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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Exeter Photo Walk 3

This part of the walk takes us to the site of the old West Gate. I should explain at this point that Exeter is a bit confusing when it comes to using the compass. It has a sort of diagonal alignment due to the course direction of the river Exe which means that today what is the site of the West Gate looks more like the South West, while the North Gate in my last piece really points more North East. In any case, where we are headed led to the only river crossing in the past which meant all traffic headed south and west had to go in this direction simply to cross the river.

This photo, with the perfectly placed blue 1950's Standard is where we are headed, but let's not get ahead of ourselves, just because I wanted this photo to headline the piece.

As I cross the road from the South Street Farmer's Market where we ended Part 2, I noticed this old ruin looking very unloved.

This very ordinary looking ruin was a complete surprise to me as was it's very grand name. It is what is left of the Hall of the Ancient College of Vicar's Choral, which is quite a mouthful. It lies between South Street and the cathedral and was built by Bishop Brantingham between 1383 and 1388. The Vicar's Choral were the subordinate clergy who sang daily in the cathedral. It isn't accessible as it stands now, but if you could enter here, and walk through the building you would emerge the other side through it's original front arched entrance into the cathedral forecourt.

The lane leading to the cathedral was called Kalenderhay and references one of the main roles of the Vicar's Choral which was to prepare the calendar of special masses, for which no doubt there was much singing involved. These special masses were bought by the wealthy via their wills after death, which was a nice little earner. They really were singing for their supper.

Singing for your supper is an expression that originates from wandering minstrels who would turn up at an inn where they would entertain the locals who would all gather for the show and buy a lot more beer from the landlord. In return the minstrels would get their supper and no doubt a bed for the night.

Opposite the college on the other side of South Street there once stood St George's Church. In 1843 it was demolished along with much else in medieval Exeter to make room for a road widening scheme. This denied the German air force the opportunity to demolish it a hundred years later, so the local mid Victorian taxpayers had to foot the bill instead. After a German bomb fell in 1942, which would have done the job for free, this doorway was revealed below ground level and it was later moved into the front garden of the college.

It is an unusual example of German bombs uncovering some history otherwise left buried by our own town planners

This next building by comparison is almost brand new. Sacred Heart Church is part of the Catholic parish of Exeter and was officially opened on the 18th November 1884. The early 1800's saw new Acts of Parliament emancipating Catholics which culminated in 1829. The most significant measure was the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829, which removed the most substantial restrictions on Roman Catholicism in the United Kingdom.

Why was Catholicism restricted in the first place? Well if you have watched films about Henry VIII or Elizabeth I and the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, the arrival of William and Mary from the Netherlands and the perceived and actual threats from Papal Europe you will have some idea.

(Just as a digression, my PC has suggested that I have misspelled Papal and instructed me that I really need to change it to Paypal. This is where we have got to now.)

The Bill of Rights of 1689 asserted that "it hath been found by experience that it is inconsistent with the safety and welfare of this Protestant Kingdom to be governed by a Papist Prince" and requires a new monarch to swear a coronation oath to maintain the Protestant religion. It's probably advisable that we are not governed by Paypal Princes either.

By 1884 this church had risen from the site of the old Bear Inn. That's one way to wage a war on the sins of alcohol. The Sacred Heart church survived the Blitz during the Second World War "because the parish priest at the time, the Rev. Fr Thomas Barney stood on a roof between the church and the Baptist Chapel, picking off the incendiary bombs that fell on either roof."

The interior uses a variety of materials including Pocombe, Bath Corsham and Portland stone. The stained glass windows were made by Frederick Drake, a local glass worker. It cost £10,000 to build. Exeter Memories

In fact, prior to the Bear Inn standing here, there stood the house of the Abbot of Tavistock, where it is believed that St Boniface as he was later to become, received his education.

In later days changes came about, and the abbot's home was transformed into the Bear Inn, from which the eight horse waggons used to start with their loads of woollens for the London market. Western Times - Saturday 15 November 1884

As we turn a corner we are met by this amazing view which emphasises the small size of the city, because here we are right in the old centre, on the main south westerly approach at the top of Stepcote Hill, and we can see rural Devon not that far away in the distance.

Several houses at the top of the hill bear the mark of The Church Army, an organisation that had a mission to replace some of the low grade housing in the city to improve the living conditions of the poor. I didn't spot these plaques until I examined the photos when I got home. It was quite difficult to find any information about this organisation and these houses but perseverance paid off in the end.

Western Morning News - Tuesday 27 December 1927

MORE HOUSES FOR EXETER POOR By loan and gifts of money to Church Army Housing, Limited, Exeter branch, sufficient has been subscribed to erect one house similar to several already built by the company for the poorer people. This sets free an offer by a relative of Mrs. Sowton Barrow, of Exmouth, to give two fully-equipped, five-roomed houses if the local branch could raise the cost of one. Headquarters promised to provide one house for every three provided locally. The total result is four more houses, a very acceptable contribution towards solution of the housing problem in Exeter.

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette - Monday 05 March 1928

TRANSFORMATION. Real Houses Replace Slum Dwellings.

STEPCOTE - HILL, EXETER. Anyone acquainted with Stepcote-hill, a locality in the heart of No. 4 Area, familiarly known as the West Quarter of Exeter, will have noticed that, four tumble-down houses, unfit for human habitation, situated about half-way down the hill, have disappeared, and that in their places two pleasant-looking dwellings called Stepcote-hill Cottages have appeared. Standing back a little from the street, with white stuccoed fronts, they form a welcome exchange. The transformation is due to the activities of the Church Army Housing, Ltd. (Exeter), one of the two Societies that are doing helpful work in assisting to find a real solution of the slum problem in Exeter.

The houses comprise, downstairs, a living-room, scullery, etc., and, upstairs, three nice bedrooms. Electric light is fitted, and the sanitary arrangements, ventilation, heating, etc., are excellent. Each is occupied, one by family of eight, hitherto living in one room a court in St. Thomas's, and the other a family formerly residing in two rooms in Smythen-street, which were described as appalling. Each family includes young children, and all are delighted with their new, comfortable and sanitary abodes, from the bedrooms of which Haldon can be seen. The rent in each case is 6s 9d a week, with 2s 3d rates.

The Company has now built ten houses, two more are building, and four are to be built. It should be mentioned that curtains for the Stepcote-hill houses were presented by the women's section of the Exeter branch of the British Legion, and furniture by an anonymous donor. The Company is doing wonderful work, and confidently appeals for more financial aid to continue its -philanthropic operations. At present money is needed towards the cost of two houses.......... On Saturday the Stepcote-hill cottages were open to inspection, and a good number of citizens availed themselves of the opportunity, Mrs, W. Browne and Mrs. Sowton Barrow conducting visitors over one of the houses into which the tenants are about to move.

There is no need point out either the urgency or the beneficence of the work. It is too true that many in Exeter are living under conditions of overcrowding in insanitary, badly - ventilated dwellings. Were other accommodation available many more houses would immediately be subject to closing orders.........The important point, is that, wherever a house is built by either Company, a family is enabled to live more in keeping with the standard that should be set in the 20th century, and we wish both continued prosperity.

The Church Army was founded in England in 1882 by the Revd. Wilson Carlile, who brought together soldiers, officers and a few working men and women whom he and others trained to act as Church of England evangelists among the poor and outcasts of the Westminster slums in London.

In 1888, the Church Army established labour homes in London and elsewhere, with the object of giving a "fresh start in life" to the outcast and destitute. The inmates earned their board and lodging by piece work, for which they were paid at the current trade rates, and were encouraged to seek other positions for themselves. The Church Army had lodging homes, employment bureaus, cheap food depots, old clothes department, a dispensary and a number of other social works. Wikipedia.

It's hard to believe looking at Stepcote Hill today how notorious an area of Exeter this once was. It was the site of some of the worst living conditions and housed the drunk, the destitute and the very poor. It explains why the Church Army chose this site for improvement years later.

Western Times - Saturday 18 January 1845

Hannah Pocock was charged with assaulting a woman, named Brown. Mr. G. W. Turner appeared for the defendant. The parties keep houses of ill fame—the one in West-street—the other on Stepcote Hill ; on Saturday night they had quarrel, and finished with a fight. Mrs. Brown, according to her own statement, fainted from the blow of a door key, and on coming to herself found her hand in Mrs. Pococks' hair. Each combatant was lifted up by one of her respective male lodgers, and carried away. The affair was a most disgraceful row ; and Mr. Turner said he was ashamed to represent either of the parties ; it seemed, he said, to have been a jolly skrimmage among the lot of them. The Mayor perfectly agreed with Mr. Turner, except in one point; the skrimmage, so far from being a jolly one, was in his opinion very discreditable. He dismissed the case with costs.

Western Times - Saturday 23 August 1845

The next case was a row between a noisy set of people who inhabit one of the houses on Stepcote hill—we say a noisy set, because though one of the witnesses, Mrs. Endacott, described the complainant, Henry Lovering, as " a very quiet honest man,'' the Bench thought fit to admonish him to be more quiet. The quarrel commenced with the wives of the parties—the child of the defendant Hinckton having made a slop in a part of the house common to both families, drew down the wrath of Mrs. Lovering, who caught "the little maid" as she was learning her lesson in the court, and administered a sound shaking; the child's mother came to the rescue, Lovering stood by his wife, Hinckton came home, and without examining the merits of the case, retorted on Lovering, and the four made so much noise as to collect a mob round the house, whereupon the complainant went into the street to explain the cause of the disturbance—by his own admission, he was quietly saying to a neighbour that the whole street was disturbed through this man," when out rushed the defendant to prove his peaceable disposition—knocked him down, and declared that "he wouldn't mind hurting him no more than a bloody rat." Hinckton said in defence, that after he had gone quietly upstairs with his family, the crowd outside had been incited by complainant to throw a stone through his window, which naturally called him out; and he said that Lovering, in his quiet way, persecuted him incessantly. The Bench fined him half a-crown, which he vowed he would not pay ; and in spite of the cries of his wife and children, who hung about him till they were forcibly removed, entreating him to pay the fine and come home with them, he was locked up in default of payment.

These were tough times indeed when you could receive a sentence of transportation for seven years for stealing cheese at the age of 14. I was not aware until reading this extract that transportation could also mean being sent to another part of the country not necessarily to destinations like Australia.

Western Times - Saturday 18 March 1848

Edwin Butt was indicted for stealing 10lbs of cheese from Robert Potter on the 15th of February. Mr. Lempriere prosecuted. The cheese had been stolen from a stall in the Higher Market; and prisoner had taken it on the same day to Susan Sydenham, and sold it to her for eightpence, saying that his mother sent him, that his name was Passmore, and he lived on Stepcote Hill.

The Recorder said it was a melancholy duty to sit in judgment upon the actions of a boy that age ; he thought it a great indiscretion to buy the cheese of a boy of that description. This poor boy, who is fourteen years of age, has been eight times in custody, five times whipped, twice convicted at the Sessions, once escaped upon a flaw in the indictment, and once at least convicted under the Juvenile Offenders Act. As for his behaviour in the gaol, the governor said he was very docile, but there was great deal of art about him: and he had said that "if he was to get out of prison again, there was no one to take him in." [He has an aunt in Pancras lane.] The Recorder was reluctant to pass even the form of a sentence of transportation on such a boy: but would do so, not with any idea that he would be sent out of the country, but in order that he might be sent to the Juvenile Prison at Parkhurst, and there trained into a better mode of life. He sentenced him to seven years transportation.

Drama, much hilarity and amateur theatrics in court.

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette - Saturday 14 October 1848

A Melting Case.— John Brown, of Smythen-street, was charged by policeman Woodgates with having created a breach of the peace on Stepcote-hill, on Sunday morning, soon after midnight. The policeman stated that there was a row caused by two men fighting. A brother officer took one of them into custody, and witness the other. Brown then took his arm, and requested him to give up the prisoner, immediately upon which the mob attacked the police, dragging witness and his prisoner down the hill into a place called Eveleigh Court., where the prisoner was taken from him.

He subsequently called at Brown's house, and was told by the defendant's relatives that he was then in bed, which turned out to be a falsehood.—The defendant now earnestly denied that he was present in the row, and called a person named Endicott, who assisted the police at the time, and whose statement was that he did not see Brown present.—

The Magistrates suggested that the defendant should bring witnesses to prove where he was, if he was in another place at the time. The defendant replied—l don't think I could state where I was. It wouldn't be prudent for any young man to state where he was at a particular time.

Mr. Hooper.—l am surprised to hear a man of your age say that. You are charged with a very serious offence, and yet you think it imprudent to say where you were, although you say it would prove your innocence.

Defendant. —I was with a "friend".

The Magistrates offered to defer the case, if Brown wished to produce witnesses for an alibi-

Defendant.—lf it is the same to you, gentlemen, I should like the case to go to a Jury. I could call many witnesses to prove I wasn't there.

Dr. Barham. —If you were to call half Fore-street to prove that you were not there, that would be to no avail if you cannot prove that you were somewhere else.

The defendant burst into tears, and said be could do no more; if he was condemned he should be condemned innocent. He then put his handkerchief, like Caesar covered his face with his robe to fall decently, and retired from the box in tears. The bench consulted for a few minutes, and decided to give the defendant an opportunity on Saturday of bringing up any witnesses that he might choose.

One final fairly substantial piece with some wonderful flowery, atmospheric and descriptive language. I include quite a lot of it because I just love the fact that this is a newspaper account of an actual legal case. It would make a wonderful basis for a period soap opera. There are highlights such as his "head was like a bullet" and a description of her "maternal bosoms", please read on.

Western Times - Saturday 08 September 1838



September 1. Elizabeth Laws, a clean and tidily dressed woman, complained of one William Helmore, and Mary his wife—the first with having used abusive language towards her : and the second with having committed a gross assault. Mr. W. H. Furlong appeared for the defence, and Mrs. Laws conducted her own case in person.

The charge against the wife was first taken, and poor Mrs. Laws appeared to have been so completely beleaguered by these Helmores, that her life was one eternal broil— "perpetual agony and pain, With terrors and with clamours compass'd round."

The parties live in the very pleasant little row of houses branching off from Stepcote hill, which have fine view of the green hills to the westward of the city, and the soft pure sky above. Nothing is wanted in this sweet spot but peace and unanimity, to make it perfect paradise, but between the Laws and the Helmores, there is a constant feud, and being the leading families of the place, the partizans of each take care to keep them at it.

Mrs. Laws could never have had high pretensions to personal beauty, but although she has been a wife two and twenty years to an artillery man, for such has her husband been, she yet bears a comely and decent appearance, betokening the healthy and the notable housewife.

Mr. Laws is a retired serjeant of artillery, clean limbed, as straight as a ramrod, and with a head like a bullet, having the two organs of conscientiousness and destructiveness fully developed—a combination that makes a good soldier, the latter keeping him up to slaughter-house pitch, and the former organ teaching him only to kill those that come before him in the regular way of business.— He had a Waterloo medal on his left breast, and a heart full of pluck beneath it.

The Helmores were very mechanical looking persons, and evidently not the top-sawyer people of the place.

The case against Mrs. Helmore was first called on. It appeared that there is a courtyard common to the two houses ; covered over with a partition wall, and a drain in the centre, there being an upright grating, so that either party might throw slops through to the sink, which was fixed beneath the aforesaid grating. At this grating as Mrs. Laws alledged, there was frequent accumulation of filth, in consequence of the neglect of her neighbour Mistress Helmore ; on Thursday she was down on her knees cleaning it out, venting her wrath on that gentle dame, when slap came a bucket of slush into her fair face, and running over her chin, passed below, making the bosom which erst had been the couch of maternal and connubial love, a noisome pool of pestiferous distilment. She did not remain long on her bended knees ; but soon lightened her bosom of its unwelcome load, and coming here for justice, Mrs. Helmore was now present to answer for the assault.

Mr. Furlong for the defence, submitted the good woman to rigid cross-examination, but did not shake her story. She said that Mrs. Helmore knew perfectly well that she was there, as she (complainant) had a light at the grate, and defendant heard her talk. This was denied on the part of the latter, and Mr, Furlong having addressed the Bench with considerable ingenuity, on the novel fact of an assault through a brick wall, that being between the parties—the case was dismissed.

Scan Mag.—The second case was now called on. It was a charge of using abusive and defamatory language, brought against Mister Helmore, by Mistress Laws —an offence which we grieve to say prevails among high and low.

A slight digression here as I had no idea what Scan Mag meant in this article. It turns out to be an abbreviation for scandalum magnatum (law, historical or obsolete) A defamatory speech or writing published to the injury of a person of dignity.

Mrs. Laws stated her case. Helmore came home & hearing that there had been row, and that the gallant Laws was going to punch his head, came and asked what it was for—when Mrs. Laws having replied that his better half had called her every kind of prostitute that she could lay her tongue to —an organ, be it observed, not of the slowest movement—-he replied "so she was," and that if she had had, her deserts she would have had more than 50 base children. On asking the veteran Laws, if he intended to punch his head ?—that hero replied, that if certain hypothetical statements of Helmore's had been positive statements—namely, as to Mrs. Law's chastity, then in that case the head should have been punched. Defendant then called the brave Laws a coward, a pauper on the country, a skulker behind hedges when the fighting was going on, and otherwise debasing his soldierly character.

Laws, who had his brows literally embowered with laurels of his own gathering, could not stand this : he challenged him to fight, and on the topic being renewed in Court, he again repeated the challenge. He smote his breast with much emotion, before the Bench, and his eye gleamed like a lighted touch-hole, as he pulled out a roll of testimonials, and sported a medal granted by King William the Fourth, of blessed memory- all for gallant and soldier like conduct. "I have (he said) been three and thirty years a soldier, and have fought hard for the small pension I enjoy, when he was sleeping in his warm bed. l am not a pauper on the country, and as for coward I cannot stand that." He repeated, with due deference to the bench, the challenge which he had before given, but Helmore would not "peck." Evidence was produced of the foul language, and Helmore was adjudged to pay 5s. and costs 6s. making 11s. besides his lawyer's bill. The veteran Laws and his faithful spouse left the court rejoicing.

So here we are now after all the theatrics and scandalous behaviour at the bottom of Stepcote Hill, and here we find the House that Moved and an ancient church all next to the remains of the old Roman wall and the site of the original South Gate.

This is The House that Moved, below.

The House That Moved is a historic building in Exeter, originally built in the late Middle Ages and relocated in 1961 when the entire street it was on was demolished to make way for a new bypass road linked to the replacement of the city's bridge over the River Exe. We will see the old bridge in the next chapter of this walk.

Illustrated London News - Saturday 23 December 1961

A FAMOUS old house in Exeter, sometimes known as the Merchant’s House, sometimes as Tudor House, but believed to be considerably older and dating from the 14th century, was first recommended for demolition in the interests of motor traffic and the making of new inner by-pass. As result of representations and a Government order, together with a grant of £7OOO from the Government, the Exeter City Council decided to move the house intact to another site about 100 yards distant —at a total estimated cost of rather more than £8OOO. The move began on December 12. After the house had been reinforced it was jacked up, mounted on wheels and then winched slowly along metal track. In the course of two hours, 40 yards of the total 100-yard journey were covered.

Here is an old photo of the house in its original position on the right and quite by coincidence there is an old car parked in a similar position in relation to it, as my photo of where it is today.

The Church of St Mary Steps is a Grade I Listed church in the city of Exeter, England. The church dates from about 1150 and was rebuilt in the 15th century. It was formerly by the west gate of the city. In the late 19th century the church was restored by the architect Edward Ashworth.

The unbuttressed tower is tall and of two-storeys and its base forms the entrance porch to the church. It has a round-arch doorway at its foot with a gentle, continuous wave moulding. Above it is a two-light window. Then, over this comes a clock of 1619 in a square frame: the dial with the sun and five stars rotates with the sun pointing to the hour. The minute hand has the moon at one end. The figures round the dial probably represent Apollo and Diana, the god and goddess of the day and night, and Ceres and Minerva, the goddesses of agriculture and industry (Moreton).

Above the clock, at the base of the second stage, is a niche with a cusped, ogee canopy and pinnacles and buttresses at the sides. In the centre are three figures, the central one seated: these are quarter jacks and date from 1620-21. The figures are all armed - the central figure wears a breastplate and helmet and the flanking figures carry pikes. They are known as Matthew the Miller and his sons, after a notably punctual miller of Cricklepit. English Heritage

Charles Dickens in his periodical "All the Year Around" noted a version of a local ditty.

"Adam and Eve would never believe,

That Matthew the Miller was dead,

For every hour in Westgate tower

Old Matthew nods his head"

The House that Moved, on the move in December 1961.

Just to the left of The House that Moved is a remnant of the Roman city wall near where the West Gate once stood. It was demolished in 1815 to improve access into the city for the increasing modern traffic. So successful have Exeter's town planners been for 150 years that when the Germans finally arrived in their planes there was a veritable dearth of decent targets left.

William Prince of Orange who had landed with his army at Brixham to claim the throne of England entered the city right here. I mentioned him earlier in this post and it was the fear of a Catholic takeover of the country that caused William to become King. He and his wife Mary were directly in line of succession once any Catholic contenders were ruled out.

Carrying on in a roughly straight line from Stepcote Hill past what would have been the West Gate you naturally find yourself on the approach to what remains of the old Exe bridge, which we will see in part 4.

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