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MARKET TOWNS OF DEVON (from SDUK Penny Cyclopedia)

Exeter in 1837

EXETER, a city and county of itself, locally in the hundred of Wonford, in the southern division of the county of Devon, of which it is the chief town ; 44 miles north-east from Plymouth, and 174 west by south from London.

Exeter is supposed to have been a settlement of the Britons before the Roman invasion. It was then called ‘Caer-Ise’ and 'Caer Rydh,' the former derived from its situation on the river Ex or Ise, the latter from the red soil on which the castle is built. By the Romans it was called Isca Dumnoniorum, to distinguish it from the Isca Silurum in Wales. From the number of coins, small bronze statues (evidently Penates), tessellated pavements, and other Roman antiquities discovered near the walls and in the neighbourhood of the city, it must have been a Roman station of some importance. It is uncertain how long Exeter retained its appellation of Isca Dumnoniorum, but in the reign of Alfred it had acquired that of Exan-Cestre (castle on the Ex), whence its present name.

In the reign of King Stephen, Baldwin Rivers, earl of Devon, fortified Exeter on behalf of the Empress Maude, and did not yield till reduced by famine after a long siege. It was besieged in the 12th year of the reign of Henry VII by Perkin Warbeck, and again by the rabble of Devonshire and Cornwall in 1549.

The city of Exeter was formerly surrounded by walls and strongly fortified. Leland, in speaking of it, says, "The toune it a good mile and more in cumpace, and is right strongly waullid and maintained. Ther be diverse fare towers in the toune waul bytwixt the south and west gate. There be four gates hi the toune, by names of Est, West, North, and South. The Est and the West Gates be now the fairest, and of one fascion of building : the South Gate hath been the strongest."

Situated on a high eminence, on the north side of the town, are the ruins of the castle, called ‘Rougemont.' When this castle was first erected is unknown; but it was either rebuilt or much repaired by William the Conqueror, who bestowed it on Baldwin de Briono, husband of Albrina his niece, in the possession of whose descendants it remained till the 14th year of the reign of Henry III, who then took it into his own hands. It was completely dismantled during the civil war, and has never since been rebuilt.

In the area of the castle-yard a session-house has lately been erected which is a neat-looking building, faced with Portland stone and contains, in addition to two good-sized courts, a grand-jury room, magistrates' room, &c. In front is a fine open space, where county, election, and other meetings are held.

To the north of the castle is a delightful walk, shaded by fine old elm trees, called Northernay. Nearly in the centre of Exeter is the guildhall, where the assizes for the city (which is a county of itself) are held, as well as the sessions, elections, and other business relative to the city alone. The building contains several valuable portraits, amongst others, those of Henrietta Maria, Charles the First's queen, of her daughter Henrietta duchess of Orleans, and of General Monk.

The only other ancient building of any importance at Exeter is the cathedral. It is uncertain when the present edifice was begun, but probably it was soon after the see of Devon was transferred to Exeter from Crediton which was its locality till the year 1049. At all events it was considerably altered and enlarged by Warlewast, third bishop of Exeter, who was a Norman, and came over with the Conqueror. It then assumed its present cruciform shape, but underwent numberless alterations and additions in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. It now consists of a nave, 76 feet in width and 175 in length, with aisles on each side ; two short transepts, formed by two Norman towers 130 feet in height ; a choir of the same width as the nave, and 128 feet in length ; ten chapels or oratories, and a chapter-house. The whole building from east to west (including St. Mary's Chapel) is 408 feet in length. The western front is highly decorated with a profusion of niches and elegantly carved figures and presents one of the richest facades of any building in Europe. The towers are highly interesting to the antiquary as specimens of Norman architecture. The interior is also exceedingly fine ; the vaulted roof of the nave is supported by clustered columns, surmounted by fine pointed arches ; as is also that of the choir, which is separated from the nave by a screen of exquisite workmanship. The chapter-house is a beautiful edifice, with a handsome oak roof : it was used as a stable by Cromwell and his soldiers, but has since been thoroughly repaired, as other parts of the building also have lately been.

In the north aisle are the splendid monuments of Sir Richard and Bishop Stapleton. The organ, with the exception of the one at Haerlem, is perhaps the largest in Europe : the large pipes are nearly twenty-three feet in height, and four feet in circumference.

The city was anciently held in demesne by the crown, its earliest charter was granted by Henry I, and confirmed by Henry II and Richard I. The governing charter was granted by George III in 1770. The corporation hold a court of quarter-sessions, and the assizes are held by the judges of the western circuit twice a year for the county the city at the guildhall, and twice a year for the county at the session-house. There is also a county court, and a court of requests for the recovery of debts under 40 shillings, the former held every Tuesday, the latter once a fortnight. Petty sessions are held before the magistrates of the county every Friday at the session-house ; and some magistrate of the city sits every day at the guildhall. Under the Municipal Act, Exeter is divided into six wards, with twelve aldermen and thirty-six councillors.

Exeter has returned two members to parliament since the reign of Edward I. At the first election after the passing of the Reform Act, there were 2,952 registered voters. The population of the city and borough is 28,242, of whom 15,559 are females. There are not many manufactories, and the population is chiefly employed in handicraft and the retail trade.

The city of Exeter comprises the parishes of Allhallows, Allhallows on the Walls (the church of which has demolished), St. Edmund, St. George, St. John, St. Kerrian, St. Lawrence, St. Martin, St. Mary Arches, St. Mary Major, St. Mary Steps, St. Olave, St. Pancras, St. Paul, St. Petrock, St. Sidwell, St. Stephen, and the Holy Trinity, and the parochial chapelries of St. David and St. Sidwell, and the extra-parochial precincts of the Cathedral Close and Bedford Chapel, all in the archdeaconry and diocese of Exeter. There are besides these several other chapels, as well as places of worship for Baptists, Quakers, Independents, Wesleyan at other Methodists, Unitarians, Catholics, and Jews.

The town is pleasantly situated on a steep acclivity, on the river Ex, over which a handsome stone bridge was erected in the year 1778, at an expense of about £20,000, a little above the site of an ancient bridge originally built in 1250. The streets, with the exception of the High Street and Fore Street, are generally narrow, but there are some handsome squares and terraces in Northernay, Southernay, &c., which contain many well-built houses.

The town is lighted with gas, and well supplied with water by water-works erected in 1794. The subscription ball-room is one of the finest country ball-rooms in England ; it measures eighty feet by forty, and is very handsomely fitted up. There is a subscription library in Fore Street ; and in 1813 the Devon and Exeter Institution was founded, for the promotion of arts, &c., the library of which contains about 10,000 volumes.

The theatre is a neat building. To the north of the city are the cavalry barracks, and very near them is the new bridewell and the county gaol, both of which are judiciously planned, and contain the governor's residence, chapel, &c. There is also a city prison. The port of Exeter extends from the coast near Lyme Regis to the Ness Point. The trade principally consists in woollen goods and manganese ; the imports are wine, hemp, tallow, &c. A branch bank has lately been established here by the Bank of England.

The market day is Friday ; but there is a daily sale of meat, vegetables, fish, fruit, &c. Fairs are held on the third Wednesdays in February and May, the last Wednesday in July, and second Wednesday in December. There is a great horse fair held at Alphington, about one mile from Exeter.

The free grammar-school was founded by the citizens in the reign of Charles I ; the sons of freemen are instructed gratuitously. There are fifteen exhibitions to either of the universities of Oxford or Cambridge, six of which are £36 each, the others are much less. The school-room is partly formed of the remains of an ancient convent, of Augustine friars founded in 1239. There are no less than ten charity schools in Exeter, independent of Sunday-schools ; amongst others are St. Mary Arches' school, founded in 1686 by W. Wootton, for the instruction on Dr. Bell's system of forty-four boys, of whom thirty are clothed ; the Devon and Exeter Central School, founded in 1811, where about 430 boys and 270 girls are taught to read and write ; and the Exeter British School, where about 130 boys and about the same number of girls are instructed, without regard to party or sect.

The Devon and Exeter Hospital is supported by subscription, and has a considerable income arising from funded property : it now contains above 200 beds. There is a lunatic asylum admirably managed, as well as a dispensary, an eye infirmary, and an institution for the deaf and dumb. The workhouse forms a large range of buildings on the London road ; it contains a governor's house, committee rooms, &c., and affords accommodation to several hundreds of the poor. A savings' bank was established in 1815, and a mechanics' institution, consisting of above 200 members, in 1825. Amongst other alms-houses and poor-houses are those respectively founded by Mr. John Stevens, Mr John Palmer, Sir Thomas Lethbridge, and Mr. John Webb. There are also numerous private donations and bequests for the instruction and benefit of the poor.

Many eminent men have been natives of Exeter ; among the most distinguished are Josephus Iscanus or Joseph of Exeter, a Latin poet of the twelfth century, Baldwin, archbishop of Canterbury, Sir Thomas Bodley, founder of the Bodleian Library, Lord Chancellor King, Lord Gifford, and Sir Vicary Gibbs.