Q is for Quarries: An A-Z trail exploring Heavitree Stone

Q is for Quarries: An A-Z trail exploring Heavitree Stone

Heavitree Stone is Exeter's stone. Many of its most interesting and historic buildings are built of it. It is a deep, Devonian red, with a character all its own.
Q is for Quarries is an A-Z trail for mobiles. Click on the sites on the map and swipe through them to find out more. There are audio versions too. Please add your own comments and photos.
Join us on a journey around the 'bullocks' blood and gravel' at Exeter's heart, and discover the City from the ground up... and down!

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Trail Map

St Anne's Church

St Anne's Church

St Anne's Church
(Site 1 of 26)

St Anne's Orthodox Church is easily missed, set back from Blackboy roundabout behind a brick gateway and small garden. But the chapel and several of the surrounding almshouses are lovely examples of Heavitree stone buildings.

Little is known about the history of the site. A chapel of St Anne was known to Bishop Grandisson in the 14th century, and there were passing references in the 15th century.

The present building is said to have been newly constructed in 1418. The dating is consistent with its materials, mostly coursed Permian breccia – layers of Heavitree stone running horizontally. It has dressings of volcanic stone, for example around the southwest window that you see as you walk up to the chapel, and a slate roof.

The almshouses at the back of the site are built of Heavitree stone and date from 1558. The chapel was fortified during the Civil War. By the 19th century, its western end had been converted into almshouses. The whole site was restored in 1907, when the chapel was returned to its original length and the almshouses on the right were rebuilt in red brick.

After St James Church was destroyed in the Blitz, until its rebuilding in 1956, its congregation used St Anne's. Now, after a period of disuse, the chapel is used as an Orthodox Church.

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Bowhill House

Bowhill House

Bowhill House
(Site 2 of 26)

Bowhill House was built around 1500 as four ranges set around a courtyard. It has been much altered since, and is now a central block to the south with two wings on the east and west.

Conservation work was undertaken during 1977 to 1995, and this provided an opportunity to study in great detail the site, building, and related historical records. The archaeological report of the work gives a fascinating insight into one of the fine buildings of west Exeter.

The house is a mix of local building materials and techniques: cob, volcanic trap, breccia, and some Beer Stone for decorative detail. During the 15th and 16th centuries breccia was quarried in large quantites at Exminster and Peamore, and these sources are nearer. So it is more likely that the breccia used at Bowhill came from Exminster rather than the Heavitree quarries. However, it is still known around Exeter as ‘Heavitree Stone’.

The archaeological report suggests that the way the Heavitree Stone is used marks it out as a “specially selected stone” rather than “common walling material”. For example, it is used in stair doorways and the kitchen, and the hall chimney stack in the east range was almost wholly breccia, inside and outside.

Not much of Bowhill is visible now beyond a small section on Dunsford Road, as most of the building has been rendered. But there is a great photo of the stack on the cover of the report, and it contains much more detail about the construction and history of the house.

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St Clare's Chapel

St Clare's Chapel

St Clare's Chapel
(Site 3 of 26)

St Clare’s Chapel is situated at the top of Heavitree Fore Street, where the route from the quarries forks on the way into central Exeter. But is it St Clare, the more well-known 13th century founder of the religious order of Poor Clares, or St Clarus, the 9th century English missionary martyred in Normandy?

According to one early 20th century local historian, St Clare’s Chapel was first referred to in 1439 as the chapel of St Clarus. But more recently it has been suggested that St Clarus stood near St Leonard’s Church, and that St Clare’s Chapel dates from the 16th century. It could therefore have been built at the same time as the original almshouses next door.

Even though it could have been built two centuries after them, its architectural style and building materials are similar to the small medieval chapels in Exeter. It could have been modelled on them, and have been built from materials reused from nearby redundant chapels such as St Clairs, St Clements, and Mincinglake or the dissolved religious houses of Cowick, St Nicholas, and Polsloe.

St Clare’s is built of rich red Heavitree Stone, with a different stone in the window tracery, and a slate roof. The stone in the walls is a multitude of sizes. In the south side wall, it is undressed and irregular in shape too. On the east the stone looks of better quality and has been worked more. The south wall buttresses contain the best stone, dressed and laid in courses. That means it was squared off, roughly regular in size, and laid in horizontal layers.

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Devon and Exeter Institution

Devon and Exeter Institution

Devon and Exeter Institution
(Site 4 of 26)

The Devon and Exeter Institution was founded in 1813 at No.7 Cathedral Close. Before that, from 1662-1813, it was the town house of the Courtenays, the Earls of Devonshire.

The back of the house is Tudor – 16th century or earlier – but very little is known of the history of the fabric of No.7 between alterations later in the 16th century and its drastic early 19th century rebuilding as the Devon & Exeter Institution.

The existing front was originally a gatehouse, and is mostly of Heavitree Stone. Some of the original openings have been filled in with brickwork. At the top of the wall, there is a strip of modern half-timbering and a painted sundial.

No.6 next door was increased in size in 1807 by appropriating part of No.7: a brewhouse, kitchen and the covered passageway that gave access to the rear of the building. So at the bottom right of the front of No.6, you can see a blocked-up archway built of purple volcanic trap with Heavitree Stone blocks in the relieving arch above. But access was still needed, and another archway was built in the facade of No.7.

In 1814, No.7 was altered again to form a two-storey four-window frontage in the Georgian style. The arch over the front entrance roughly matches the arch of the passageway in its shape.

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St Edmund's Church on the Old Exe Bridge

St Edmund's Church on the Old Exe Bridge

St Edmund's Church on the Old Exe Bridge
(Site 5 of 26)

Somewhat marooned now in the middle of traffic flow, the Old Exe Bridge is one of the best-preserved examples of a major medieval stone bridge in England. It was built in around 1200, and consisted of 17 or 18 arches spanning about 180m. About 87m is still visible: just over eight arches are fully exposed and a ninth is partly visible.

The piers of the bridge were faced with local volcanic trap and sandstone ashlar – finely worked stone. Heavitree Stone was used in later repairs. At the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century, one of the arches was repaired with stone from St Nicholas Priory, thus fulfilling a prophecy that “the ryver of Exe should run under St Nicholas Church.”

St Edmund’s Church forms part of the eastern end of the bridge, and hence was probably built at the same time. It was mentioned in a list of Exeter Churches in 1214, as was its companion Church of St Thomas Becket at the western end, which was swept away by a flood early in the 15th century.

St Edmund’s has been rebuilt and extended several times. The foundations were strengthened and a bell tower added in 1448-49. This work was done in Heavitree Stone. In around 1500 a small side aisle was added to the north side, which used a mixture of volcanic trap and Heavitree Stone. Demolition material was dumped in the river channel under the church.

The church was extensively rebuilt in 1833-34, though all the ancient foundations were kept. Much of the rebuild was removed in 1975 when the church was partly demolished. Again, all ancient walling was retained, and the tower survives at its original height.

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Fore Steet, Heavitree

Fore Steet, Heavitree

Fore Steet, Heavitree
(Site 6 of 26)

East Wonford Hill and Heavitree Fore Street are the final stretch of the Roman road leading into Exeter.

There is plentiful Heavitree Stone to be found here in the old walling along the road. Starting just after the junction with Rifford Road, there are long stretches on the right and left up to St Loyes Road, and another long stretch on the left up to Butts Road. The stone is generally undressed and uncoursed, that is rough-hewn and not set in horizontal layers.

There is little mention of walling in the historical records, except for a short section further up Fore Street. The archaeological watching brief during the ‘public realm enhancement scheme’ near the Royal Oak pub in 2009 recorded “walling of undressed Heavitree Stone bonded with orange-pink mortar”. It “appears to represent the corner of a room probably associated with one of the buildings shown on successive plans of the area from the 19th to 20th century, possibly the mid 19th century Stafford Villas”. There are two buildings shown next to the 'PH' on the 1887-89 Ordnance Survey map which could have been these.

As regards the walling along the road, the old maps are inconclusive. The 1801 drawing for the first Ordnance Survey map of Exeter shows some residences and orchards or gardens which may have been enclosed. The 1898 map shows some slightly heavier lines along the road in places, but this possibly just indicates it was a main road.

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The Guildhall

The Guildhall

The Guildhall
(Site 7 of 26)

There has been a guildhall on the site in Exeter High Street since the 12th century, but nothing of the original remains. The latest parts of the building to survive date from the late 15th century. It is now made up of an Elizabethan block, projecting into the High Street; the medieval main hall; and a rear courtyard.

The main hall was rebuilt in a major programme of work in the 1460s. Most of the material is Permian breccia ashlar, that is well-dressed blocks of ‘Heavitree’ Stone. It is thought the stone was from the Peamore quarry rather than Heavitree, possibly because the western quarries were more active at that date. Breccia is the ‘workhorse’ stone, and Beer stone was used for the finer work in the windows. Incidentally, the design of the timber roof is closely related to the roofs at Bowhill House.

The Elizabethan block on the High Street was built in 1592-94. The wall cores and hidden masonry were in breccia and volcanic trap, and fine Beer stone used in the facades.

The only section of Heavitree Stone in the Guildhall that is actually visible is in the frontage on Waterbeer Street. The present building – cells below and committee or jury room above – was built in the 1830s. The breccia is largely uncoursed rubble, probably reused. The window and door surrounds, and isolated blocks, are of trap and other stone.

Two doors down, at No.19 Waterbeer Street, there is another fragment of Heavitree Stone: masonry blocks and an arched doorway. There is some simple carving of the stones in the arch, which has weathered.

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Hope Road

Hope Road

Hope Road
(Site 8 of 26)

You might easily miss Hope Road. Its entrance at the corner of Butts Road and Wonford Street is very narrow, and at its exit into Hoker Road it looks like a service road. But it’s full of character and quirks such as Hope Hall, the former Baptist church, near the bottom; a lovely row of terraces facing a monstrously high wall; and a great variety of walling and plant life in the top section round the corner.

Hope Road appears on the 1801 drawing for the first Ordnance Survey map of Exeter, and is labelled on the 1887-89 Ordnance Survey map as Muddy Lane. It was renamed Hope Road on the building of the Baptist church in 1905.

There is a short section of dressed Heavitree Stone at the entrance and more higher up forming a retaining wall. This is topped by a high and decorative brick boundary wall for a property behind. There is a large house marked on the 1887-89 map, but the care home now on the site looks more recent. There is more Heavitree Stone at the top end of the road. Some forms the base for a lovely short section of vibrant red cob.

Further down Wonford Street on the 1887-89 map is the Gardeners’ Arms. The 1801 drawing shows the previous building on the site: the Great House, a moated medieval house. It is possible that the Hope Road remains are some of the boundary walls from the Great House estate.

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Iron Bridge

Iron Bridge

Iron Bridge
(Site 9 of 26)

The Iron Bridge was built in 1834 by Russell and Brown of Worcester out of cast iron. It has six arches, each spanning 40 feet (12 metres), and it carries a roadway 24 feet (7 metres) wide. Including the masonry approaches, the overall length is 800 feet (244 metres).

It acts as a viaduct across the Longbrook Valley. Before it was built, the northern route into Exeter used to plunge down and up what is now Lower North Street. Imagine what it was like to drive a laden cart up such a steep street in bad weather and mud!

The stone in the masonry approaches is very mixed, and was probably reused from demolished buildings. There is plenty of Heavitree Stone amongst it all.

Along the northern end of Lower North Street there are a number of solid arches filled with a mishmash of stone and brickwork to create garage and workshop frontages. From Exe Street you can see the retaining wall at the southern end. It is another stone cocktail, though a little less higgledy-piggledy.

Exeter has always been a city in flux, being knocked down and rebuilt over and over, yielding plenty of building material for reuse. Perhaps there has been too much demolition at times, but there could well have been more. Thomas Sharp’s plans for the ‘rebuilding’ of Exeter after the Blitz would have meant the demolition of the Iron Bridge to build a ring road!

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St James' Church roundabout

St James' Church roundabout

St James' Church roundabout
(Site 10 of 26)

It was difficult to find a J for the trail, so bear with us! Please let us know in the comments if you can think of any alternatives.

There is a small amount of Heavitree Stone at the corner of Union Road and Stoke Hill. It appears as rubble in a low wall on the street and a high boundary wall or buttress to the house there.

The parish of St James' was carved out from St Sidwell’s in 1838. The first church was replaced in the 1880s. According to its Historic Environment Record, the new building was “constructed of local red sandstone”. This could have been Poltimore sandstone rather than Heavitree Stone, which is usually identified in records as “breccia”. However, although sandstone is not the same as breccia, the two are sometimes confused. So there is a small chance that this church was built of Heavitree Stone.

The church was destroyed in the Blitz, and the current building of brick was dedicated in 1956. Again we are guessing, but given that there are many examples of Heavitree Stone being reused in Exeter, it is possible that the section of wall on the roundabout corner is built from the remains of Victorian era St James’. Keep your eyes peeled for other fragments around the city.

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St Katherine's Priory

St Katherine's Priory

St Katherine's Priory
(Site 11 of 26)

St Katherine’s Priory in Polsloe was founded as a Benedictine nunnery before 1159 and was dissolved in 1539. It lies about 2km outside Exeter’s medieval City Walls, and is now an oasis of green surrounded by suburbia.

A nunnery was a settlement built to sustain a community of religious women, and St Katherine’s is significant as one of only three in Devon and Cornwall. It is also one of the few to have had an extensive archaeological excavation and fabric survey.

Excavations showed that the Priory followed the traditional medieval monastic plan: a church and three ranges of two-storeyed buildings grouped around a square cloister, and other nearby buildings.

The standing remains are from the west range of the cloister. The buried remains include the church on the north side, the southern part of the west range, the south and east ranges, and the kitchens, other buildings, cemetery and water management system.

The present building dates from around 1300, and is built mainly of Poltimore sandstone with dressings of volcanic trap, and some Heavitree Stone and Salcombe Stone. It followed an earlier building of similar proportions, mainly of Heavitree Stone. Parts of this are still visible in the east end of the north wall and the foundations of the east and south walls.

As the Heavitree quarries didn’t start to be worked heavily until the 1350s, this must be one of the earlier uses of Heavitree Stone.

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St Loye's Chapel

St Loye's Chapel

St Loye's Chapel
(Site 12 of 26)

St Loye (Eloy in French or Eligius in Latin) lived in 6-7th century in what is now France. He is the patron saint of goldsmiths, other metal workers, horses, farriers and vets, and most importantly miners! St Loye’s is the only known chapel dedicated to him in Devon or Cornwall.

The first documentary evidence for the chapel is in 1387. According to Historic England’s scheduling of the site, it was built in 1377. It could even be 13th century, as the southeast wall contains three lancet windows, a style which belongs to this earlier period. Or these windows could simply be unfashionable hangovers of an earlier tradition in a small domestic chapel.

Changes include widening of the window in the southwest wall in the late 15th century. Records show that half the building had become a dwelling by 1607. By 1785 it had become a stable. Site visits in the mid 20th century found it to be in very poor condition, surrounded by allotments with variously a garden shed, compost heap and potato patch inside! Now the Chapel is a stable picturesque ruin consisting of most of three walls, set back from suburban roads within a pleasant garden.

The building is mostly Heavitree Stone from the nearby quarries. The walls also contain volcanic trap, sandstone and slate, and the lancet windows have Beer Stone frames. It is a perfect spot to see the different local stones next to each other, and learn how to identify them.

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St Margaret's Church, Topsham

St Margaret's Church, Topsham

St Margaret's Church, Topsham
(Site 13 of 26)

Topsham Parish Church is in an amazing location, overlooking the Exe estuary. The views are fantastic, especially at sunset at the end of a sunny summer day when everything is calm and still.

Only the tower survives from the medieval building. Most of the church was rebuilt in 1874-76 after being destroyed by fire. This is perhaps how the tower came to have an unusual location in the church. It is attached to the west side of the south transept, and the main porch is east of the north transept.

The 19th century church is built in squared grey limestone. The tower dates from the 14th century, and is built in the Perpendicular style mostly using Heavitree Stone. It is a good example of how the official records confuse Heavitree Stone, or breccia, with sandstone. According to the Historic England listing, it is a “red sandstone tower”. That is because breccia is classed as a type of New Red Sandstone. Can you see the angular bits of gravel embedded in the stone? That means Heavitree Stone.

The tower hasn’t survived history entirely unscathed. During the Civil War, a cannon caused extensive damage to the lower section, so that it had to be replaced. Hence the top of the tower is older than the bottom!

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St Nicholas Priory

St Nicholas Priory

St Nicholas Priory
(Site 14 of 26)

The Benedictine Priory of St Nicholas was founded in 1080-87, and its standing remains are among the oldest surviving medieval buildings in Exeter.

Originally it followed the standard layout of a medieval monastery: a church on the south side and three ranges of two-storeyed buildings grouped around a square cloister.

The west and north ranges were extensively altered in the mid-15th to early-16th centuries to provide guest accommodation, refectory, and a new kitchen. The facework includes large blocks of ashlar breccia, ashlar being the highest quality worked masonry. There is some volcanic trap and limestone mixed in, reused from other buildings. The dressings and other fine work are in Beer Stone. The kitchen included huge Heavitree Stone fireplaces in its north and west walls.

In 1536 the Priory was dissolved, and the church and east range soon destroyed. The stone was used elsewhere, including in the Old Exe Bridge and City Walls. The west and north ranges were converted into one large house in the 16th and 17th centuries, then two houses from the middle of the 17th century, eventually separated by Mint Lane into what is now St Nicholas Priory and 21 The Mint. The Priory was converted into five tenements until in 1913 it was purchased and restored by Exeter Corporation.

The exterior walls can be seen to be mostly Heavitree Stone with volcanic trap and Beer Stone dressing. They are not fine masonry, but randomly-sized uncoursed rubble.

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Old Deanery wall

Old Deanery wall

Old Deanery wall
(Site 15 of 26)

The Old Deanery wall is a nice stretch of dressed but uncoursed Heavitree Stone, with stone capping. There is a gateway facing the Cathedral with an arch in limestone.

The Old Deanery itself was four blocks and adjoining chapel. The chapel existed by 1200, but what we have now is 15th century, built of Heavitree Stone.

The first block probably dates from the 13th century and is variously described as built of volcanic trap and Salcombe sandstone, or red brick and Heavitree Stone. Have a look and see what you think. The second block was largely rebuilt in the 15th and 16th centuries, but may contain older fabric. These blocks are now the offices of the Diocese of Exeter.

The third and fourth blocks are now part of the Cathedral School. They contain medieval remnants but were largely rebuilt in the 16th century. The Deanery has been rehoused at No.10 Cathedral Close.

The Old Deanery wall leads down to Nos. 1 and 2 Deanery Place. No.2 appears to be late 18th century, but renovations revealed it was built within the shell of a late-medieval building of Heavitree Stone. This possibly also includes No.1.

Opposite is Church House, built on the site of the Cathedral Cloisters which were demolished in the 17th century. The front facing Deanery Place is late 18th century, and built mostly of Heavitree Stone rubble with brick window surrounds and bricks and other stone patchwork.

There is plenty more Heavitree Stone in the area. Keep going down Bear Street into Palace Gate, and you will see more walling on your left. Then there is the Gatehouse to the Bishop’s Palace and the Palace behind, both of which include Heavitree Stone. Even the Cathedral has a fragment in the north tower, which was rebuilt in 1393-95.

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St Petrock's Church

St Petrock's Church

St Petrock's Church
(Site 16 of 26)

St Petrock’s has been described as “among the most confusing of any church in the whole of England.” The first record of the church is in about 1200, and the site may well be older, but everything visible now is late medieval or later.

The core plan of the church was a simple nave and chancel (where the altar is located), with the tower incorporated in the north-west corner. There were other buildings clustered around the church, so it could only expand south. The south aisle was first to be built in about 1413. The second ‘Jesus’ aisle was added in the early 16th century, and further additions made in 1587 and 1828. Then in 1881 the Victorians turned the whole church through 90º when they added another chancel.

Since 1996, the aisles and the later chancel have been partitioned off and used as a homeless centre. This means that the church, that is the nave and original chancel, has returned to its original orientation.

According to the Historic Environment Record, the building is “heavily based on Permian breccia, including some very fine-jointed ashlar builds in the tower”, that is, the best quality worked Heavitree Stone. However, the Listed Building record states “Red sandstone”. Which is it? Well, we know that breccia is sometimes classed as a type of sandstone. Can you see the angular bits of gravel embedded in the stone? That means Heavitree Stone.

St Petrock’s is the largest to survive of the ancient parish churches scattered around Exeter’s city centre. You can also see Heavitree Stone in St Martin’s, St Stephen’s, St Pancras’, St Mary Arches, and St Olave’s. Can you find them all?

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Quarries

Quarries

Quarries
(Site 17 of 26)

The Heavitree quarries are where our stories begin, in the Permian geological time period. Between 250 and 300 million years ago, Devon was a tropical desert. Occasional storms caused flash floods, which dumped large amounts of loose rock, sand and mud. Over time this gravelly sediment built up and was compacted together. Over the next 50 million years, the Permian rocks were themselves overlain by smoother sandstones formed from smaller sand grains.

Our Heavitree Stone was first referred to by Sir Henry De La Beche in 1839, as the ‘Conglomerates of Heavitree’. It is Permian breccia. ‘Breccia’ means rubble, coming from the angular gravel embedded in the red stone, while ‘conglomerate’ has smoother rounder gravel embedded. Breccia, conglomerate and sandstone together are known as the New Red Sandstone. It is found from Torbay to Exeter and north into Somerset, and you can see the sequence of breccia and sandstone along the Dawlish railway line.

The old quarry faces on Quarry Lane are the easiest to see. They form the ‘garden fence’ of some of the nearby houses! You can make out the layers of sediment. This helps with quarrying. The technique was to cut the sides of the block from the top down to the next bed, slice horizontally, and lift the block out. Just like cutting a cake!

Quarry Lane is marked as “Old Quarry” on the 1887-89 Ordnance Survey map. On the other side of the lane, at the back of Britten Drive playing field, there is another quarry mostly hidden behind trees and brambles. But the Britten Drive one is labelled as “Heavitree Quarry”, so it was probably still in operation then. The quarry face is about 6m high, and the individual beds are parallel and range from 20cm to 1m in thickness. It has been designated a Regionally Important Geological / Geomorphological Site.

There is one more “Old Quarry” on the map, close by off Woodwater Lane. This is now a playground.

The heyday of the Heavitree quarries started around 1350, although a small amount of Heavitree Stone was used earlier. There were more quarries at Exminster and Peamore, which produced large quantities of ‘Heavitree’ Stone from the 15th and 16th centuries. Exminster was conveniently close to the river. It costs more to transport the stone than to quarry and dress it! The quarries operated until the 19th century, with a brief reopening after the Blitz to source stone for repair.

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Rougemont Castle

Rougemont Castle

Rougemont Castle
(Site 18 of 26)

Rougemont is a natural rock knoll of volcanic trap, and the source of the second most important building material in Exeter! Trap and Heavitree Stone can easily be told apart. Trap is purple rather than red; it often contains small round holes where air bubbles were trapped as the rock cooled; and it is easier to square off and less prone to erosion.

Rougemont trap was used in Exeter’s City Walls, built in the Roman, Anglo Saxon and medieval periods. It also figures strongly in the Castle itself. Parts of the Castle remains that we see now date from Anglo-Saxon times. William the Conqueror fortified the site further after besieging and subduing Exeter in 1068-69. The timber stockade he built was replaced by walls by the early 12th century.

It is thought that the stone gatehouse was built in the early 1070s, as it has Saxon and Norman features. The arch on the outer side of the gatehouse was blocked up later, dated to the early-mid 14th century as there was no Heavitree Stone in the work.

By 1325, the Castle was in bad condition. For the next 300 years, there are no records of repairs to the defences, only to buildings. So much of the Heavitree Stone that you can see was used during the Civil War to improve the fortifications in a number of sections. The masonry is mostly coursed squared blocks of Heavitree Stone, with a scattering of trap and sandstone.

You can certainly see a great deal of Heavitree Stone in the gatehouse now, and also in the wall and gateways to Rougemont House and in the buildings further down Little Castle Street.

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Stepcote Hill

Stepcote Hill

Stepcote Hill
(Site 19 of 26)

The ancient cobbled slope of Stepcote Hill and the buildings in West Street at its base have as much historic interest as any part of Exeter.

Nos. 5 and 7 West Street, including No.15 Stepcote Hill, are a pair of characterful late-medieval houses. No.5 has a Heavitree Stone back wall and basement storey, with two timber-framed storeys above. The framing suggests late-15th or early-16th century. It was originally divided into three tenements: one shop and living accommodation at ground level opening into West Street; and two more shops on the first floor opening on to Stepcote Hill, one with accommodation above. No.7 is also possibly 15th century, and has a ground floor of Heavitree Stone and three timber-framed storeys above.

On the other side of Stepcote Hill is St Mary Steps Church. Both names could equally well come from ‘steep’ or ‘steps’. The church is on the first floor. A small room at ground level was used as a porter’s lodge for the old West Gate. The church plan consists of nave, chancel, and a south aisle incorporating the tower.

The church is mentioned in records in 1199, and there is still some volcanic trap rubble masonry in the west wall from the earlier building. The nave of the building you can see today could be 14th century, with the aisle and tower added in the 15th century. It is “well jointed Permian breccia ashlar throughout”, that is high-quality Heavitree Stone, laid in horizontal courses. The windows are limestone.

The tower clock dates from 1619 and is well worth seeing. It features astronomy, Roman gods, and Matthew the Miller and his sons, after a notably punctual Cricklepit miller.

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Trews Weir Mill

Trews Weir Mill

Trews Weir Mill
(Site 20 of 26)

Take a leisurely walk along the left bank of the Exe, and you will reach Trews Weir and the striking building that used to house a paper mill. Trews Weir Mill was probably originally built as a cotton spinning mill. There is a stone dating it to 1780 on the front of the building, which makes it a very early factory. It was converted to a paper mill in 1835, operating until 1982, and has now been converted again into apartments.

For a water-powered mill it is relatively large, with a wide plan, and a fairly symmetrical frontage of three storeys and nine bays. If you look closely you can see that the central bay bulges out, and the first and last bays project slightly.

The ground floor is a well-built plinth of dressed Heavitree Stone, laid in horizontal courses. Above this is rubble, a patchwork quilt of Heavitree Stone, brick and other stone. There has been some ‘refenestration’, that is rebuilding and replacement of windows. The large section of Heavitree Stone patching in the third bay is particularly intriguing.

Where was the water wheel? There is a rectangular basin in front of the central bay, with an iron-mounting beam for a turbine, which could have been an external wheel chamber.

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Underground Passages

Underground Passages

Underground Passages
(Site 21 of 26)

The Underground Passages are access tunnels to Exeter’s medieval water supply system. These were large arched stone conduits, through which water was carried in lead pipes from springs to the north east of the city. They have been altered and extended many times over the centuries, but it is extremely rare to find such a well-preserved system.

There is good archaeological evidence that the passages are 12th century or earlier, but not early enough to be Roman. The first record is of a grant in 1226 of a third of the Cathedral’s supply to St Nicholas’ Priory. Later in the 13th century the supply was extended to a private house in Friernhay Street and a municipal conduit. The upper end of the pipeline was also extended from St Sidwell’s Well to Headwell before 1300. Then Cathedral records show large expenditure on the construction of a new aqueduct in 1347-49.

The town supply was built in 1420-29, with further work in 1492-97 to extend it down High Street to the Great Conduit at the crossing of High-Fore-North-South streets. The Passages are open to the public, and on the guided tours you can clearly see the Heavitree Stone used to line the passage.

In 1642-55, the passages were blocked as part of the city defence during the Civil War. They were subsequently repaired. Part of the Cathedral conduit across High Street was rebuilt as a brick passage in 1776. Most of the passages were deepened in the 19th century. Much of the section of the Cathedral conduit underlying what is now Princesshay was removed in 1950 after being damaged in the Blitz.

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Victoria Park Road

Victoria Park Road

Victoria Park Road
(Site 22 of 26)

Heavitree Stone is not just used in the historic buildings of Exeter, but in many boundary walls around the city.

Along Wonford Road, between the Nuffield Hospital and Lyndhurst Road, there is about a third of a mile of walling with some good examples of different stone, dressing, and building techniques. Much of it is Heavitree Stone, and highlights some issues with pointing and facing! In some of the sections, you can see problems with the sort of cement used and the way it has been applied. As the stone has weathered back, the joints now stand out, and this accelerates the erosion.

The junction at Victoria Park Road shows well how much Heavitree Stone can weather. Different stones weather in different ways. For example, limestone is mainly calcium carbonate, and reacts with acid rain in areas of air pollution. This is chemical weathering. Heavitree Stone is subject to physical or mechanical weathering. Physical weathering can be due to rock expanding and contracting under extremes of temperatures. This is less likely in Devon’s temperate climate. In the UK, the most common type of physical weathering is by continued freezing and thawing. Water gets into joints and cracks, and expands when it freezes, forcing the stone apart. Heavitree Stone, with its gravelly texture, has plenty of small cracks!

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Wynard's Hospital

Wynard's Hospital

Wynard's Hospital
(Site 23 of 26)

God’s House, also known as Wynard’s Hospital, was founded in 1436. The plan comprises twelve two-storeyed almshouses for twelve poor men; the chapel of the Holy Trinity along the street frontage; and accommodation for the chaplain.

It was built of Heavitree Stone throughout, during the medieval period when the Heavitree quarries were at maximum production.

In 1643 during the Civil War the chapel and house were demolished, and Wynard’s was incorporated in extended earthwork fortifications around the City Walls. The chapel was restored in 1675, and the almshouses were rebuilt and altered in the 17th and 18th centuries. The layout followed the original 15th century plan. Some stone remained from the earlier structures, and more was reused in the rebuilding.

Wynard’s was restored to a medieval appearance in 1863-64. The entrance arch, the east end of the houses, and their upper storeys are all from this time. It continued as almshouses until the mid-20th century. After a brief (astonishing!) threat of demolition, it was restored again in 1973 as City Council offices, until the Council sold it for conversion to private houses.

With its eventful history, it is one of the most evocative pieces of medieval Exeter. Sadly, public access is now limited. However, the chapel was listed for sale in 2017, and the estate agent's online app, with 360º and doll’s house views, is still available and well worth an explore.

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Exminster Parish Church

Exminster Parish Church

Exminster Parish Church
(Site 24 of 26)

The Church of St Martin of Tours, Exminster, was chosen to highlight the role the Exminster quarry played in the building of Exeter.

A chapel is alleged to have been founded on the site before 909. The current church is mostly from the late 14th century, with nave and chancel and a west tower. The aisle was probably added in the late 15th century. Refurbishment and restoration was undertaken in 1631, 1841-42 including rebuilding of the south porch, and 1856.

The tower has battlements, a turret, and diagonal buttresses at three corners. It is built of breccia ashlar, i.e. very well-worked ‘Heavitree’ Stone. The nave is coursed breccia, in horizontal layers. The south aisle is breccia and other stone rubble, i.e. it is unworked and uncoursed, except its west wall which was rebuilt in coursed stone.

The Exminster quarry is beside the A379 bypass, immediately west of the M5. It is classed as a large quarry, with a single face 30-35m high. Lower layers are Permian breccia – ‘Heavitree’ Stone – overlaid with Dawlish Sandstone. It has been designated a Regionally Important Geological / Geomorphological Site.

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Yaroslavl Bridge

Yaroslavl Bridge

Yaroslavl Bridge
(Site 25 of 26)

Yaroslavl is Exeter’s twin city in Russia, and the Yaroslavl footbridge spans the inner bypass road. So what does it have to with Heavitree Stone? Well, we needed a Y, and the City Walls are part of the bridge’s footings.

The walls date from the Roman, Anglo Saxon and medieval periods. They are a roughly rectangular circuit about 1.5 miles long and defined early Exeter. Exeter was besieged during the 11th century Norman Conquest, 12th century Cousins’ War, and 17th century Civil War, so the walls needed to be maintained as part of the defence. Given that Exeter managed to end up on the losing side every time, they have survived surprisingly well.

The gateways in the wall were dismantled in the 18th to 19th centuries. The greatest damage to the walls was during the 20th century. They survived the 1942 Blitz, only for a section to be demolished during the post-war rebuilding. Then the section now spanned by Yaroslavl Bridge was torn down in order to build the bypass. So about three-quarters is still visible and standing, up to 2.5m high.

Most of the stone is Rougemont volcanic trap. The walls were built too early to be originally Heavitree Stone. It appears instead in rebuilt sections and as patching. Why not take a walk around the whole circuit and see how much you can find?

For example, some rebuilding work was done in the mid-16th century, using stone from the partial demolition of St Nicholas’ Priory. Later in the 16th century, works near the Quay used high-quality Heavitree Stone ashlar. There is also a long section of high-quality ashlar walling in Northernhay Street. During the Civil War, Heavitree Stone was used in improving the fortifications of Rougemont Castle, and it was used again for rebuilding during the 18th century.

As a final example, there is a section of wall near Yaroslavl Bridge where the upper two-thirds is original 2nd century Roman work, and the lower third is later Heavitree Stone. How is that possible?! It’s because the ground level has eroded, and the newer work was added to underpin the older.

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Zeebrugge plaque

Zeebrugge plaque

Zeebrugge plaque
(Site 26 of 26)

We struggled to find a Z. But while the Zeebrugge plaque is a bit of a stretch, it is fixed to the old Chancellor’s House and provides an opportunity to introduce the buildings of the Cathedral Close.

The Close is the open area by the Cathedral that was the main burial ground for medieval Exeter. There is a large amount of Heavitree Stone in the buildings along the east side from St Martin’s Church to No.12 and the Chancellor’s House opposite at No.15.

St Martin’s was dedicated in 1065. The basic plan survives, but the early building was remodelled and the tower added in the 15th century. The materials are Heavitree Stone with some volcanic trap, and limestone dressings. The distinctive tower has been painted with a protective wash so appears light red.

No.5 has a late 17th century brick frontage, and a covered passageway to a medieval L-shaped building of Heavitree Stone at the back. This used to be the refectory of the Annuellars’ College.

No.6 has an 18th century front on an older Heavitree Stone wall. No.7 is the Devon and Exeter Institution, and the article about this includes more about the interesting features of both.

Nos. 8,9,9a were part of a group of buildings around a central courtyard, from the first half of the 15th century. No.9 fronts the Close and is coursed Heavitree Stone below and half-timbering above. The arch leading to No.8, with its must-see hall, is 15th or 16th century Beer Stone. The Notaries House on the west side is also well worth a look.

Nos.10,11 also form a group. The frontage is Heavitree Stone rubble, some random, some coursed in horizontal layers. Part of the upper storey is half-timbered. The famous carved oak gate leading to a small courtyard is 17th century. Much inside is Heavitree Stone, with some half-timbering.

No.12 was probably the gatehouse for the Abbot's Lodge behind. It was very badly damaged in the Blitz, and was almost entirely rebuilt. It has a two-storey frontage in Heavitree Stone. The Abbot's Lodge was completely destroyed.

Finally, the former Chancellor’s House at No.15 has two parallel ranges, which contain late medieval and 16th century features but were largely rebuilt around 1740. The earlier west range has stone rubble walls below, including Heavitree Stone among others, and is half-timbered above. The north and south walls of the east range are stone rubble; the east wall has been faced in brick. The boundary wall on the east is in Heavitree Stone. As in No.6, it contains a blocked arch of volcanic trap and relieving arch of Heavitree Stone, possibly indicating a two-storey gatehouse.

And there you have it, an A-Z of Exeter in Heavitree Stone, incorporating whistle-stop tours of the City Walls and Cathedral Close! We hope you enjoyed reading, listening, and visiting.

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My Q is for Quarries: An A-Z trail exploring Heavitree Stone Notes

Q is for Quarries: An A-Z trail exploring Heavitree Stone

Q is for Quarries: An A-Z trail exploring Heavitree Stone

Heavitree Stone is Exeter's stone. Many of its most interesting and historic buildings are built of it. It is a deep, Devonian red, with a character all its own. Q is for Quarries is an A-Z trail for mobiles. Click on the sites on the map and swipe through them to find out more. There are audio versions too. Please add your own comments and photos. Join us on a journey around the 'bullocks' blood and gravel' at Exeter's heart, and discover the City from the ground up... and down!

Did you know? You can still see the remains of some significant quarries in east Exeter. For some houses, the quarry face is their garden wall!

We have identified 26 different Heavitree Stone sites throughout the City, one for each letter of the alphabet. Each place tells its own story about the use of the stone. Why not follow the whole alphabet? There's a challenge for a day out in Exeter! Or you can create your own trails, like spelling out your own names.

For example...
SOPHIE takes you to shops and houses, boundary walls, churches, and two historic bridges
RYAN takes you to a castle, defensive walls, chapel and priory

Enjoy!!

Audio recordings of the information are available at each site within the app. You can also listen to this introductory text in your browser.

There's lots of extra stuff on our website heavitreequarrytrails.org.uk: more about the 26 sites, and more sites; three trails around particular areas of Exeter, revealing clues to local mysteries; the Heavitree Stone font to download; news about the project; and more!

There is much that we can engage with in the wonderful material that is Heavitree Stone: from its original deposition in the flash flood events of a Permian desert, to the story of the medieval quarrymen who helped build this City; from the fascinating texture and nature of the breccia rock itself, to the way variations in its use can inform our economic understanding.

We are the Quarry Pod, a network of artists and experts loosely based in Heavitree, working shoulder to shoulder with the local community to celebrate Heavitree Stone and the quarries that source it!!

Text by Clare Bryden. Photos by Clare Bryden and Chris Spinks. Thanks go to 1010 Media for developing the Placeify platform, in particular Andy Chapman for his support.

 

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