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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Exeter Photo Walk 2

From the High Street to the Iron Bridge. It seems like a long time ago that I published the first part of my Exeter Photo Walk, because it is. My series on "The River Avon Moor to Sea" took over the blog for quite some time, but that was recently completed so I am returning to finish my other projects.

As I continued down the High Street I stumbled on this doorway below which I had not planned as part of the walk, so it was a bit of a surprise. It is the ancient church of St. Petrock which is unusual in several ways. The first amazing fact about it is that it is still here, even though it has over the years been hemmed in and compromised by everything around it and also by circumstances.

St Petrock is a Grade 2 listed building with an added star, raising it above your common or garden ordinary Grade 2 without star sort of buildings. Another surprise though, is that although the current church is just through that doorway, that was at one point the back door as the church changed orientation with later additions, and has now been changed back. Out of sight behind it or in reality out front of the Victorian addition is the cathedral and what were originally its enclosed grounds, which made this doorway at one time one of the few access points to get to the cathedral. That enclosure is long gone and the cathedral grounds are now open wide to the city from any direction and we will see that in the final post in the series. Facing the cathedral today, is the late Victorian church frontage used during the reorientation period.

Most of this church is medieval dating from the 15th and 16th centuries but it has been restored and messed around with several times. The following photos are all in what is now the nave just through that doorway, but this was not always the case. Most of what was the main part of the church in the 19th century is now screened off and inaccessible as it houses a homeless charity.

This is the nave, below, with the base of the tower which just over a hundred years ago was the subject of a major controversy as the city wanted it pulled down and moved a few feet to tidy up the new street alignment outside. The nave interior is quite plain and the main features are the monuments.

The original parish was, at a little over two acres, tiny but was a prosperous commercial and residential area and the church thus attracted a wealthy and influential congregation. In the Middle Ages the building was scarcely visible, being hemmed in by houses and shops. The widening of the High Street in 1905 and the effects of the 1942 Blitz opened up the site somewhat although the east and west sides are still partially embedded in commercial premises. St Petrock's is possibly an ancient foundation but documentary evidence only begins in the 12th century. The structural history of the church is both unusual and complex and led Nikolaus Pevsner to memorably describe it as `among the most confusing of any church in the whole of England. British listed buildings.

Western Times - Tuesday 28 August 1900

ST PETROCK'S CHURCH, EXETER. COMPLETION OF THE RENOVATION SCHEME. The parishioners of St Petrock's are to be congratulated on having completed the renovation of the church, the sacred edifice now comparing in appearance with any of a similar size in the city. The renovation of the church has been a subject discussed for many months, and several of the most prominent members of the congregation taking the matter up with commendable spirit, especially Mr R. Gracey, who has been a worshipper at the church for many years, the work was five or six weeks since placed in the hands of Messrs J. P. Vicary and Son, builders and decorators, of No 57, Bartholomew-street, Exeter, who have executed the renovation in a manner which redounds to their credit. The edifice was for the first time after renovation opened on Sunday morning, and those who attended the opening services, which were conducted by the Revs W. David and R. Spencer, were more than pleased at the appearance of the church, and with the despatch with which the work was executed by the decorators.

The whole of the edifice has undergone a complete change. In the first place the ceilings have been whitened. The stone arches and columns, which were previously painted, have been thoroughly chipped, leaving the bare stone as when first erected. The stone work throughout the church now has the appearance of being entirely new. This portion of the work has entailed a very considerable amount of labour, and it is probably a long time since that such has been attempted in the city. The walls throughout have been painted a very light grey, thus giving the church a soft appearance.

In regard to the lighting of the church the whole of the old gas standards have been removed and electric light fittings have been carried to the top of the columns round the chancel, lobbies, etc., the edifice at night being well lit by between thirty and forty lamps. The work of re-lighting has been carried out in a most efficient manner by Messrs H. A. Willey and Co., of Exeter.


This monument below, features William and Mary Hooper and is made from limestone and local Ashburton marble. Mary died in 1658, and what may appear strange to us now, William died in January 1682/3. Why the uncertainty? Weren't they sure if he was dead?

We take it for granted today that New Year's Day is the 1st January but most people do not realise, me included, that this is a fairly recent development. Most of us know about the calendar changes from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian in 1582, but when the year started was not resolved at the same time and countries all over Europe adopted January 1st as the start of the year, at different times. This meant in the case of England quite a long interim period when between January and March nobody knew what year it was.

This means if you were travelling through Europe anytime between 1564 and 1752, so a very large interim period, during the months of January to March, you could take your pick. France adopted January 1st in 1564, Scandinavia in 1599, Russia in 1725 and in England it was not accepted until 1752. So here we are in January of the 1680's and nobody was really sure what year it was.

Leicester Chronicle - Saturday 21 January 1893

Worshippers in St. Petrock's Church, Exeter, received a shock on Sunday evening. Just before the service commenced a retired master mariner named Charles Henry Tupman was seen to fall off his seat to the floor, and on being picked up was found to be dead.

Google is now so firmly in the grip of ideologues that when I casually typed in Charles Henry Tupman to see if I could find anything out about him, Google offered me instead, a photo of Harriet Tubman. Harriet Tubman to the best of my knowledge was a female African American abolitionist and former slave who died in 1913. I am not aware of any Exeter connection.


This is the floor of the chancel. The floor is paved with many ancient ledger stones. A ledger stone is an inscribed stone slab usually laid into the floor of a church to commemorate or mark the place of the burial of an important deceased person. The term "ledger" derives from the Middle English words lygger, ligger or leger, themselves derived from the root of the Old English verb liċġan, meaning to lie (down).

Here lyeth ye body of William Martyn of ys Cittie Alderman who was twice maior of ye same, ye sonne of Richard Martyn Esq. sonne of Sir William Martyn of Adelhampstan Kt. He departed ys lyfe ye 15th of December in ye yeare of our Lord 1609 in ye yeare of his age LXXVI.

This is a part of the memorial to Johnathan and Elizabeth Ivie, below, and was brought here from the demolished church of St Kerrian. It is a depiction of the Last Judgement.

When St. Kerrian's Church was demolished in 1873 the only mural monument it contained was brought to St. Petrock's and placed above the north door.

The plaque is by John Weston a skilled Exeter sculptor thought to have worked at the cathedral between 1715 and 1735.

The earliest reference so far found to John Weston is dated February 1722/3 when the Dean & Chapter of Exeter Cathedral allowed him to rent a shed and courtlage in the Cathedral Close at a rent of 25s per year. Weston held the office of Clerk of the Works to Exeter Cathedral from 1730 to 1742 at an annual salary of £10. Weston has a total of only eight signed monuments dating from the 1710s to 1 730s and it is possible that his work for the cathedral occupied much of his time:

The lvie panel consists of a flat horizontal oval with a scrolled edge on which are placed two distinct scenes, one above the other. The lower scene has figures emerging from their graves while others are in

the process of being lifted upwards by angels. On the right of the scene one figure is being dragged away by a demon while an angel with a sword tries to intervene. The upper scene, set against a cloudy backdrop, shows angels, some with trumpets, accompanying the saved. The spirituality, emotion and violence evident in this panel is striking and more intense than the other panels that make up the group.

It is hard to believe it now, but St Kerrians church which claimed to be pre-conquest, that is pre 1066, was ultimately wiped out after hundreds of years of decline, in a town planning scheme of the 1870's. From the late Victorian period into the early 20th century, major street widening schemes took place, whereby much of medieval Exeter was wiped off the map.

The church almost certainly predated the Conquest of 1066 and was probably founded by Christianised Celts who are thought to have inhabited this part of Exeter after the collapse of the Roman city of Isca Dumnoniorum in the 5th century. Demolition-Exeter


This memorial is to John and Faith Mayne and you can't quite see it here but their coat of arms at the top features three hands denoting French origins to the family name with the pun being the French "main" for hands. They died in 1679 and 1680. The inscription is in Latin.

Now we arrive at the remarkable Iron Bridge, that from this angle does not look like a bridge at all. However, if you look at the older properties either side of the road you can tell something does not add up. On this very spot once stood the North Gate of the ancient city wall, and this view would have been seen through the arched doorway of that tower.

Back then though, the road headed north at this point and crossed the narrow very steep sided Longbrook valley. This made the important entry to the city very difficult to access by horses and carts, especially in wet weather and when carrying heavy loads of supplies, being brought to the city for trade. This entrance was so notorious that it acquired the nickname "The Pit". It would take up to twenty pairs of horses to pull a cart loaded with limestone along this route, blocking traffic on a regular basis.

Here is an old artists view of the North Gate and the city wall. This North Gate was only demolished in 1769 to widen the access to the city.

In this old map you can see the layout soon after the bridge was built with the Crown and Sceptre Inn on the left, as it was known then.

Today The Crown and Sceptre is The City Gate Hotel, which is ironic given the fact that the gate no longer exists. What is strange though is that today this entrance is at street level while when it was first built, this was the second floor of the building. The original street entrance is now a cellar and buried well below the approach to the bridge.

When the Crown and Sceptre reopened after construction it was a coaching inn and it's coach entrance could manage the Barnstaple coaches which were pulled by six horses.

On the other side of the road is a lower street level.

While below that street lies the original street level, and here you can see the base of the Crown and Sceptre Inn on the right which is now well below the surface of the bridge.

This stone structure is part of the original first attempt at raising the road prior to the building of the bridge.

The bridge was constructed in 1834 and is Grade 2 listed by English Heritage. Cast iron piers support a series of six arched girders. On the road level there is a cast iron gothic style balustrade and integral lamp standards. It was designed by Russell and Brown of Worcester, and made at their ironworks in Blaina, South Wales, at a cost of £3500. That equates to £237,000 today, which even now, seems cheap for something still carrying traffic nearly 200 years later.

It was made in kit form and brought by sea from Newport and up the Exeter Ship Canal. By January 1836, not unlike today, the project cost had risen to £10,461 although that included all the approach works and compulsory purchase of nearby affected properties.

In 1909 the original iron plate surface was covered in concrete later replaced in 1984 with reinforced concrete. Weight restrictions and width restrictions now apply. As recently as 2023 the gap between the approach bollards has been narrowed to stop wider heavier vehicles mounting the kerbs to squeeze through the gap.

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette - Saturday 28 December 1833

Mr. Osborne then detailed the course pursued by the North- Street Committee, as to ascertaining the cost of an iron bridge; and stated that the answers received from the iron works on the subject, gave them such estimates as would enhance the expence so much as to render it impossible to entertain the plan, except they had two or three thousand pounds more to expend; therefore he considered it placed the erection of an iron bridge out the question. He stated that one of the estimates was £450 an arch, for eight arches. A plan had been obtained from Mr. Anderson, for an iron bridge with arches, which he considered to show considerable talent; but no estimate of the expense had been given. They had also received a plan for a chain suspension bridge, but its adoption was considered impracticable, and the Committee had not entertained the subject.

Western Times - Wednesday 27 September 1905

For painting the Exeter Iron Bridge the Streets Committee recommend that the tender of Mr. Edwin Algar do the work for £67 be accepted. The question of paving the bridge at an estimated cost of £490, has been deferred till the preparation of next year's estimates are under consideration.

Western Times - Tuesday 23 January 1906

The proposal to pave the Exeter Iron Bridge with wood has been deferred until next year's estimate is considered.

North Devon Journal - Thursday 12 September 1833

On Monday last, as several lime carts were passing about the same time over the Bridge in North-street, in this city, one of them by some accident was forced against the parapet, by which the coping and some portion of the wall became loosened, and falling into Lower North- street below, it struck a little girl by the name of Reed, from 6 to 7 years of age, who was at play there, on the head, causing such injury that she died almost immediately. An inquest was held on the body at the Crown and Sceptre Inn, when a verdict of Accidental Death was returned, and a deodand of 5s. directed to be levied.

When I first saw this article I assumed "deodand" was a typo or misprint as I had never seen or heard that word before.

Deodand - A thing that by English law before 1846 was forfeited to the crown and thence to pious uses because it had been the immediate cause of the death of a person. A thing forfeited or given to God, specifically, in law, an object or instrument that becomes forfeited because it has caused a person's death.

This penalty system is lost in the mists of time but increasingly as railways spread across the country and these early railways were deemed to be very casual about safety, many casualties were causing substantial economic loss to families whose breadwinner became injured or killed. Juries started to use the deodand system to try to penalise the companies, but a famous case of an accident on the Great Western Railway when a train ran into a landslide in Sonning Hill Cutting, killing eight people, led to a test case, where the jury awarded a massive deodand of £1000 which was later quashed on appeal. This led to the Fatal Accidents Act of 1846 and a second Act, the Deodands Act 1846. There was then an official remedy regarding compensation and an end to deodands.

On this walk, the St David's end of the bridge approach was undergoing some repairs.

This is the Mary Arches Street multi storey car park, below, which isn't in Mary Arches Street. It seems it is yet another car park soon to be demolished to make sure that our cities cannot be visited.

"During the discussion, a Member highlighted that the re-development would support the reduction of city car parking and encourage the use of sustainable travel."

At the moment it takes me about 45 minutes to drive to Exeter. Faced with "sustainable travel" I would never go, as it would warrant huge expense and take half a day. Surely this is what the elites who run this country are aiming for. It would also involve a 25 minute car drive to get to the "sustainable travel". Far from being a day out it would have to be a weekend break.

After leaving the Iron Bridge on my way to the next point of interest I noticed this metalwork in the pavement. I usually snap these when doing a walk if they are old and have the local name on. There was a time when these things were all made locally.

But then I noticed the empty shop opposite had the same name on it, Garton King. This was very unusual so I resolved to do a bit of digging. Why would a modern shop have the same name as that on the old ironwork in the street? It's something I have never come across before.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Garton King was first established in 1661 and is the oldest surviving company in Exeter. Originally an iron foundry, the fact that the metal cover and the shop opposite had the same name was pure coincidence, as these metal covers would have been placed all over the city. Garton King have moved from this shop to nearby Darts Farm where they have a showroom. They are now AGA specialists and have supplied Aga cookers for 90 years. For hundreds of years the business traded in Exeter's High Street.

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette Daily Telegrams - Monday 21 June 1880

Next, through a narrow driveway I spotted an unusual piece of Art Deco peeping out. It turned out to be The Mecca Bingo hall which was originally the Gaumont Palace Cinema. Hundreds of UK cinemas from this period were later repurposed as Bingo Halls.

This one was designed by William H Watkins and opened on the 16th May 1932.

The architect William Henry Watkins (1877-1964) 'wore slick, 30s-style suits all his life, spats, a carnation in his buttonhole and drove a Rolls Royce’. He had a prolific practice that produced housing, offices, banks, and garages for the Bristol Tramways and Carriage Company. His firm was particularly known for cinema design between 1910 and 1939: 300 to 3,000-seaters, local fleapits to super cinemas designed for the Gaumont-British Picture Corporation.

These old maps show before and after it was built on North Street on the site of the Yacht Beverage Co who made fizzy drinks.

In Parliament Street itself when I was a schoolboy, ever since I could flick marbles I suppose, I'd spend hours and hours in that lane flicking marbles with my school friends. Not like they do now; you flipped them and they landed wherever you wanted them to, if you are clever enough.

The glassy marble used to come out of the ginger beer bottles which we used to get when I was a boy from the Yacht Beverage in North Street. I smashed many a bottle to get the marble out. The Yacht Beverage is where the Gaumont Cinema is.

What you got in the Yacht Beverage there was nothing but a mass of glass bottles and marbles everywhere. You'd go in there and get a pennyworth of lemonade and you drink it till you bust.

When the bottles were filled the marble would float up to the top. I've got the thing we used to open the bottle with: you'd put that one on top and push it down to release the marble and once that was released it wouldn't come up again until they filled the bottle. Wash them out and refilled. Exeter memories.

The cinema was state of the art when built and and had the 'Ardenie Earphones' system fitted to the seats for the use of the deaf.

In 1932, Frankenstein starring Boris Karloff was released in Britain, to some controversy due to its so called, horror. The Watch Committee prevented the film showing at the Gaumont, forcing the Exeter public to travel to the Rex, at Topsham, where it was being screened. In its place, for the week, was shown Murders in the Rue Morgue, about the murder of a prostitute. Exeter memories.

In England and Wales, watch committees were the local government bodies which oversaw policing from 1835 until, in some areas, 1968.

We finish this section at the South Street Farmers Market.

Shoppers keen on sampling West Country foods can buy a wide range of produce at the Exeter Farmers Market. The market is a vibrant and enjoyable place to buy and sell and meet with producers who offer a delicious range of foods such as venison, pork, lamb, beef, chicken, organic fruit and vegetables, apple juice, fish, chicken, preserves, cakes, bread, pies and much more.

The market takes place every Thursday from 9.00am to 1.00pm on the corner of Fore Street and South Street.

In Part 3 of this walk we'll see a ruin, a church and the descent down Stepcote Hill.

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Apr 07

I was excited to see the continuation of the Exeter walk, I'd been waiting and at one time thought maybe I'd missed it. I checked your posts and no, just kept waiting 😆

So interesting and loved the pics of the Iron Bridge. I'm looking forward to the next stage and seeing the fabulous Stepcote hill. Thanks, Patsy 😊

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Apr 07
Replying to

Hi Patsy, yes, really sorry about the slow turnaround on that one but the River Avon series ended up being much bigger than I had expected. The rest of the Exeter posts should be coming up a lot sooner. 🙂

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