Tuesday, 30 April 2013

The Great Conduit, High Street

The image above shows what the the Great Conduit might've looked like today had it avoided demolition in the 1770s. The conduit in the image is based on a model below right currently on display in the city's underground passages. The model itself (which only shows 50% of the conduit) is based on a drawing of the conduit by Richard Parker. Fortunately one good contemporary depiction of the conduit survives so many of the details, such as the proportions, the tracery, the niches and crenellations are fairly accurate. I've placed the conduit in the image as closely as possible to its original location using 18th century maps, and its scale is based on Caleb Hedgeland's early 19th century model of Exeter. It might've been larger than shown although its height is limited to some extent by the width of the street. The image shows the view towards the High Street. The entrance into South Street is just beyond the conduit to the right. The entrance into North Street is on the left.

The whole idea of the Great Conduit was to have a place in the centre of the city where people could come and collect fresh water. Some of the citizens would've had access to private wells in the courtyards of their houses but the majority did not. Supplying Exeter with fresh water was a huge logistical issue for the City Chamber which went on for centuries.

From the 12th century onwards, as the city's population increased so did the need for more sources of clean water. The main source for the new supply was a series of natural springs near the head of the Longbrook valley, some 600 metres beyond the city walls at Lions Holt in the suburb of St Sidwell's.

The springs were located on land owned by the Dean and Chapter and they were the first to bring the water into the city via lead pipes buried beneath the ground. The first network of pipes led from Lions Holt to the Cathedral Close (St Peter's Conduit, the building holding the tapped water, was constructed in the Cathedral Close where the pipe terminated). In 1226 the Dean and Chapter granted a third of the supply to the monks at St Nicholas Priory. Another third was later granted for the use of the city. The monks and the city both paid the Dean and Chapter eight shillings a-year for the privilege.

By the middle of the 14th century an improved method of delivering the water was initiated involving the creation of the underground passages left. Deep trenches were dug down the centre of the streets. The sides of the trenches were reinforced with stone blocks and then the passageway was covered either with slabs of stone or vaulting. The pipes lay on the floor of the passages and access points were created at regular intervals allowing the soft lead pipework to be maintained with great ease.

The system continued to be updated throughout the 14th and 15th centuries, at enormous cost, and eventually consisted of approximately a mile of passageways. Despite wartime bombing and major redevelopment around 80% of the network of passages still survives today, unique in England, and one of the most complete medieval underground water systems in Europe. Parts of it can be visited as a fascinating guided tour!

The Great Conduit was the result of major works undertaken by the City Chamber on the water system in the 15th century. Between 1420 and 1429 a new system of passages was laid under the High Street solely for the use of the city. The lead pipes terminated at the Great Conduit which appears to have been constructed between 1441 and 1461. (A smaller conduit was built opposite St Lawrence's Church in 1580s.) In the mid 16th century John Hooker recorded that the conduit "standeth in the middle of the citie, at the meeting of principall streets of the same, and whereof some time it tooke its name, being called the Conduit at Quatrefoix, or Carfor; but now the Great Conduit". The Great Conduit was actually set back slightly into what is now the top of Fore Street. A number of 18th and 19th century sources give an exact date of 1461 for its construction, the result of efforts by a former mayor, William Duke.

The detail right from Hedgeland's model of Exeter shows the Great Conduit highlighted in purple. High Street/Fore Street can be seen running from left to right. South Street/North Street run diagonally from top to bottom.

The Quatrefoix, from the French for 'four ways', was almost at the geographical centre of the city, the crossroads where South Street and North Street met Fore Street and the High Street. It was also called the Carfax or Carfoix and was sometimes used as the site of public executions. Two Royalist supporters, John Penruddock and Hugh Grove, were beheaded at the Carfoix in 1655 for planning an insurrection against the Parliamentarian government. The death warrant was signed by Cromwell himself. Ironically, the Great Conduit was one of the places in the city where Charles II was proclaimed King in 1660 following the Restoration of the Monarchy. The conduit was made to run with wine in celebration. The conduit ran with a hogshead of wine in 1670 when Charles II visited Exeter and lodged overnight at The Deanery. It was also one of places where Anne was proclaimed Queen in 1702.

The Great Conduit was demolished c1770 as both it and the crowds gathered around collecting water were regarded as an obstacle to traffic. It was moved, in some shape or form, to the side of the High Street, close to where MacDonalds is today, before being demolished completely in 1799. The public water conduit was then relocated outside the Hall of the Vicars Choral in South Street.

Fortunately for us in 1806 Alexander Jenkins left a rather fanciful illustration of the Great Conduit left and quite a detailed description which it is worth quoting in full: "The great Conduit at Carfoix, venerable for its antiquity, which had been standing near three hundred years, and had often poured wine to the rejoicing Citizens, now [in 1770] fell a victim to modern improvers. Its situation, in the centre of the High Street, not only intercepted the view, but frequently caused a stoppage of carriages, to the great inconvenience of the neighouring inhabitants, and danger of passengers; for this reason, sentence being passed upon it, it was taken down, and a new building erected, to which the cistern was removed."

Jenkins goes on: "This was originally a very beautiful edifice. It was decorated with pinnacles at the four corners, on which were (anciently) vanes; but they have long since fallen victims to time and weather; there were also niches in the east and west fronts, in which were mutilated statues. On the top of the architrave, at the corners, were two lions and two unicorns. It was likewise adorned with cherubims and armorial bearings, which were so much injured by time that only those of the Courtenay family could be distinguished."

The image left shows a detail from a map of Exeter based on Hooker's 1587 plan of the city. The Great Conduit is in the centre.

The Great Conduit was probably built of limestone in a Perpendicular Gothic style. The stone walls enclosed a vast lead cistern filled with water piped in through the underground passages. The conduit was square in plan (unlike the model shown above), each side measuring about the same length (the exact dimensions are unknown). The east and west walls had a single blind pointed arch divided into eight panels filled with tracery. Above each arch was a niche containing a statue. The side walls had two slightly slimmer blind arches divided into six panels, also filled with tracery. Each corner was supported by a diagonal buttress.

It seems likely that it was designed and built by masons employed at the cathedral. The elaborate, even ostentatious nature of the design indicates in what high regard Exeter's fresh water supply was held. But it also functioned as a public monument on the level of pure display, as a statement about the status of the city and the wealth which allowed it to such lavish treatment upon the conduit. Unfortunately nothing now survives at the site to indicate that the Great Conduit, one of Exeter's finest medieval monuments, ever existed.


Sunday, 28 April 2013

Little Stile: A Mutineer & A Medieval Gatehouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Friday, 26 April 2013

The Destruction of the High Street After 1942

The destruction of 50% of the High Street during the Exeter Blitz was obviously a disaster for the city's historical landscape, but around 220 metres of unbroken pre-war frontages did survive on both sides of the street for about half of its length. The remaining buildings ran from the corner of South Street almost as far as St Stephen's Church and included some of the High Street's oldest domestic houses (most of which still fortunately survive). The postcard above is of the view up the High Street c1968. Most the buildings shown, apart from The Guildhall, were demolished in the 1970s.

The image right is based on a 1905 map of the city combined with a modern aerial view of the same area. It shows the 50% of the High Street which remained largely unaffected by bombing in 1942. The plots highlighted in red, mostly to the right, were destroyed in 1942 along with a single building on the south-west corner.

The properties highlighted in purple are pre-war buildings which still exist today. The most easterly of these are St Stephen's Church and No. 229 High Street.

The plots highlighted in yellow show the location of buildings on the High Street which survived the Exeter Blitz but which were destroyed between 1950 and 1980, most of them by Exeter City Council for redevelopment. The map illustrates the sobering fact nearly half of the High Street that existed after 1942 was subsequently demolished in the post-war years. A solitary building at the High Street's most western point was destroyed in 1942. This was No. 74 High Street which stood on the corner of the High Street and South Street. No. 73, which survived the Blitz, was demolished in the 1950s as part of the scheme to widen South Street. A fine timber-framed facade from c1600, one of the few still left within the city walls, which stood at the rear of No. 72 High Street was inexplicably demolished at the same time.

The 1950s also saw the demolition of the remains of No. 36 High Street, as well as Nos. 37 & 38 High Street. No. 36 High Street dated to c1805 and featured in Richardson and Gill's 1924 book 'Regional Architecture in the West of England'. It was a narrow four-storey building, notable for the bow windows on its top three floors. The top two storeys were damaged in 1942 and it was reduced in height to just the ground floor and first floor. Instead of being reconstructed the remaining two floors were cleared away as part of the redevelopment of Colsons department store which had occupied the building prior to 1942 (now Dingles).

Next to No. 36 was No. 37 High Street, shown left c1955. This was a timber-framed merchant's house, possibly built as a pair, dating from c1600 and very similar in appearance to the still-surviving Nos. 41 & 42 High Street. Harbottle Reed poked around inside the building in 1931 and reported that there was little of interest to be found, but it's highly likely that original features were concealed behind later alterations and that much of the original fabric remained. The property, one of only three twin-gabled timber-framed houses still surviving in the city centre with their street facades intact, was allegedly found to be structurally unsound. It was subsequently demolished in the 1950s. (The two surviving examples are the above-mentioned Nos. 41 & 42 High Street and No. 67 South Street.)

No. 38 stood on the corner of the High Street and St Martin's Lane. It was formerly a branch of the West of England and South Wales District Bank. Built of stone in the mid 19th century, the exterior of No. 38 was ornately decorated with pilasters capped with Corinthian capitals and egg-and-dart moulding around the doorway. The building is shown in the photo right c1925. No. 38 High Street was also bizarrely demolished in the 1950s and replaced with yet another drab, red brick block.

The buildings opposite Nos. 36, 37 & 38 High Street fared little better. The carved, mid 17th century wooden facade of No. 227 High Street is now one of the city's landmark buildings. Despite being granted Grade II* status in 1953, from 1958 onwards Exeter City Council repeatedly tried to secure its demolition for road-widening. Another application for its destruction was made in 1960 and yet another in 1962. Objections made at the time ensured the building's survival but in 1971 almost the entire structure was destroyed for new retail space. Only the timber-framed facade was left standing and the ground floor was gutted to become a pedestrianised walkway. The demolition took place without any archaeological record being made although a number of original features, including a mullioned window, a flagstone passageway and part of a substantial 17th century staircase, are known to have been destroyed.

(The photo left shows part of the High Street which was left undamaged after the Exeter Blitz. The facade of No. 228, the 'Civet Cat' emporium, is just visible to the far right. Although the photo itself was taken c1910, all of the buildings shown remained essentially unaltered until they were largely demolished between 1971 and 1980. Only the gutted timber-framed facades of No. 227 and No. 226 still survive.)

The same fate awaited the adjacent No. 226 High Street. Dating to the mid 16th century, the timber-framed facade of No. 226 had already been heavily restored in 1907. It too had been granted Grade II* listed status in 1953 but the city council tried to demolish it for road-widening in 1958. This is when the now infamous cartoon appeared in the local paper accompanied by the caption "Come to Exeter and Watch the Natives Pull it Down". Like the planned demolition of No. 227, the proposed destruction of No. 226 High Street caused an uproar. By 1962 the council had been granted permission from the government to demolish the building but the plans were hampered by objections led by Professor William Hoskins and the Exeter Civic Society. In 1971 the entire building was demolished apart from the timber-framed facade. The ground floor was also gutted to make a pedestrian walkway. Only the facades of Nos. 226 & 227 High Street now remain but it's quite obvious that even they only now survive because of the actions of the Exeter Civic Society.

Referring to the treatment of Nos. 226 & 227 High Street, Peter Thomas has written that their "facades only exist as considerable vandalism took place with the whole insides of the buildings being ripped out. It can be said that the frontages are only held as a token of the past and are a classic example of the lack of interest and damage that has been done to the City's buildings in the past".

It's worth comparing this with the bold claim made in the council-run Royal Albert Memorial Museum that after the destruction of World War Two "people were determined to look after the historic buildings that had survived". Unfortunately the evidence belies the veracity of such a claim. In terms of the attitude of the local authority to the city's historical architecture it was as if the Exeter Blitz had never happened at all.

Although the facades of Nos. 226 & 227 High Street were largely retained the pre-war buildings on either side of them were demolished. No. 228 High Street stood on the western corner of the High Street and Gandy Street. It
had been sold to the city in 1759 and became known as the Mansion House or the Mayoralty House. It seems to have been largely rebuilt in 1791.

During the 19th century the premises had a show room converted out of the former banqueting hall of the mayors of Exeter. In 1843 it became the premises of the Civet Cat, a company selling luxury perfumes, soaps and other high-end objects and after World War Two was the location of Timothy Whites hardware store. No. 228 High Street had a plain Georgian facade which, unfortunately, seems to have resulted in it being one of the least photographed buildings on the High Street. It was demolished in the late 1980s and replaced with the yet another bland red-brick block (now the Britannia Building Society). I've no idea if anything of interest was found when the building was demolished.

On the west side of Nos. 225/226 & 227 was No. 224 High Street. This was a narrow building, which must've been constructed on the site of a medieval tenement. It was four storeys tall, the top two floors each having a single bay window which projected out over the pavement below. It was demolished in 1971 without any systematic record made into the building's architectural history. As the structure was being pulled down an A-framed truss belonging to the roof of a two-storey house was founded embedded in the side wall of No. 225/226. The truss dated to the 14th or 15th century. Its place in the evolution of either No. 224 or No. 225/226 will never be known. The only record of the discovery are a series of photos taken by a passer-by.

The neo-Classical building next to No. 224, which curved around the corner from the High Street into Queen Street, was part of a terrace of nine early Victorian townhouses, most of which were located in Queen Street itself. The entire terrace was demolished by the city council in 1971 and replaced with a structure that was infinitely worse than anything constructed in the upper High Street during the post-war rebuilding. No. 224 and the corner building of the Queen Street terrace are both shown in the photo above left. The photo above right shows what replaced the pre-war buildings in 1971. Even the artfully placed tree can't disguise the structure's hideousness.

The post-war demolition of the eastern corner of the High Street and Queen Street junction was bad enough. Unfortunately the western corner was similarly destroyed. The buildings shown in the photo left extended down the north side of the High Street from Queen Street, past the entrance into Goldsmith Street and almost as far as The Guildhall. Despite surviving the Exeter Blitz they were all demolished between 1975 and 1980 and replaced with the current Marks & Spencer building (a structure variously described as "wretched", "an inept lump" and "a dog's dinner").

Most of the demolished buildings i.e. Nos. 212 to 219 High Street dated from c1890 to c1910 and had in turn replaced a number of tall properties from c1700. It's been suggested to me that traces of these earlier buildings remained embedded in the fabric of their late Victorian replacements but the entire row was destroyed in the 1970s without record. Although not the finest structures in Exeter, the buildings added much to the varied architectural character of the already battered High Street. The fact that this was at the time part of the city's central conservation area makes their demolition even more deplorable.

Nos. 206 & 207 High Street right stood on the western corner of the High Street and Goldsmith Street. Both buildings were granted Grade II listed status in 1974. The facade of No. 206 probably concealed elements of an earlier structure but externally at least the properties dated to c1830. Both buildings were completely demolished in 1979, the original facades replaced with modified concrete casts. At the back of No. 207 was the late 18th century No. 1 Goldsmith Street. It was also Grade II listed but, like nearly all of Goldsmith Street, it was demolished for redevelopment in the 1970s.

Slightly further down on the other side of the street stood Nos. 50 to 52 High Street. This comprised two separate buildings from the 18th century or earlier. They backed onto No. 21 Cathedral Yard. A narrow, flagged passageway called Exchange Lane ran underneath the facade of No. 51 linking the High Street to the cathedral precinct. Nos. 50 to 52 were demolished in 1963 and replaced with the remarkably poor 'Burger King' building. No. 21 Cathedral Yard, an early 18th century townhouse with a Grade II* listed interior, was shamefully demolished with the consent of the city council in 1964.

On the corner of the High Street and Broadgate were three Grade II listed buildings, Nos. 61, 62 & 63 High Street. All three dated to around the end of the 17th century, although they had received a single Victorian brick facade in the 19th century. The buildings were all badly damaged by fire in the mid 1970s and subsequently demolished. An entirely new structure was built on the site.

Almost opposite the entrance into Broadgate stood Nos. 196, 197 & 198 High Street, shown left highlighted in red c1965. At the core of No. 196 High Street was a late 16th century townhouse which had been heavily remodelled in 1914. The remodelling had involved the removal of some oriel windows overlooking the High Street and the destruction of a plasterwork ceiling. Despite these alterations it appears that significant parts of the 16th century building remained in situ and the property was given Grade II listed status in 1953.

Nos. 197 & 198 dated to the 18th century or earlier. They stood on a single large medieval tenement plot which had probably been subdivided in the 15th century. The rears of both properties extended as far back as Waterbeer Street which they fronted as Nos. 21 & 22 Waterbeer Street. The parts of the buildings sited on Waterbeer Street both dated to c1700 and had Grade II listed status. It seems highly likely that the parts which fronted onto the High Street were of a similar age but had received modernised facades in the 18th century. Nos. 196, 197 & 198 High Street were all demolished in 1973 to create a pedestrianised entrance into the new Guildhall shopping centre. Nos. 21 & 22 Waterbeer Street were demolished at the same time. A late Elizabethan fireplace and wooden window from No. 196 High Street were left in situ following the demolition and can now be seen in the show room of H Samuel in the shopping centre

The image above shows part of the High Street that survived the Exeter Blitz intact. The buildings highlighted in red was Nos. 61, 62 & 63 High Street destroyed by fire in the 1970s. The properties highlighted in yellow were all deliberately demolished between 1950 and 1980. It's fortunate that anything survived on the north side of the High Street at all. According to Jacqueline Warren, in 1960 the city council's planning department came up with a scheme which would've seen the complete demolition of every standing pre-war building on the north side of the High Street except for The Guildhall and the Turk's Head. This would've resulted in the destruction of Nos. 192, 193 & 194 High Street, No. 195 High Street and Nos. 199 & 200 High Street, all of which are now Grade II listed. As Jacqueline Warren wrote: "As we look at the city today, and consider what has been done to it, [we] can only console ourselves with the thought, 'it could have been even worse!'" Indeed it could've been worse, but not by much.

The postcard view below c1985 shows the gutted timber-framed facades of Nos. 226 & 227 High Street surrounded by a sea of insipid post-war redevelopment. The building to the far right, No. 229 High Street, only dates to 1930 and was partially damaged by fire in 1942. (It was built on the site of the birthplace of Sir Thomas Bodley, the founder of the Bodleian Library at Oxford). One of its magnificent Jacobean windows were salvaged from No. 20 North Street at the end of the 19th century (the other is presumably a copy). All the pre-war buildings to the left of No. 229 survived the Blitz undamaged only to be largely demolished during post-war redevelopment.

It can easily be argued that the local authority turned the disaster of 1942 into a catastrophe as far as Exeter's historical architecture was concerned, perpetuating a trend that was already well established long before bombs started falling on the city. To the post-war destruction of the High Street can be added the vast post-war demolitions that took place around Goldsmith Street, Waterbeer Street and North Street, in Magdalen Street and Holloway Street, Cowick Street and Alphington Street not to mention the pre-war demolition of the West Quarter, Paul Street, Frog Street and Edmund Street.

Perhaps it's easy with the benefit of hindsight, but it doesn't take much imagination to envisage Exeter as it might've been had the local authority retained most of the city's surviving pre-war architecture following the Blitz of 1942, repaired and/or reconstructed the Georgian splendour of Southernhay, Dix's Field and Bedford Circus, retained the medieval street plan and integrated the many surviving buildings in bomb-damaged areas with new structures instead of demolishing them completely. All of this would've been perfectly feasible and well within the capabilities of the city at the time. Instead of which destruction was piled upon demolition and demolition was piled upon destruction. It is a genuinely tragic tale..

The image below shows a complete aerial view of the High Street. Sites destroyed or badly damaged during the Exeter Blitz are highlighted in red. Buildings demolished between 1950 and 1980 are highlighted in yellow. Surviving pre-war structures are highlighted in purple, and even five or six of these were only built between 1900 and 1942. Only a few pathetic remnants now survive of what was once Exeter's most historically important street.


Sunday, 14 April 2013

The Destruction of the High Street in 1942

This is a follow-up to an earlier post, 'The Destruction of the High Street Before 1942', and a brief summary of the Exeter Blitz can be found here.

The photograph above from c1920 shows the view up the High Street looking east towards Sidwell Street. If nothing else it shows the wonderful architectural diversity of the pre-war High Street, the product of centuries of gradual evolution. The tower of St Lawrence's Church is about halfway up on the left. The entrance into St Martin's Lane is in the foreground on the right. Apart from the altered facades of No. 226 High Street and No. 227 High Street, and St Stephen's Church (whose weathervane can just be seen poking above the rooftops on the right), not one of the buildings shown in the photograph remains standing today.

Not all of the buildings shown in the image were destroyed in 1942. For example, the ornate stone bank on the corner of St Martin's Lane and the timber-framed house with oriel windows next to it (No. 37 High Street) were demolished in the 1950s. No. 229 High Street, just beyond the tram on the left, was demolished in 1930. But it does show the approximate extent of the wartime destruction of the High Street and a complete historical street scene which has disappeared forever.

Pevsner wrote that "the German bombers found Exeter primarily a medieval city, they left it primarily a Georgian and early-Victorian city. The close-knit pattern of medieval streets and alleys, medieval churches and houses is irretrievably gone". This perhaps needs some qualification. By the end of the 19th century, anyone wanting to experience a visual flavour of medieval Exeter beyond the Cathedral Close would've had to trek to the forgotten slums of the West Quarter, to Preston Street, Smythen Street, Frog Street and Stepcote Hill, to Paul Street, Mary Arches Street and parts of Catherine Street. By 1942 much of Exeter's surviving medieval fabric had already been swept away through slum clearances. The High Street itself had been one of the first parts of the city to experience modernisation in the 18th and 19th centuries. And on the surface at least, Exeter was far from being a medieval city.

But in a real sense Pevser was quite right. The fingerprints of the Middle Ages were still in evidence all across the city, primarily in its street plan, in the presence of the Castle, Cathedral and Guildhall, and in the survival of many of the medieval tenement plots, all of which were encircled by the majority of the medieval city walls. And there were almost certainly many medieval and early post medieval buildings hidden behind altered facades and embedded in later structures.

Unfortunately most of the individual tenement plots were eradicated between the post-war reconstruction of war-damaged areas and the various redevelopments of the 1960s and 1970s. During the same period much of the ancient street plan was either either rerouted or totally/partially obliterated e.g. George Street, Bampfylde Street, Milk Street, Goldsmith Street, Pancras Lane, Little Stile, Sun Street, Chapel Street, Guinea Street, Coombe Street, James Street, Catherine Street, Frog Street, Edmund Street, James Street, Musgrave Alley and King's Alley. Almost miraculously, the Castle, Cathedral and Guildhall still survive. Anyway, the High Street on the eve of World War Two was one of the most picturesque streets remaining within the boundary of the city wall, perhaps notable for its rich architectural variety than for any single building.

The Exeter Blitz began at around 1.50am in the early hours of 04 May 1942 and only lasted for about 80 minutes. 75 tonnes of bombs were dropped by 40 planes including 160 high explosives, parachute mines and around 10,000 incendiaries. The resulting fire was seen up to fifty miles away. By dawn 156 people had died, large parts of central Exeter lay in ruins and about 50% of the High Street, Exeter's foremost thoroughfare, had been irreparably destroyed.

. The image left shows the extent of war-damage in the High Street following the Exeter Blitz. It is based on a 1905 map of the city overlaid onto a modern aerial view of the same area. Only the section of the High Street affected by the air raid, around 50% of its total length, is shown.

The buildings on the tenement plots highlighted in red were nearly all completely destroyed down to ground level. Some had already been rebuilt prior to 1942 e.g. the Half Moon inn on the corner of the High Street and Bedford Street, but the High Street of 1905 was largely the same as the High Street of 1942. The late 19th century Post Office and Eastgate Arcade, which replaced St John's Hospital School, are to the right. A cross marks the site of the great medieval East Gate. The two most westerly pre-war buildings now surviving on the High Street are highlighted in purple: on the north side No. 229 High Street built in 1930, and on the south side St Stephen's Church. The image doesn't show the extensive network of courtyards, alleyways and smaller structures which existed at the back of the buildings fronting onto the High Street but which were also destroyed during the air raid. The gargantuan bulk of the Princesshay Shopping Centre which now squats on the site of Bedford Circus is easily visible to the south of the High Street. 

Drag the slider in the centre of the photographs below to see before and after images (or click on 'Show only then' or 'Show only now').


The photo above is from c1910 looking down the High Street towards the west. The brick entrance into the Eastgate Arcade is on the left. Slightly further down on the same side is the stone Gothic Revival facade of the main Post Office. The properties on the immediate right were built c1830 and marked the corner of the High Street with London Inn Square (now the site of 'Waterstones').


The photo above shows the High Street looking east towards Eastgate and, in the far distance, the start of Sidwell Street (now occupied by the tower block at Nos. 1 to 11 Sidwell Street). The Eastgate Arcade and Post Office are on the right. In the centre of the photo are the premises of The Cathedral Dairy Company (you can just see the lettering on the side of the wall). This was at Nos. 6 & 7 Eastgate, beyond the boundary of the city walls. The premises were converted out of the late 18th century residence of the headmaster of St John's Hospital School. The small, three storey timber-framed house on the left was No. 264 High Street. Before the start of the 20th century the date 1597 was written under the gable but by the 1930s this had changed to 1297! The late 16th century date is probably much more accurate. Unfortunately such externally ancient buildings were a rarity in the High Street by 1942. Next to No. 264 is a tall building with a gable end facing into the street, No. 265. This only dated to 1893 and replaced the much-earlier Apothecaries' Hall, formerly at No. 246 High Street.  Next door to No. 265 is the Georgian facade of Nos. 266 & 266 High Street, fashioned in the 1780s from stone recycled from the East Gate. Just about visible is a niche at first-floor level which contained the gatehouse's statue of Henry VII.


The photo above c1900 was taken looking in the same direction i.e. towards Eastgate. Electric trams had yet to be introduced into the High Street so the image dates to before 1905. If that dog was in the High Street today it would probably get run down by a minibus! The Post Office and Eastgate are still visible on the right. The entrance into Castle Street, which ran up to Rougemont Castle, is on the left. The entrance was much narrower before 1942 and was massively widened during the post-war reconstruction. The three-storey gabled house on the right, from c1600, stood at the High Street's junction with Bampfylde Street. Another very narrow street, Bampfylde Street was dominated at its far end by the magnificent Bampfylde House. To the far right is the Three Tuns inn at No. 8 High Street. In 1836, at the rear of the Three Tuns, workers unearthed a subterranean chamber described at the time as a "Roman sepulchral family vault". The chamber was 7ft square with an arched roof. Around the walls were niches containing five urns believed to contain the cremated remains of some of Exeter's Roman citizens. The inn closed in 1913 but the premises survived until they were destroyed in 1942.


The photo above dates to c1930 also showing the view towards Eastgate. The south wall of St Lawrence's Church is on the left. The former Three Tuns building, now missing its first floor windows, is the fourth along on the right. Apart from St Lawrence's Church and the stone Post Office, nearly every other building shown was destroyed to ground level during the Exeter Blitz. This was almost certainly a consequence of most of them being constructed in the 18th century or earlier on timber frames with lath and plaster facades. Next to St Lawrence's is the arched entrance into the Empire cinema, Exeter's first, a not particularly attractive addition from 1911. Comparison between the 'then' and 'now' photos vividly shows how much this part of the High Street was widened during post-war reconstruction.


The photo above is taken from about the same place as the previous one but looking in the opposite direction c1910. St Lawrence's Church is on the right. Most of the building dated to the 15th century although the south wall, visible in the photo, was rebuilt in 1674. The stone for the porch was recycled from a late 16th century water conduit which stood close to the church until the conduit was demolished in 1694. The conduit was adorned with statues of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. The statue of Elizabeth was placed above the porch when it was added to the church in the 1690s. Although the interior of the church was gutted in 1942 the south wall, medieval bell tower and porch survived the air raid only to be demolished during the post-war reconstruction. Running under the building to the immediate left of the church was a covered passageway which led, since 1692, to a small churchyard. Beatrix Cresswell described it in 1927: "Just beside the tower is the narrowest possible slip which surprises the enterprising wanderer by leading him into a tiny courtyard where there are two little houses, their porches overgrown with white jessamine, and a fat friendly cat offers a welcome." Cresswell thought it was "a delicious corner of the old city, with the red wall and cusped windows of the old church at one side of it". Unfortunately it was all destroyed in 1942. On the opposite side of the street can be seen the side wall of the Half Moon inn at the entrance into Bedford Street. By 1942 the Half Moon had been replaced with Deller's Cafe (see photo below).


The photo above c1930 shows the most attractive ensemble of buildings destroyed in the High Street in 1942. The sign for Deller's Cafe is on the far left although the main entrance was actually via Bedford Street. Most of Deller's exterior stonework and some of the ornate interiors survived 1942 but were demolished during the post-war reconstruction. Not visible in the photograph but a little further down on the same side was the site of the New inn at Nos. 25 & 26 High Street. The building still contained the 'Apollo' ceiling created by Thomas Lane between 1689 and 1690, destroyed in 1942. Most notable of the buildings on the right was Brufords at No. 241 High Street, a fine 17th century townhouse which once belonged to the Earls of Morley. Its most notable feature was a clock which projected over the pavement supported on the back of an enormous carved figure of Father Time. To the left of Brufords can just be seen part of the neo-Classical facade of the West of England Fire and Life Insurance Company at No. 237 High Street. The facade, built in 1833, was surmounted by a colossal statue of King Alfred, the Company's emblem. Although the rest of the company's buildings were gutted during the air raid the facade survived. It was subsequently demolished during the post-war reconstruction. The modern photograph of the same area shows the side wall of No. 229 High Street. This marks the extent of the wartime destruction, although No. 229 lost its gabled roof during the air raid. It's easy to see how the pre-war line of the street was pushed back during the reconstruction against the recommendation of the city's post-war town planner, Thomas Sharp. The mural has since been replaced with that of a smiling woman with a tower block in the background.  The exterior timber work of the two buildings on the far right was a relatively recent addition in 1942. Although the buildings were probably 18th century or earlier, the timber facades were applied c1920. Thomas Sharp would've hated their lack of authenticity but I think they made a very attractive addition to the High Street's general appearance.

The photo above (Courtesy of Devon County Council) shows the view down the High Street within hours of the Exeter Blitz. Smoke is curling up from the ruins. The photo must've been taken from the roof of the burnt out post office building. The post office's stone gable and downpipes can be seen to the immediate left. The crenellated tower of St Lawrence's Church can also be seen in the distance. The burnt out building in the centre of the image stood on the corner of the High Street with Castle Street.

The photo below shows part of the rebuilt High Street c1953, prior to the construction of the monolithic 'Bobby's' department store. The wide horizontal lines of the post-war buildings were a total break with the narrow vertical appearance of the pre-war streetscape. One reason for the widening was to allow for a dual-carrriageway to run through the middle of the street! Whatever were they thinking of.

Unfortunately the Exeter Blitz wasn't the end of the 20th century's effect on the High Street. Although 50% of the street was destroyed in 1942 around half survived without any damage. Between 1950 and 1980 the remaining 50% had been reduced again by half leaving just a small fragment to stagger on into the 21st century. The demolitions between 1950 and 1980 will be the subject of part three of this series of posts.

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