Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Paragon House: No. 75, South Street

That Paragon House in South Street was destroyed before it could be investigated makes it one of the city's most frustrating and tragic architectural losses. Surviving records indicate that it was a complex building of medieval origin, a remarkable palimpsest to which centuries of history had adhered like barnacles. There are so many questions and so few answers but it's possible to provide a basic description of the building as it existed prior to its destruction in 1942.

Paragon House wasn't actually located on South Street at all but was set well back from the street, hidden behind other buildings. It seems that access into the house was from two sources. One entrance was via a narrow covered passageway which ran underneath No. 74 South Street. This pedestrian passageway exited into a small paved courtyard and directly ahead would've been the facade of Paragon House, as shown in the drawing above left © Devon County Council. The second entrance was via Coombe Street which ran to the south of the property. Paragon House was of sufficient importance to be individually labelled on the 1876 Ordnance Survey map. This same map shows that a much wider passageway, probably suitable for carriages, ran underneath one of the buildings on Coombe Street and into a courtyard near Paragon House.

The image right shows a detail from the map of 1905 overlaid onto a modern aerial view of the same area. Paragon House is highlighted in red. The pedestrian passageway from South Street leading to the small courtyard in front of Paragon House is highlighted in purple. The wider passageway from Coombe Street is highlighted in green. The White Hart inn is just visible in the bottom right corner. Both the 1876 and 1905 maps show a large garden existing behind the house.

The name of the house was connected with two terraces built in the 1820s and described in 1892 as being "18 very convenient and substantial brick-built dwelling houses known as Paragon Place." These five-roomed houses are also visible on the map. Paragon Place was accessed through yet another covered passageway off South Street and the lane which ran through Paragon Place passed the side wall and part of the garden of Paragon House. Presumably the terraces were named after the house and not the other way around although I don't know why or when Paragon House first acquired its name.

The name only appears once in the 'Exeter Flying Post' throughout the entire 19th century but it is almost certainly the property which was advertised for rental on a five-year lease in 1851, 1852 and again in 1856. It seems that Paragon House was being let with a number of buildings formerly belonging to a prosperous wine merchant called William Drewe. The 1851 advertisement describes the property as possessing "ample accommodation for a genteel family" having undergone "extensive alterations and improvements" during "the last few years". In 1856 the property, Lot 1, was listed as a "desirable and spacious family house...situate in South Street and Coombe Street". At the rear was a "coach house and stables, and large courtlage, with entrance from Coombe Street" as well as "an ornamented walled garden, occupying an area of about a quarter of an acre". It seems highly likely that this was Paragon House as it was the only property in the vicinity with a significant private garden. The aerial view below right from c1930 shows the crowded roof tops of houses on South Street. The large brick block of Paragon House, some distance from the other frontages on South Street, is highlighted in red. The photograph doesn't show much detail of the house but it does reveal its scale in comparison with many of the surrounding properties.

By the 1870s Paragon House was occupied by John Gullett Geare, one of the solicitors who dealt with letting the property in the 1850s. John Geare sat on the board of directors for the West of England Fire and Life Insurance Company, for which he also acted as president. He was the vice-president for the Institution for the Blind as well as being a board member for the West of England Eye Infirmary. An 1879 directory shows that No. 74 South Street, the building with the narrow passageway off South Street which led to Paragon House, was a wine merchant's. Also included in the details for No. 74, but not given its own street number, is "Geare Mr. John, Paragon House", although Paragon House is listed as "No. 75 South Street" in the 1881 census. When John Geare died in 1894 his obituary in the 'Exeter Flying Post' stated that he was "formerly of Paragon House". At the time of his death he was resident in a large detached house at "No. 1 Fair Park" (i.e. Fairpark Road in St Leonard's. The house still exists and is now a complementary health centre). Few records survive of Paragon House. There are a series of at least five tantalising drawings of the property in the Westcountry Studies Library, four of the interior and one of the exterior, all labelled "Paragon House, South Street, Exeter", all dated to approximately 1890 and all "presented by the executor of the late Mrs Overmass". Some of these images are reproduced here, all © Devon County Council, and from these drawings it's possible to theorise about the history of the house.

It seems that in the 14th or 15th century at least part of the site of Paragon House was occupied by a substantial medieval property. One of the drawings in the Westcountry Studies Library (not shown here) depicts a room in Paragon House which had retained significant medieval features, including massive ceiling beams and a large stone fireplace of a type which was once found in many of Exeter's larger medieval houses. There are no windows visible in the drawing and narrow steps can be seen ascending to an upper floor. This room was possibly located in the cellars of Paragon House although it might once have been the ground floor of the medieval building. The fact that the ground floor of Paragon House was raised above the surface level of the outer courtyard perhaps supports this theory. At the end of the 17th century the medieval house was almost completely remodelled, apparently resulting in the property which largely survived into the 20th century.

A date of 1675 existed on one of the exterior rainwater heads, perhaps commemorating the year that the work was completed. Much of the medieval house was probably swept away and replaced with a large brick-built block. The rebuilding might've been the result of a fire, as happened at No. 8 Cathedral Close in the 1690s, or because the owner simply wished to rebuild on the site of an already existing townhouse. Large brick houses of the late 17th century were never common in Exeter but the rebuilding of Paragon House in the 1670s made it coeval with the Custom House, No. 40 High Street and the Notaries' House. Such buildings introduced a profoundly different style of architecture into Exeter which had rarely been seen before, and Paragon House would've been one of the earliest examples of this new development.

The surviving images of Paragon House show that it was one of the most important and interesting domestic buildings in the city. The attractive late-17th century facade was embellished with tall ground floor decorative brick panels. Steps rose to the front door with a cornice above the entrance supported on brackets. Three small rectangular panes helped to light the interior. At some point a later structure had been built to the left, obscuring one of the ground floor windows and resulting in the blocking up of one of the first floor windows. The front door opened directly into a parlour which was clad in late-17th century panelling. Inset into one wall was an 18th century fireplace with dog-leg jambs and scrolled consoles. There was also an impressive panelled hallway which had a superb late-17th century staircase of turned balusters, wide treads and a substantial handrail.

The house had certainly been modified again when the windows were replaced, probably in the late 18th century. There are indications that some sections of the panelling had been moved and reinstalled, possibly when the fireplace was altered, and it's unlikely that an entrance door originally opened directly into the parlour. And, as mentioned above, further alterations took place in the mid-19th century. The rendered facade which overlooked the garden appeared to have been part of a later alteration too. But who rebuilt the house in the late 17th century? What was the nature of the medieval building which it replaced? Why were the medieval fragments set so far back from the rest of South Street? The Abbots of Tavistock Abbey and the Priors of Plympton Priory both had large residences on South Street and the street, as one of Exeter's main thoroughfares, would've been the location for some magnificent properties (the Abbots' townhouse became the Bear inn and part of the Priors' townhouse became the Black Lions inn, both now demolished.) Was the surviving medieval fabric once part of a larger complex of buildings? What else remained hidden away in the house, obscured by later alterations?

It's worth repeating that very little is known about the history of Paragon House. The fact remains that here was an exceptional late 17th century brick-built house in the city centre with important surviving interiors and substantial medieval fragments which was never investigated or surveyed and which seems to have been completely missed by 19th and early 20th century antiquarians. Nor is it mentioned by Richardson and Gill in their 1924 book 'Regional Architecture of the West of England'. There are no plans of the layout of the interior. There isn't a list of the rooms or the features which they contained, although the property's location behind other houses in South Street meant that it was probably easily overlooked. It's extraordinary that a building which appeared to be of such great interest could have such a small presence in the historical record.

Disastrously, Paragon House was completely destroyed during the air-raid of 04 May 1942. During the post-war reconstruction the garden was built over and the site of the house now lies beneath the startlingly vast and unpleasant 1960s block known as Concord House above left which dominates South Street and the surrounding area. The questions surrounding Paragon House and its medieval predecessor will probably always remain unanswered.


Monday, 23 January 2012

The Chancellor's House: No. 15, Cathedral Close

Much like the Deanery on the opposite side of the Cathedral Precinct, the former Chancellor's House is squirrelled away behind a high wall left. It's a difficult building to see and it's not open to the public, but it has a very long history and some interesting features remain inside.

According to Lega-Weekes, the chancellorship at Exeter Cathedral was established in 1225 by Bishop Brewer and the first person to hold the title was Henry of Warwick (who died on 28 April 1227). During the late Middle Ages the chancellor's duties revolved around education and ranged from lecturing the other members of the clergy on divinity and Canon law to overseeing the running of the cathedral library.

Although it no longer fulfills that function, the Chancellor's House at Exeter has been on the same site since c1300. It's not known exactly when it was built but Allan and Dyer cite a possible date of between 1281 and 1321. It was constructed in what was then part of the grounds of the Bishop's Palace. As it stands today, the residence consists of two large adjoining ranges of accommodation, a west range and an east range.

The photograph right was taken from the top of the Cathedral's north tower and shows the half-timbered rear of the west range. The photograph top shows the brick facade of the east range. The two ranges are easily distinguishable by their separate hipped roofs. The wooden gate in the wall just visible near the bottom right corner is a reminder that the medieval bishop used a similar gate in a similar location as a shortcut to get from his palace to the north side of the Cathedral Precinct after the Chancellor's House had been constructed c1300. Like many of the other residences in the Cathedral Precinct, the Chancellor's House was probably significantly remodelled in the 15th century. Unfortunately relatively few details seem to be known about its medieval form. If it was anything like the Deanery, the Chantry or the Treasurer's House then it would've consisted of a complex of rooms occupying a large area.

Something of its late medieval layout can perhaps be gleaned from two sources: Hedgeland's early-19th century model of the city and John Coldridge's 1819 map. Both the map and the model show that up until the 1800s there existed another series of ranges at the rear of the surviving west range. These ranges formed a courtyard, a quadrangular arrangement which existed in a number of other high status ecclesiastical residences in Exeter.

The detail from Hedgeland's model left shows the extent of the Chancellor's House as it existed c1800. The two surviving ranges, quite accurately depicted, are highlighted in purple. The buildings which formed the courtyard at the back of the west range are highlighted in red. Allan and Dyer speculated that these courtyard buildings functioned as service rooms providing the Chancellor's House with its kitchen, woodhouse, stables, etc. A reference in 1856 dismissively mentions the property's "appendages of coach-houses, etc." Either way, all of the buildings highlighted in red were demolished between 1819 and 1876 leaving just the two ranges which can still be seen today.

The photograph right shows the north wall of the west range. Just visible near the flagstones is some moulded stone carved from purple volcanic trap. This is actually a 15th century window surround, still in its original position and now buried beneath the modern ground level. Prior to the 17th century the ground level of the Cathedral Close sloped away steeply at this point as it approached the city wall. Lega-Weekes believed that a large area of the eastern portion of the Close was raised up c1600, accounting for the buried window. Another buried window can be seen in the passageway leading to the Law Library behind No. 9 Cathedral Close on the opposite side of the street.

The west range of the former Chancellor's House still contains significant elements of the medieval property. Much of the walling has survived relatively intact, although the arrangement of the windows has been considerably altered. One consequence of the change in ground level means that what were once the medieval ground floor rooms are now in the basement of the current building. One of these rooms still contains remnants of a late medieval framed ceiling with moulded beams and fragments of bosses. Another room upstairs has the moulded jambs of a medieval fireplace. There are probably other features concealed beneath later alterations. Lega-Weekes repeated a legend that the Cathedral's magnificent silver retable, commissioned by Bishop Stapledon c1325, was concealed "somewhere in the masonry of this older part of the house" in order "to preserve it from the spoilers of the Cathedral" during the Reformation. (The retable was presumably discovered and melted down as it no longer exists.)

The photograph left shows the rear of the older west range from the Cathedral Close. The stone wall with the blue gate inset into it is possibly a remnant of one of the now-demolished courtyard ranges shown on Hedgeland's model.

The property was significantly modified by Chancellor Fursman in the mid-18th century. John Fursman was born at Lamerton in Devon in 1678 and became the Chancellor of the Cathedral in 1731, a post he occupied until his death in 1757. Work probably began c1740 and resulted in the house which survives today. The old west range was given its upper timber-framed storey, perhaps replacing the original medieval roof. The windows were altered and presumably much of the internal layout was changed too. Fursman's most significant addition was the east range. The facade of the east range is seven bays wide and made of chequerwork brick. The central three bays project slightly and are surmounted by a steep pediment. Inset into the pediment is an oeuil-de-boeuf window. Not visible from the Cathedral Close itself is a glazed verandah which runs across the face of the entire facade. Inset into the side wall is a hooded doorway, the pediment supported on console brackets. The east range contains a Georgian staircase as well as mid-18th century bolection-moulded panelling of Baltic fir. One mystery is that the side wall of the supposedly 18th century east range appears to be medieval in origin and could itself be a remodelling of an earlier range of which almost nothing remains.

In 2004 a fascinating discovery was made by two archaeologists, John Allan and Martin Dyer. Inset into what is the boundary wall between the Chancellor's House and the Cathedral Close is a large blocked four-centred arch dressed with pieces of moulded volcanic trap above which are the remains of a relieving arch of Heavitree breccia right. The boundary wall was being undermined by the root system of a nearby 100-year-old magnolia tree. Buttresses were built to which tie bars were added, pinning the wall to the buttresses.

During this work a detailed survey of the wall was undertaken and Allan and Dyer found the remains of scarring on the internal face of the wall and either side of the blocked arch. These scars indicate that the arch once led into a covered passageway, with a room on each side, and the presence of the relieving arch suggests that the gatehouse had more than one floor. It therefore appears that this arch is the remarkable long-forgotten remnant of a two-storey medieval gatehouse which gave access into the forecourt of the Chancellor's House. The bottom of the arch is now buried in the ground. It's possible that the medieval house was built around a double quadrangle, with courtyards both to the west and to the east and with the two surviving ranges in the centre.

The building has now been subdivided and it is part of the Exeter Cathedral School. It is a Grade II* listed building of great interest, although it wasn't always regarded with such respect. There were several calls for its demolition in the mid-19th century when it was seen as an impediment to uninterrupted views of the Lady Chapel. A letter sent to the 'Exeter Flying Post' in 1856 stated that the "ugly and unsightly house of Chancellor Harington's ought to come down" along with other "vile unsightly inconvenient houses" so that the Cathedral could be "freed from all incumbrance". In 1861 the British Archaeological Association wondered that "the Dean and Chapter should possess so little taste and public spirit as to allow the precincts of the Cathedral to be clogged with very unsightly buildings, such as the chancellor's house". The Treasurer's House had already come down in 1798, and many houses were demolished in the 1870s on the opposite side of the Cathedral, including much of the Vicars' College, but fortunately the Chancellor's House was spared. The building is shown in the photograph below with the blocked archway visible in the left foreground.


Sunday, 22 January 2012

The Treasurer's House, Cathedral Close

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, 5 January 2012

Caleb Hedgeland's Model of Exeter in 1769

The Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Queen Street has recently reopened following a four-year refurbishment. Much of the ground floor display area is devoted to telling the story of Exeter's history.

One of the most interesting and historically valuable artifacts is a vast wooden model left depicting the city as it appeared in 1769, all painstakingly constructed by Caleb Hedgeland at the beginning of the 19th century. The exhibit is unmissable for anyone interested in the city's many lost buildings.

Caleb Hedgeland was born in 1760 and baptised at St Edmund's church on 05 November the same year. He was the son of Thomas Hedgeland and in 1786 he married Mary Pike at St George's church in South Street. Caleb Hedgeland was a builder and modelmaker. In 1814 he was awarded a silver medal by the Society of Arts for a model he made of Exeter Cathedral, and in 1817 Hedgeland began work on an enormous project, presumably for no other reason than his own satisfaction. The idea was to create a large model showing the city of his childhood. He chose the date 1769, the year in which the first of the city's medieval gates, the North Gate, was removed, the demolition of which he was taken to see a child. He must've worked both from personal recollection and eyewitness reports. Much of the city which existed in 1769 would still have been intact in 1817 and so in many instances Hedgeland would've been able to model buildings which were still standing.

The model was designed to be taken apart, each section of the city being built on small pieces of board which were then slotted into a large frame. Hedgeland confined himself to modelling only that area of the city contained by the city wall, an enclosure which had been laid out by the Romans in c200 AD, approximately 93 acres in total.

The level of detail is astonishing. Exeter's many medieval parish churches were depicted in miniature, along with accurate copies of Rougemont Castle, Exeter Cathedral, all of the many streets and alleyways, numerous almshouses, towers, the city gates, the gates around the Cathedral Close, and the Guildhall as well as many other individual public and private properties. All of the key buildings which were present in the city during the last quarter of the 18th century were reproduced.

Hedgeland made models of buildings which, in 1769, were on the cusp of destruction, e.g. the ancient facade of St John's Hospital in the High Street, Russell's Bedford House, the Treasurer's House in the Cathedral Close and the city gates themselves. He also recorded dozens of buildings which now no longer exist, destroyed or demolished between the completion of the model in 1824 and the present-day. The rise and fall of the land, the topography of the city, was partially factored into the model. The detail at the top of this post clearly shows how the extinct volcanic cone upon which Rougemont Castle was built rises up in the northern corner of the walled city. Each building was hand-painted and even trees and orchards were included. The completed work measured 2.5m long by 1.5 metres wide. (It is now presented in a glass display case which, combined with the subdued lighting, makes it a difficult object to photograph).

The model isn't an exact representation of the city, either as it was in 1769 or even in 1817. Some of the buildings are more accurate than others as depictions of reality and the courtyards and back blocks tend to be less faithfully modelled than the street frontages (although it must be remembered that Hedgeland was working without the advantages of aerial photography!); but the scale is generally accurate, as are the locations of the buildings, the houses all lined up on their individual burgage plots, and the street plan itself. In fact a surprisingly high number of the less important buildings are recognisable from either drawings or old photographs.

One thing the model does vividly convey is the visual atmosphere of the old city, how cramped and confined it was, the houses piled up onto the medieval street plan. It also shows how Exeter remained a city which its Tudor citizens would've found largely recognisable, a situation which remained unchanged until the mid-19th century. The great majority of the buildings were timber-framed, of 15th, 16th or 17th century origin, festooned with oriel windows, the upper floors tumbling out over the pavements below until the roofs of opposing houses nearly met in the centre of the street. In its general appearance at least, it shows that Exeter survived as an ostensibly medieval city long after the Middle Ages were over.

Only a microscopic percentage of the buildings shown on Hedgeland's model still survive today. All of the gates were down by 1825. Bedford House was replaced with the eastern crescent of Bedford Circus in the 1770s. St George's church, where Hedgeland was married, was demolished in 1843, St Kerrian's in 1878; other churches were rebuilt; the College of the Vicars Choral was nearly all demolished by 1893, to name just a few examples. And there was an inevitable, constant gnawing away as the new replaced the old, especially from c1850 onward, although in many cases only the facade of a building was altered according to fashion leaving the older core undisturbed behind.

Between c1880 and c1980 Hedgeland's vision of old Exeter was almost totally obliterated. Road-widening, slum clearances, war-time bombing and thirty years of extensive post-war demolition has destroyed most of what remained. At least the truly remarkable model itself survives and captures the imagination in a way which is perhaps unique amongst all of the museum's many exhibits.

It's worth mentioning a little more about Caleb Hedgeland. He and his wife had at least two children: John Pike Hedgeland, baptised at St George's church in 1791 and Charles, baptised at the same church in 1793. Both sons pursued careers as architects. John Pike Hedgeland also worked as a church glazier specialising in stained glass (John Hedgeland's son, George Caleb Hedgeland, designed the West window in Norwich Cathedral). Charles Hedgeland worked on the enlargement of St Petrock's in the High Street in 1828-1829 as well as buildings in Queen Street and the former rectory at Manaton on Dartmoor. In 1872 he gifted his father's model to the Devon and Exeter Institution.


Sunday, 1 January 2012

The Apothecaries' Hall: No. 246, High Street

The Apothecaries' Hall left © Devon County Council is a little-known building which stood for many years in the High Street until its demolition in the 1890s. Unfortunately, precise details about the history of the building are frustratingly scarce.

The Apothecaries' Company in London was incorporated by a Royal charter from James I in 1617. Prior to this all apothecaries were members of the Guild of Grocers, itself an off-shoot of the Guild of Pepperers first established in London in 1180. As with most cities and towns in England, apothecaries had practiced in Exeter for centuries. One notable late-16th century apothecary in Exeter was Thomas Baskerville. He lived in a substantial house which included a cellar, a hall, two parlours and a separate kitchen, with three bedrooms on the first floor. An inventory of his premises made in 1596 recorded such things as 20 lbs of sarsaparilla, 10 lbs of ratsbane [i.e arsenic oxide], red lead, linseed oil, 20 lbs of gum arabic and a wide range of scales, pots and pans including "2 dossen syrup pottes with pipes". Upon his death Baskerville's estate was valued at a not inconsiderable £324, and his son, Sir Simon Baskerville, later served as physician to both James I and Charles I at the Stuart court in London.

Another Exeter-based apothecary was Humphrey Bidgood who worked in the city in the first half of the 17th century. The story goes that he was accidentally poisoned by his own servant, Peter Moor, the servant's intended target being Bidgood's wife. Their son, Dr John Bidgood, became a Fellow of the College of Physicians and had an illustrious career. He died in 1691, having amassed a fortune of around £25,000, and was buried in Exeter Cathedral where his marble monument can still be seen today.

Unfortunately neither Thomas Baskerville or Humphrey Bidgood lived at No. 246 High Street and its connection with the Society of Apothecaries only dates to the 19th century. In July 1822 a notice appeared in the 'Exeter Flying Post' stating: "We understand that an establishment, similar to the Apothecaries' Hall in London, is about to be opened in this city under the direction of some respectable, professional gentlemen." No. 246 was chosen for the new enterprise, a building which had been used as Mr Lewis's dental surgery in 1815 and Norrington's haberdashery in 1821. The Apothecaries' Hall opened for business on Monday 22 July 1822. According to an advert placed in the 'Exeter Flying Post' in July 1822, above right, the Company of Apothecaries in London had "induced some respectable Medical Gentlemen of the City of Exeter...to associate for the purpose of forming an Establishment to be named 'The Exeter Apothecaries' Hall'" from where they could dispense the "best possible drugs and medication" both to other professionals as well as to the general public.

The aerial view left shows the location of the Apothecaries' Hall on the High Street, highlighted in red, based on the 1905 street plan. The approximate site of No. 245 High Street is highlighted in purple. Both properties were merged in 1893 to became the Devon and Somerset Stores. St Lawrence's church is highlighted in yellow and St Stephen's church is highlighted in green. The opening into Bedford Street is to the south. This section of the High Street was obliterated during the Exeter Blitz of 1942. The street was widened during the post-war reconstruction which is why the fronts of the pre-war buildings on the map appear to project out beyond the line of the current shop frontages.

The plan was to conduct the business on the same lines as the Apothecaries' Hall in London and much effort was expended in associating the Exeter hall with its more illustrious counterpart in the capital. All of the drugs sold in Exeter were purchased directly from the Company of Apothecaries in London. When complaints were received about the poor quality of a batch of iron carbonate sold by the branch at Exeter, the management issued a statement which included an apology from Thomas Morpeth, the secretary of the London Apothecaries' Hall. The business continued for 40 years until, in October 1863, the Apothecaries' Hall was put up for auction at The Half Moon inn. The Hall was described as having a "front and back shop, breakfast, dining and drawing rooms, three best bedrooms, two attics, water-closet and kitchen". One of the ground floor rooms was probably used as a laboratory. The premises at the rear comprised "a variety of rooms". There was also a yard with a printer's shop. Access to the buildings at the rear was via a covered passageway, the entrance to which is visible to the left in the image at the top of this post.

The postcard view right c1905 shows the Devon and Somerset Stores building as it existed until 1942. The plot once occupied by the Apothecaries' Hall is highlighted again in red. The plot of No. 245 is highlighted in purple. It's easy to see how the store straddled two quite separate tenements. The bell tower and porch of St Lawrence's church, with its statue of Elizabeth I over the entrance arch, is visible to the right. The same location as it appears today is shown in the photograph below left.

By the mid-1870s No. 246 High Street was once again being used as a pharmacy when it was the premises of Messrs. Milton & Son. Milton stayed at No. 246 for over 20 years until he built a new shop at No. 265 High Street in 1893, a move which resulted in the demolition of the old Apothecaries' Hall. A report in the 'Exeter Flying Post', dated 07 October 1893, stated that "another of Exon's historic scenes has been removed...During the earlier portion of the 16th century, and for successive generations, the quaint old house and shop, with its small window frames and coloured carboys, opposite to Bedford Circus, has been the haunt of the Exeter Apothecary".

I'm not sure that there are any surviving documents to support the claim that the Apothecaries' Hall had a connection with pharmacology which predated 1822. The timber-framed building itself dated at least to the 17th century but its pre-19th century history will probably remain for ever unknown.

Following Milton's departure both No. 246 and its neighbour at No. 245 were occupied by the Devon and Somerset Stores. One incident worth mentioning was the sudden collapse of the frontage of one of these two properties in August 1894 during the rebuilding of both premises. According to the 'Exeter Flying Post' it was "the sensation of the week", the report adding that "the greater part of the building was to have been pulled down the next day". Fortunately no-one was injured but it's highly unlikely that anything of the Apothecaries' Hall was incorporated into the new premises. The Devon and Somerset Stores, with its brick-built facade surmounted by parapets and finials, remained on the site until 04 May 1942 when it was completely destroyed by fires spread by incendiaries. Milton's 1893 premises further up the High Street at No. 265 were destroyed at the same time. Nothing of either building remains today.

However, that isn't quite the end of the old Apothecaries' Hall. In 1975 a ceramic mural was commissioned from the artist Philippa Threlfall to commemorate the opening of the Guildhall Shopping Centre. This beautiful piece of artwork, by far the most attractive thing in the vicinity, is squirrelled away in an obscure passageway; and there amongst a collage of ceramic versions of Exeter's more well-known buildings is a lovely representation of the Apothecaries' Hall, standing next to the portico of the Guildhall. Underneath is written:

“On this land many generations have lived and worked. They are remembered by their buildings and the things they made."

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