Decorated initial T

he situation of Exeter, covering the westerly slope of a broad hill declining to the green valley of tho Exe, about ten miles from the sea, and looking towards the lofty range of Haldon, and the distant heights of Dartmoor, is salubrious and agreeable. It is 173 miles from London by the old coach rood, 193 miles bv the Great Western Railway through Bristol, and 171 miles by tne London and South-Western line, through Salisbury and Honiton, which follows the ancient route to the west of England. The population of Exeter is still nearly forty thousand; since the loss of its maritime commerce, which was chiefly with Spain and Portugal, with some coasting trade, aHd of its serge manufactures, which were, half a century ago, an export of considerable value, has been compensated by the residence here of many families of gentry, and by the increasing agricultural prosperity of Devon.

No place in the west of England, after Bath and Clifton, which are more especially laid out for the attraction of visitors, is a more inviting abode for people desirous of provincial retirement with the enjoyments of good society and of cheerful scenery, the soothing influences of a mild climato, and many interesting features of the neighbourhood. The favourite seaside watering-places within a short journey—Sidmouth, Exmouth, Teignmouth, and Torquay, on the south coast; Ilfracombe, Lynmouth, and Westward Ho, on the north coast of Devon, besides many others not less beautiful, though less generally known—are yearly frequented by greater numbers in search of the pure azure waters of the ocean. A more bracing and invigorating atmosphere than that of the South Devon coast is breathed in the upland villages of Dartmoor, lately made accessible by a railway; and the singularly wild landscapes of that region, consisting of a vast billowy expanse of heather or turf, rising into bold brown hills, everywhere broken or crested with innumerable protruding rocks of sparkling granite, and cleft by torrents fringed with stunted oaks or feathery larches, have something of a mountain character. The valley of the Exe, however, like the rest of the fertile parts of Devonshire, which contains no tract of level country, but is full of low swelling hills, presents an aspect of softness, richness, and freshness of verdure, unequalled by any district of Great Britain in a more easterly longitude. With pasture and meadow grounds of wonderful luxuriance, the massive earthen hedges around the small fields are usually topped with rows of mighty elms, spreading their leafy branches wide, and giving a sylvan appearance to the landscape. The deep red colour of the soil, and of many of the buildings, affords a pleasing relief to the profusion of deep green, while the prospect is adorned by the stately mansions and well-wooded parks of several county magnates. From the hill called Marypolehead, a mile northward of Exeter, the spectator has a noble view of the lower valley of the Exe, down to Topsham, and of its spacious estuary, which is an arm of the sea two miles wide, terminating with the red sandstone cliffs of Dawlish. Our Artist has chosen a different point of view, from the Cowick Hills to the west of the city, above the opposite bank of the river, from which the face of the city is more directly seen; and in the large Engraving, which occupies the two middle pages of this number, we have the pleasure of setting it before our readers. In going about

the city to explore its objects of interest, the visitor may as well begin with the beautiful promenade of Northernhay, close to the High-street and to the London and South-Western Railway station. This is a high terrace, planted with shady elms, overlooking a portion of the valley towards the north-west from an elevation formerly occupied by the Castle of Rougemont, which guarded the old city walls. The glacis of the ancient fortress, with the site of the moat or fosse beneath it, having been converted into a public pleasure-ground, this lofty boulevard, with gardens adjacent, adorned with accessible from the area of the old castle, where the Devon County Sessions House has been erected, containing the Assize Courts. The wall here commands an extensive view over the suburbs of St. David’s, St. Sidwell’s, Heavitree, and Mount Radford, on the northern and eastern aides of the city. . . .

Exeter has witnessed some historical incidents worthy of record. It was the seat of a Roman colony; it was rescued by King Alfred from tho Danes; it wns wrested from tho Saxons by the Normans; it fought against Stephen for Matilda; it withstood the rebellion of Perkin Warbeck, and tho Popish rebellion in the time of Edward VI.; it was captured and recaptured by the armies of the Commonwealth and of Charles I., whose Queen, Henrietta Maria, dwelt hero some time, and hero gave birth to a child; moreover, it was here that William, Frince of Orange, after his landing at Brixham, in Torbay, made the triumphal entry described by Lord Macaulay, and was joined by many influential persons. The motto of Exeter is “Semper Fidelis” but its political inclinations have always been to combine liberality with loyalty. . . .

The venerable Cathedral, which is, of course, one of the most conspicuous features in any view of the city, stands in a spacious open ground, “the Cathedral Yard,” entered through Broad-gate from High-street; or by Palace-gate, from South-street; or from Southemhay, by the Close; and thus occupying a central position. Its west front is a noble specimen of Gothic architecture, in three stories. The basement is an elaborate screen, with a doorway in tho middle, and a smaller one on each side; the whole screen is filled with a range of canopied niches, each containing a statue; but the sculpture is much worn away. Tho figures are those of angels, patriarchs, saints, kings, barons, and prelates of the Church. The second story, which slightly recedes, contains a magnificent window, 39 ft. high by 27 ft. wide? composed of nine trefoiled lights, supporting a gorgeous rose of twelve quatrefoiled lights, witk a splendid diversity of colours; on each side are decorated arcades, and two bold flying buttresses support the wall. The third, or upper story, which is likewise receding, has a smaller window, but of similar design; this story is formed by tho gable roof of the nave. The general shape of the cathedral is cruciform ; but the arms or transepts are very short, being formed out of the towers. These are 145 ft. high, and adorned with blank arcades and other Norman details. The length of the whole building is 408 ft., including the Lady Chapel, at the head of the chancel. The date of its erection is the twelfth century, having been begun, in 1112, by Bishop Warelwast, but it was finished by Bishop Bothe, about 1470. The interior of the nave, 180 ft. long, with its fine clustered columns of Pur beck marble, the superb west windows, the bold vaulted roof, the curiously ornamented minstrel’s gallery, and the triple-arched screen, bearing the organ, and painted with scripture stories, which separates the nave from the choir, has an imposing effect; the choir, with its great east window, contains the carved oaken stalls and pulpit, but, above alL the Bishop’s throne, a pyramidical structure of open tracery and pointed arches in carved oak, 52 ft. high, which is greatly admired. It was taken to pioces and hidden, to escape the destroying axes of the Puritans, when the city surrendered to Fairfax in 1646. Some of the chapels and chantries, and the monuments of prelates and peers interred in this cathedral are worthy of inspection. The Bishop’s palace, which stands near the cathedral, has not been inhabited since the accession of Bishop Phillpotts in 1830; he has constantly resided at his marine villa near Torquay. The deanery, in Palace-street, is remarkable as the lodging of William, Prince of Orange, for some days, in November, 1688, upon the occasion before mentioned.. . .

The modern institutions of Exeter—including the new Albert Museum, at the Queen-street end of Northemhay; the Hospital, in Southemhay; the Higher Market, in Queen-street, and the Lower Market, in Fore-street, which are commodious and handsomely built; with its important works of street improvement, such os the iron viaduct of St. David’s-hill and the embankments of the New North-road and Magdalen-road— have proved the enterprising public spirit of the citizens. Its riverside quays, the large basin for shipping, and the ship canal, 30 ft. wide by 15 ft. deep, which is five miles in length, and was constructed in the seventeenth century, have in their time admitted much more traffic than is now to be seen there.

There are many quaint-looking old houses, with gabled roofs to the street, and with jutting wooden fronts—there are heavy stone arches; grotesque figures, sculptured or painted; winding alleys and secluded courts, with the long back gardens in the rear of the tradesmen’s houses and shops; which show the old-fashioned character of the city, to be seen in High-street and Fore-street, in North-street and South-street, as well as in its obscurer nooks and comers. Father Peter, whose effigy, with the keys in his hand, keeps watch and ward at the comer of North-street, is not less remarkable than Matthew the Miller with his two sons (the chief of this trio is really King Henry VIII.), who stands before the clock of St. Mary Steps and nods his head whenever it strikes the hour. The lower part of the city is intersected by the artificial streams, or mill-leats, brought through cuttings across the Bonhay and the Shilhay to supply water-power to the old cloth-fullers and others in bygone times. “Exe Island" and “Water-lane" are scarcely likely to attract the notice of visitors, nor will they be apt to stray down through West-gate, towards St. Edmund’s Church; but if they should lose their way in that quarter, they will probably come upon the subject of a leaf of our Artist’s Sketchbook, with which this commentary must here be ended.


"Leaves from a Sketchbook: Exeter." Illustrated London News 55 (1869): 169-70. Hathi Trust online version of a copy in the Princeton University Library. Web. 25 May 2021.

Last modified 27 May 2021