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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Exeter Photo Walk 1

From Car Park to High Street. I've decided to make this series of photos in absolute walk order as I did with an earlier Torquay walk. You will follow my route and see what I saw. I have to confess though, that because I don't know Exeter very well I did do some research first so I could include a variety of historical sites of interest en route. I also just snapped things I saw unexpectedly along the way. What is amazing though is that after you see the full series you need to appreciate that everything you see was on a walk only .4 of a mile from end to end as the crow flies and if you just walked the distance in a straight line it would take 10 minutes. Of course I meandered quite a lot so probably did more like 2 miles in two hours.

Exeter is one of England's smaller cities coming in at number 59 behind such places as High Wycombe, Sale and Telford New Town, which may be a surprise to many people. However, as you can see from this photo on top of the car park roof, right in the centre of the city, that is the countryside in the distance. To give a little context, Exeter was here before the Roman invasion and Telford New Town was first designated on 16 January 1963.

That enormous church is St Michael & All Angels, Mount Dinham, completed in 1868. The church was built in memory of the eponymous Exeter Tea Merchant and philanthropist, John Dinham, as part of the redevelopment of the Mount Dinham site for charitable and educational purposes.

The earliest evidence we have of settlement in Exeter are coins from the Mediterranean showing trade was taking place as early as 250 BC. It should be no surprise, given Exeter's gateway position in Britain to ships arriving from the Med.

Being a gateway to ships arriving from across the channel or the Med also had its downsides though as can be evidenced from the subsequent Roman occupation of Britain. A fort was established in Exeter by 55 AD and this served as a base for the 5000 strong Second Augustan Legion. The Roman Emperor at the time was Vespasian. The local Dumnonii tribes settled around the new fort as they increasingly became Romanised. The Legion eventually moved north to Caerleon in Wales and by 75 AD the fort had been abandoned as by then the occupation was well established. Much of any existing Roman remains are around the Cathedral site and currently not on view. There is a plan for an underground visitor centre at some point.

By the late 2nd century a much bigger city of some 92 acres was enclosed by a ditch and wall. The course of the Roman wall was used for Exeter's subsequent city walls. Thus about 70% of the Roman wall remains, and most of its route can be traced on foot.

More than a thousand Roman coins have been discovered in the city with dates showing a large increase in prosperity in the first half of the 4th century followed by a rapid decline with virtually no coins discovered dated after 380 AD. Little to nothing is known about Exeter during the period from the collapse of the Roman occupation around 410 until the 7th century.

The car park I used is on the roof of a large shopping mall, The Guildhall Shopping Centre, and there is a major surprise in the courtyard of the centre when you descend to ground level. We won't mention the rhinoceros on the top floor. "I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it." "Your starter for ten", what sitcom is that line from? A bonus, for the quiz show the second quote is from?

On the ground floor, surrounded by shops and a street food market is the tiny 13th century church of St Pancras. The church probably occupies the oldest Christian site in Exeter, and is usually open on weekdays. St Pancras is designated by English Heritage as a Grade II* listed building. The reason for the grant was because St Pancras was a good example of a small medieval urban church that managed to maintain a lot of its original medieval fittings and fixtures.

The church was first mentioned in 1191 but most of the building work dates to the 13th century. The church underwent several periods of use and disuse between 1658 and 1831. As recently as 1883 the church was nearly lost, as can be imagined from this excoriating letter from a visitor from London who described its state as a scandal.

Western Times - Saturday 10 November 1883

ST. PANCRAS CHURCH. The following letter appears in the Church Times

Sir,—A few days since I was invited by an architectural lay friend to visit the above church, where, he informed me we should find an early-English chancel......... The interior of the building was indescribably dirty, and every bit of the furniture poor and mean. The altar-table would have disgraced the sleeping room of any servant. But the whole church, nave, and chancel alike, appeared to me to be constructionally sound and water-tight, in spite of few broken panes of glass, and an ugly rent in the ceiling of the chancel. The sexton volunteered the information that no service had been held in the church since last Easter, and that the rector lived in Teignmouth. I find that the population, as given in the Clergy List is 335. I take it for granted that the rector is an invalid and the Clergy List mentions that £90 is the income of the living. But for all that, I venture to say that it borders on scandal that between 300 and 400 people should be thus deprived, apparently from all the ministrations of the Church. An Exeter directory gives the names and addresses of 70 clergy of the Church of England dwelling either in the city or in its immediate neighbourhood. The church of St. Pancras is within a stone's throw of the High-street, and less than half-a-mile, I should say from the residences of the Lord Bishop, the Archdeacon of Exeter, and the Rural-dean of Christianity," to which the church St. Pancras belongs. The late Diocesan Conference was held in a hall that is less than a quarter-of-a-mile from this parish. I should be exceedingly glad to find that there existed some other side to this sad story, which might exonerate the city of Exeter from a reproach so seemingly scandalous as that which I have now narrated.

North-London October 29th, 1883.

It is not known when St Pancras' Church was constructed though the dedication to Saint Pancras indicated that it may have been of Anglo-Saxon origin. Records cited a Saxon-style archway in the construction which was later removed during renovations. The tiny front door also attests to it's great age. Duck or grouse, as the phrase goes.

The small bell turret houses a medieval bell made by the Exeter bell-founder Robert Norton in mid-15th century. The bell is inscribed "Quamvis sum parva tamen audior ampla per arva" or "I may be small, nevertheless I am heard over a wide distance".

In 1831, the chancel arch was destroyed and replaced with a plain one which stood until John Loughborough Pearson renovated the church to rebuild the original arch.

By 1914 there were rumours of plans to demolish the church completely.

Western Times - Saturday 25 July 1914


Devon Association Resist Proposal to Demolish


At Thursday's meeting of the Devonshire Association the question of the possibility of the destruction of St. Pancras Church, Exeter, came for discussion. Mr. T. Cann Hughes, . F.S.A., Town Clerk of Lancaster, said he wished to call attention to a serious matter affecting their interests as an Association. The Corporation of Exeter had given instructions to town-planning expert to lay out a scheme to improve the neighbourhood of Queen-street. The plan had been prepared, and submitted to the Council, and it was found to include the destruction of the ancient church of St. Pancras, one of the finest examples of Saxon architecture in this country, and it was only fitting that that Association should protest against such a proposal.

He, therefore, proposed:— That the Devonshire Association, for the Advancement of Science, Literature, and Art, having heard of the scheme of Mr. Mawson for the beautification of the City of Exeter, desire to place on record their emphatic disapproval of such part thereof as would necessitate the destruction of, and serious interference with, the Church of St. Pancras in Exeter, one the best examples of early architecture remaining in England, and requested the Secretary to forward this resolution to the Town Clerk of Exeter.

St. Pancras was supposed to be part of the original Celtic city, and they could hardly imagine that such an act of vandalism would ever be suggested. In London the Corporation had preserved churches as an island in the middle of the highway, and, if necessary, Exeter City Council could do the same.

Sir Roper Lethbridge said he was a member of Committee to advise the Board of Works as to the preservation of old buildings, and he thought it would be a monstrous thing that one of the most interesting churches in the whole of the kingdom should be thus destroyed.

In the early 20th century, the Bishop of Exeter considered closing St Pancras and uniting it with another parish but due to the church hosting worshipers from churches that had been bombed during the Second World War, the church remained open with the Victorian pews later removed. This is also your clue as to why it is surrounded by a modern shopping centre. The bombs that rained down on Exeter flattening much of the old city missed this little gem. I should add that they also missed all the other gems on this photo walk.

St Pancras was a popular dedication in the West Country, there are another five in Devon, of which the best known is that at Widecombe-in-the-Moor. Essentially we are looking at a medieval building…

The Chancel window is housed in 13th century lancets, the glass itself being 19th century. It features the crucifixion in the centre with saints Pancras and Boniface either side. St Boniface was a local, born in 680 in nearby Crediton. Boniface was later martyred in the Netherlands in 754. Boniface must be the unluckiest saint as there can't be many to have been martyred in the peaceable and tolerant Netherlands where it was more common for people to be given refuge, maybe that reputation came later.

St. Pancras is usually depicted with either a palm branch and book or alternatively with a sword and dressed in armour. Here we have a mix of imagery with him wearing a toga, carrying a palm branch and also a sword. He is usually depicted beardless as the 14 year old boy he was when he was martyred.

Boniface was an 8th century Bishop who went to convert the pagans of Germany. He is depicted as a Bishop with crook and a book. The book was used to defend himself as he was reading when attacked by a pagan soldier. The soldier's sword pierced the book killing Boniface. Here the book is depicted with the sword passing through it which symbolises his martyrdom.

The Font is very unusual in style, I certainly have not seen one before with such a modern simple shape. Of course as you can probably tell it isn't modern at all and as is usual, is older than the actual church. In this case it is believed to be 12th century.

This is a detail from the rebuilt chancel arch.

Although simple, the fabric of the building indicates a lengthy history; the chancel is on a separate axis from that of the nave, suggesting different dates of construction. What we see now largely belongs to the 13th century.

All the memorials are from the demolished church of All Hallows. The best one, with a border of flowers, fruit and skulls, is to Loveday Bellett, 1711, one of the many smallpox victims of this period. From the inscription it seems that the disease had followed her family here from Cornwall.

Loveday the daughter of Christopher Bellett late of Bochim in the county of Cornwall Esq. by Bridget the daughter of William Pendarves of Roskrow in the said county Esq. lyes buried near this place she died in this city the 16 day of September Anno Domini 1711 of the small pox a distemper so remarkably fatal to her family that no less than four of her sisters died of it in the months of February and March 1716-17 in the borroughs of Penryn and Fowy in Cornwall aforesaid.

Over a hundred years later.......

Bell's Weekly Messenger - Sunday 11 May 1834

Exeter. The small pox is prevailing in this neighbourhood to a great extent. Our Honiton correspondent has sent us the following statement:— J. Mitchell, of Honiton, has been deprived of five children by death within the last fortnight; he buried one on the 20th of April, and the other four the Sunday following. They all died in the small pox, and were all the children he had.”

This small brass plaque is an explanation of a stone memorial in which the provider of the explanation gets it very wrong. When I first read this plaque I was amazed that someone was named Anchovy Salter, but then considered the fact that many names derived from occupations and that this explained the derivation of the surname Salter, so maybe it explained his common name too. Maybe he was known as the Anchovy Salter so it just stuck? However, when I later inspected my photograph of the actual stone carving below I noticed something.

The actual memorial is clearly read as Anthony Salter, the first n being slightly damaged and the second n being clearly the font used back then which could easily be mistaken for a v. Anthony has latterly been rechristened Anchovy by some well meaning individual. Is this aged brass plaque an early example of "disinformation"?

Close to the pulpit is the entrance to the rood staircase, part of the stairs remain, but the upper doorway has been walled up. The rood loft was a type of mezzanine floor above the chancel, long ago removed, probably in Tudor times.

This type of red stone is a common sight amongst the old buildings of Exeter.

The Guildhall Shopping Centre is therefore the only Shopping Centre in the world to house a 12th Century Church at its heart! What we see today is a conglomeration of buildings of different ages and styles, not least St Pancras right at its heart. The development which pulled all the elements together took place in the early 1970's. Apart from the church the oldest part was the original Higher Market building in Classical style as you can see here. The main Classical section fronts onto Queen Street and the architect also designed Covent Garden Market in London.

Higher Market is Grade 2 * listed by English Heritage. Originally designed by George Dymond, completed by Charles Fowler 1838. Long front faced with Bath stone. Central Greek Doric portico with pediment. Two subsidiary porticos, that on right hand side leading

to Civic Hall. Queen Street shop fronts were inserted later C19. We'll see the main surviving sections at the front of the building at the end of the walk.

Here is the perfect contrast between 1830's Classicism and 1970's functionality.

Situated in the gardens of the main square is this statue. For an artwork called "Looking Forward" it is extremely well hidden and serves as an excellent bird mess collector. It is hard to believe it was commissioned by Exeter City Council to commemorate Her Late Majesty's Silver Jubilee in 1977.

It depicts a "Podman", who appears in a series of sculptures by the artist Peter Thursby created in the 1970's. The Podmen were "little men on scaffolding, constructing buildings. They appeared to be framed in boxes, like peas in a pod".

Luckily there is a large sign underneath telling us all this information, what do you think I am psychic? It fails to explain why it is an appropriate way to commemorate a Royal Jubilee. Maybe the Jubilee was just incidental.

On reflection it's probably just as well it is hidden away. I am fairly sure that if it were to disappear overnight it would be some months before anyone noticed it was missing, if ever. At least there is a visual record here, just in case.

It "adorns" the outside of the rear part of the Guildhall itself, which looks much like a medieval prison, which was one of its original roles. We'll see the front of the Guildhall at the end of this piece. Next to the Guildhall is the Turk's Head Pub also seen here from the back. We'll also see the front of the Turk's Head, when we squeeze through Parliament Street into the High Street. Why the squeeze?

Here is Parliament Street. It is both undisputed and disputed in different ways. It is undisputedly the narrowest street in Britain and disputably the narrowest street in the world. What is also undisputed is that it dates from the 14th century. Originally called Small Lane for some strange reason, today it measures from 25 inches wide at its narrowest point to 45 inches at its widest. This is the wide end you are looking at so travelling down it from this end is like passing through a funnel. When I reached the narrow bit I had to turn sideways to crab my way through into the High Street. You cannot pass another person at its narrowest point. At least I can't, well not another person my size at any rate.

What is disputed is when the name changed. All we know is that it changed sometime between 1651 and 1832 which is shockingly vague, didn't anyone notice? It is believed to have become called Parliament Street for satirical reasons, the population of Exeter having a healthy disregard for their leaders in London as much in the past as they do now. Some things never change. Donald Trump might have called it Swamp Street.

The West Country was traditionally a monarchist stronghold, so after the Civil War the power of Parliament at the detriment of the King might have been a good reason for scorn. On the other hand in 1831 an electoral reform Bill which had enjoyed much public support and had passed The House of Commons was overturned by the House of Lords. It was an attempt to resolve parliamentary election boundaries issues and general political corruption. No surprise that the unelected Lords would try to prevent the prevention of corruption.

As soon as the Bill was overturned riots broke out all over the country, including in Exeter.

In 1836 local residents tried to get Parliament Street widened, but these plans never materialised. In fact, Parliament Street remained relatively unchanged from its 14th century origins until the building of the Guildhall Shopping Centre in the 1970s, when about two thirds of the original stonework that once lined the street was replaced. Today there is a small plaque next to the Greggs Bakery store which reads: Parliament Street – believed to be the narrowest street in the world. Width 25” increasing to 45”.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records the smallest street in the world is in Germany. I am not going to give that air time here as I have checked it out and it looks nothing like a street at all, merely a gap between two old buildings. In fact they have had to strengthen the structure of one of the buildings to stop this "Street" disappearing as the buildings lean over and close the gap. The narrowest street in my town is Squeezebelly Lane.

This is the High Street and the narrow end of Parliament Street. How many tourists or visitors miss this little oddity, barely noticeable, next to the home of the Great British Sausage Roll. There is more filling in a Gregg's Steak Bake than you could fit into Parliament Street.

As promised, here are the fronts of both the Turk's Head and The Guildhall.

The pub has nestled next to the Guildhall for more than 700 years. The name The Turks Head may have first surfaced in 1569, when it was put up for sale, and there are many ways its name could be interpreted. One origin is thought to be a Turkish prisoner who was imprisoned there when it was used as jail cells. Turk's Head

Another is the name of a particular type of rope knot, and another origin lies in the Crusades or Turkish pirates who raided the coast of Cornwall in the 16th and 17th centuries. The pub famously hosted author Charles Dickens, who would sit in an area since known as 'Dickens Corner.'

It is a Grade 2 listed building and has recently reopened after careful refurbishment to keep as many of its original features as possible on display.

A carved Turk's head features above the door.

The Guildhall is a building of outstanding architectural interest, an ancient monument and a busy working building. It is still used regularly for civic functions, full meetings of the City Council, official receptions, mayoral banquets and exhibitions.

It has functioned as a prison, a court house, a police station, a place for civic functions and celebrations, a city archive store, a woollen market hall, and as the meeting place for the City Chamber and Council. On an upper balcony in the main hall, there is on display the City’s silver. A Long Sword and Cap of Maintenance that were said to have been presented to Exeter by Henry VII, after Perkin Warbeck tried to usurp the throne in 1497. Exeter defiantly defended itself against the impostor, and proudly displays the sword. A sword that belonged to Admiral Nelson and the silver control handle from Exeter’s first electric tram in 1905, are also housed in the display cases.

The ancient office of Recorder of Exeter presided at the Guildhall from 1352 at a then cost of £3 per year. The Guildhall also contains the Mayor’s Parlour, where Mayors, ancient and modern, have entertained guests of the city. It is known there was a Guild in Exeter by 1000 AD, and the site of the Guildhall may have been in use as a hall from then. Parts of the Guildhall can be traced back to 1160, although in common with many ancient buildings, it has undergone 'makeovers' through the ages, creating a patchwork of styles and additions.

It is thought that before the portico was constructed, the Guildhall contained a chapel and council room, with a modest covered way over the street, of stone posts and a pitched, lead roof. The present structure has four granite columns dating from 1593, which, along with the columns at each end of the front wall, cost £19 19s –the granite came from Blackingstone quarry on Dartmoor. Forty loads of Beerstone were purchased for the corbels and upper structure, while oak from the then city owned Duryard woods, to the north, was also used. The total cost of the rebuilding was £791 6s 7d which was met by the City with contributions from the guilds. The front was once richly coloured and traces of blue, cream, red and gold have been found on the stonework. Exeter memories.

In Part 2 we continue down the High Street to find a marvel of the Industrial Age, which is nearly 200 years old already.

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2 комментария

John Durham
John Durham
02 июл. 2023 г.

What a really lovely town...until you get to that hideous sculpture. As you said, thank goodness it's hard to find. So good that they didn't demolish St. Pancras - what a wonderful old church! I also love that it is convenient to the Bottle Bar - how thoughtful.

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
03 июл. 2023 г.
Ответ пользователю

It's a really interesting but small city, more interesting stuff to come. Thanks John.

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