Exeter Blue Plaques and Places

Exeter Blue Plaques and Places

Follow this circular trail to discover some of the plaques in Exeter which commemorate notable Exonians or famous visitors to the city, and find out about the places with which they are associated.
Start at Plaque 1 in the Cathedral Close.

Continue

 

Trail Map

Franz Liszt | Royal Clarence Hotel, Cathedral Yard

  • The plaque
  • The hotel in 1866. Courtesy of West Country Studies Library.
  • The hotel before the fire.

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Franz Liszt | Royal Clarence Hotel, Cathedral Yard
(Plaque 1 of 18)

Start in the Cathedral Close, standing beside the statue of Robert Hooker (a notable Exonian, though not one commemorated by a blue plaque).

Behind the hoardings used to stand the Royal Clarence Hotel, a city landmark for many years. In 2016, it was gutted by a tragic fire. Much of the ruin then had to be demolished due to instability, leaving little more than the front wall of the lower two stories, and the ruins of the side wings. Beside the front door and not currently visible, is a blue plaque commemorating two concerts that took place in the hotel in 1840, featuring the composer/virtuoso pianist Franz Liszt (1811-1886).

Liszt's appearances at the Assembly Rooms, now part of the Royal Clarence Hotel in Cathedral Yard, were part of a British tour and according to a brief report in the Western Times “they were indifferently attended, notwithstanding the wonderful performance.” Among Liszt’s compositions for piano is a short piece called “Exeter Preludio” written in the year that he visited the city. Its few bars last only 20 seconds but to music lovers it is recognizable as the introduction to one of his popular waltzes.

Following the fire, investigations discovered traces of a thirteenth- or fourteenth-century building inside. The hotel’s outward appearance up until 2016 was the result of a rebuilding in 1766 by William Mackworth Praed for a Frenchman called Peter Berlon, who ran it as an Assembly Room, coffee house and tavern. Berlon later advertised it as an “hotel” : a very early use of that term in Britain. It was later called the “Royal Clarence” after a stay by the Duchess of Clarence, the wife of the future Wlliam IV, in 1827. Berlon soon went bankrupt, and throughout the nineteenth century there followed a long list of tenants, none lasting very long, which suggests that it was not easy to make a profit there.

The hotel had expanded into the buildings on either side by the time of the fire, but at the time of Liszt’s visit, it only occupied the central part. The building on the right, also built by William Mackworth Praed in the 1760s.  was occupied by the Exeter Bank from 1769 until 1906, then by Deller’s Cafe, a famous Exeter rendezvous, until it moved in 1919 into larger purpose-built premises on the High Street, after which this corner building was taken over by the Royal Clarence Hotel.

Leave the Close by walking through the passage to the right of the hotel, and turn left into the High Street. Walk past the Guildhall and on down Fore Street as far as King Street. Turn left into King Street and find Plaque 2 on the right at the top of Stepcote Hill.

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Dr Charles Newton Lovely | Corner of King Street and Stepcote Hill

  • The plaque
  • The site in 1935. Courtesy of ExeterMemories.co.uk
  • Kings Dwellings today

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Dr Charles Newton Lovely | Corner of King Street and Stepcote Hill
(Plaque 2 of 18)

Dr Charles Newton Lovely (1864-1947) was an Exeter GP. Through his work he became concerned about the poor state of the housing in which many of his patients lived, especially here in the "west quarter" where many of the buildings were ancient, lacking in modern conveniences, poorly maintained, and often occupied by multiple households. Although Exeter City Council was committed to slum-clearance, the new homes that it was building at the time were too expensive for the poorest people. Dr Lovely was determined to do something about this, and conceived the idea of establishing a philanthropic association to build homes to let at a lower rent while still providing a decent standard of accommodation. He persuaded others to join him, and in 1926 The Exeter Workmen’s Dwellings Association Ltd, (later Company), was founded with Dr Lovely as its Chairman. The Company built many homes across the City, including in Looe Road, Clayton Road, Wykes Road, Fords Road, Mildmay Close and Beacon Avenue.

King’s Dwellings was completed by the EWDC in 1933. A grand opening ceremony for the flats took place on September 12th 1933, performed by Miss Violet Wills, a local philanthropist and one of the directors of the EWDC. This was followed by a fundraising tea.

Dr Lovely was chairman of the Company until his retirement in 1936, constantly campaigning for better housing, and against what he saw as bureaucracy and foot-dragging, particularly by the City Council. 

Kings Dwellings was upgraded in 2012 by Cornerstone Housing, the successor to the EWDC. A new façade on the King Street frontage has provided extra space for modern facilities, as well as giving it a less austere appearance. It still provides, as originally intended, homes that are convenient for people employed in the centre of the City.

To find Plaque 3, walk (carefully) down Stepcote Hill, noting on the way other twentieth century houses put up after the slum-clearance, and turn right into West Street at the bottom.

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Charlie Brewer and Mary the Pigeon - 6 West Street

  • The plaque
  • 6 West Street

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Charlie Brewer and Mary the Pigeon - 6 West Street
(Plaque 3 of 18)

6 West Street is part of a row of eighteenth century buildings backing on to remnants of the old city wall. 

Cecil Brewer (1895-1985), who preferred to be known as Charlie, was born in St Thomas, Exeter, and apprenticed as a bootmaker at the age of 15. He and his wife Ena moved to 6 (then 58) West Street in 1922 where he set up his workshop and bred and trained homing pigeons in a loft above the shop. In the 1940s he enrolled his prized pigeon Mary of Exeter in the National Pigeon Service and took on the duties of Special Constable with general responsibility for control of war pigeons in the area. Mary, “the bird who never gave up”, was dropped behind enemy lines and despite being attacked by a hawk and wounded by gunshot on different occasions, and once going missing for ten days, she always completed her mission by returning to Exeter, where Charlie nursed her back to action, even stitching up her wounds himself on occasion. Homing pigeons contributed greatly to wartime communications because they could fly home over enemy territory often unnoticed. The secret intelligence Mary brought from occupied France to her loft at West Street was collected by military motorcyclists. At the end of the war Mary and Charlie were both awarded medals. Mary won the Dickin Medal, often called the animals’ VC, for her gallantry and outstanding endurance, and Charlie was decorated for his war services. Mary died peacefully in her loft in 1950 and her grave is in the PDSA Pet Cemetery in Ilford .

When Charlie Brewer moved into West Street in 1922, the street ran, as it had for centuries, all the way from Fore Street to Quay Hill. Western Way, built in 1961, cut West Street in two. It also caused the demolition of a number of old buildings in nearby streets. One house, now known as “The House That Moved” was rescued from demolition thanks to a campaign by local people, and  was moved on rollers from its position on the corner of Frog Street and Edmund Street to a new site opposite St Mary Steps Church. Charlie Brewer photographed the event, and made and sold notebooks with reproductions of his photographs. He continued to breed pigeons and was President of the South Western Centre of the National Homing Pigeon Union. He continued to work until the age of 80. 

Walk up to the top of West Street and turn right into Fore Street. Plaque 4 is a short way up on the other side of the road, but may be seen better from staying on the same side.

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Charles Dickens and Thomas Latimer | 143 Fore Street

  • The plaque
  • 143 Fore St today

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Charles Dickens and Thomas Latimer | 143 Fore Street
(Plaque 4 of 18)

The plaque at 143 Fore Street commemorates the friendship between Charles Dickens (1812-1870) and the campaigning West Country journalist, Thomas Latimer (1803-1888), long-time editor of the Western Times, whose home, office and printworks were all at that address. Latimer and Dickens became firm friends when, as reporters, they were covering an Exeter parliamentary election and Dickens used Latimer’s shoulder as a rest for his note-book in the pouring rain. As an editor, Latimer challenged every corner of civic privilege and secrecy in Exeter, giving his paper the Latin motto, Tempora quaeram, “I will seek out the times”. A chief target of his pen was the activity of the unpopular Bishop Henry Philpotts, Bishop of Exeter from 1831 to 1869. Philpotts eventually sued Latimer for criminal libel but the jury at Exeter Assizes acquitted him to cheers of approval.

143 Fore Street is described in Pevsner’s “Buildings of England” as “the finest eighteenth-century house remaining in the city”. From across the street, the elegance of the two original upper stories can be appreciated. The house was built around 1716, by Sir Thomas Bury JP. Later in the century it was the home of Sir John Duntze, a wool merchant, banker and MP for Tiverton.

The conversion of the building in the 1830s from genteel home into offices and print works of the Western Times marks a change in use to something more typical for the area at the time. But the ground floor and first floor frontage was added in 1905, and is not as Latimer and Dickens would have known it.

The first railway station in Exeter opened in 1844, relatively late for a city. So when Charles Dickens came to cover the election in 1835, he would have arrived by coach, a journey of at least twenty-four hours from London. Perhaps the slow journey to London was one of reasons why he chose Exeter as the place to settle his parents in 1839 - he often found his father an embarrassment - hoping that they would keep out of his way. It didn’t work though: Mr Dickens moved himself back to London in 1843, without waiting for the railway to transport him. The house they occupied also has a plaque: Mile End Cottage, Church Road, Alphington.

Continue up Fore Street and High Street, past the Guildhall, and find Plaque 5 on the corner of Gandy Street.

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Sir Thomas Bodley | Corner of Gandy Street & High Street

  • The plaque
  • Thomas Bodley. Courtesy of the West Country Studies Library.
  • 229 High Street

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Sir Thomas Bodley | Corner of Gandy Street & High Street
(Plaque 5 of 18)

Sir Thomas Bodley (1545-1613), after whom the famous Bodleian Library in Oxford is named, was born at what is now 229 High Street, Exeter.

Thomas Bodley was the son of a wealthy merchant John Bodley, who, as a leading Protestant in Exeter, went into religious exile with his family during the reign of Queen Mary I. The family returned to England after the accession of Queen Elizabeth I, and Thomas enjoyed a distinguished career at Oxford University, became an MP, a diplomat, and was knighted in 1604 by James I. The library at Oxford had originally been a gift to the University in 1470 by the youngest son of Henry IV, but Bodley worked hard to improve its collection, creating the foundation for the great library that it has become.

229 High Street has always been in a premier position in the centre of Exeter, and was once a grand double-fronted house. Some of its past occupants have reflected such status: several former mayors of Exeter, and John Bodley himself. The building as Thomas Bodley would have known it in his childhood, has disappeared. Not long after the Bodleys’ time it was re-built by Sir George Smyth, in a grand style, with elaborately panelled rooms and carved fireplaces. Controversially, that house was demolished in the 1930s. Several of the elaborate interiors were sold to the American millionaire William Randolph Hearst, and later found their way into museums in the USA. In 2001 one of these interiors was purchased by RAMM, and the panelling can now be seen in the parlour at St Nicholas Priory, with an overmantel on display in the RAMM itself. Considering the fact that an Elizabethan house on the site had just been demolished, it is rather surprising that the new building put up in the 1930s was built as a kind of pastiche Elizabethan house itself, using reclaimed features from a genuinely Tudor house at 19/20 North Street, which had been pulled down earlier. One of the five-sided first floor front windows came from North Street, with the other one being a copy. The house was again damaged during the blitz, leading to the rather incongruous second floor and roof line.

Retrace your steps down the High Street as far as Queen Street. Turn right along Queen Street and left into the Guildhall Shopping Centre. Walk through the restaurant area to find Plaque 6 ahead, on a pillar just outside Superdrug. St Pancras church is in the open area in front of you.

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Nicholas Hilliard | Guildhall Shopping Centre

  • The plaque
  • Self-portrait miniature. Courtesy of V&A Museum.
  • St Pancras Church and plaque

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Nicholas Hilliard | Guildhall Shopping Centre
(Plaque 6 of 18)

Nicholas Hilliard (1547-1619) was possibly the first British artist to gain an international reputation. His work is still much admired, and examples are held by The Royal Collection, the National Portrait Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum and other museums and galleries in the UK and abroad. He was born in Exeter, probably in the parish of St Pancras, but he made his career as both a goldsmith and a painter in London, where he became known for excellence in painting portrait miniatures, or "limnings", as they were known at the time. His skill was such that he was employed by both Queen Elizabeth I and James I as "limner to the monarch". In addition to portrait miniatures, he and his workshop produced other high-quality work including medals, jewels (elaborate settings for miniatures), illuminated manuscripts, full-size oil paintings, and prints.

Nicholas Hilliard came from a family of goldsmiths. His father, Richard Hilliard was an Exeter goldsmith, as was his grandfather, John Wall. Richard Hilliard was patron of the living of St Pancras church, by virtue of owning the property in the parish associated with the patronage. Nicholas inherited both the property and the patronage from his father, though he must have then sold it, because it was not in his possession at the time of his death.

St Pancras is one of the oldest church foundations in Exeter. It seems to be positioned at an odd angle to streets in the city centre, which may be due to being oriented according to a pre-medieval street pattern. It is even possible that it was a Romano-British Christian church; such churches were often re-dedicated in the 7th century, and St Pancras seems to have been a popular choice for re-dedications at that time, but not much used later. The current building is 13th-century with later alterations. 

Other than the church, there is little else in the area now that Nicholas Hilliard would recognise, apart from the Guildhall, although he would have difficulty even with that, since the cells at the back were altered in the 19th century, and the High Street front was added in the 1590s, after Hilliard had left Exeter. There were undoubtedly goldsmiths’ workshops in the area, hence the name of Goldsmith Street nearby. The Guildhall Shopping Centre around the church was built in the 1970s, replacing what were narrow streets in the vicinity, such as Pancras Lane, and Trichay Street.

Return to Queen Street and turn left, walk along past Exeter Central Station and turn left down Richmond Road. Turn right into St David's Hill to find Plaque 7 on your right.

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W. G. Hoskins | St David's Hill

  • The plaque
  • 28 St David's Hill
  • Hele's School. Courtesy of the West Country Studies Library.
  • University College of the South West, now Exeter Phoenix. Courtesy of the West Country Studies Library.

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W. G. Hoskins | St David's Hill
(Plaque 7 of 18)

William George Hoskins (1908-1992), was a historian and conservationist. He was born at his grandmother’s house, 54 St David’s Hill, Exeter (now number 28). His parents lived in Little Silver, where he spent his early days until the family moved to St David’s Hill in 1916. Both his father and grandfather were bakers. He was educated at Hele's School, round the corner at the top of Hele Road, where Exeter College now stands, and later at the University College of the South West of England, the pre-cursor of Exeter University, which was then in Gandy Street.

Hoskins wrote painstakingly-prepared books on his native county, but his most influential work is the classic The Making of the English Landscape, first published in 1955. In the 1970s W. G. Hoskins made two television series. While devoted to Devon all his life, he did not always agree with the developments taking place in Exeter, where, as a city councillor, he often opposed the council's plans. He was a leader in the campaign to save the “The House That Moved” (see Stop no 3). Another of his legacies is the founding of Exeter Civic Society.

Right up until the beginning of the nineteenth century, St David’s was a backwater. The road beyond St David’s Church, which led to Crediton, descended to the river and was prone to flooding, so not much used for traffic for Tiverton and Barnstaple which generally went by alternative, higher, roads. Building began to increase in the early nineteenth century, mainly on St David’s Hill itself, including WG Hoskins’ birthplace, which was built in 1805. Although it was certainly built as a private house, Hoskins' grandparents were running a baker's shop there at the end of the century.  The window to the left of the front door appears to be set into modern brickwork, suggesting that at some time in the past there may have been a larger shop front on that side.

From here walk on to the junction with Hele Road and turn right up to the equestrian statue of General Buller. Cross New North Road and enter Bury Meadow Park, fork left to the top of the park to reach Howell Road. Plaque 8 is across the road.

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F. J. Widgery | 11 Howell Road

  • The plaque
  • 11 Howell Road
  • Glorious Devon poster. Courtesy of National Railway Museum/Science & Society Picture Library

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F. J. Widgery | 11 Howell Road
(Plaque 8 of 18)

11 Howell Road, Exeter, was the home for 49 years of Frederick John Widgery (1861-1942), whose landscape paintings, particularly of Dartmoor and the West Country coast, are much sought after today. He was Mayor of Exeter in 1904, and became a Freeman of the city and an alderman. The Great Western Railway chose one of his striking Dartmoor paintings for a poster depicting “Glorious Devon”. The house itself had previously belonged to F J’s father, William Widgery, also a noted Devon artist. Works by both father and son are held in the collection of the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, and are often on display there.

Howell Road was once a back lane known as Red Lane or Howell Lane, linking St David’s Hill to Longbrook Street while avoiding the city centre. In 1753 it became a turnpike: that is, the surface was improved and maintained, but travellers had to pay a toll to use it. For a while it was known as New Road, at other times referred to as Barrack Road, after the Higher Barracks were built along it in 1794. As a through route, it was probably superseded in the 1830s by New North Road, and it seems likely that the name then reverted to Howell Road in order to avoid confusion.

Velwell Villas, of which 11 Howell Road is one, were built in the 1860s by the partnership of John and Charles Ware, who were responsible for much development in the northern suburbs at that time. The houses themselves are of a style which would, by then, have been regarded as a little old fashioned: classical rather than gothic, which was becoming more popular.

Turn right and walk uphill to the junction with Elmgrove Road. Plaque 9 is opposite on the corner.

NB just inside Bury Meadow near the Elmgrove Road entrance opposite is an information board featuring both Widgery and Veitch, well worth taking a few minutes to look at.

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Robert Tosswill Veitch | 11 Elm Grove Road

  • The plaque
  • Veitch's house in Elmgrove Road

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Robert Tosswill Veitch | 11 Elm Grove Road
(Plaque 9 of 18)

Robert Veitch (1823-1885) was a member of the Veitch family dynasty of pioneering horticulturists who introduced hundreds of new plants and flowers from across the world into people’s gardens, conservatories and homes. Many of them were available from the famous Veitch “Exotic” Nurseries in Exeter which Robert ran following the death of his father, James. Robert, whose career spanned the middle of the nineteenth century, was influential in making gardening a serious popular pastime. One of his specialities was fruit trees and he developed varieties suited to Devon’s climate. He was also a noted garden designer, creating grounds at Streatham Hall, now part of Exeter University, and Exeter’s Higher Cemetery. He and his business partner popularised the fashion for domestic rock and water gardens that changed the country’s suburban “gardenscape”. 

Veitch extended the nurseries to run along New North Road, and to cover the area that is now Velwell Road, and he bought 11 Elm Grove Road and the adjoining house in 1865 so that he could live next to them.

This part of Exeter changed much in the mid-nineteenth century. New North Road and the extension of Queen Street outside the city walls were both constructed in the 1830s to provide easier ways in and out of the city to Tiverton and Crediton. The area, having been mostly fields, began to be built over. Bury Meadow was made into a public park called “Victoria Park” in 1846, notwithstanding the recent memory of its use as a cholera burying ground in the 1830s; but the name didn’t last. The houses in Elmgrove Road were built in the 1860s, by John and Charles Ware. By this time, Queen Street Station was also open, an event celebrated with dancing and bands playing in Bury Meadow/Victoria Park. 

Carry on along Howell Road, following it past the site of the Danes Castle (on the left), the prison (right), Horseguards (on the left - previously the Higher Barracks), round the corner across the railway line, towards the city centre, and through into Longbrook Street. Park Place is across the street, a terrace set up above the road. Plaques 10 and 11 are at 82 Longbrook Street, at the end of the row on the left. At the moment, the plaques, which are to the left of the front door, are obscured by greenery.

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William Kingdon Clifford | 82 Longbrook Street

  • Plaque
  • 82 Longbrook St

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William Kingdon Clifford | 82 Longbrook Street
(Plaque 10 of 18)

The top plaque at 82 Longbrook Street, Exeter, commemorates William Kingdon Clifford (1845-1879), a mathematical genius who died young. He lived in the house, then known as 9 Park Place, as a child, the son of an Exeter book seller and magistrate. From school in Exeter, he went on to King’s College, London, and Trinity College, Cambridge, and was hailed as one of the brightest young men of his generation. Aged only 26, he was appointed professor of applied mathematics at University College, London. He developed the “Clifford algebra” later used by Albert Einstein and in quantum physics and space research. Clifford married in 1875 and had two daughters. He was an inspirational lecturer and progressive philosopher, stating his conviction that we have a universal duty to question all that we believe. But overwork hastened his death from tuberculosis in 1879, aged only 33, and he is buried in Highgate Cemetery, London. There was a childlike side to William Clifford’s character: he flew kites and wrote children’s stories, though they could be dark and rather frightening. His widow Lucy later became a well-known novelist.

Longbrook Street took its name from the Longbrook, a stream named after the Long family who owned land along its banks, which was crossed by the road near to where Harry’s Restaurant is today. The bridge across it was known as the “Weynbrigge” or wagon bridge, and it existed until the stream was culverted in the 1830s.. A plaque on the wall of Harry’s Restaurant marks the place where the bridge stood. 

Park Place was built in the first part of the nineteenth century, as the population of Exeter expanded and there was a demand for new homes for middle-class people. At the time, it was on the edge of the built-up area; there were fields below it in the valley, and further down the street on the left a few houses with large gardens, the remnants of a hamlet known as Hills Court. Much further up Pennsylvania Hill a smart new suburb was growing, but the valley remained mostly undeveloped. 

At some point in the 1850s, the Clifford family moved to the High Street. Not long afterwards, the railway line which runs below Longbrook St to what is now Exeter Central Station was built. This would have transformed the local area and its atmosphere, bringing more traffic, noise, smoke and steam.

See the Hems plaque for later information about the house and street.

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Harry Hems | 82 Longbrook Street

  • The plaque
  • 82 Longbrook Street

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Harry Hems | 82 Longbrook Street
(Plaque 11 of 18)

The lower of the two plaques at 82 Longbrook Street, Exeter, records that it was the home for 21 years of Harry Hems (1842-1916), well-known in his day as an ecclesiastical architect and sculptor, whose inspiration was the Medieval Gothic style. The redbrick building further down, now Harry's Restaurant, was once Hems' workshop. It became known locally as “Ye Luckie Horseshoe” after the horseshoe Harry Hems displayed there. He found it on his way from the railway station in 1866 to his first job in Exeter as a sculptor on the Royal Albert Memorial Museum. At his peak, he employed 100 men, mostly craftsmen, and it is said he also paid one person simply to paste in his press cuttings. He made sculptures and carvings for over 700 churches around the country and abroad, his best-known work being the restoration of the great altar screen in St Alban’s Cathedral. His work in Devon can be seen in churches at Kenn, Littleham and Staverton and in the Protestant Martyrs Memorial in Exeter. After Hems died, the Royal Albert Memorial Museum bought some 500 examples of his woodcarving.

Harry Hems occupied 9 Park Place around 35 years after William Clifford and his family. During the time that Hems lived in Park Place, the area became more densely built-up. The Hems workshop was built on what had been open land. Beyond it, Queens Crescent, Park Road and Mowbray Avenue all date from the late nineteenth century, as well as the houses of Hills Court Terrace on Longbrook Street itself, opposite the workshop.

The impact on the area of the railway line at the bottom of the Longbrook valley must have been considerable, particularly as railway traffic increased. There were now extensive sidings alongside the lines themselves, and the shunting of trucks, as well as engines building up steam in order to draw trains out of the station, would have created much noise and smoke. Harry Hems might have chosen to move out to the suburbs, but the proximity of the station would have been an asset for his business, and perhaps he preferred to live close to the workshop.

For the early history of the house in Park Place, see the Clifford plaque entry. 

To reach Plaque 12, walk up Longbrook Street to the top, turn left, and left again at John Lewis into Sidwell Street. St Sidwell's Church is along on the left, opposite Cheeke St. 

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Dr Peter Hennis | St Sidwell's Churchyard, Sidwell Street

  • Blue Plaque
  • St Sidwell's Church in 1830. Courtesy of West Country Studies Library

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Dr Peter Hennis | St Sidwell's Churchyard, Sidwell Street
(Plaque 12 of 18)

The plaque on the wall of St Sidwell’s Churchyard, Sidwell Street, Exeter, records the courage of a fine and selfless physician and the circumstances of his wasteful and rather stupid death.

Dr Peter Hennis (1802-1833) came to Exeter in 1830, aged 31 and secured the position of physician to The Exeter Dispensary which provided medical care for the poor, and for children considered unfit to be admitted to the Devon and Exeter Hospital. In 1832, during a major outbreak of cholera he was appointed medical officer to the poorest South District of the city where he cared for people constantly without regard to the dangers to himself.

But in 1833 he fell foul of Sir John Jeffcott, an Admiralty Court Judge, who accused Dr Hennis of maligning him and challenged him to a duel with pistols. The two faced each other on Haldon Racecourse late in the afternoon of 10 May. Before the command to fire was given, Jeffcott pressed the trigger and fatally wounded Hennis, who did not return fire. On his knees, Jeffcott begged for forgiveness, which Hennis gave. Hennis died eight days later but the judge had already fled to Sierra Leone, where he had been appointed chief justice. Twenty thousand people attended Hennis’s funeral in Exeter Cathedral. Jeffcott was eventually tried for murder but acquitted, although his reputation was ruined. The last recorded duel in England was in 1845, a dozen years after Dr Hennis was killed.

Following Hennis' death, the city was outraged. Two hundred and fifty dignitaries attended his funeral service at the Cathedral and 20,000 citizens lined the route to St Sidwell’s Church where he was interred, such was the depth of feeling toward him. It was one of the largest gatherings ever seen in the city.

It is well known that the Sidwell Street area was badly damaged in the 1942 blitz and then comprehensively redeveloped in the 1950s. But that was not the first occasion on which the area was destroyed and rebuilt. In 1645, during the Civil War, the Royalist defenders of the city of Exeter “razed to the ground the whole of St Sidwell's parish, from St Anne’s chapel to East Gate” in order to ensure that the besieging Parliamentarian army had no cover there. The church itself was left standing, but rebuilt in 1812/13. The engraving of 1830 from the Westcountry Studies Library shows the church as it appeared at the time. It appears to be in quite a rural setting, but already Sidwell Street was lined with houses and shops as far as Old Tiverton Road, and by the 1830s the gardens of those houses were being built over too.

Return down Sidwell Street and High Street, as far as Boots. Turn left into the Princesshay Shopping Centre, following the line of the city wall to the remains of one of the bastions. Keep the bastion on your left and walk through a gap in the city wall to find Plaque 13 beside the Exeter Blitz memorial, in front of a modern office block, Broadwalk House.

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Violet and Irene Vanbrugh | Walkway between Roman Walk & Southernhay

  • The plaque
  • The plaque
  • Entrance to Bedford St from Southernhay c1811. Courtesy of West Country Studies Library.
  • Looking north up Southernhay 1942. Courtesy of Historic England.

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Violet and Irene Vanbrugh | Walkway between Roman Walk & Southernhay
(Plaque 13 of 18)

The Vanbrugh Sisters, commemorated by a plaque near the Exeter Blitz Memorial in Princesshay, were two celebrated and accomplished actors.  Violet Vanbrugh (1867-1942) and her sister Dame Irene (1872-1949) had to break the mould of Victorian convention in order to leave their middle-class Exeter home to make their names on the stage. They were two of the remarkable children of the Rev. Reginald Barnes, prebendary of Exeter Cathedral and Vicar of Heavitree, and his wife Frances. With their younger brother Sir Kenneth Barnes, who was director of RADA for more than 40 years, the sisters left a lasting legacy to British theatre. Violet, a classical actress of great talent, paved the way after overcoming her father’s opposition by learning her craft with a touring repertory company. She left a glimpse for us of her powers in the Oscar winning film Pygmalion made with Leslie Howard when she was in her 70s. Her younger sister Irene devoted a great deal of her talent to supporting new writing. She created immensely popular roles in the stage premieres of such classics as Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest for which Wilde chose her to play Gwendoline, and The Admirable Crichton by J M Barrie. Irene was made a Dame in 1941. She too starred in films including the wartime weepie I Live in Grosvenor Square made in 1945 when she was 73.

The house in which Violet was born was part of a terrace that stood in Southernhay, where Broadwalk House is now. The wall on which the blue plaque is fixed stands in what would probably have been the garden of the house, which belonged to Violet’s maternal grandparents.

Southernhay was originally an open space just outside the city walls. The Lammas fair was held there for many years, and, less cheerfully, the protestant martyr Agnes Prest was burned at the stake there in 1557 during the reign of Queen Mary. During the Civil War Southernhay was one of the areas close to the city walls that was cleared of buildings in order to deny cover to the besiegers. 

House-building started in earnest in the early nineteenth century, when Exeter experienced an influx of “genteel” people wanting somewhere pleasant to live. Terraces of elegant red brick designed by the architect/builder Matthew Nosworthy were built along the whole of Southernhay West (backing onto the city walls), and on parts of Southernhay East. According to Pevsner’s “Buildings of England” the terraces were actually designed in the late eighteenth century, their style reflecting what was fashionable in London in that decade. 

Not long after the houses were built the Lammas Fair was forced to move elsewhere and the central greens were fenced off for the exclusive use of residents. They were only opened up again during the Second World War, when railings were enthusiastically removed all over the country to contribute metal to the war effort. And after the war, as families moved out of Southernhay and were replaced by offices, the greens were given to Exeter City Council, turning the land once again into a public space.

Walk underneath the office block into Southernhay. Plaque 14 is across on the other side of the green, next to the church.

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Rev Sabine Baring-Gould | Chichester Place, 16 Southernhay East.

  • The plaque
  • Chichester Place
  • Southernhay Baths c1830. Courtesy of West Country Studies Library
  • Chichester Place c.1900. Courtesy of the Westcountry Studies Library.

Click image to expand

Rev Sabine Baring-Gould | Chichester Place, 16 Southernhay East.
(Plaque 14 of 18)

Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924) was born in Chichester Place, Southernhay. He graduated from Cambridge University in 1857 and became a teacher at Hurstpierpoint College. In 1862 he travelled round Iceland on horseback and collected saga manuscripts. After ordination in 1864 he served as curate at Horbury, Yorkshire, where he met and married Grace Taylor, daughter of a mill-hand. Between 1869 and 1891 they had 15 children. From 1871 he was rector of East Mersea, Essex and in 1872 he inherited the family's Lewtrenchard estate in Devon. As patron of the living, in 1881 he was able to appoint himself rector of Lewtrenchard where he died on 2 January 1924. He was a great traveller and prolific writer on a wide range of subjects - biographies, folklore, travel books, theology, novels and hymns, including the hymn Onward, Christian Soldiers. He was also active as an archaeologist on Dartmoor. Sabine Baring-Gould considered his greatest achievement to be his pioneering collecting of folk songs of Devon and Cornwall which he began in 1888. Many of these were published between 1889 and 1895 but manuscripts in Exeter and Plymouth libraries and archives preserve many more.

Chichester Place was built around 1824-5, later than, and in a slightly different style to the other Southernhay terraces, being rendered rather than red-brick. At the time it was built, and at the time of Sabine Baring-Gould's birth, the site next door on the corner of Chichester Place and Dix’s Field was occupied by a public bathing establishment, an attempt to create in Exeter the sort of bathing experience that was being enjoyed in places like Buxton and Harrogate at the time. As a commercial venture the baths were a failure, and after being empty for a while the building was pulled down in 1868, to be replaced by a Congregational church. The church was much damaged during the blitz, and the present building is a mixture of original and post-war. Fortunately Chichester Place survived with relatively little damage.

Carry on down Southernhay, turn left into Barnfield Road. Turn left again into Barnfield Crescent. Plaque 16 is the first house on the left.

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Elsie Knocker | 1 Barnfield Crescent

  • The plaque
  • Barnfield Crescent

Click image to expand

Elsie Knocker | 1 Barnfield Crescent
(Plaque 15 of 18)

Elsie Knocker (1884-1978) was born at 1 Barnfield Crescent, the daughter of Dr Lewis Shapter, surgeon at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital. She was orphaned at an early age and adopted by Lewis Edward Upcott, a teacher at Marlborough college. She trained and worked as a nurse and midwife and married Leslie Duke Knocker in 1906 but the marriage was dissolved after the birth of her son. She became an enthusiastic motor cyclist through which  she met Mairi Chisholm. On the outbreak of war in 1914 she and Mairi volunteered to work as a dispatch riders on the western front, but soon found that their nursing skills were more in demand. Working independently they set up a first aid post in the cellar of a bombed out building on the front line in Pervyse and from a series of locations in that town they worked for four years in atrocious conditions, during which time they cared for some 23,000 casualties. They had to raise funds to support their work and, after they spoke at the Barnfield Hall in 1916, Exeter citizens raised sufficient to run their dug-out, two ambulances and one lorry for three months. They were awarded the British Military Medal in 1917 for rescuing a wounded pilot in no-man's land. In 1918 they were invalided out following a gas attack. Elsie finished war as an officer in the Women's Royal Air Force. In 1916 she had married a pilot, Baron Harold de T'Serclaes but they separated after the war when he learned of her earlier divorce. In 1939 Elsie joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force as a senior officer working with RAF Fighter Command and was twice mentioned in dispatches. 

Most of Barnfield Crescent was built around 1805, again by Matthew Nosworthy. No 1, where Elsie Knocker was born, was built later, in 1840, but in a similar style. It was during the building work in Barnfield Crescent that a spring was discovered which prompted the creation of the public baths that once stood on the corner of Southernhay and Dix’s Field.

The Barnfield Hall, where Elsie Knocker and Mairi Chisholm raised funds for their work in 1916, was just across the street in Barnfield Road. Built by the Exeter Literary Society in 1890, it is now the home of the Barnfield Theatre. 

 Return to Southernhay to find Plaque 16 on the corner on the left.

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Rev Theodore Bayley Hardy | Corner of Southernhay East & Barnfield Road

  • The plaque
  • Barnfield House

Click image to expand

Rev Theodore Bayley Hardy | Corner of Southernhay East & Barnfield Road
(Plaque 16 of 18)

Theodore Bayley Hardy (1863-1918) won the Distinguished Service Order, the Military Cross and the Victoria Cross in the First World War but never fired a shot. As an Army chaplain, he was the war’s most decorated non-combatant, but his biggest fight had been to persuade the Army to accept him at the age of 53. Hardy was born in 1863 at Barnfield House, Southernhay, Exeter. His widowed mother later turned the house into a preparatory school. Hardy gave up teaching to become Rector of Hutton Roof in Westmoreland, for the sake of his wife’s health. After she died in 1914 he applied repeatedly to the Army’s chaplaincy department and in 1916 was finally accepted in the rank of captain as Temporary Chaplain 4th Class. Hardy served alongside two battalions across the Western Front from Ypres to the Somme, determined to be with the fighting troops. King George V appointed him Chaplain to the King. Eventually he was wounded in action while encouraging a patrol near Cambrai and died ten days later on 18 October 1918, three weeks before the war ended.

The houses in Southernhay East, including the slightly plainer Barnfield House, are more varied than in in Southernhay West, but of a similar date - late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. 

From this corner, cross to Southernhay West, to admire some of the original Nosworthy terraces. The doorways are surrounded in Coade stone, with faces set into the keystones above the doors. Coade stone is a manufactured stone of excellent durability. It was made and sold by the Exeter-born eighteenth-century entrepreneur Eleanor Coade (1733-1821), who, after moving to London, took over and ran a factory in Lambeth making the stone. Her work can be seen around the country in public places and on stately homes, and middle class houses like those in Southernhay. Sadly her birthplace can’t be marked with a blue plaque because it was almost certainly one of the buildings in Magdalen Street just outside the South Gate which were demolished in the 1970s for road-widening.

Continue down Southernhay and enter the Cathedral Close by the first turning on the right, under an archway. Plaque 17 is the first house on the left after the gates, currently part of the Cathedral School.

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Douglas Sandford | 15 Cathedral Close

  • The plaque
  • 15 Cathedral Close

Click image to expand

Douglas Sandford | 15 Cathedral Close
(Plaque 17 of 18)

Richard Douglas Sandford (1891-1918) was the son of the Venerable Ernest Grey Sandford, Archdeacon of Exeter. He attended Clifton College before joining the Royal Navy. At 26 years old, he was a Lieutenant commanding a submarine in the Royal Navy during the First World War when he took part in the Zeebrugge Raid and won the Victoria Cross. On 23 April 1918 the Royal Navy undertook a daring operation to scuttle three obsolete cruisers at the entrance to the Bruges Canal at Zeebrugge in an effort to prevent German submarines from accessing the U-boat pens. Two old submarines filled with explosives were to be used to blow up the viaduct connecting the Mole to the shore, whilst 200 Royal Marines were to be landed in an attempt to destroy German gun positions. The bitter fighting of the Zeebrugge Raid resulted in more than 500 British casualties from the 1,700 men who took part. Eight Victoria Crosses were awarded for the action, including the one for Lieutenant Richard Sandford.

Sandford died of typhoid fever at Eston Hospital, North Yorkshire 23 November 1918, just twelve days after the signing of the Armistice. His Victoria Cross is displayed at the Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth.

15 Cathedral Close was built around 1740 for the then Chancellor of Exeter Cathedral, although there are traces of an earlier, medieval house inside. At the time the house was built, the lane running past it ended at a tower in the old city wall, with no way through to Southernhay. The exit to Southernhay, called the “New Cut”, was created around 1750, and  the wrought-iron bridge over the lane was built in 1814 by Mayor Burnet-Patch to make it easier for the Mayors of Exeter to carry out their obligatory annual on-foot inspections of the walls.

Plaque 18 is across the road, a rectangular plaque fixed to the wall under wall beside 12 Cathedral Close, under a tree.

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John Graves Simcoe | Cathedral Close

  • The plaque
  • Courtesy of West Country Studies Library

Click image to expand

John Graves Simcoe | Cathedral Close
(Plaque 18 of 18)

John Graves Simcoe (1752-1806), the subject of a lengthy inscription on a plaque between numbers 12 and 14 Cathedral Close, Exeter, was not a native of the city, but came as a boy to his grandmother’s home after his father died from pneumonia. After attending Exeter Grammar School, Eton, and Merton College, Oxford, a military tutor in Exeter prepared him for a commission in the Army. He had a highly eventful career in the American War of Independence, was wounded three times, and finally returned to Exeter as a Lieutenant-Colonel to convalesce and write his memoirs. He was briefly MP for St. Mawes in Cornwall, and then in 1791 became Lieutenant Governor of the new province of Upper Canada, present day Ontario, making one of his first aims to abolish slavery. Illness ended his career and he died in Exeter in 1806, aged 54. Simcoe had married a wealthy heiress whose money paid for a 5,000 acre estate at Wolford, near Honiton, where Simcoe is buried. In private life, he was a lover of poetry and wrote verse occasionally all his life.

Nos 12-13 Cathedral Close was once part of the house of the Abbot of Buckfast, probably the gatehouse, with the main house behind. During the blitz it was badly damaged, and had to be almost entirely rebuilt. 

From here you can walk back to the starting point.

More information about each plaque, plus details of other plaques and monuments in the city, can be found at www.exetercivicsociety.org.uk/blueplaques .

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My Exeter Blue Plaques and Places Notes

Exeter Blue Plaques and Places

Exeter Blue Plaques and Places

Follow this circular trail to discover some of the plaques in Exeter which commemorate notable Exonians or famous visitors to the city, and find out about the places with which they are associated. Start at Plaque 1 in the Cathedral Close.

This trail has been created by Exeter Civic Society.

You can read more about the plaques featured in this trail, and about other plaques and monuments in Exeter at https://www.exetercivicsociety.org.uk/blue-plaque-listings/

More information about the Society's Blue Plaques scheme and how to join in its work promoting high standards of planning and architecture in Exeter can be found at https://www.exetercivicsociety.org.uk

Acknowledgements

Websites:

Books:

  • Devon - Pevsner Architectural Guides
  • The Story of Exeter by Hazel Harvey
  • Water in the City by Mark Stoyle
  • Exeter Architecture by Hugh Meller
  • Discovering Exeter series of booklets published by Exeter Civic Society
  • Exeter Maps by Todd Gray
  • St Martin's Island by Todd Gray and Sue Jackson

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