate the site of the East Gate itself. Mark Rowe & Sons opened a new store on the site of the 18th century building in 1954. Today it is part of Boots the Chemists and naturally, either architecturally or historically, there is nothing to be seen of any interest whatsoever.

The photograph below shows the site of Nos. 266 and 267. The building stood almost exactly where the large window is in the current post-war structure.


Tuesday, 1 February 2011

The East Gate, High Street

Among the great cathedral cities of England, Exeter must be almost unique in having none of it's medieval gateways surviving intact. Nothing remains above ground of the five gates into the city or of the seven 13th century gates that gave access into the cathedral precinct. York is justifiably famous for the survival of most of its city gates. Several of Lincoln Cathedral's gateways survive. Canterbury still has it 14th century West Gate as well as the magnificent Christchurch Gate and St Augustine Gate. Salisbury has several of its city and cathedral gates intact. Winchester has both the Westgate and King's Gate. Even Gloucester, almost as comprehensibly shredded as Exeter, retains portions of its city and cathedral gateways.

At Exeter all the gates had been demolished by 1825. A Roman gatehouse was located very close to the site of the medieval East Gate. It would've been a substantial structure, built of stone with perhaps two square towers projecting from the city wall. Archaeological evidence suggests that this was the form of the South Gate which the Romans constructed c200 AD. It's also likely that the Roman structure was revitalised by the Britons following the end of Roman rule c410 and probably again by the Anglo-Saxon King Athelstan c920.

One of the first pieces of documentary evidence which cites the medieval East Gate appears in the 12th century writings of William of Malmesbury. The story goes that in the 10th century an Anglo-Saxon giant and Ealdorman of Devonshire called Ordulf travelled to Exeter with King Edward. Upon arriving at the East Gate, and finding the gates shut and the porter absent, Ordulf tore down a portion of the city wall before breaking the gates open with his foot. (Ordulf's bones were said to be buried under the floor at the church of Tavistock abbey which he completed in 981.) The aerial photograph above right shows the modern city with the remaining city walls outlined in purple, the gaps in the circuit highlighted in red. The location of the East Gate is at No. 1. The South Gate is at No. 2.

Fortunately the site of the East Gate is marked on old maps of Exeter. The image left shows part of the 1905 map of Exeter overlaid onto a modern aerial view of the same area. The site of the East Gate is clearly marked with a cross. It would've stood looking east into Sidwell Street, close to the western edge of the new Next building.

The Anglo-Saxon fortifications were certainly put to the test after the Conquest of 1066. Gytha, the mother of the late King Harold took refuge at Exeter following the death of her son. The entire city went into open revolt against the Conqueror, perhaps instigated by Gytha or possibly because William demanded an increase in the £18 tribute the city paid to the monarch each year. Either way, and given Exeter's strategic importance in controlling the entire south-west peninsula, William the Conqueror had to return in person from Normandy to try and crush the rebellion. Camped beyond the East Gate, the new Norman king ordered a series of tunnels to be dug in an attempt to undermine both the city walls and the East Gate itself. Archaeological excavations in 1993 unearthed one of these tunnels still buried beneath the High Street, perfectly preserved and almost directly under the site of the East Gate. After an 18-day siege the city surrendered, possibly because a section of the city wall had been successfully undermined by the Norman sappers. And so the Conqueror rode into Exeter taking possession of one of the last places in England to resist the Norman Invasion. The result of the city's disobedience was Rougemont Castle, number six on the map above right.

The image above shows an engraving of the exterior of the East Gate by John Hayman dating to 1785. The house on the left, dating to the first quarter of the 18th century was the residence of the headmaster of St John's Hospital School.

The East Gate was repaired or fully rebuilt after the siege. By c1200 there was a small chapel built into the gate itself. Dedicated to St Bartholomew it was one of the city's many chapels mentioned by Peter de Palerna at the beginning of the 13th century but there seems to be some confusion as to the exact location of the chapel. Was it next to the gate or actually inside it? The 19th century antiquarian, William Harding, believed that it adjoined the north side of the East Gate, but David Francis in his booklet entitled 'Lost Churches' wrote that "recent archaeological evidence indicates that the chapel was actually in the gate." Either way, the little chapel was probably suppressed at the Reformation in the 1530s as nothing more is heard of it after the 16th century.

On 26 September 1459 the East Gate suddenly collapsed, taking the chapel of St Bartholomew with it. Samuel Izacke in his 'Remarkable Antiquities of Exeter' of 1723, itself based on the late-16th century writings of John Hooker, noted that "the East Gate of this City, being in a ruinous condition by reason of its long standing, fell down in the middle of the day, without hurting any person." Perhaps one of William the Conqueror's long-forgotten tunnels finally gave way. The gate was rebuilt and the survival of a deed dated 25 June 1481 shows that the chapel was also rebuilt. Incredibly, this newly-built gatehouse survived just 38 years before being severely damaged in yet another siege after Perkin Warbeck decided to pay the city a visit.

Perkin Warbeck was one of two pretenders to the English throne who emerged at the end of the 15th century to challenge the reign of the usurping Henry VII left. Perkin Warbeck claimed to be Richard, Duke of York, the youngest son of Edward IV, the nephew of Richard III and the brother of Henry VII's own queen, Elizabeth of York, and one of the two princes who were allegedly killed in the Tower of London in 1483.

Having taken the crown of England from Richard III at the battle of Bosworth in 1485, Henry Tudor's own claim to the throne was tenuous and so the appearance of Warbeck in 1490 was a major threat. (Richard III himself had entered Exeter via the East Gate in 1483, having been given 200 gold nobles and the keys to the city by the mayor.) On 07 September 1497 Warbeck landed in Cornwall with just two ships and 120 men and agitated an already rebellious Cornish population into declaring him Richard IV on Bodmin Moor. He soon had an army of 6000 people behind him and, according to Sir Francis Bacon writing in 1622, took the advice of his counsellors who "advised him to make himself master of some good walled town...and went on, and beseiged the city of Exeter, the principal town for strength and wealth in those parts." Warbeck and his army first "made continual shouts and outcries to terrify the inhabitants" and then talked to them "under the walls, to join with them and be of their party".

The engraving above shows the interior view of the East Gate in the late-18th century. St Bartholomew's chapel was probably in the room above the archway, behind the wall with the dial set into it. The clock and dial were both later put above the entrance to St John's Hospital School, the chapel of which is visible to the right of the gatehouse. Remarkably, the clock that was once in the East Gate still survives today. In the 1870s the school relocated to a new site and the old school buildings were demolished. The clock was removed at the time of the demolition and stored at the school's new campus (now Exeter School on Victoria Park Road). It remained unused until it was recently refurbished and placed on a new building at the site. Apart from the foundations, this clock, which probably dates to the late 18th century, is the only piece of the East Gate still in existence.

None of Warbeck's initial attempts to gain access worked so he "resolved to use his utmost force to assault the town", using "scaling-ladders in divers places upon the walls", "ramming with logs of timber" and using "iron bars, crow bars and such other means at hand" to try and force the gates. When all of this still had no effect the gates themselves were set on fire. The North Gate was a particular target. According to Jenkins the "citizens repulsed [the Rebels] as often as they returned to the assault, opening their gates and discharging their portpieces, charged with pieces of glass, old iron and musquet balls, which made a great slaughter of the assailants". At one point Warbeck and his Cornish army managed to breach the East Gate which, writes Hooker, "they brake upon with force and entered into the city". Having gained access the Rebels fought in hand-to-hand combat with the city's militia down through the High Street as far as Castle Street before being repulsed by the defenders. Dejected after suffering significant losses, the Warbeck army eventually gave up and lifted the siege. Fearful that the king's army was heading towards Exeter the Rebels moved on to Taunton where Warbeck abandoned his followers and fled.

The citizens had indeed sent messengers to Henry VII, lowered down from the walls of the embattled city on ropes, who carried messages for the king appealing for him to come to the city's aid. A royal army assembled in London and began to march on Exeter. An army made up of the local gentry who weren't at court was also assembled, led by Edward Courtenay, the Earl of Devonshire. (Warbeck was eventually captured at Beaulieu Abbey in Hampshire and was executed in 1499 at Tyburn in London.)

After Warbeck's capture Henry VII continued on to Exeter where many of the Cornish prisoners had been taken and where "he made a joyful entrance". He lodged at the Treasurer's House, once attached to the north transept of the Cathedral. It was while staying at Exeter that the king presented the city with two of its most important pieces of ceremonial regalia, the Ceremonial Sword and the Cap of Maintenance, to show his gratitude at the loyalty displayed by the city during the Warbeck revolt. He also ordered that a swordsman be appointed to carry the sword before the mayor on all civic occasions, a tradition that continues to this day. Both the sword and the cap can be seen at the Guildhall. The Cornish ringleaders were executed at Southernhay. The rest were granted clemency and freed. The photo above left shows the hilt of the sword which Henry VII gave to the city in 1497 and which is still used during civic events. It was probably the same sword that the king carried with him when he first entered the city. Exeter also has another ceremonial sword, given by Edward IV when he visited in the 1470s.

The damage caused to the East Gate by Warbeck's assault as well as fears of a prolonged war with France resulted in the entire structure being rebuilt yet again. Work began in 1511, at the beginning of the reign of Henry VIII. Six acres of woodland at Duryard (a former hunting ground of the Anglo-Saxon kings near to the city) was sold off in order to fund the reconstruction, the work being contracted out to a mason called Robert Poke from Thorverton. It was this final manifestation of the East Gate that survived until 1784, despite yet more significant assaults on the city during the sieges of the English Civil War in the 1640s.

The 1587 map of Exeter right shows a simplified representation of the rebuilt East Gate at the top of the High Street. When the Tudor scholar John Leland visited Exeter in 1542 he called the East Gate and the West Gate "the best", although he was probably mistaken in his judgement of the West Gate. It's possible that the six little houses shown outside the gate were endowed by former mayor William Hurst as almshouses in 1567. This was the site of the later Subscription Rooms.

Fortunately, in 1806 Jenkins left a description of the East Gate based on his own memory of having seen it. The East Gate "consisted of a curtain flanked by two bulwarks. The exterior arch was very strong and lofty. Near the bottom of the flanking towers, were port-holes for the great port cannons, and look-outs on each story. In the centre of the gateway was a strong semicircular arch, apparently very ancient". Jenkins also recalled seeing one of the portpieces, or cannon, that he believed had been used to repel Perkin Warbeck's army in 1497, which was "laid on the left side of the passage under the East Gate". "Composed of flat iron bars, strongly hooped together with iron (similar to a Cask)" it was 12ft long and approximately 12 inches in diameter. It wasn't set on wheels but had "strong iron rings on the sides for the purpose of moving it from place to place." According to Jenkins the cannon was sold by a city receiver being "eat out with rust". During the rebuilding of the East Gate in 1511 a large stone statue of Henry VII holding a globe and a sceptre and surrounded with various heraldic devices was placed in a niche over the entrance way, visible to anyone entering the city from the east and probably erected as a memorial to the king who had shown his gratitude for the city's loyalty in 1497.

The photograph left shows part of the foundation for the East Gate which still exists underneath the modern-day High Street. Built from blocks of volcanic ashlar, the foundation is visible from a section of the medieval underground passages which criss-cross Exeter and which were built to carry water around the city.

In 1880, nearly a century after the gateway had been demolished and during the digging of the foundations for the Eastgate Arcade, the "base of one of the round side towers of the ancient East Gate" was unearthed by builders. A report on the discovery appeared in Trewman's 'Exeter Flying Post', written by the antiquarian Robert Dymond. According to Dymond the remnant of the tower base was "formed of large ashlar blocks of reddish trap rock from Rougemont, carefully squared and fitted in regular horizontal courses, and accurately cut to the circular form of the tower, as if intended to be exposed to view." He continued, "the towers projected beyond the external face of the city walls and the moat or ditch abutted on them." Dymond then went on to give a general description of the gatehouse: "Two tall round towers, each about twenty-four feet in diameter, projected about thirty-five feet beyond the general line of the city walls, and were united by a flat wall or curtain, in the centre of which was the arched passage of the gate, only fourteen feet wide. Over it were guard rooms".

The images at the right and top of this post shows a model of the last manifestation of the East Gate. Although rebuilt in 1511 it's likely that it followed a similar design to its medieval predecessors.

The two enormous drum towers, the entrance way and the wall above were all constructed from the purple volcanic trap mentioned by Dymond. The trap was exceptionally hard-wearing, expensive, scarce and difficult to cut. The Romans had quarried most of it from the extinct volcanic cone at Rougemont in the north-eastern corner of the city and it's likely that the material used in 1511 was the recycled remains of the gate damaged by Warbeck in 1497.

Each tower was built with three floors, gunloops studding the lower courses, with windows in the upper levels overlooking the approach into the city. Both the towers and the exterior wall were crenellated. The passageway through into the High Street consisted of a series of pointed arches. There were arched doorways within the passageway that gave access directly into the gatehouse interior, probably with spiral staircases leading up into the guard rooms. Projecting from the back of the gate, over the arched passageway and safe behind the towers was probably where the chapel dedicated to St Bartholomew was located. Above the interior entrance was a clock and a dial. Interestingly, and perhaps in an effort to save money, it seems as if the early-16th century chapel building was constructed from the much softer, cheaper and more plentiful Heavitree breccia rather than the purple volcanic trap. If the chapel were in a position where it was being seriously damaged by an assault then the drum towers had failed anyway and the fall of the gate would've been imminent.

During the 18th century, their defensive importance long-forgotten, the drum towers and the rooms above the entrance were used as the Salutation inn. In 1784, "in order to improve the entrance into the City, it was deemed expedient to take down the Eastgate, by which a beautiful vista was opened from St Sidwell's into the High Street; a very great and necessary improvement." So wrote Jenkins in 1806. When reading accounts left by 19th century antiquarians and historians it is impossible not to be shocked by their cavalier attitude towards the demolition of structures of the greatest historical significance.

The composite image above shows how the the East Gate fitted into the townscape had it survived into the early 20th century. The perspective is looking out of the city towards Sidwell Street. Most of the buildings shown were destroyed in 1942. None survive today. The Eastgate Arcade is out of view, beyond the limit of the city walls and hidden behind the gatehouse itself. The entrance to Castle Street, where Warbeck's army reached in 1497, is visible to the left, near the street light.

Following its demolition bits of the East Gate found itself spread across the city. The clock and dial were both placed above the entrance into the nearby St John's Hospital School but most significant was the fate of the building materials and the statue of Henry VII. At the same time that the gate was demolished a new building was constructed just to the north of it, facing onto the High Street. The facade of Nos. 266 & 267 High Street was built from the purple ashlar blocks that had once been the outer face of the East Gate. Placed in the centre of the first floor of the new building, still in its niche, was the early-16th century statue of Henry VII and the heraldic devices. (This late-18th century building, along with the statue, was totally destroyed by bombs in 1942.) St John's Hospital School that was on the south side of the East Gate was demolished in 1880 and the wrought-iron and glass Eastgate Arcade and the city's new Post Office were built on the site of the ancient school.

The composite image above shows how the inside of the East Gate might've looked if it had survived into the 21st century, surrounded by the post-war buildings that were thrown up after World War Two. The entire area was heavily damaged during the Blitz of 04 May 1942 and today there is nothing of historic interest to be seen above ground or any sign that the East Gate ever existed. A plaque was placed on the front of No. 266 High Street in the 1880s which commemorated the site of the East Gate. It read: "Rebuilt by Athelstan. Finally Removed 1784. Here the Citizens Repelled the Assaults of William the Conqueror and Perkin Warbeck". The plaque was salvaged after World War Two from the ruins and relocated onto a post-war building called Eastgate House. During the recent redevelopment Eastgate House was demolished and the plaque was removed, and today Jenkins' "beautiful vista" from St Sidwell's into the High Street looks like this:

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