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Bradshaw’s Guide

High Street, Exeter, England. Taken between ca. 1890 and ca. 1900. Original: Library of Congress

Exeter

Exeter is pleasantly situated on an eminence rising from the eastern bank of the river Exe, which encompasses its south-west side, and over which it has a handsome stone bridge.

Exeter is the capital of Devon and the West of England, a Bishop’s see, city, and parliamentary borough, on the Great Western (Bristol and Exeter) Railway, 194 miles from London. It is also a port, eight miles from the Channel, up the Exe, from which it derives the Saxon name, Excester, or the fortress on the Exe, so called because of the Roman station planted here. Population, 41,749; two members. Exeter stretches for nearly two miles over a hill above the river, and is, therefore, not only pleasantly seated, but well drained, except in some parts of the suburbs. At the top, north of the town, are the picturesque ruined walls and gate of Rougemont (Red Hill) Castle, first built by the Conqueror, and rased by Parliament, when Fairfax took it in 1646, after a siege. This is one of the best points of view, and is the spot where Colonel Penruddock was beheaded by Cromwell, for his premature rising for the king. The Sessions House stands within the bounds; close to it is the fine elm walk of Northern-bay. Friar’s Walk, Pennsylvania Hill, and Mount Radford also command good views. “There be divers fair streets in Exeter (says Leland, in Henry VIII’s time), but the High Street that goeth from the west to the east gate is the fairest.” The gates he saw are gone, but parts of the strong walls remain, from whence there are good prospects. Where the street falls suddenly, two or three dry bridges have been built (the iron bridge in North Street, for instance), to save the descent. Another of stone, in line with High and Fore Streets, crosses the river, which runs rather swiftly here. In High Street is the venerable-looking Guildhall, containing portraits of Charles I., Queen Henrietta Maria and her daughter, the Duchess of Orleans, General Monk (by Lely), George II., &c. Lemprière was master of the Grammar School at St. John’s Hospital. The Theatre is on the site of old Bedford House, where the Duchess of Orleans was born in the civil war.

On the east, near High Street, stands the fine Cathedral, which, as usual, is a cross 375 feet long, internally. It is mostly early English, but the Norman towers, 145 feet high, belong to an older edifice erected by Bishop Warlewast, and half ruined in the siege of 1137, when King Stephen took the town. The nave, choir, &c., were rebuilt as we see them now, between 1281 and 1420. Bishop Grandison’s west front is perhaps the most striking part. It has been lately restored, and is full of statues of kings, bishops, and scripture characters in niches. The window is also stained with a profusion of figures and coats of arms. The vault of the nave deserves notice. In the north tower is the great Peter bell, weighing 5½ tons; ascend this tower for the view. A lady chapel, 56 feet by 30, is of the it 14th century. The bishop’s throne is of beautiful carved oak, 52 feet high, and as old as 1470. Among the monuments are Humphrey Bohun, Bishop Bronescombe (1280), Bishop Stafford, the Courtenays, &c., and a fine one to Northcote, the painter, by Chantrey. The Chapter House is Gothic, 50 feet by 30, with a carved timber roof, and contains a library of 8,000 vols. A ship canal brings vessels up to the quay, where there is a very considerable trade carried on. Some of the best cider is made in the environs.

Excursions may be made from this point to Crediton, the original scat of the bishopric; Heavitree where Richard Hooker was born; Topsham, Powderham Castle (Earl of Devon), and Exmouth, down the Exe; over the Haldon Downs to Chudleigh and Ugbrook (Lord Clifford); Exmouth, Sidmouth, Dawlish, Teignmouth, and Torquay, and other beautiful spots along the coast; Bicton, seat of Lady Rolle, near Hayes Farm, where Raleigh was born. The entire coast of Devonshire is, perhaps, the most attractive in England.

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Places nearby

  • Devonshire : Brixham

    Close at hand, is chiefly noted for its extensive fisheries, employing more than two hundred vessels and fifteen hundred seamen.

  • Devonshire : Dawlish

    Dawlish, one of the stations of the South Devon Railway, is one of the prettiest places along the coast to pass a quiet summer month.

  • Devonshire : Exmouth

    This place has, within the last few years, made rapid strides in the march of improvement. The Beacon Hill is covered with buildings, and the Parade is stretching away right and left, with no visible signs, hitherto, of limitation.