Articles relating to Heavitree and its past.

These may be connected with research that has been undertaken, subjects that have been covered at our quarterly meetings, or, material that has been gleaned from other sources.

Heavitree - An Overview

For many centuries Heavitree's parish boundaries swept right around from Countess Wear to Cowley, although by 1800 its population, despite its size, was less than 900.

By the time the Heavitree Urban District Council (HUDC) was set up at the end of the 19th century, Wonford, Polsloe, Whipton and Stoke Hill were still within that boundary. Nowadays Heavitree is an identified ward for local election purposes - an area loosely centred on the Fore Street shops.

It is possible that Fore Street, Heavitree is on the route of a Roman road into Exeter, but to date this is unproven. What is known is that Fore Street was on the main Exeter to London road by the 1500s and this, together with the location of the parish church, led to Wonford's local pre-eminence being gradually usurped by the hamlet of Heavitree.

It is known that before William the Conqueror arrived on the scene Heavitree manor was part of the Wonford royal estate. Wonford was the name given to an ancient 'hundred' but unlike many other hundreds it didn't have a minster church. The role seems to have been taken by an early Christian place of worship on a prominent position on the edge of the estate at Heavitree.

The Parish Church, Heavitree in 2013

The Parish Church, Heavitree in 2013

For centuries, Heavitree provided the inhabitants of Exeter with food, building materials, and, as the city grew in importance, labour. However, the relationship between the city of Exeter and the village of Heavitree wasn't always amicable. Exeter, because of its importance, has been besieged on many occasions since 1066. The besieging armies would have camped in Heavitree and demanded that the local farmers provided them with food while stopping trade with the city's inhabitants.

Although there is no recorded evidence, it is likely that this forced collaboration would have led to recriminations when hostilities ceased. This may have been the reason why people living within the city walls called those living in St Sidwell's "Grecians", or untrustworthy, and Heavitree was nominated as the place for executions.

Despite this friction Heavitree became a honey-pot for wealthy Exeter merchants and people returning to England after making their fortunes with the East India Company. One of the main reasons for the building of Baring Crescent, Salutary Mount, Mont-le-Grand and Regents Park during the first half of the 19th century was the good health record of the parish. Whilst scores of people died from Cholera in Exeter, Heavitree residents escaped almost unscathed.

This expansion escalated as Exeter's prosperity increased. By the middle of the 19th century the city fathers were keen to include Heavitree in the city's boundaries, but it wasn't until 1913 that annexation finally took place and ended a thousand years of independence.

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The Origin Of 'Heavitree'

Most place names are either personal, i.e. named after a person, or topographical, i.e. named after a local feature in the landscape.

These derivations are not always apparent in modern English place-names as most are rooted in ancient languages such Celtic, Latin, Old English or Norman French.

Another barrier to tracing the derivation of an English place-name is that it will undoubtedly have changed over the years. The following are just a few examples of Heavitree found in old texts and documents:

  • 1086 Hevetrowa (Domesday Book)
  • 1130 Hefatriwe
  • 1179 Eveltrea
  • 1270 Hevedtre
  • 1345 Hevtre

One theory as to the origin of the name Heavitree is that it was derived from it being the common place of execution for malefactors, signifying the heavy or sorrowful tree. Another possibility is that it refers to the ‘head tree’, and yet another suggestion is that it is made up of ave or avon (water), and tree the British word for town or settlement.

Most place-name experts now agree however that it probably derives from the personal name Hefa and the Old English word treow meaning a tree, post or beam. Heavitree is included in a group of 38 settlements which have similar characteristics, namely adjacent to a boundary of an estate and associated with a meeting-place. A tree is a natural marker for both purposes.

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Fore Street Heavitree - A Roman Road?


There has been much speculation and debate over the possibility of Fore Street Heavitree having a Roman origin but it may never be proven. Even if it began its life as a solidly-built Roman military road, nineteen centuries of continuous use, and its slope, would have removed all physical evidence. However, it is a worthwhile exercise to investigate the possibility by association with the proven routes and the intelligent interpretation of the topography where gaps exist.

Roman Technique

Roman roads were constructed by the army, for the army. When the Second Augustan Legion built their fortress at Exeter in the 50s A.D., roads leading to it from the rest of Roman Britain, and in particular the contemporary Legionary fortress at Lincoln at the other end of the Fosse Way, will have been laid out in predictable ways, with forts placed at intervals equivalent to a day's march. The Antonine Itinerary of the third century A.D. listed the mileage between important places such as posting stations and major towns. Included on the south coast route between Dorchester and Exeter, for example, is Moridunum, which may mean defensible place by the sea, and, although no hard evidence for a fort has yet been found, it is likely to have been close to present day Seaton. To the west of Exeter there is Nemetostatio and may be the fort known as North Tawton. Further west we have Tamaris, yet to be found, but must be a fort guarding the crossing of the river Tamar. It took until 1998 to find the Roman fort near Honiton on the Fosse way; everyone knew it was there somewhere.

Physical Evidence

With the aid of an Urban Database, which precisely locates and superimposes all known archaeological evidence onto modern topographical maps, it is now much easier to see what was going on at any given period. The gates and many of the roads leading from the original Legionary fortress are known from excavations. An aerial photograph showing the very straight line of Topsham Road would have continued through Exeter's South Gate into the fort and out of the North Gate. Interestingly, the suspected route from the North Gate was never found during excavations in the area of the Iron Bridge. However, evidence has been found for the road turning north and running up what is now Paul Street. An East Gate, near St Stephen's Church in the High Street, would have run in a straight line to join what is now Sidwell Street. The apparent wobble in the line of this road, from the later City Gate to Sidwell Street is thought to be the result of recutting City defences during the Civil War. The road from the West Gate would have run to the Exe Bridge and beyond.

Thus far none of this helps the cause of Fore Street Heavitree except that during recent excavations in Princesshay, Roman road metalling was unexpectedly found running diagonally, due East from the Fort. This is still not quite in line with Fore Street Heavitree but does allow us to break the predictable 'dead-straight' grid mould.


Of the two Roman roads running to Exeter from the east - the Honiton-Exeter route seen as an extension of the Fosse Way, and the south coast road from Dorchester - the best alignment for Fore Street Heavitree comes from the latter. The south coast route arrives at Clyst St Mary and the bridging of the Clyst, then follows a straight line section of the Topsham parish boundary (always a good indicator of pre-Norman land division) to Sandy Gate, then on to Quarry Lane and East Wonford Hill. The building of the railway, outer bypass and M5 motorway now make this route less obvious.

The Fosse Way from Honiton is known with certainty as far as the Rockbeare Straight. Margary describes a subsequently bendy route from Clyst Honiton, closely following the low ground of the old A30, to join the South Coast road at Heavitree Bridge at the bottom of East Wonford Hill (Margary, 108). However, if one takes a look at a modern map we see another potential route into Exeter over a ridge via Blackhorse Lane to Gipsy Hill and then Hollow Lane. From this point the line can be imagined running to join the Pinhoe Road close to Polsloe Bridge, then to Blackboy Road, Sidwell Street and Exeter's East Gate. Unfortunately no Roman road was discovered during the building of the M5 motorway.


There seems to be little doubt that Fore Street Heavitree had its origins as a Roman road and could have led to both the East Gate and the South Gate of Exeter, forking at Livery Dole, before running via both Magdalen Road and via Heavitree Road + Paris Street.

Margary, RD, 1955 - Roman Roads in Britain Vol. 1, London

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Heavitree And The Domesday Book

The Domesday Book is not consistent in the manner of its recording; Heavitree's entry is very short on detail. It mentions only two carucates of land and two ploughs: one for Roger, who holds the manor, and one for the villain - the two serfs were probably ploughmen. That makes for a population of just four families in 1086: Roger's, the villain's and the two serfs' - surely there must have been more.

A carucate, like the hide elsewhere in the country, is a measure of cultivated land which a plough team could work in a year, and could be used to calculate tax. For most of the country, a carucate, or hide, would have been reckoned on 120 acres but in the southwestern counties (heavier soils?) it is more often reckoned at only 40 or 48 acres (Finn, 25).

How much bigger than its likely 96 acres of arable was the manor at this time? What about woodland (crucial for fuel and the grazing of pigs), orchards, pasture, sheep and cattle? How did this tiny manor, and its later church of St Michael, in the two centuries following Domesday Book, become the centre of such a large parish, stretching from Cowley Bridge in the north to the Clyst at Bishops Clyst in the south, including a total of ten churches and chapels (Orme, 121)?

A map showing the extent of Heavitree parish at the end of the 13th century

A map showing the extent of Heavitree parish
at the end of the 13th century (Orme, 1991)

As for the plough and its oxen team, it must be remembered that ploughing had been developed over thousands of years before 1086. The plough itself was a valuable and effective tool, with all the components we see on a modern plough: a coulter to cut the turf, an iron 'share' to break the ground, and a mouldboard for turning the furrow. Ploughshares were even sought as payment for rents (Finn, 57). The oxen (castrated bulls), were small beasts about the size of the Dexter breed, and the eight would constitute two teams of four.

Finn, RW, 1973 - Domesday Book; a Guide, London;
Orme, NI, 1991 - The Medieval Chapels of Heavitree, Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society No 49, 121-129

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Heavitree Parish Boundary

For at least 1000 years prior to 1913, when it was annexed by Exeter, Heavitree parish, which included Polsloe, Stoke Hill, Whipton, Broadfields and Wonford, looked after its own affairs. It has been suggested that the site of its parish church, St Michael and All Angels, was one of the earliest Christian sites in Devon.

The administrative area known as a parish appears in King Alfred's laws and had both spiritual and secular functions. As land-owners and residents had to pay a tithe or tax to their parish church it was essential that the vicar and church officials knew the precise extent of their parish. The parish gradually became the accepted local government unit below the county and was given responsibility for administering the poor law acts, highway maintenance and enforcing the law.

The need to define and defend individual and group territorial boundaries seems to be a basic human instinct that is also found in many animals. The practice of marking land boundaries with physical objects such as wooden posts or stones has lasted for at least 3000 years (see Deuteronomy 19:14) and Tudor boundary stones marking Heavitree's parish boundaries can still be seen.

A map from the 1930s showing Heavitree parish boundary

A map from the 1930s showing Heavitree parish boundary

Boundary stones or markers rarely defined every bend and kink in parish boundaries and as accurate maps only became available in the late 19th century parish councils used a technique to define and identify boundaries which dated back to ancient Greece and the Romans. It went under the name of 'beating the bounds'.

Throughout the country vicars and parish officials led a group of their parishioners, including in many places young boys, around their parish boundary. Each boundary stone or significant bend in the boundary was struck with a willow wand or a rock. In many parishes a boy was raised by the ankles and his head was bounced on the stone or the ground. The reasoning was that making young boys witness and take part in in the ceremony would ensure the survival of the group memory and they would make convincing witnesses if the boundary dispute was ever brought to court.

Perambulating Heavitree's twenty mile boundary took most of a day and regular stops for refreshment were required. On returning to the church an ale-feast was often held. Many parishioners used the occasion as an excuse to get drunk and misbehave. It is perhaps no coincidence that the word 'bounder' means a cad or person of objectionable manners.

Heavitree parish boundary overlain on a modern OS map

Heavitree parish boundary overlain on a modern OS map

The beating of the bounds traditionally took place on Rogation Sunday, but in an attempt to avoid the fights that often broke out when groups of high-spirited, semi-intoxicated youths from neighbouring parishes met, some churches switched the ceremony to their church's dedication day.

Some of the stones which marked the boundary of Heavitree parish have been in existence for many centuries, but in 1897 the Heavitree Urban District Council celebrated Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee by erecting some additional stones and reviving the beating the bounds ceremony which had lapsed over the years. The ceremony again lapsed after the 1913 annexation, but was revived for a second time in 1975 by a group of local enthusiasts. Since then the ceremony has taken place every three years or so.

A booklet published in 2007 by the HLHS exists containing a record of Heavitree's surviving parish and the UDC boundary stones + a description of how to follow as closely as possible the 1897 boundary.

Anyone wishing to attempt the walk will find a good street map is useful. Walkers are warned that bridle paths are often very muddy in winter so stout shoes are advisable; flooding is also possible in low-lying areas after prolonged heavy rain. The Countryside Code should be adhered to at all times. The walk is of moderate difficulty with one long climb in the Stoke Hill area.

Boundary Walk - Full route (14.3 miles, 9 boundary stones)
Boundary Walk - Shortened route (0.3 miles, 4 boundary stones)

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Wonford And The Great House

Numbering in this article corresponds to that in the Wonford Village History Trail, designed by the Heavitree Squilometre.

This is a great little walk that takes you through the history of the area. Using wi-fi, it can be followed as you go from the browser on your mobile phone.

Further information:

Wonford village was part of the historic royal manor of Wonford, and was named after the old name for the Northbrook: Wynford.

There is a direct line along Wonford Street: from the site of the Manor House at one end to Heavitree Parish Church on higher ground at the other.

Church and Manor were there as prominent landmarks. This is indicative of the power relationship in the 12th century: the serfs / people would be living between two powers, one at each end of the village: church and lord.

Early 20th century map of Wonford Village (left)

Early 20th century map of Wonford Village (left)

Yeomen would have rented burgage plots from the lord, thus he would have held that village. Back-alleys like Hope Lane and Bovemoors indicate that the village is likely to have been planned this way, as statement of ‘you belong to me’!

The 1901 OS map of the area shows remnants of medieval settlements and three main centres of population: Wonford village, the quarries, and the centre of Heavitree.

In the past, Heavitree was the outlier of Wonford, and would have gradually grown. These days, Wonford is considered to be the outlier of Heavitree.

1. Wonford Great House

The Great House would have faced the village. Looking at Coronation Road, one can almost see the shape of where it would have been. A care-home now stands on the site.

A lot of heritage was lost as developers moved quickly giving archaeologists insufficient time to investigate what might have been left there. However, early pottery from the Great House has been discovered, dating from the late 1100s / early 1200s, the time of King John.

It's believed that the DeMandeville’s owned the House, although it's unlikely that they lived there. By 1236, it seems to have gone to the Gervaise family: Walter and Nicholas. These would have been French / Norman noble families.

Research has concluded that the House:

  1. Sat on a square plot of around 700m2, including a square moat
  2. Its front gate would have faced the village, with a small bridge over the moat
  3. It would have had a steeply gabled roof and small windows
  4. The first house, dating to around 1200AD, may have been timber.
    Later versions were almost certainly constructed from Heavitree Stone

Local artist, Steve Bramble, helped design a logo based on these facts. This can be seen on an information board where the House once stood.

Information board giving details of Wonford Great House

Information board giving details of Wonford Great House

2. South Wonford Infants’ School

A typical example of a Victorian school. The building dates from 1878, and originally educated around 60 children aged 4-7. A year later an additional classroom and chapel was added.

Almost every house in Wonford Street had children who attended the school.

It ceased to be used for teaching in the 1940s, and is now flats.

South Wonford Infants’ School

South Wonford Infants’ School

3. Site Of Smith’s Dairy (St Loye's Court)

Where St Loye’s Court now stands, there was a dairy in the 1900s.

Charlie Smith and his son Tom had a dairy farm at the top of Quarry Lane; they sold and delivered milk by horse and cart from this site.

Apparently, Charlie used to sometimes drink too much cider, but his horse knew the way around.

4. South Wonford Terrace

A terrace of working-class houses, built in the 1840s to house gardeners and labourers.

As Wonford Village became less reliant on local farms and orchards from the 1900s onwards, the houses became homes to dressmakers, nurses and cab drivers.

Originally built as two-up two-down cottages, the number of occupants ranged from 1-8, as people would often rent out a room to supplement their income. For example, the Sinclair family of 6 also had 2 lodgers.

5. Scudders Buildings

A row of workers’ cottages, originally thatched, built in the 1860s.

They were home to railway workers, carpenters, labourers and bricklayers. William Gibbs, a labourer for the council, lived at number 61 in 1911 with his 8 children and wife, all in one tiny cottage.

Well-known character Granny Lake lived at number 63, and would sit outside making Honiton Lace.

There were two toilets outside for the whole block. These were eventually moved inside due to the risk of Scarlet Fever, but the house dwellers were reluctant.

Scudders Buildings

Scudders Buildings

6. 45 + 47 Wonford Street

Two red brick buildings, built in the 1850s.

Number 45 is named 'Verney House'.

Number 47 was originally a shop. A quick look at its occupation over the years shows it being a coal merchant, hairdressers, TV repair shop, video rental shop and gas appliance shop. It was converted into flats in the 2000s.

There is water running underneath the road surface here. This could well be the culverted Blackbrook water course, which once ran through the village, and likely filled the moat of the Great House.

7. Vine Cottage

Probably the oldest building on the street. It was built before 1800, with recent changes visible.

In 1834, a robbery occurred in which £30 was stolen from William Barrell, whilst he and his family were at church.

Subsequently, the family must have fallen on hard times as William was sent to debtors’ prison in 1845. He committed suicide by jumping into the River Exe in 1852.

In 1861 John Madge, a licenced victualler, bought the cottage.

Vine Cottage

Vine Cottage

8. 31-35 Wonford Street

Evidence of the Exeter Blitz. A bomb killed two here, and left a crater 43 feet in diameter and 15 feet deep.

9. Cherry Gardens

A small development of houses from the 1960s, built originally for staff and families of the prison service.

It was built on the cherry orchard run by the Langdon family, who also had a butcher’s on Woodwater Lane.

The orchards were used for a locally-made cherry brandy. The Heavitree Brewery later owned it and claimed it was the best you could buy.

10. The Wonford Inn

Previously a private house known as Oakbeer Cottage, part of a farm.

It became a pub in 1866. It is the last of three pubs serving Wonford Village, and looks set to close.

The Wonford Inn

The Wonford Inn

11. 3-15 Wonford Street

Dating from the 1830s, the first building (number 3) was originally a shop that sold beer. In those days, tea and coffee were extremely expensive, so beer was widely drunk instead.

In the 1950s, the shop was called Rosie's, but was renamed Elston's when Rosie married a Mr Elston.

12. Hope Hall + Hope Place

Hope Hall was built as a Baptist Chapel in 1905. The Baptists used the building until 1931 before vacating to larger premises a short distance along Wonford Street.

The building has had various uses over the years, and for a while was Heavitree’s Community Centre. When it was decorated, the baptismal font was found under the floor.

Next to the Hall are eight terraced cottages built in 1890. They shared a common water pump and probably privy, as was the norm at that time.

Hope Hall + Hope Place

Hope Hall And Hope Place

13. Fort Villa

In the 1800s, as Wonford Village expanded, a number of larger houses were built alongside the workers’ cottages.

Built in 1826, Fort Villa is one of these. An example of a grand villa that would’ve been occupied by ‘the gentry’.

Alfred Brooking lived here between 1897 and 1926; he was chairman of Heavitree Urban District Council. When he died, he left the request that he be buried with an open bottle of chloroform.

Fort Villa was converted into a residential home for the elderly in the 1960s, reputedly Exeter’s first.

14. Cornish Units

During World War II, many homes were destroyed and people were left with nowhere to live.

Pre-fabricated houses, known as Prefabs for short, were a short-term answer to the housing crisis.

Prefabs could be built in a matter of hours from concrete sections, manufactured in the factory and transported to the construction site. Often, the entire structure was transported from A to B on the back of a lorry.

There were a number of designs of prefab. The Central Cornwall and Artificial Stone Company constructed thousands of one of the most easily-recognisable types.

Prefabs were built to be temporary and only last 10 years, but many still stand, such as those in Butts Road, built in the 1950s.

15. Murder / Suicide

On a February morning in 1933, neighbours heard gunshots coming from a cottage.

A woman was found with one foot protruding from a downstairs window; it seems she was trying to escape. She had a severe gunshot wound to the back, and died on the way to hospital.

Her husband was found inside with his head partially blown away. He was holding a double-barrelled shotgun with a cord attached to the trigger.

16. Baptist Chapel

Opposite the Wonford Inn, stands the “new” Baptist Chapel, built in 1931 as a replacement for Hope Hall.

The Chapel closed in 2003, as the congregation had fallen to just two. A reflection of just how markedly allegiance to God, and thus church attendence, has nationally declined since the end of World War II.

In 2004 the premises reopened as the Baptist Union headquarters.

Baptist Chapel

Baptist Chapel

17. Wonford Garage

An ‘old school’ garage stands on the site of what used to be Shepherd’s Court, a terrace of workers’ cottages.

In 1956, the business was owned and run by JK Pritchard and Sons. To this day it is run by the Pritchard family.

18. Site Of Abott's Farm (Draycott Close)

There used to be four acres of orchards here, as well as a fine thatched farmhouse.

The house was demolished in 1964 to make way for Draycott Close.

19. Heavitree & Wonford United Services Victory Hall

Built in 1922, by local veterans who served in World War I, as way to remember fallen servicemen, and as a meeting place for the local community.

Heavitree & Wonford United Services Victory Hall

Heavitree & Wonford United Services Victory Hall

20. Site of Havill’s Farm (Amersham Court)

On this site in 1840, sat “a commodious dwelling house” called 'Havill's Farm'.

Herein lived George Havill with his wife, Jane, their ten children, two servants, and a nursemaid. As well as the main farmhouse, gardens and orchard, George Havill owned Havills Meadow (roughly where the Wonford Leisure Centre now stands).

A Master Butcher by trade, he continued to build his business in the 1870s and 1880s with the help of sons Albert and Frederick (who also became butchers), as well as a number of live-in Butchers Apprentices or Assistants.

Alongside the farm, was Havill's Slaughterhouse, one of two in Wonford. There you could buy fresh eggs, milk and cream. The freshly slaughtered meat was sold at Havill & Sons butcher's shop in Exeter.

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The History Of The Ludwell Valley


Ludwell Valley is a place people have been drawn to since the Neolithic period. It has been continually used and occupied for 6,000 or 7,000 years. There is nowhere else in Devon that can say this.

People used flint and other stones to make tools e.g. blades and scrapers. From the Iron Age onwards, the clay was used for pottery, and the land for agriculture. A lot of early pottery found on sites elsewhere in Devon has been shown to have been made from clay from Ludwell Valley. There is no evidence of kilns in the Valley, which suggests that the clay may have been dug up, then made into pottery elsewhere.

An aerial view of the Ludwell Valley

An aerial view of the Ludwell Valley

There are long gaps in the historical record, the next detailed glimpse we get into the history of the Valley being in the 1840s. However, there have been a number of finds, a selection of which can be seen in the RAMM ‘Making History’ section:

  • Several enclosures and barrows, likely to date back to the Bronze Age;
  • A medieval field boundary buried on the northern edge of the Valley;
  • The Topsham/Heavitree parish boundary going back to at least the tenth century;
  • A large number of bones unearthed in the 1960s in a field below Pynes Hill, which may be remains of those who died in the Prayer Book Rebellion battle of Clyst Heath on the 4th and 5th August 1549;
  • Seventeenth century pottery fragments: Westerwald pottery, which came from Germany and was owned by high status individuals; and courseware, made locally, possibly from Ludwell Valley clay, and used by lower status people.

Why Is It Called Ludwell?

“Ludwell” comes from two Old English words: “hlude", loud, with "hlaw", a hill; and hence "the loud (or rapid) river by the hill”?

W.G. Hoskins suggested the name means “loud spring”. There is a spring, now under the kitchen floor of Ludwell House. Maybe there was an old watercourse, fed by the spring, which Ludwell Lane now follows, flowing down to join the Northbrook?

“Hlaw” translates not only as hill but also mound, especially a barrow. Was there a prehistoric burial mound, the haunt of restless unquiet spirits of the ancestors?

How The Northbrook Gave Wonford Its Name

The old name for the Northbrook, recorded in a Saxon charter of 937 AD, was Wynford. This probably derives from the Celtic “gwyn ffrwd”, meaning the white, fair, or holy stream.

“Wynford” changed over time to “Wonford” and this became the name of the manor of Wonford, which belonged to the Saxon kings, and thence of the Hundred.

Heavitree, built on the Exeter to London road, gradually became more important. Wonford had ceased to be a royal manor by the 12th century; Heavitree is the name the parish has been known by ever since. We can see from maps that almost all Ludwell was originally within Heavitree Parish, with only a tiny bit in the Topsham Parish.

Ludwell Lane

The footpath running up from Ludwell Lane by the side of the Fernleigh Nurseries rejoins Ludwell Lane and aligns precisely on Heavitree Parish Church. Did it originally run straight to the church, and the modern alignment is to avoid the steep slopes?

The northern end of Ludwell Lane disappears under Rydon Lane. This is where one of the two main local Iron Age encampments was! Could Ludwell Lane have followed a route used by our Iron Age ancestors over 2,000 years ago to travel between one of their main settlements and the sacred site marked by the ancient yew tree which may have given its name to Heavitree?

The 1844 Tithe Map

In the early 1840s, a tithe map was drawn up for each parish. The purpose was to assess who owed tax and how much. Most of the tax was due to the vicar or parson, replacing the old system whereby farmers and smallholders had to give one tenth (a tithe) of their produce to the vicar every year. The map records the name of every field, its size, whether it was arable or pasture, who owned it and who farmed it.

An aerial view of the Ludwell Valley showing the 1844 field names

An aerial view of the Ludwell Valley showing the 1844 field names

Ludwell Valley was within Heavitree parish. The vicar was owed £450 a year; other lessees another £580. It would take a craftsman about 8 years to earn £450 in the 1840s!

Fields were fairly small, typically 4 or 5 acres. Unlike today, most were used for arable crops, with lots of fruit. Most landowners were men holding a fairly small number of fields, although a few owned larger holdings, up to 50 fields and over 200 acres. Fields were not necessarily grouped together into blocks according to ownership – it was more common to own ‘one here, and one there’.

Rev. William Arundell

The Rev. William Arundell was born in 1798 in Pinhoe. He was 46 when the Tithe Map was drawn up, and owned nine fields in the Valley, plus another sixteen elsewhere in the parish. By the time of the 1861 census, if not before, he was the rector of Cheriton Fitzpaine, which is about 5 miles north of Crediton. He was then 63, his wife, Sarah, only 37. Sarah in fact was his second wife, whom he married in 1847. They had at least two children, sons aged 11 and 12, although they were not living at home (maybe away at boarding school?). The family were pretty well off, having no less than seven live-in servants: a footman, a groom, garden boy, cook, kitchen maid and two housemaids. By 1871, times must have become a little harder and they had only four servants. The two boys had both gone up to Oxford University. Two years later, William died, aged 75, leaving nearly £12,000 (equivalent to over £600,000 today).

Samuel Melhuish

Samuel Melhuish, the Rev. Arundell’s tenant farmer, lived in the Abbots and Pyne area of South Wonford. He was born in 1781 in Cheriton (thus the connection to his landlord?), so was over 60 at the time the tithe maps were drawn up. His wife was called Ann, and at the time of the 1841 census, there were three teenagers living with them, a girl of 18 and two boys, aged 14 and 17, both agricultural labourers. By 1851, aged 70, he was farming and employing two labourers, William Clement and Arthur Barnicoot, both of whom lived with the family. His 9 year old grandson Robert was also living with them as was a female house servant called Ruth Eveleigh. By 1861, things had changed again. Samuel was widowed, but still head of the household, still farming at the age of 79, employing three men and a boy. Living with him was his 47 year old son Robert, also a farmer, Robert’s wife Martha, Samuel’s grandson and three grand-daughters, the younger two of whom, aged 10 and 14, were at school. This arrangement continued until 1871, although by then the family included Samuel’s one year old great grandson, William, and a 16 year old agricultural labourer called William Philips. Samuel died later that year at the very good age of 89. The family lived at Pynes Farm.

Pynes Hill Farm

The farm was on the opposite side of Ludwell Lane to the Fernleigh Nurseries in the corner of what is now the Cherry Orchard. It had been there since at least the 1890s, and probably a lot longer, but was gone by the 1960s, and possibly by the 1940s; there are still signs if you look carefully enough. The gateposts of the entrance to the Cherry Orchard from Ludwell Lane are solid stone affairs, very different to the more modern gateposts used elsewhere in the park by the Council. They are in fact the gateposts of the old farm entrance. Near the cattle’s drinking trough you can find the odd brick or fragment of floor, all that is left of that farm.

A map showing the location of Pynes Hill Farm

A map showing the location of Pynes Hill Farm

Francis Hurford of Topsham leased part of this farm to Mark White of Hallhayes Farm, Wellington, Somerset in 1932. The lease had strict conditions: not to break up any permanent pasture; to preserve all the trees in the Cherry Orchard; maintain the hedges in good condition; keep at least 40 apple trees and currant bushes in the garden; manage the farm “according to the best rules of husbandry practiced in the neighbourhood”; prevent, as far as possible, any trespass onto the land; and purchase the farm’s milk round after a year.

The Snow Family

The Snow family were connected with the Ludwell Valley in the early 20th century. Edgar and Hilda Snow were landlords of the old Country House Inn on Topsham Road (and their family landlords of two other Heavitree Brewery pubs: The Windsor Castle and the London & South Western Tavern). They did well there, and in 1920 bought Ridgeway field, and then Ludwell Gardens in 1928. This was productive arable land – they grew fruits and vegetables, and it was also good for bulb growing. They developed a commercial business – sending daffodils and other flowers to Covent Garden market in London, with, it is said, flowers even being exported to Holland! Tulips to Amsterdam! The family only sold these fields to the Council in 2019.


Edward Snow and his family, outside the Country House Inn, Topsham Road
(image courtesy of Mrs P & Dr G Richardson)


Edward Snow and his family, with cut flowers grown in the Ludwell Valley
(image courtesy of Mrs P & Dr G Richardson)

The Council And Ludwell

In the 1920s, the council started buying up land around Exeter, first to re-house people from the old West Quarter and then after the war, to replace houses destroyed by enemy bombing. Most of the land is now the Rifford Road and the Burnthouse Lane estates. Ludwell Valley was spared, presumably because the land was too steep, and Wonford Playing Fields because the land had been used as a tip, and then for dumping some of the rubble from the wartime bomb damage.

Once the Council took over ownership of fields in the park, they installed tenant farmers. The last tenant was Bernard “Tiger” Hooper. He was said to be a strong-willed man. He grazed his cattle on the park all year round, which made it a muddy and smelly experience for walkers, although some field edges were fenced off for them. He had a piggery where the new cherry orchard has been planted; full of old railway carriages, gates and vicious dogs! When Tiger died in 1998, the Council decided to take back the management of the land in order to have better control.

In 1983, the Council took the far-sighted decision to set up Valley Parks in Exeter, so Ludwell is protected. In May 2019, the management of the Valley Park was transferred from the City Council over to Devon Wildlife Trust. Ludwell Life and Exeter City Council are working together to create a new community orchard. This will turn what is currently a featureless field, low in habitat value, into a place for sitting and for picnics, provide a harvest for local people of fruit (the trees planted are all old Devon varieties), and also enriched habitat for wildlife. There will be a flat space to hold small community events too.

There is an old cherry orchard in the park, dating back to 1840, which contains some trees that are well over a hundred years old. These are being replaced, and a new cherry orchard was planted and is also being added to every year. The old hedges in the Valley also contain trees that are hundreds of years old, including pollarded Elms. These are being protected, and hedges that were removed in the 1920s are being reinstated. Wildflower meadows are being planted and hopefully this will continue. Ash tree die-back will be a devastating problem for Ludwell, as well as for the rest of the country, in the future. Vandalism and pollution are problems, but despite this, the Panny is still home to hundreds of creatures: kingfishers, dippers, egrets, ravens, buzzards, sparrowhawks, and maybe an otter. One of the objectives is to get people using the Ludwell Valley Park more – it is such a wonderful green space and we could all benefit from spending some more time there.

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Heavitree Stone And Heavitree Quarries

During the Permo-Triassic period, around 280 million years ago, the climate in Devon was like that of the present-day Sahara. Seasonal flash floods swept large quantities of sediment into the valleys and the plains fringing the deserts. As the stones within never had the chance to wear down, they remained angular and sharp. It is this mixture of stones and sediment, known as breccia, present in the Heavitree area, that was quarried and used for building in the Exeter area, where it was called Heavitree Stone.

A map showing the location of quarries in the Heavitree / Wonford area

A map showing the location of quarries in the Heavitree / Wonford area

Although Heavitree Stone had been in use for a long time, the first quarries opened at Heavitree, Wonford, Whipton and Exminster, around 1340, and continued operating until the mid-19th century. The first recorded use of Heavitree Stone was in Exeter’s Underground Passages in 1349. Cathedral records indicate a sudden increase of stone being brought in from Whipton - no less than 650 loads were conveyed in 1349-50. For some reason, the Cathedral was required to repair the City wall by the East Gate. It seems that this may have been because the Cathedral had decided to simplify its water supply (previously taken from St Sidwells well and carried around the city by conduit to Cathedral Close) by cutting through the East Gate, hence the repairs and material required.

The Underground Passages

The Underground Passages

Post-1350 and through the 1400s, there was a great flowering of masonry skills after the devastation of the Black Death, and a real pride in workmanship and in re-building of the city. The use of Heavitree Stone ashlar (large, square-cut blocks of stone) was connected with a big increase in the quality of building and was regarded as a real showpiece.

Heavitree Stone's heyday was in the 15th and 16th centuries. Churches dating from the period indicate that it was the preferred choice in Exeter. St Mary Steps is built from grand Heavitree Stone ashlar, as is St Stephen's, and the tower of St Martin's; Heavitree's St Clare's Chapel is a lovely example. Sadly, St Michael's Church is made from limestone, not Heavitree Stone, but perhaps it used to be. When it was rebuilt by the Victorians, part of the old church probably went to form the boundary wall between the two graveyards, which contains a whole mix of interesting materials: Heavitree Stone, red sandstone, volcanic blocks and medieval floor tiles.

A wall at Heavitree Parish Church

A wall at Heavitree Parish Church

Another place in Exeter where we can see Heavitree Stone from the Middle Ages is in the old city walls. Although in places the Heavitree Stone is actually beneath the Roman volcanic stone, this does not mean that it is older, but is actually because the older wall is on top of the newer part; the ground would've been much higher on both sides, so when this was levelled, would've been underpinned with Heavitree Stone.

A section of the City wall

A section of the City wall

Moving away from Exeter there are some wonderful examples of the use of Heavitree Stone, in Alphington, Kenn, Kenton and Exminster churches, but in general its use peters out in favour of more local sources within a few miles.

Although Heavitree Stone is a high-quality material, it is prone to weathering. For this reason, there was something of a move away from its use from the 17th century onwards, but there are later examples, such as Wynards Almshouses and Chapel on Magdalen Street.

The chapel of Wynards Almshouses

The chapel of Wynards Almshouses

Heavitree stone was used so ubiquitously through the City that its remnant walls act as a kind of red skeleton showing the shape of our City from 500-600 years ago. Today there are many lesser examples that can be still be seen in the form of low, basal courses that would have been beneath traditional cob or wooden structures.

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A Social History Of The Royal Devon And Exeter Hospital

This article contains portraits from a collection donated to the RD&E Hospital. Each one was produced either on appointment of the figure or brought with them when they came onto the board. The paintings acted as the PR tools of their day, and tell the history of the RD&E from a really interesting angle.

When the RD&E (Southernhay) site was put up for sale to private developers, the paintings were rescued with a view to reuniting them in the boardroom at the RD&E (Wonford). However, there was insufficient space therein, so a new boardroom was proposed.

Many, rightly or wrongly, took exception to this; the paintings had, after all, been in storage for many years.

They were gifted to the RAMM to be restored, and recently displayed at an exhibition there.

The RD&E Hospital was established in 1743 in Southernhay, Exeter, by Dean Alured Clarke. In the late 1600s / early 1700s, the idea of the great and the good coming together was very popular: the conception of public service.

The original RD&E Hospital, Southernhay, Exeter

The original RD&E Hospital, Southernhay, Exeter

Clarke (below) had trained in London and was acutely aware of the development of district hospitals at that time. When promoted to Dean of Winchester, the first thing he did was to gather the important people of the area around him and found Winchester Hospital. He then moved to Exeter; just a few records show how he went about his mission to build the Devon and Exeter Hospital. He came here in 1741 and got things moving, but unfortunately died a year later.

Dean Alured Clarke, (founder of the RD&E Hospital)

Dean Alured Clarke (founder of the RD&E Hospital)

Bishop Stephen Weston (below), Clarke’s boss, extolled the parish clergy and parishioners to donate money. This was raised by subscription, relatively small, but many of them; this gained pace as people recognised the hospital was to be a reality. The next stage was to secure the land.

Bishop Stephen Weston

Bishop Stephen Weston

John Tuckfield (below) was a local business-person, and later both alderman of, and MP for, the city. He was the president of the board. His portrait was painted by Thomas Hudson who produced three portraits in the collection; he was famed for his painting technique of textiles.

John Tuckfield

John Tuckfield

Ralph Allen (below) was born in Cornwall to a mining family. His mother was involved in the emerging postal service. At this time, many seams of copper were being discovered; those laying claim to them needed to register their ownership with an office in London. Unscrupulous people might intercept and change the name on the letter. Ralph recognised this and at 19 moved to Bath and became a postmaster. He rationalised the service in England and unified the whole system. He was the Bill Gates of his day, and made a huge fortune.

Once this wealth was in investments, he began opening stone quarries; the whole of Bath used this stone. These two careers made him a multi-millionaire. Having secured his place on earth, Ralph went about buying his stairway to heaven. In the painting, he is pointing to the deed that transfers part of his fortune to the hospital.

Ralph Allen

Ralph Allen

Having garnered everything, the board next went about attracting the best medical men.

John Patch Senior (below) is painted in the mode of lecturer. He is gesturing to learned text about the human hand; there is also a flayed arm in the painting. The portrait is remarkable, because at the time both the church and state were vehemently opposed to dissection of the human body.

John Patch Senior

John Patch Senior

Patch was the surgeon in Paris to James Edward Stuart (son of the deposed James of England, claimant to the English and Scottish thrones). The infant prince had been taken to France where James II had set up his court in waiting. Looking closely at the top right of the portrait, behind some crude over-painting, is a bookshelf with volumes on.

John Sheldon (below), surgeon at the RD&E, was a remarkable person. The Age of Enlightenment is embodied in some of his interests. He was somewhat bizarre. He kept the naked embalmed body of a 24-year-old woman next to his bed for thirty years. His widow gave the specimen to the RD&E.

The body was believed to have been his first love, who died of consumption when he was treating her in the final stages of illness. He also once ascended in a static balloon and was on course to travel the whole of the South Coast (but got off in Sunbury).

An interesting talk on John Sheldon, that's free to listen to, can be found here.

John Sheldon

John Sheldon

The painting of Sheldon is very interesting because of the figure in the background. Around 1820-25, three royal academicians were involved in discussions about how Christ’s dead body would have looked on the cross. They were very interested in how the body would have ended up, and thought that the pose used by many artists was anatomically incorrect.

Until 1832, the Anatomy Act stated that the only bodies legally available for dissections were those of executed criminals. Therefore, casts of flayed cadavers were very important to medical schools and art galleries.

The three academicians approached a surgeon, and in 1801 he was asked to find a suitable subject. It just so happened that he knew a judge with an ‘open / shut case of murder’ coming up. James Legg, a Chelsea Pensioner probably suffering from dementia, challenged another Pensioner in his home to a duel, shooting him through the chest. He was hanged and afterward his body dissected, casts being made, pre- and post- dissection. From these casts, smaller versions were sculpted; one is the piece depicted in this portrait, another remains in the life drawing room at the Royal Academy.

As for the RD&E itself …

By 1974 it had out-grown the Southernhay site, and was moved to a tower block within the grounds of Wonford House. The new site is now known as RD&E (Wonford).

The new RD&E (Wonford)
Artist's impression of the new RD&E (Wonford) Building of the new RD&E (Wonford)
Artist's impressionBuilding work

Initially, there were complaints from night-staff about the noise of gunfire from the nearby Wyvern Barracks, where the army shooting range was located.

Two people died falling from height at the hospital within a year of it opening, the first being a workman on the outside of the building, and the second a nine-year-old patient who fell down a service shaft.

In 1985, the building was the first major structure in the UK found to have concrete cancer (the alkali–silica reaction), which caused the concrete to expand and fail. It is thought that condensation from the kitchens was the primary cause.

The replacement buildings were built in several phases, the first phase being completed in 1992. This first phase included an ophthalmic unit which replaced the West of England Eye Infirmary, previously on its own site on Magdalen Street in the city centre.

Additional building at the RD&E (Wonford)

Further building at the RD&E (Wonford)

The second phase was completed in 1996, followed by the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry opening in 2004, and a new maternity and gynaecology unit, known as the Centre for Women’s Health, opening at Wonford in 2007, with maternity moving from its Heavitree site in Gladstone Road.

The Heavitree site had existed for years as a place of healing, albeit under the banner of the Workhouse. It still exists, and operates a number of outpatient services.

The Southernhay site was sold to private developers in the early 2010s, and has since been converted to housing whilst retaining the external façade.

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City of Exeter Lunatic Asylum, Digby - Part 1: 1890

Old minutes from Exeter City Council meetings (rescued from a skip) provide very interesting snapshots of Exeter life in the past.

The minutes from the Asylum Committee are particularly interesting; they give a glimpse into the institution at various points over the years. Not a comprehensive history of the Asylum, but rather a peek at various points in time (and, of course, seen through the subjective eyes of the Council Asylum Committee).

In the late 1800s, Heavitree wasn't yet part of Exeter, however the City sometimes took land to build facilities for which there was insufficient room in Exeter. One of these was the City of Exeter Lunatic Asylum. There was already a private mental hospital for the rich at St Thomas, replaced by the larger Wonford House (also in Heavitree parish) in 1869, but in 1880 the city decided to build its own municipal lunatic asylum, to treat the pauper lunatics of Exeter.

The land chosen was part of Digby Farm, within the old Heavitree parish. It was near the railway line, which would allow for building materials to be transported. In 1908, a station named ‘Clyst St Mary and Digby Halt’ was opened (350 metres from the current station).

OS Map dating from 1892-1908 showing the location of the City of Exeter Asylum, Digby

OS Map dating from 1892-1908 showing the location of the City of Exeter Asylum, Digby

The Asylum was designed by Robert Stark Wilkinson. Exeter Memories describes the layout:

‘The building, of some 237 metres (777 ft) in length, was split into the more utilitarian north-western range containing the service, administration, and laundry rooms, along with accommodation for the laundry workers. The south-eastern range was a series of male and female ‘inmate’ areas separated by a recreation hall. In the centre of the range was a grand entrance into the main hall, as befits such a building. At one end of each range was a large tower, of differing design. There was also a farm for the Asylum, to the south-east of the main block, providing work for the male patients.’

Lithograph drawing of the Asylum

Lithograph drawing of the Asylum

Early photograph of the Asylum

Early photograph of the Asylum

Photo amalgamation showing the position of the Asylum relative to current buildings. Credit: Jerry Bird (Exeter Memories)

Photo amalgamation showing the position of the Asylum relative to current buildings.
Credit: Jerry Bird (Exeter Memories)

The first set of records dates from 1890, when the Asylum was still being equipped.

The accounts list purchases and services carried out: blankets, bedding, furniture, rugs, cutlery, carpeting, oil baize, brushes, oak posts and painting oils, sheets, trousers, armchairs, counterpanes, sheets, glass and earthenware, painting and writing, ironmongery, repairs to wire fences and ‘town dues on stone’.

The Council had to deal with a letter from W. Burrow, complaining that his tender for the supply of flour to the Asylum had not been accepted, despite it being the lowest. The Council informed him that:

‘Samples sent were made into bread before the Committee arrived at a decision, and that they were of the opinion that the small increase in the price of flour paid was more than compensated for by the superior quality.’

In 1890, the annual balance sheets showed that the Asylum loan, taken out in 1886, of £90,000 and a further £7,000, had been paid off by £7,381.

Sample from the minutes from the Asylum Committee

Sample from the minutes from the Asylum Committee

The City Asylum Committee met each month.

In January 1890, they were mainly discussing tenders for goods. The clothing purchased gives us an idea of what the patients would have been wearing:

’10 dozen men’s caps, 8 pieces of check shirting, pairs of flannel drawers, flannel vests, shawls, men’s stockings, 60 pairs of light cord trousers, 2 pieces of dress ticking, 20 dozen women’s stockings, 10 dozen flannel chemises, 600 yards of Wincey, 6 dozen pairs of stays, 6 pieces of striped skirting, 20 dozen women’s hats, 10 dozen pairs of braces, men’s and women’s boots and slippers.’

In March, there was discussion about setting aside wards for private patients, and also accommodating patients from London, Tiverton, Barnstaple and other Devon Unions. This seemed to worry the ‘Corporation of the Poor’.

A letter from their clerk demanded to know whether the weekly charge for lodging the City’s lunatics would be reduced to match the amount that would be charged for the ‘metropolitan lunatics’. The Committee replied, reassuring him that only the ‘better class of patients are to be received and that such patients can be maintained at a less expense than can acute and violent cases.’

Despite this, a compromise was suggested:

‘Being anxious to meet the views of the Corporation of the Poor, the Committee have offered to reduce the charge to 12s 10d per week, provided all the lunatics now at the Workhouse (which are chronic cases, the cost of whose maintenance is less than that of acute cases) are also sent to the Asylum.’

We find in April that the Corporation for the Poor refused to move these patients, deeming it ‘inexpedient’. The Asylum Committee dug their heels in accordingly and refused to reduce the charge per patient.

In December 1890, however, the Committee announced that they would reduce the charge for the Exeter patients from Lady Day (25th March) the following year.

The Commissioners in Lunacy made their annual inspection and it all sounded very positive:

‘The various day rooms and corridors present throughout a very bright aspect, and are made cheerful by the prints on the walls and the abundant supply of plants and ferns. The healthy appearance of the latter is perhaps due to the absence of gas, and the advantage in this respect which the Asylum has of being lighted by electricity.’

Great praise was given to Dr Rutherford and attention was drawn to the Medical Officer’s report:

‘… I have called attention to the great importance of early treatment of insanity; but I am afraid that until the public can be made to understand that insanity is simply one kind of brain disease, and that if treated early many varieties of it are very curable, the unfortunate patients will continue to be either retained at home or in workhouses until the curable stage of their mental disorder is past.’

Other observations from the Commissioners were:

‘A woman having sustained fracture of the spine, though for several months thereby paralysed, has recovered from that injury and was today running about a ward …’

‘6 men and 8 women were in bed today, some of them to allay excitement and not really ill. 4 males and 7 females are registered as being under medical restraint, and no one was under mechanical restraint or seclusion. There has been no resort to the former method of treatment, and but few patients have been subject to the latter – 8 men for an aggregate of 57 hours, and 1 woman once only for an hour and a half.’

‘The epileptics are 24, and the actively suicidal stated to be 12. All these sleep under continuous supervision at night, and for constant watch over those dangerous to themselves proper instructions in writing are issued to the staff. We, however, today saw a suicidal woman left alone in bed, in whose case the special instructions were not withdrawn.’

‘The provision of clothing for both sexes is good, and their general appearance in the better wards is satisfactory. Except in one ward, where there are certainly a very degraded and noisy class of patients, the inmates of the Asylum under certificates behaved well in our presence. Their excitement, we believe, was to some extent due to want of sufficient outdoor exercise. There was no turbulence on the male side. It is only fair to say that most of the excited and untidy women had contracted bad habits before their admission here.’

The Commissioners did seem concerned by the lack of exercise that patients were getting, and recommended that Exeter Council give permission to construct a boundary walk for daily use, particularly for ‘Those women who are unfit to be taken on the public roads.’

The diet was found to be satisfactory, except that they recommended that coffee be substituted for water at dinner, ‘Since beer is no longer given in many asylums … the other general beverage of the working class should be given to patients.’

Regarding work, they found that, ‘Looking to the returns of employment, the male patients induced are 46, the female patients 52, of the former 18 only on land, of latter 10 in the laundry, in the kitchen and offices, and 16 at needlework … 10 men and 16 women are chiefly employed as ward cleaners.’

Sample from the accounts of 1890 showing typical purchases for the Asylum

Sample from the accounts of 1890 showing typical purchases for the Asylum

Accounts for the rest of 1890 were mostly concerned with spending and income. Items purchased give a good idea of what was being eaten: cheese, butter, eggs, cocoa, coffee, split peas, bacon, dried fruit, tea, caraway seeds, jam, haricot beans, lard, mustard, pearl barley, tapioca, treacle, pepper, sago, nutmegs, Liebig Company’s Extract of Meat, rice, ginger, corned compressed beef, best ox, heifer beef and best ewe, flour …

Non-edible items are also interesting: genuine white lead, machine oil, petroleum, lump whiting, rotten stone, hearthstones, bee’s wax, black lead, ‘blue thumb’, Bryant and May’s Safety Matches, good light Scotch snuff, soap (disinfecting), soap (grey), soap (Milbay Laundry), good shag tobacco, Englebert’s Lubricant, rental of telephone, allowance to patients on trial/working, wines, spirits and beer …

The Superintendent of the Fire Brigade, a Mr Pett, came and examined the building and its means for the extinction of fire. He recommended ways of using water from the City Water Works and the Asylum Well and Reservoir; he also found the Asylum fire hydrants completely useless, suggested the purchase of one 30ft telescopic fire escape, and said that the male attendants should be instructed in the use of fire appliances, etc. He finished by suggesting that the fire hose should not be used for ‘flushing drains, etc.’

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Heavitree And Infectious Diseases

The Government-imposed national lockdown of Spring 2020, in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, was a challenging time for everyone; it was certainly the first major disruption to everyday life experienced since World War II. Every person will have been affected differently by the restrictions: for some it will have been the longest period spent in Heavitree without leaving the area; some may have felt increasingly isolated and lonely, desperate for a change of scene, their wellbeing going downhill as time wore on; some may have used the time to do the jobs they never seemed to get around to; others may have taken up a new hobby, or discovered new things such as walks, wildlife, or historical facts; a few may even have paused to wonder what Heavitree might have been like in previous times of infectious diseases, epidemics, or pandemics.


Leprosy would have been a regular feature of life in Exeter and the rest of the country by 1050. The disease is a long-term bacterial infection that leads to damage of nerves, skin, eyes, and the respiratory tract, and deformity or loss of limbs.

The social perception of Leprosy in medieval communities was generally one of fear, and people infected with the disease were thought to be unclean, untrustworthy, and morally corrupt. Segregation from mainstream society was common, and people with Leprosy were often required to wear clothing that identified them as such or carry a bell announcing their presence.

Map from 1805 showing Magdalen Hospital

Map from 1805 showing Magdalen Hospital (Image courtesy of Exeter Memories)

Leper hospitals were situated on the outskirts of towns. The clue to where Exeter’s main leper hospital (there were also many smaller ones) was located is in the name ‘Magdalen Road’. Many leper houses were dedicated to Mary Magdalen, probably because of her supposed brother Lazarus (described in the Bible as, ‘a beggar full of sores’); a shortened form of his name (Lazar) came to mean Leprosy. Others claim it was because of the association between her and sexual excess and prostitution, which were incorrectly associated with Leprosy.

According to ‘Exeter Memories’:
‘The Magdalen Hospital was situated in Bull Meadow and consisted of a quadrangle with a chapel on one side and small buildings to house the inmates on the other three. Inmates were confined to the hospital and could be punished with a stint in the stocks if found wandering in the city.’

For a while, lepers were permitted to collect alms door to door and claim tolls on corn, but after this was forbidden, they were reliant on charity and bequests from Exeter residents.

As Leprosy began to disappear (there were still cases being recorded in 1530), the hospital was used to house the poor; it was demolished in the middle of the 19th century. Only the name ‘Magdalen Road’ remains, reminding us of these poor people’s fate.

The ‘Historic England’ website reveals another lasting effect:
“The impact of Leprosy lived on - it had brought about an institutional response to disability in the form of buildings and methods of care which would strongly influence future generations.”

The Black Death

Like the rest of the country, Exeter was devastated by the Black Death, which we think (like COVID-19) came from China; it lost 1900 out of 3000 of its inhabitants.

The Italian poet Giovanni Boccaccio wrote:
“At the beginning of the malady, certain swellings, either on the groin or under the armpits … waxed to the bigness of a common apple, others to the size of an egg, some more and some less, and these the vulgar named plague-boils. Blood and pus seeped out of these strange swellings, which were followed by a host of other unpleasant symptoms — fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhoea, terrible aches and pains — and then, in short order, death.”

Black Death

Image depicting individuals suffering from the Black Death

The Black Death, which was initially spread by rats, was very infectious and could be caught from respiration or from contact with an infected person. People who were perfectly healthy when they went to bed at night could be dead by morning. At the time, nobody knew how it was spread.

One doctor from the time said:
“Instantaneous death occurs when the aerial spirit escaping from the eyes of the sick man strikes the healthy person standing near and looking at the sick.”

Most people believed that the Black Death was God showing his anger at man – almost clearing the earth with a second great flood. It must have been terrifying. People sometimes even abandoned their sick or dying loved ones, because they were so afraid of catching it.

Ian Mortimer’s novel ‘The Outcasts of Time’ describes two brothers walking from Honiton to St Sidwells, Exeter, via Heavitree, at the time of the Black Death of 1348. The scene Mortimer paints shows us how times must have felt almost apocalyptic to people who lived in the village of Heavitree and the nearest city, Exeter – houses with their shutters closed, corpses everywhere, mass graves being dug:

“Death is all around us. I see it in the windows whose shutters remain open when dusk comes, and in the shutters that remain closed of a morning. I see it also in the unguided progress of a boat that floats down a river with the occupant slumped over the side, bumping into banks and quays. … In a few areas the crops lie unharvested, crumpled, and black, but in most places the disease struck after the grain was taken in. Less reassuringly, the fields are empty, devoid of workers. At dusk we are a mile from Exeter. More travellers approach – dark characters in ones and twos, shielding their faces with their hoods. A couple more carts come towards us. All these people are like shadows fleeing the city: wraiths of traders and merchants. But none of them are what you would call the naked poor, travelling on foot. The impoverished are staying behind – either to loot the houses of the rich or because they have nowhere else to go.”

This flight from the cities did not save people from the Black Death (although it did a good job of spreading it!), and farm animals could also be infected and die from it. It is interesting to note that during the current pandemic, moving from the city to the countryside and working remotely has become more popular, according to estate agents.

Black Death

It was widely believed that the Black death was God showing his anger toward man

In Heavitree, the Black Death caused the death of two, if not three, vicars. Henry de Chippenham, who had held the post for less than a year, was succeeded early in 1349 by Walter Bers, who was himself followed by Adam de Kellesye. The date of institution of his successor, John Lisle, is not recorded, which suggests that Kellesye also may have died during the period of disorganisation caused by the Black Death. The higher death rate among the clergy may have left people doubting the church as an institution, especially as it was the church itself that had given the cause of the Black Death to be the impropriety of the behaviour of men. These holy men had been seen as God’s envoys on earth but were not immune to his punishment. This change in perspective would have sown seeds for The Reformation in years to come.

Heavitree and Exeter would have felt many other effects of the Black Death, for many years after – most directly via the huge shortage of labour brought about by such a reduction in workforce. This eventually led to wage increases, the abolition of serfdom, and the development of family surnames for the lower classes. Like today, the arts and culture suffered badly, for example a shortage of labour led to a halt in building Exeter Cathedral.

The Black Death never really went away completely returning to Devon several times over the next 300 years. Fatal pestilences are recorded to have happened in Exeter in 1378, 1398, 1438, 1479, 1503, 1546, 1569, 1590, 1603, 1624 and in 1625, more than 2000 people died. Although some of the suggestions for causes of, and cures for, COVID-19 have been extreme (5G and injecting bleach, anyone?), in the 17th century, people still mostly believed that the Black Death was a punishment from God; they tried everything from fasting to eating frogs’ legs, purchasing powdered ‘unicorn horn’, or rubbing a recently killed pigeon to buboes!

Sweating Sickness

The mysterious Sweating Sickness is thought to have spread from Henry VII's army after it landed at Milford Haven in Wales on 7th August 1485.

One commentator at the time described it as:
“A newe Kynde of sickness came through the whole region, which was so sore, so peynfull, and sharp, that the lyke was never harde of to any mannes rememberance before that tyme."

Sweating Sickness

Image depicting an individual suffering from Sweating Sickness

Whereas other epidemics were typically urban and long-lasting, cases of Sweating Sickness spiked and receded very quickly, and heavily affected rural populations. 443 people died of the disease in Tiverton – a huge chunk of the town’s population. There is no record of its effect on Heavitree or Exeter, but it is likely to have been very fatal. Giddiness, headache and severe pains in the neck, shoulders and limbs occurred, followed by an intense sense of heat, headaches and delirium, a rapid pulse and intense thirst. Heart palpitations and chest pains were also common. Patients then had a strong urge to sleep, with many claiming that if the patient did doze off, they would seldom wake up again. It was particularly noteworthy for its speed – patients were often dead within three to twelve hours. Like COVID-19, people could catch it more than once.


Europe was struck by its first Smallpox epidemic in 1614; the frequency of epidemics rose during the century. After 1666, it replaced the Black Death as the most feared disease. By the early 18th century, Smallpox was a major cause of death in the British Isles.

The city was certainly subject to sudden outbreaks of the disease:
“The small-pox was very prevalent at Exeter in 1777, when out of 1850 who had it in the natural way, 285, rather more than one in seven, died of that fatal distemper.” (Magna Britannia, Vol 6)

‘Exeter Memories’ tells us that in 1871 there were plans to build a Smallpox Hospital in Polsloe Road, Heavitree, which did not impress the locals.

It does seem likely that, unlike in the North of the country, Smallpox was not endemic in the population of the South-West. This is thought to be because local parishes were much better at containing and isolating the virus. Those infected would often be sent to ‘pest-houses’, away from the rest of the population. Not many children would have had Smallpox, which would have meant fewer deaths, but a huge vulnerability when visitors arrived, or for anyone from Heavitree travelling to an area where Smallpox was rife.


Image depicting an individual suffering from Smallpox

There was indeed much to fear from the infection. Three to four days after developing a fever, the characteristic pus-filled pocks would appear. They were extremely painful and would burst easily, giving off a foul odour.

The historian Thomas Macaulay describes it vividly:
“Always present, filling the churchyard with corpses, tormenting with constant fear all whom it had not yet stricken, leaving on those whose lives it spared the hideous traces of its power, turning the babe into a changeling at which the mother shuddered, and making the eyes and cheeks of the betrothed maiden objects of horror to the lover.”

During the 20th century, Smallpox was responsible for 300-400 million deaths, and in 1967 the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that around 15 million people had the disease and 2 million died in that year.

Fortunately, after various vaccination campaigns during the 19th and 20th centuries, Smallpox was considered to be globally eradicated in 1979 by the WHO.



A riot at a Cholera burial in the Southernhay or Trinity burial yard (Image courtesy of Exeter Memories)

One pandemic that almost certainly would have contributed to the growth of Heavitree, was the Cholera outbreak of 1832. Officials were not sure how Cholera spread, and so many rules were put in place for disposal of bodies, clothes, and bedding, isolating patients, etc. The city spent a fortune supplying everybody with a ‘flannel belt’, thought to prevent the Cholera by keeping one’s stomach warm! People were frightened because they didn’t know the cause of the disease, which was later found to be spread via water. Paranoia, drunkenness, and lawlessness were rife, and just like in today’s pandemic, there were some who believed that the whole epidemic was a conspiracy. The city carefully recorded the number of cases, as we do today.


Heavitree seemed clean in comparison to the squalid conditions in the West Quarter

Since the outbreak was happening in the city (at its worst in the poor, crowded West Quarter), many people believed that quality of air had something to do with it, and Heavitree was thought of as a healthy place to live. It was marketed for its clean air, which attracted rich and poor alike. In 1801 the population was still just 833, but by 1901 this had risen sharply to 7529. The Cholera epidemic changed much about the city but also contributed towards Heavitree becoming a much more populous area.


Syphilis was the first disease to be widely recognized as a sexually transmitted disease, and was taken as indicative of the moral state of the people in which it was found.

“The disease started with genital ulcers, then progressed to a fever, general rash, and joint and muscle pains, then weeks or months later were followed by large, painful and foul-smelling abscesses and sores, or pocks, all over the body. Muscles and bones became painful, especially at night. The sores became ulcers that could eat into bones and destroy the nose, lips, and eyes. They often extended into the mouth and throat, and sometimes early death occurred. It appears from descriptions by scholars, and from woodcut drawings at the time, that the disease was much more severe than the Syphilis of today, with a higher and more rapid mortality and was more easily spread, possibly because it was a new disease, and the population had no immunity against it.” (John Frith)


Image depicting individuals suffering from Syphilis

We don’t know how many people suffered from Syphilis in Heavitree or Exeter, but it certainly would have been present in the population. Indeed, in August 2020 it was reported that there has been a 400% increase in Syphilis diagnosis in Exeter in the past twelve months! Luckily, we have antibiotics these days so won’t see anyone with a metal nose, or being subjected to blood-letting, swallowing mercury or baths in wine (the latter doesn’t sound so bad!).


In 1907, Measles, an airborne and extremely contagious virus, was mentioned in Heavitree School log:
“18th July 1907: cases of Measles increasing - school closed for the Summer Holidays two weeks earlier than fixed.”


Image depicting an individual suffering from Measles

Like COVID-19, Measles is usually spread through droplets in the air created when someone coughs or sneezes, and again like COVID-19 one could infect others before showing any symptoms oneself. Between roughly 1855 and 2005, Measles has been estimated to have killed about 200 million people worldwide, and 7 to 8 million children worldwide are thought to have died from Measles each year before the vaccine was introduced. In 1968 this vaccine almost eradicated Measles, along with Polio, Diphtheria, Tetanus, Whooping Cough, Mumps, and Rubella (although cases are now growing again as fewer people are vaccinated). Almost all children living in Heavitree up until the vaccine was introduced would expect to get Measles at some point, and it was one of the leading causes of death for under fives.


Tuberculosis (TB) is caused by a type of bacterium called Mycobacterium Tuberculosis. It is spread when a person with active TB disease in their lungs coughs or sneezes and someone else inhales the expelled droplets containing TB bacteria. Mortality from Tuberculosis was colossal: 1 of every 4 deaths recorded in parish registries from England at the end of the 18th century was attributed to the disease.


The Sanatorium, Whipton Isolation Hospital (Image courtesy of Exeter Memories)

In the same way that Measles devastated many families, bacterial TB would have affected young and old in Heavitree. Many Heavitree residents will remember the TB Sanatorium at Whipton Isolation Hospital and Honeylands Sanatorium. The latter was donated by the Wills family (ironically made rich by the tobacco industry) for children suffering from TB and other infectious illnesses like Diphtheria and Scarlet Fever. At this time, Heavitree would have had its own separate hospitals, and of course, Whipton fell within the Heavitree boundary.


Honeylands House

Some former patients shared their memories on the 'Exeter Memories' page. The sheer number of people, often children, who spent long periods in isolation, suffering from one of these horrible infectious diseases, is very striking:

“I was in the isolation hospital with scarlet fever 68 years ago, for a month, wasn't allowed visitors, could only talk to family through the window (it was closed of course), bit traumatic for a 10 year old.”

“My dad died of TB at Whipton Isolation Hospital 1956 - I was nine years old and he was 34 years old. We weren’t allowed to see him, so I used wave to him from Whipton Barton Road. They used to push the beds out onto the veranda as they believed fresh air was a cure.”

“I have many memories of my time there. I remember there were two matrons, one was called Matron Hutty, the other was Matron Jones; our school teacher was Miss Daw. We were treated very well and were allowed one visit a week on Sunday. My mother never missed a visit, even in the hardest of weather. Food was still rationed, but she always brought me something. A comic was always welcomed, plus an egg with my name written on it for my tea. We had lessons from 9:30 ‘til 11:30, then had our dinner, followed by an hour on a rest-bed in the conservatory. We had to lay on our backs and not move - the teacher sat in a high chair watching over us. I was the youngest of five. My mum walked all the way from St Thomas many times because she never had enough money for the bus fare. She was made of strong stuff; she gave her all. Sometimes my sister came with her. I remember well they came together to tell me my dad had died.”

“My dad was there with Diphtheria for about 3 months and wasn’t supposed to survive. The sister had to wrap him up in a blanket and take him to another part of the hospital where he was going die!! He pulled through but he had to leave his toy aeroplane behind that he had had for his birthday!!”

“I was there with scarlet fever Feb 1952 aged 7. The worst things were the injections in the backside. As I remember it, my folks had to stand on chairs and as you say talk through the outside window.”

“I was there at 7 years old in the isolation ward with scarlet fever. My mum could visit me by looking through a little window in the door. Talk about being isolated, and in there for over 6 weeks!!! Horrible experience but necessary to contain the fever from the public.”

“My mother was at the Whipton Isolation Hospital with Diphtheria ... probably 1920 at age 8? ... Her family travelled by tram to Polsloe Bridge from St Thomas and then walked ... but they could only see each other through the window. She was there again ... in 2003 ... in a 'new' recovery unit and fascinated the staff with her memory of being a young patient there.”

“TB was as feared then as Cancer is today.”

“During World War II, I had "Scarlet Fever" at age 5/6. In later years, I was told how lucky I was as my 8 year old cousin had died of it at Whipton Isolation Hospital. A 'Fumigation Wagon' came to sanitise the house! The outbreak must have been serious at the time.”


TB patients in their dressing gowns at Whipton Hospital 1952 (Image courtesy of Lynne Maclean, whose mother, a long-term patient, is included)

It wasn’t until the mid-1950s that the BCG vaccine started to be given to school children, and this, in combination with a better quality of life, and antibiotics and other drugs, meant that the disease was virtually wiped out in the UK. describes the current TB pandemic in depressing terms:
“Tuberculosis is a pandemic, a global disease, found in every country in the world. It is the leading infectious cause of death worldwide. The World Health Organization estimates that 1.8 billion people — close to one quarter of the world's population — are infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria that causes TB. Last year, 10 million fell ill from TB and 1.4 million died. TB is an airborne disease that can be spread by coughing or sneezing, and is the leading cause of infectious disease worldwide. It is responsible for economic devastation and the cycle of poverty and illness that entraps families, communities, and even entire countries. Among the most vulnerable are women, children, and those with HIV / AIDS. There is growing resistance to available drugs, which means the disease is becoming more deadly and difficult to treat. There were more than half a million cases of drug resistant TB last year.”

Spanish Flu

Spanish Flu

Newspaper image emphasising the gravity of Spanish Flu

The devastating Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 left its mark on Heavitree. Although previous Flu epidemics would have affected people in Devon very badly, this particular outbreak would have felt a lot like today’s COVID-19, but even more deadly. The population was already reeling from the huge losses suffered in World War I.

Todd Gray describes how:
“In 1918, the Spanish Flu disrupted society by closing schools and shops. There was a shortage of healthy adults able to work, public transport services were curtailed, cinemas were closed to children and soldiers, visitors were barred to military barracks and hospital wards, and public events were cancelled. At the time, it was not initially understood that younger adults, and particularly expectant mothers, were more susceptible to the new form of Influenza. Death was often rapid: an individual apparently in good health in the morning could fall ill and die by the evening. One young Devon woman threw herself out of an upstairs window after contracting Flu. Local people were shocked by reports of ‘alarming proportions’ of the populations of towns being ill.”

Spanish Flu

Public Notice of restrictions to impede the spread of Spanish Flu

Newspapers of the time read much like our newspapers today, with daily death tolls and statistics. 'Exeter Memories' contains an excellent collection of articles from Exeter newspapers from 1918 – Influenza dominates the news, as COVID-19 does today.

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette - Saturday 28th December 1918:
“From November 9th to December 7th, 158 deaths were registered in Exeter, 49 of which were due to influenza and its complications."

Western Times - Wednesday 9th October 1918:
“Owing to the large number of both teachers and scholars away from the Elementary Schools of Exeter because Influenza, the Education Committee have decided to close the whole of the schools for a fortnight, as from Monday evening October 21st. In some of the schools, 50% of the teachers were laid up last week. Over 30 of the students of the Exeter University College have also been added to the local Flu victims, but the classes there are being continued as usual. Meanwhile, the medical faculty of the city are being kept exceptionally busy, and cases not only of the Flu, but of Pneumonia, have been very frequent in the city during the treacherous weather of the last fortnight."

Western Times - Monday 18th November 1918:
“Influenza's Toll at Exeter:
It was reported to Exeter Sanitary Committee at their meeting last week that, during September there were 79 births and 58 deaths, and during October 98 births and 188 deaths, being 11.38 and 42.76 per 1,000 respectively as against 11.57 and 27.42 in the larger towns. The deaths included 12 from Tuberculosis, 10 from Cancer, and 114 from Influenza and Pneumonia; 8 deaths occurred at public institutions. The Medical Officer reported that from 21st September to 2nd November 216 deaths were registered the city, 127 of which were probably due to Influenza and its complications; 53 were males and 74 females."

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette - Saturday 9th November 1918:
“The medical authorities tell that such a visitation (Influenza) has no sort of connection with the war but recurs at odd and long intervals. Some off us will, nevertheless, continue to 'hae our doots'. It seems fairly reasonable that we have a few million corpses under a few inches of earth, with all sorts of drainage complications, and the rough-and-ready improvised sanitary arrangements for armies numbering tens of millions of men, without paying some the general state of health. All soldiers that I know are convinced that the so-called Influenza epidemic is directly due to the war conditions, and there will eventually prove be truth in the general theory. A more difficult question upon which expert opinion differs, is the possible effects of constantly, and for long periods, drenching whole areas of France and Belgium with powerful and enduring poison gas."

Spanish Flu

Women wearing face-coverings to impede the spread of Spanish Flu

Even when researching the history of my previous house in Regent Square, the family living there at the time had lost family members to the Flu, including their 8 year old son. The Spanish Flu is estimated to have killed around 50 million people worldwide and did not pass Heavitree by. If you were living in Heavitree around this time, it is unlikely your life would have been untouched by the virus.


It is believed that the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 originated in China in late 2019. Just as the mass movement of troops at the end of World War I promoted the spread of Spanish Flu, so today’s world of regular international travel for work and leisure caused the virus to reach most areas of the world at an alarming rate.

The symptoms of the virus - a high temperature, a persistent cough, and a change in smell or taste - took up to 7 days to emerge once you caught it. There were those, mainly the elderly or those with pre-existing respiratory illnesses, that were severely affected, often to the point of death. As knowledge of the virus grew, it emerged that there were a good percentage who showed no symptoms – these were the problematic ones as they were going about their daily lives unwittingly spreading the virus to others. This led to a great fear of the virus by most, especially as its symptoms were so similar to those of the common cold and Flu.

Countries were ill-prepared to deal with a virus they knew little about, yet which was spreading like wildfire. Fearing catastrophic effects, the only way to deal with the problem in the short-term, until longer-term strategies could be devised and implemented, was to impose severe restrictions on movement and mixing, with distancing required where mixing was unavoidable. Lockdown was essential at whatever cost.

By late March 2020, Heavitree, along with the rest of the country, was under national lockdown, in a bid to slow the spread of the virus and ensure health services would be able to cope and provide a service for the most needy. Schools, pubs, restaurants and cafes, places of worship, leisure centres, and all non-essential shops and businesses were closed. Travel was only permitted for essential work, the Government encouraging people to work from home where possible, to minimise mixing and the use of public transport. Many non-essential employers took advantage of a Government furlough scheme that allowed them to retain their workforce until they re-opened. Overnight things just ground to a halt as most people stayed inside with no need to go out. Everyone was however encouraged to leave the house for a short time once a day for local exercise and to stay sane, as long as they kept their distance from others and thoroughly washed their hands on return.

A few things that stood out in Heavitree during lockdown:

  • At essential shops, there were empty shelves due to panic-buying of critical items; long queues built up due to the need to keep a minimum of 2m apart at all times; floor-markings, one-way systems, and one-in, one-out rules to enforce distancing; people wearing masks over nose and mouth.
  • COVID-19

    Long queues outside essential shops were the norm due to the obligation to distance from others

  • Fore Street Heavitree had probably not been as quiet for more than 100 years. One could stand in the middle of a normally extremely busy road and take a photograph!
  • COVID-19

    Fore Street, Heavitree devoid of traffic

  • Due to the proximity of Exeter airport, there had always been a continual passing of aircraft in Heavitree’s skies. For most of the lockdown, the skies were near silent and vapour-trail free.
  • Walking around the deserted streets of Heavitree, the main thing that stood out were the rainbows in people’s windows, often accompanied by messages of hope and gratitude to the NHS, and pavements covered in children’s chalk drawings.
  • Rainbow drawingsChalk drawings
    COVID-19 COVID-19 COVID-19
    Outside St Michaels Academy - a sign of hope, and gratitude to the NHSRainbow - depicting hope, and gratitude to the NHSHeavitree Pleasure Ground
  • It became quite popular to leave a ‘free box’ outside one’s house. With charity shops closed, people left their unwanted items outside for other to help themselves.
    The negative side of this was that the recycling areas, in which clothing donation bins were clearly closed due to the virus, were absolutely covered in bags of clothing and piles of unwanted shoes, all destined for landfill - an incredibly sad 21st century problem. It certainly made one realise how much ‘stuff’ we have today. Compare Hilda’s account of Heavitree in the 1930s, when, at Christmas, Heavitree children used to take their old toys to the poor children in Wonford, who had very little at all.
  • For many streets, the celebration of 75 years since VE day became about more than just remembering the end of World War II. The chance to share a drink with neighbours, albeit distancing from your own front garden, felt like a moment of hope and community in an otherwise very grey period. [There is a special newsletter with photos of the original VE day celebrations across Heavitree].
  • Commemorating 75 years since VE day
    COVID-19 COVID-19
    Bunting and a cake in a front gardenFlags outside the Royal Oak

Although it wasn’t known at the time, lockdown for most was to last until the end of June; some restrictions would remain even after that. By early summer, everyone had had enough of being cooped up and constrained. As soon as restrictions began to ease, most went overboard, keen to make up for lost time. Beaches at home and abroad were packed, families met up for the first time in months, and pubs were open again, leading to a good deal of anti-social behaviour sad to say. Businesses had lost thousands of pounds of income and so were keen to recoup as much as they could. Indeed, mixing was now encouraged to aid recovery of hospitality businesses, even if it was with distancing measures in place. [One can imagine what it must have felt like on VE Day in 1945, and for children when sweet rationing ended in 1954.]

In spite the fact that wearing of a face-covering in indoor public places was made compulsory from June, the increased mixing that was now taking place, especially that in enclosed spaces or for prolonged periods, was to have a downside. Schools, colleges, and universities re-opened in September for the first time since March; this didn’t help matters, especially where students travelled from one area to another. By early autumn, countries around the world began to see a disturbing increase in the virus once again. Governments were forced to impose a second batch of lockdowns – often shorter, more localised, and less stringent than the first – as they tried to balance virus-control against further economy damage and job losses that would follow.

Several vaccines had by now been discovered and were being tested, with the promise of mass-immunisation schemes for 2021. Until these were fully implemented, there would be further inconvenience for everyone. In the short-term, there would be the threat of additional lockdowns or restrictions, further deaths, and continuing strain on health services. In the longer-term, there would be massive job losses as businesses restructured or collapsed entirely due to loss of business, and an economy that would take decades to recover, as well as heightened problems with wellbeing and mental health. How long would it take for life to get back to some sense of normality? Would it ever be the same again? Nobody knew the answer to these questions.

COVID-19 had had long-lasting and far-reaching effects globally, well beyond the remit of the virus itself. Undoubtedly this was a significant period in history - future generations would learn about, and hopefully from, what others had been through.

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Heavitree As A Place Of Execution

Until 1531, those found guilty of crimes within the County of Devon, were put to death at the Livery Dole crossroads. In 1531, the place of execution was moved to the Sidmouth Road / Honiton Road junction at Ringwell. The situation remained unchanged until the opening of the Devon County Gaol in Exeter in 1795 when all executions were moved there. [For clarity, before 1795, if the crime had been committed within the City of Exeter both trial and execution would take place within the city; if the crime had been committed outside of the city the trial would take place in the city but the execution outside the city at Heavitree.]

Executions were public affairs, and were frequently witnessed by hundreds, sometimes thousands, of interested on-lookers of all ages, many employers allowing their workers to have a day's holiday. The prisoners were accompanied on their journey from Exeter Castle to Ringwell by huge crowds, many of whom paused for refreshment at the Heavitree inns. The local printers published broadsheets describing the characters of the people about to be executed setting out full details of their crimes.

A wooden engraving of a typical public execution

A wooden engraving of a typical public execution

Those executed were rarely allowed in graveyards. Following execution, most bodies would have been displayed for a time as a warning, before being burnt, buried close to the gallows or sent for anatomical research. Before the 1832 Anatomy Act, such bodies were the only ones available for research by surgeons, etc, and grave-robbing was common. However, as demand began to outstrip supply, the Act made available any bodies that were unclaimed after death. This proved a viable means of disposal for those who died in hospital, prison or the workhouse.

The most famous executions to take place at Heavitree were of the 'Devon Witches' from Bideford, tried at Exeter Castle in 1682 and 1685. Much of the evidence against them would appear to have been hearsay, seeming extremely petty by today's standards given the outcome. There is a plaque by the castle gatehouse commemorating the women, put up and maintained by an American relative of Alice Molland, the last of the witches to be condemned to execution.

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Higher Cemetery

In the nineteenth century, as the population of Exeter grew in number, there was a corresponding increase in the number of burials required, especially during the frequent Cholera epidemics. This placed a huge strain on burial space, and the Lower Cemetery, off Bartholomew Street, failed to provide a long-term solution.

Land covering an area of 6 acres outside the city boundary at Heavitree was acquired by the Exeter Improvement Commissioners; 4.5 acres was reserved for Church of England burials, the remaining 1.5 acres for Dissenters or Non-Conformists (i.e. those who don’t follow Church of England principles) **. On 26th March 1866 the Higher Cemetery was opened, dedicated by the Reverend James Chapman, former Bishop of Colombo. The first recorded burial was that of Edward Leach Herbert on 7th June 1866.

The Lodge, designed by a Mr Luscombe and the two chapels **, one for the Church of England, the other for Dissenters, both built of Heavitree stone, and designed by Edward Ashworth, were built in 1865. Ashworth had moved to Exeter in 1846 and built or restored many Devon churches. He is buried in the cemetery, as is the proprietor of Robert Veitch and Son, the firm that carried out the landscaping works.

A small area, formerly called St Leonards Churchyard, and lying to the north of the lodge was added to the main cemetery in 1877. Although not added until 11 years after the main cemetery opened, it is the oldest piece of land used for burials now within the cemetery boundary. The shape of a circular coach-drive in this section, although now grassed over, is still visible and is delineated by the headstone positions. Remains exhumed from the ruined St Edmund’s Church are buried in this section.

The entrance to Higher Cemetery in 2017

The entrance to Higher Cemetery in 2017,
showing the Dissenters' Chapel (near) and the Church of England Chapel (far)

The cemetery, extended at least three times over the years, now occupies 45 acres, contains the remains of over 70,000 people, has over 12,000 memorials and is a peaceful wildlife haven. There is a section containing the bodies of those who died in World War I, another for World War II, and even a section for infant burials that was opened in 2007. Other memorials of great poignancy are those commemorating 83 victims of the 1942 Baedeker raids, an imposing granite cross to the 189 who perished in the 1887 Theatre Royal fire, and the grave of stone-carver Harry Hems. In addition, the cemetery holds the remains of those originally interred at several Exeter churches that have long vanished.

The Friends of Higher Cemetery was established in 2011 to help promote the cemetery and to complement the services of Exeter City Council who operate the cemetery.

** Separate chapels and burial areas for Church of England and for Dissenters would have been the norm of the day. Today this would be regarded as a frivolous waste of time and money, but not then as the Church of England wouldn’t be tainted by those it regarded with contempt for not adhering to its beliefs. The practice has long been abandoned and all denominations now use the same burial areas and chapel.

Exeter City Council, 2002 – Higher Cemetery - history and lives;
Friends of Higher Cemetery, 2011 – Higher Cemetery time-line

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Almshouses of Heavitree

Livery Dole Almshouses

The first documentary evidence of the name Livery Dole appears in a deed dated 1279. For centuries it was the scene of executions for persons from the County of Devon. In addition to executions by hanging, people found guilty of witchcraft, heresy and other ‘heinous’ crimes, were burnt at the stake.

This was the fate that befell Thomas Benet who was burnt at the stake on 10th January 1531, for denying the supremacy of the Pope. This was the last recorded execution at Livery Dole; hereafter they were moved to Ringwell.

Sir Thomas Denys, Sheriff of Devon, subsequently regretted allowing Benet’s execution to take place and as an act of contrition left instructions in his will for 12 almshouses to be built on the site. These were completed in 1594, rebuilt in 1851 and extended in the 1970s.

The sixteenth century almshouses at Livery Dole alongside St Clare's Chapel in 1850

The sixteenth century almshouses at Livery Dole alongside St Clare's Chapel in 1850

Although it has often been claimed that the chapel at Livery Dole is medieval in date and was dedicated to St Clarus, this is now known to be false; it was in fact built with the almshouses adjacent to it in 1592.

The nineteenth century Livery Dole Almshouses

The nineteenth century Livery Dole Almshouses

Duckes Almshouses

The original almshouses were granted to the parish by Richard Ducke in 1603. They were rebuilt on the same site in the 1850s. Action by Exeter Civic Society saved them from Council demolition in the 1970s.

duckes-almshouses in 2013

Duckes Almshouses in 2013

In front of the almshouses is a horse trough presented to the parish in 1876 in memory of Dr. Erasmus M Miles, M.D.


The horse trough outside Duckes Almshouses in 2013

Further reading: The Mystery Shield of Duckes Almshouses (Courtesy: Stephen Bees)

Manor Cottages

The cottages were built by John Sampson to the rear of what is now 120 Fore Street. He rented out two other properties that he owned - numbers 51 and 52 Regent Square - to pay for the upkeep of these. They were demolished in the 1960s.

Maps showing Manor Cottages off Fore StreetFrontage
Map showing Manor Cottages early 1950s Map showing Manor Cottages early 1960s Map showing no Manor Cottages early 1970s 120 Fore Street in 2016
Early 1950sEarly 1960sEarly 1970s2016
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Pubs of Heavitree

The Horse And Groom Hotel

Originally known as the Horse and Jockey, this pub has been in existence since at least 1740. Until schools were built later in the nineteenth century, the building served as a public function room, along with its neighbour the Ship Inn. Both establishments were used for refreshments after pauper funerals, an allowance of 3/- per burial being paid until the 1820s.

horse-and-groom horse-and-groom
Date unknown2013

The Horse and Jockey was bought in 1891 by the Heavitree Brewery that had been brewing close to the rear of the premises since at least 1842. Part of the present pub building was occupied by Heavitree Fire Station until the 1930s, and then by a greengrocers.

For a few years in the early twenty-first century the pub adopted the name The Heavitree, before reverting back to the more popular Horse and Groom.

The Ship Inn

The Ship Inn has been in existence since at least 1740. Along with its neighbour, the Horse and Jockey, the building served as a public function room until schools were built later in the nineteenth century. Both establishments were used for refreshments after pauper funerals, an allowance of 3/- per burial being paid until the 1820s.

The Ship and Pelican in 2013

The Ship was used for the annual distribution of cloth to the poor until the 1820s; coroners' inquests took place there, and on one occasion in 1836 a prisoner was kept locked up overnight. The parish dinner for the poor to celebrate the coronation of King George IV was held there in 1821.

It was renamed the Ship and Pelican in the 1980s.

The Royal Oak

The Royal Oak originally stood on the corner of North Street and Fore Street (see map of Heavitree Towne 1816); it moved to its current location in the 1820s. It is one of the few buildings in Exeter to retain a thatched roof, but needed to be rebuilt following bomb damage in the Second World War.

royal-oak royal-oak

The Windsor Castle

The Windsor Castle was originally called the Windsor Inn, and was owned by William Crowson, owner of the nearby Windsor Brewery which was founded in about 1860. William died in 1885, after which the Brewery was run by his widow and her son. Heavitree Brewery bought the Windsor Brewery in 1899, and continued brewing there until 1902, selling the premises in 1907. The brewery buildings remained until 1983 when they were demolished. The Windsor Castle continued to trade but finally closed in 2018.

windsor-castle windsor-castle

Cat And Fiddle

Numbers 32-38 East Wonford Hill are Grade 2 listed 18th Century Cottages. Number 38 used to have the name plate 'Cat and Fiddle' – the reasons for which have been much debated in the past. Could this have been an old public house?

32-38 East Wonford Hill in 2018

The St Loyes Public House And Hotel

The St Loyes Public House and Hotel in Salters Road opened in 1936. It was latterly owned by the Heavitree Brewery. In 2009 the Brewery applied to convert the property into residential flats. The work was completed in 2011 in a £500,000+ contract. The building retains period features such as the wonderful Art Deco windows, and has some noteworthy sections of Heavitree Stone brickwork on either side.

st-loyes st-loyes
Date unknown2018
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The Heavitree Brewery

Brewing of ale in Heavitree by local farmers, land-owners and the church had almost certainly been carried out for many centuries before commercial brewing was recorded. Malting then took place at the Horse & Jockey Inn, the Ship Inn, at a brewery in Church Street from 1832 to 1857, as well as at the Windsor Brewery to the rear of Homefield Place. However there is one brewery that stands out above all others in Heavitree ...

The 'Heavitree Family Brewery' was founded in 1790 by John Wolland, a Heavitree farmer, land-owner and maltster. The brewery was originally located in Sivell Place, but in the early nineteenth century it moved to Church Street near to the church, and the Sivell Place site became a cooperage.

1889 OS map showing the location of Heavitree Brewery View of the Heavitree Brewery from Church Street View of the Heavitree Brewery from the tower of the Parish Church Annual outing of the Heavitree Brewery 1907
1889 OS mapBrewery from
Church Street
Brewery from
Parish Church
Annual outing 1907

Until 1890 the Heavitree Brewery purely sold the beer it produced, but this was about to change. Shares were offered in 'Heavitree Brewery Ltd' and there followed a series of purchases of both pubs and breweries, including the Royal Oak in 1890 and the Horse & Jockey in 1891, and the rival Windsor Brewery in 1899.

The company was almost brought to its knees, however, around 1920 when the manager embezzled a lot of money. He fled to Canada but was caught and sentenced to three years penal servitude and his accomplice to twelve months imprisonment. Things were saved by a supplier of the brewery whose bills were not being paid. He asked to see the books and was horrified! He was subsequently appointed to the board and set about putting everything in order.

Horse-drawn vehicle Motor vehicle Heavitree Brewery retail outlet
Horse-drawn vehicleMotor vehicleRetail outlet

There was another change of tack in 1970. Huge investment was required in the brewery and bottling plant, which could not be justified. Profit would double by buying in beer for their pubs under contract as opposed to making it exclusively for them. Thus on 1st May 1970 all brewing operations ceased; for the first time the company became entirely focused on managing tenanted pubs, of which they had 135. The shift came as a huge blow to Heavitree - seventy-six people lost their jobs, the majority were Heavitree residents whose families had worked for the brewery for years.

In 1984, the Church Street site was sold and redeveloped into sheltered housing (aptly named The Maltings), and the company moved away from Heavitree completely. However, the Brewery lives on and still manages many successful pubs; the signage 'A Heavitree House' indicating that the pub is owned by the Heavitree Brewery but managed by the landlord.

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Heavitree Toll Houses

Turnpike Trusts were formed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to bring about an improvement in the country's road network, by bettering existing roads and constructing new ones, and placing of milestones, which became compulsory from 1766 onwards. The Exeter Turnpike Trust, one of the earliest in Devon, was formed in 1753 and remained in existence until it was disbanded in 1884. It became one of the largest in the country managing over 140 miles of road radiating from the city.

All traffic to and from the east and north had to pass through Heavitree, thus a number of toll houses and gates were installed in the parish. They were situated at:

  • Marypole Head - built at the junction of Rosebarn Lane with Pennsylvania Road to deal with travellers going to and from Stoke Canon.
  • Stoke Hill - erected at the foot of Rosebarn Lane in Old Tiverton Road. It used to be known as the Tiverton and Cullompton Gate.
  • Withybridge (or Blackboy Gate) - stood on the south side of Blackboy Road just past the entrance to Mount Pleasant Road on the road to Cullompton.
  • Heavitree Towne - built on the corner of North Street and Fore Street on the Honiton Road. It was later moved to the east of the Livery Dole almshouses.
  • Heavitree Bridge - situated on the south side of the road at the east end of Heavitree Bridge.
  • Livery Dole - stood at the point where present day Magdalen Road crosses Barrack Road.
  • Sandy Gate - located near to the junction with Clyst Road.
  • Mile End - near to County Hall on Topsham Road.
A view of Withybridge toll house and gate, at the junction of Blackboy Road and Mount Pleasant Road

A view of Withybridge toll house and gate, at the junction of Blackboy Road and Mount Pleasant Road

Some roads such as Fore Street Heavitree and East Wonford Hill were repaired and improved by the Turnpike Trust. Others, such as Moor Lane, which now runs through the middle of the Sowton Industrial Estate, were entirely new roads.

The fee for passing through the gates was determined by the type of vehicle, the number of horses, and the purpose of the journey. People from the parish, soldiers on duty and clergymen often travelled free, but there were many disputes which had to be settled in the local courts. Many folk saw the gates and associated tolls as in infringement on movement that had hitherto been unimpeded.

1884 painting by George Townsend of the Heavitree Towne toll house and gate, situated east of Livery Dole Almshouses

1884 painting by George Townsend of the Heavitree Towne toll house and gate, situated east of Livery Dole Almshouses

In spite of the admirable work done by the Trusts to improve the network and quality of roads, the advent of the railway in the mid nineteenth century offered a faster, more reliable form of travel and transportation than horse-drawn road vehicles, certainly long-distance, to both individuals and to industry. Within just a few years, income from tolls fell dramatically, and road building and improvement correspondingly ground to a halt. Toll gates became uneconomic and were removed, and although toll houses were sold they often remained empty. Turnpike Trusts remained in existence for several decades thereafter before being wound up. They had, however, over the period in which they were operational, served their purpose of a means to a dramatic improvement of highways. The network we see today has much to owe to this important period in history.

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Growth And Development In The Nineteenth Century


During the nineteenth century, Heavitree began a gradual but unwavering shift away from the small agricultural village by which it had hitherto been characterised. The number of residents and dwellings dramatically increased, and became more diverse. In 1569 the population stood at around 200. Even in 1801 the population was still just 833, but by 1901 this had risen sharply to 7529. Heavitree's growth was stimulated by the break-up of the Baring family estate, sold in the early nineteenth century, coinciding with a boom in building.

Map of Heavitree Towne in 1816, drawn in 2001 by Den Perrin, based on an original by John Coldridge

Map of Heavitree Towne in 1816, drawn in 2001 by Den Perrin, based on an original by John Coldridge

Johann Baring had come to Exeter from Germany in 1717 at the age of 20 to study serge-making. He married into the Vowler family who were wealthy Exeter merchants, and built up an extensive business in the wool and cloth trade. He became one of the richest men in the West Country, and invested heavily in land around Larkbeare and Mount Radford. His son John went on to become MP for Exeter, to co-found the esteemed Barings Bank in 1762, and establish both the Plymouth Bank and later the Devonshire Bank. Over three successive generations the amount of land in the vicinity owned by the Baring family grew, such that by the time of its break-up the estate comprised of practically all of the land between Larkbeare and Heavitree, including the whole of St Leonards.

The first development in Heavitree was that of Salutary Mount (now 2-30 Fore Street) which was built in the early nineteenth century. The construction of housing for the middle and upper classes continued with individual large houses such as Wonford Hill House (now Mowbray House) built in 1815, and Southlands (early 1830s), as well as groups such as Midway Terrace and Heavitree Park (both 1820s), and Mont-le-Grand and Regents Park in the late 1830s and early 1840s. Aside from the quality housing, a start had also been made on what became known as artisans' dwellings: Oakfield Street, dating from the early 1830s, was the first large-scale example of this.

An early view of Mont-le-Grand

An early view of Mont-le-Grand

Heavitree escaped practically unscathed from the Cholera epidemic of 1832 that so badly affected the City of Exeter and St Thomas. This may well have persuaded both developers and prospective residents to appreciate Heavitree all the more. Besley in his Exeter Guide and Itinerary of 1836 certainly did an excellent job of extolling the virtues of Heavitree:

“Always famous for the purity and salubrity of its air, its delightful situation, fine prospects and agreeable walks and rides, has, within these few years, felt extensively, the exhilarating hand of modern improvements.

A row of houses that divided the road has been taken down, the road widened, and the turnpike removed.

The vast number of genteel houses and villas recently erected here far exceed our limits of description. It presents a charming seclusion, though cheerfully situated on the great western road, contiguous, or almost adjoining to a populous and increasing city.”

Besley, Exeter Guide and Itinerary 1836

A slump in the housing market put a temporary halt on development for a while mid-century; no houses were said to be under construction in the 1851 census compared to 31 in 1841. However, it wasn't too long before things picked up, with building recommencing later in the 1850s and continuing at a steady pace thereafter. The large villas in Polsloe Road were built in the 1870s, and by the end of the century the large Polsloe Park housing estate was nearing completion.

Examples Of Nineteenth Century Housing

Beech House


The house today known as 159 Magdalen Road was built c1810 by local builder William Hooper alongside several other properties, becoming known as 3 Baring Place. The land used for the development was acquired from the Baring family, in much the same way as the land used for Midway Terrace, where the Hooper’s themselves lived, Baring Crescent and St Margarets School. The Baring family were wealthy landowners and merchants in Devon before the family diversified and formed Baring’s Bank in the early 19th century. This bank would become famous two hundred years later with the rogue trader Nick Leeson. The Hooper family have a long history as builders in Exeter and were based at workshops and a builder’s yard in Paris Street. These premises were destroyed by fire in the 1830s, a careless apprentice leaving an untended flame which led to a major incident in which several adjacent houses were also burned to the ground. The Hooper family thrived regardless, with a Hooper becoming the Lord Mayor of Exeter in the middle 19th century. Their staff had less luck, including one hapless labourer who, drunk, fell asleep outside on their Christmas night out and subsequently died from exposure.

Early Years to 1850

The first identified tenant was John Wedgwood. Little record of him remains but it is likely that he was one of many tenants who occupied the house in the early decades whilst the Hooper family retained a mortgage and would have rented the properties on Baring Place. The next traceable occupants were the Doram family who occupied the house in the 1830s to vacate at some point in late 1841, for then a short tenure from James O’Dowda an Irish solicitor who died in 1842 aged just 45. He was the first of several legal professionals to live at the property, and possibly the first owner occupier. The property changed hands at least once more in the 1840s, at an auction in Dawlish to an unnamed widow. An incredibly detailed inventory of the furnishings and possessions left as part of her estate in 1850 survives for modern inspection, notably a Collard & Collard piano made by a company which still survives to this day.

Extension, 1850s and 1860s

The property was noted as vacant in the 1851 census, which corresponds to the likely building date of the rear wing and front balcony. At that time the balcony would have enjoyed much less interrupted views from an elevated position down to the Topsham Road and the river beyond. It is unclear if these works were commissioned by a new owner, or if perhaps the Hooper’s had once more become owners to renovate and extend the property. Dated bricks from the rear wing of the property are from 1854, which is also the earliest record of our new owner Robert Trewman residing at the premises. Trewman was a notable local figure from a notable family. The Trewman name is still visible today on the Burnet Patch Bridge, at Southernhay, Exeter’s first cast iron bridge erected in 1814. This bridge is named for the then Mayor Burnet Patch as it was built to aid him in the annual inspection of the city walls, which apparently he could not easily climb as had usually been the practice. Another R Trewman, at that time Receiver to the Mayor, had his name added to the bridge where it remains 200 years later. Our Mr Trewman, the son of he on the bridge, was a newspaper publisher who lived at the property throughout the 1850s, with issues of his “Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post” carrying the address of 3 Baring Place as the publishing address. Trewman and his family seem to have been forthright in their opinions, with his brother leaving the Flying Post to work for one of the main rival newspapers at the time, taking quite different editorial positions on several topics of the day. The Flying Post passed out of the Trewman family in the 1870s, some years after he vacated 3 Baring Place. The paper survived in one form or another until 1917 and was even briefly revived as a monthly magazine in 2012. As Trewman’s time running the newspaper was drawing to an end, a new family headed by John Ellis a local JP, and our next legal professional, moved to the property at some time prior to 1861, leaving through the next decade.

Drapers and Priests, the last Victorians, 1860s to 1895

As the Ellis’ moved away, the Spark family moved in at some point before the 1871 census. By this time John Spark was retired but he had spent a notable career as a draper, regularly travelling through Europe to source the newest and best materials and fashions for his thriving department store on the High Street. This store was until 1862 called Colson and Spark, Colson’s thereafter, until the 1950s when the store was purchased by the House of Fraser group and renamed as Dingles. Dingles survived as the House of Fraser until 2019 at which point the well-known building was acquired for development to a new hotel. The new restaurant serving the hotel and the public will open in 2022 and will be known as Colson’s, carrying the same branding and colours as the original store our resident worked to build over 150 years ago. Replacing the Spark family was a widow named Susan Barker. Little record of her life remains but notably she seems to have lived in Baring Place for many years, firstly at number 8 before moving for a short period to number 3 before the house was again sold by auction in 1885.

The White family moved in and stayed for nearly a decade. Arthur White was a priest, who had worked in several different parts of the country including a stint in Blaby, Leicestershire at a church where this writer would be christened more than a hundred years later. Arthur’s wife Georgena had the maiden name Travers, a branch of the wider Buxton family who were notable throughout the Victorian period and well beyond for their work as politicians, philanthropists and campaigners. Looking carefully at the £5 note in circulation until 2017 a crowd of people is visible in the background to the main picture of Elizabeth Fry, the man in spectacles is Georgina’s relative, a great uncle, Thomas Fowell Buxton, a remarkable man playing a key role as MP for Weymouth in the continued removal of the legacy of the slave trade in the 1820s and finding time to act as founding chairman of the RSPCA from 1824. In 1894 the White’s moved away so Arthur could work in a new parish at Littleham near Exmouth. The church remains a thriving part of the community, and has an incredible stained glass window in the nave, carrying an inscription memorialising Arthur and Georgena. Arthur’s estate passed back to the Buxton family, as they died without children, and a considerable sum equivalent to nearly £2m in today’s money was inherited by Travers Buxton. Much like his family before him, Travers Buxton worked as an anti-slavery campaigner to the end of his life in 1945, for a number of charities and alliances that still exist today.

Lawyers, 1895 to 1919

As the White family left, the house was purchased by Robert Campion, an Exeter lawyer. The Campions stayed at the property until 1919; both Robert and his nephew Henry were well-known figures across the city. The Campion law firm was originally based at the Bedford Circus in central Exeter, an area that was heavily damaged in the May 1942 air-raids and sadly reduced to rubble in the 1960s to make way for the shopping area found at the modern Princesshay and Bedford Street area of town. Through various mergers, partnerships, and takeovers, the Campion firm is now part of the Gilbert Stephens law firm based on Southernhay just a few hundred metres from the original offices at the old Bedford Circus. In addition to his legal work, Robert Campion acted for a time as Chairman of the Exeter Gas Light & Coke Company, after it had come into the control of the City council. This business was based across Exe island and Haven Banks, burning coal to produce the gas, known as coal gas consumed by the city for lighting and eventually heating before more modern supplies from the North Sea replaced this old method in the 1960s. After nearly a quarter of a century of busy living at 3 Baring Place the Campion family moved away in 1919. It is likely that when the Campion’s first entered the property they did not have electricity but that by 1919 it did.

Yes Sir, 1920 to 1927

Moving to the house in 1920 was Edwin Thirlwell England and his family. Edwin is the first occupant who we may see in photographs surviving in the public record. Edwin England was a teacher, and had moved to Exeter to become headmaster of the Exeter School after a successful university career at Trinity College, Cambridge and an early teaching career at the prestigious Charterhouse and Marlborough public schools. During his nearly eight years leading the Exeter School he oversaw a dramatic period for the school as the number of pupils, finances and facilities all expanded and changed whilst his own family grew larger. From many surviving records we know that many prospective pupils were interviewed at 3 Baring Place and it is possible that the property was indeed owned by the Exeter School, before the headmaster began to more usually live at Acland House on nearby Victoria Park Road. The England family moved away, firstly to London and then Birmingham where he continued his impressive career as an educator and the King Edward VI school, notably relocating the school from New Street to more open grounds at the present site in Edgbaston. This writer spent several losing days at those new grounds, playing the impressive Edward VI 1st XV.

Exeter 4003

The next family we can identify in the records at the property, now more usually known as 159 Magdalen Road was that of James Pearse Oliver who moved to the city from Dartmoor. The Olivers were an active business family, trading in porcelain in the 1920s before establishing a larger and more well-established scrap merchants called E. Pearse & Co based on Christow Road in Marsh Barton. The business has traded for many decades after James retired and the family had moved away, at various times operating from Taunton and Plymouth as well as Exeter. The Oliver’s have the distinction of being the first residents to enjoy their own home telephone, from 1938 and perhaps earlier. The original phone number was Exeter 4003. It is not known when the Oliver’s moved out but likely this was post-war and before James died in 1955 and passed the family business to his son Thomas.

Beech House

Beech House, 159 Magdalen Road (formerly 3 Baring Place) in 2019

Beech House, 159 Magdalen Road (formerly 3 Baring Place) in 2019

After the Oliver’s left, post-war Britain was a much-changed country to the one of the 1930s with a radically different social and political order taking shape in the grip of major post-war debt and rationing. Houses like 159 Magdalen Road had up to this point been owned by wealthy families often with as many as four domestic servants living at the property. Perhaps the size of the property and the costs of modernisation put off new families from making it their home. In any case, the next time we discover the property in the records it has become Beech House and remained a residential home for the elderly from at least the early 1970s until 2018, variously in the care of the related Latham and Wilson families. With twenty-one beds in the property there have been perhaps more than 250 residents of Beech House during its time as a residential home, likely many more. It is unclear how the two properties were purchased and combined, but it appears that 157 was the first property acquired which no doubt gave inspiration for the name from the large tree by the front door. Historic England chose to Grade II list the property in 1974, by which stage the fire escape had already been erected at the 159 side, suggesting that the building had previously been combined so avoiding any challenges to the planning. The property was sold in December 2020 to Co-Living Developments and in 2023 became the home of Christopher Rudd and his family.

Courtesy: Christopher Rudd

Eagle House

Eagle House is a property in Salutary Mount (now 2-30 Fore Street), the earliest nineteenth century development of Heavitree. The name is unofficial, but it’s easy to see how it acquired it –two eagles face each other on the front corners of the roof parapet. There is also a large motif above the central front entrance.

Wikipedia states, 'The eagle with its keen eyes symbolized perspicacity, courage, strength and immortality, but is also considered "king of the skies" and messenger of the highest gods. With these attributed qualities the eagle became a symbol of power and strength in Ancient Rome.' This symbolism was adopted by European countries, particularly Germany during Nazi times, but also by the church, the RAF, etc.

Whilst not known if there is any significance to the decorative features of Eagle House, there are a number of theories: association with magistrates (as the symbol has been historically used to denote the power or jurisdiction of a magistrate), with Germany, or with an embassy. There is a house in Wonford Road, St Leonards, that has remarkably similar eagles on the parapets.


Eagle House in 2017

Members of the 'Exeter Memories' Facebook group remember a teacher at Ladysmith First School, Mrs Edna Lawrence, used to live there. A sweet, white-haired, well-spoken lady, who loved art, and once invited the staff of the school to her home in Heavitree for 'a lovely get together'. She said that the adjoining door was where her mother lived. Many ex-pupils of hers remember that she told them she lived there, so must have been immensely proud of it!

The property was used for Brethren services for a period after the 1942 bombing raids, and was a doctor's in the 1950s.


An 1888 auction catalogue for Eagle House

Sale documents from 1888 show just how wonderful the house was at that time. It is described thus:

A 'very desirable double-fronted family residence, with capital stabling, extensive gardens, range of hot-houses, a convenient brick-built cottage for gardener or coachman and other appurtenances.' The whole area covers about 19,400 feet and is for sale by auction.

The top floor contains two servants' bedrooms. The first floor is approached by two staircases (the principal one of which is lighted by a large bay window) and contains six bedrooms, a dressing room fitted with lavatory and a bath-room with 'Maughan's Patent Geyser Heating Apparatus and W.C.'

The ground floor houses the entrance hall with bay window, 20ft by 12ft dining room with a bay window that opens out under a veranda (entwined with a well-trained vine) and thence onto the lawn; an 18ft by 13ft drawing room with a bay window, 'communicating by folding doors' to the breakfast room (15ft by 13ft), which also has a bay window that opens under the veranda. There is also a lavatory and W.C.

There are well arranged 'domestic offices', which are shut off and comprise of a kitchen with a good cooking range and dresser, wash-house with furnace, well of excellent spring water, pump, knife-house, boot-house, china-pantry, larder, coal-house, W.C. etc.

The reception rooms and principal bedrooms are fitted with marble mantlepieces; the house throughout is fitted with cupboards and the roof is in excellent order having just been repaired and the gutters renewed with lead at 'a large outlay'. The 'sanitary arrangements' are good; there is a bountiful supply of water and gas is laid on.

There is a lawn with a summerhouse, flower gardens and 'a profusely-stocked' kitchen garden in a 'high state of cultivation', with 'a variety of choice fruit trees'.

There are a range of hot-houses: 90ft in length comprising of two vineries with good bearing vines; a cucumber house and two greenhouses; there is also a melon frame and 'a convenient brick-built cottage for coachman or gardener, with a separate entrance from the church path'. The whole of the garden paths are asphalted and edged with tile.

The stabling and outhouses consist of a coach house, harness room, three stall stabling, piggery, poultry house and potting shed.


An 1888 floor plan of Eagle House

Studying the floor plan, provided with the auction details, shows that the main entrance was the door between the two bay windows (which no longer appears in use), the hallway from which would lead to the dining room on the left, and the drawing room on the right. The current entrance(s), to the left of the bay windows, must have been a later addition or modification. At the time it was the entrance to the coach house.

The plan also shows the huge the amount of land belonging to the house. The garden stretches down for a way and extends behind three neighbouring properties all the way to 'Church Path'.

Finally, it's interesting to look at the small details that this auction paper offers us. The bottom of the Eagle House' gardens backs onto the 'Rosery (i.e. rose gardens) of R.N.G. Baker Esq', and to the right of the house is 'Church Path' which probably became 'Church Terrace' when terraced houses were later built. Today, four houses stand between the Eagle House and Church Terrace, and at the end of Church Terrace is a path which leads to the Parish Church - along what might have been the back of this house's gardens. To the right of Church Path is land belonging to R. Sanders Esq.

This auction catalogue really paints a picture of a much more bucolic Heavitree, with few properties, ample space, and some incredibly lavish residences. It would have been a Heavitree on the cusp of change, as not long after this auction took place, many more properties would have been built.

Heavitree Park

Heavitree Park is a series of five grand houses built in the 1820s by Edward Eardley, an Exeter China merchant who was also later involved in the Mont-le-Grand development. The name Heavitree Park reflects the taste of the well-off at the time; they wanted country houses, near the city, with healthy sounding names. This is underlined by the rustic look of the Lodge building at the entrance. Eardley was leased the land in 1825 on the condition he erected houses and outbuildings of brick and stone, not cob, to a value of £3,000 each. They were built by 1829.


The lodge at Heavitree Park in 2018

Wonford Hill House

Next to Heavitree Park is a house built around 1816 by James Tillyer Blunt, a retired captain in the East India Service. He called the property Wonford Hill House. It was subsequently renamed Mowbray House, and was lived in by a variety of people including Colonel Vaughan, Chairman of Heavitree Urban District Council in the early 20th century. It later became a hospital – first recorded as a home hospital under Miss Biggs and Miss Hunter in 1923. It was a well-known local maternity hospital until its closure in 1986. For a time after this the building was used for nursing training. It is now a residential property again.


Mowbray House in 2018


Southlands was built in the early 1830s by William Hooper, a member of an important local family of architects and builders. It was probably named after Colonel Samuel Smith who owned the land at the time of construction. Initially, Southlands was in fact two properties, but the one nearer to Polsloe Road was at some point renamed Clystlands; the other retains the name Southlands to this day.

Southlands in 2019

Southlands in 2019

In 1834 the property was sold for £2,250 to the Reverend James Ford, brother of Richard Ford (who lived at Heavitree House in Church Street). Southlands remained in private hands until acquired by the City Council around 1950. The property has since seen use as a welfare centre and as sheltered housing. It was Grade II listed in 1974.


Clystlands was built in the mid 1830s by William Hooper, a member of an important local family of architects and builders. Initially, it was one of two neighbouring properties named Southlands, probably after Colonel Samuel Smith who owned the land at the time of construction. At some point, the one nearer to Polsloe Road was later renamed Clystlands, a name that it retains to this day.

Clystlands in 2019

Clystlands in 2019

In the 1840s the property belonged to John South Esq. The last private resident was Admiral Sir Charles Coke. After he moved out, in about 1926 it became the Clystlands private hotel, until St Lukes College purchased it after the war for a hall of residence. In 1982, the University of Exeter, which had absorbed St Lukes College, sold Clystlands and it became a private nursing home. It was Grade II listed in 1953.

Heavitree House, Church Street

Heavitree House was a small cob house, surrounded by an old cob wall, in Church Lane, Heavitree. It stood on twelve acres of land, including orchards, overlooking open countryside (now the RD&E Hospital).

The House was the home of artist and author Richard Ford (1796-1858), who in 1845 wrote the infamous "Handbook for Travellers in Spain" - the first Spanish travel guide. Ford lived at the property from 1835 until his death in 1858. During this time he set about enlarging and completely remodelling the House and gardens.

Heavitree House 1889 OS map Young Richard Ford Mature Richard Ford Richard Ford headstone
1889 OS mapYoung Richard FordOlder Richard FordRichard Ford's headstone

Ford incorporated many items salvaged from buildings in the area - the fireplace was taken from a house pulled down in Rack Street (West Quarter), and the ornate staircase, gates and carved woodwork all came from King John's Tavern on South Street (which was being rebuilt). A font in the garden was possibly taken from the 1845 rebuild of parts of Heavitree Church; this has since been returned to the Church.

An enthusiastic collector, Ford filled the House with items from his travels. The bathroom was tiled with original tiles that he had picked up off the floor of the Alhambra, Granada. Part of the bath was made from the original register-chest at Exeter Cathedral, and there were sculpted heads on a parapet, from Italy.

In the grounds of the house, Ford laid out 'Moorish' style rectangular gardens, with many pools and fountains, lined with cypress trees and featuring a Moorish tower / gazebo building, echoing the Hispano, Berber, and Islamic architecture of Morocco.

Heavitree House painting Heavitree House moorish tower Heavitree House good condition Heavitree House good condition
1843 paintingHouse + gardens pre-1878House in good condition

Following Ford's death in 1858, Heavitree House passed to his son from his second marriage, Clare Ford. The House was let out until its sale in 1898 to Edward and Annie Shrimpton; they lived there until just before the First World War. The House then passed through several hands, before most of the grounds were sold at auction in 1938 for house building. The House itself remained and was used as a workshop during the Second World War, before falling into disrepair by 1949; it was demolished in 1960, despite being grade II listed, and replaced by further housing.

Heavitree House Estate auction map Heavitree House dilapidated Richard Ford Court poster Richard Ford plaque
1938 auction planHouse in poor conditionRichard Ford Court flyerRichard Ford memorial

All that remains today are a few red sandstones from the garden, and a small black plaque bearing Richard Ford's name on the wall of Richard Ford Court in Meadow Way.

Further information on Richard Ford can be found here.

Stafford Lodge

Stafford Lodge, a large detached building facing the Livery Dole almshouses, was built between 1851 and 1861, and hidden from the road by a high Heavitree Stone wall.

In 1890 it was renamed Rowancroft, and was used as a girls school until 1921 by Mrs Chambers-Hogetts. The property was then vacant for a while, but by 1927 it was being used as an elementary school for boys in training for holy orders.


Stafford Lodge in 2013

In 1943 it was requisitioned by the Army and used to accommodate staff in the Army Pay Corps. It was a very comfortable billet, popular with both men and women serving in the regiment. It was rocked by tragedy when one of the female soldiers was murdered in the house by an American serviceman stationed in the city.

In 1947 the house became a hostel for St Lukes College. In 1978 ownership transferred from the College to the University of Exeter when the two were amalgamated. With demand for student accommodation growing, a large development of new residential blocks was built in 2009 on what originally was tennis courts and lawns.

Polsloe Park Estate

If you consider a rough rectangle bordered by Polsloe Road, Pinhoe Road, Ladysmith Road and South Avenue then you have the position and scale of the former Polsloe Park estate.

Today the area is more or less built up and it is hard to imagine what was there in the early nineteenth century. However, maps clearly show the estate consisting of a large house near the north-west corner (Polsloe Road / Pinhoe Road) together with extensive gardens, shrubberies and fields.

An 1880 OS map of Polsloe Park estate showing completed building at the southern end

An 1880 OS map of Polsloe Park estate showing completed building at the southern end

An article in Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries (Volume 17 1932-3) tells us a little about its ownership:
"Prebendary Jonas Dennis of Polsloe Park, Exeter, a property which was owned for three generations, was stated in the Exeter Gazette, 1846, to be the ninth in descent from Sir Thomas Denys of Holcombe Burnell. A portrait of Sir Thomas in armour, understood to be to be a Holbein, was said to be in his possession."

Dennis seems to have been a colourful character. He was prebendary of the Royal Collegiate Church of the castle of Exeter, and was active in religious politics. This involvement included controversial election campaigns for convocation, the ecclesiastical parliament, and as a hard-line opponent of concessions to Catholicism. He was renowned for lengthy speeches, and in the Exeter Flying Post in 1819 he admitted of one diatribe that it had been “a long and laborious task and your patience was put to a tedious and severe trial."

Dennis placed a 'For Sale' notice for the estate in the Exeter Flying Post of 24th December 1846. This gives an excellent description of the property which once stood on the periphery of Heavitree, and of how the area was marketed to wealthy Victorians:

"Polsloe Park is situated in the most elevated and healthy part of the Parish of Heavitree, commanding views, which for extent, diversity, and richness of scenery, cannot be surpassed in the neighbourhood. It is within 10 minutes walk of the centre of Exeter, and has the two-fold advantage of a town and country residence. There are three carriage approaches, one without and two within the turnpike gate.

The house was built a few year since in the most substantial manner without limit as to price, for the late Proprietor's own residence, and the internal arrangements are complete, and adequate to the requirements of a large family.

It contains on the ground floor a spacious entrance hall, 27ft by 18ft, in which there is a fire place with a frontispiece beautifully and elaborately carved in oak and a grand staircase in character with the hall, drawing and dining room, each 27ft by 18ft and 12ft in height, library 18ft by 15ft.

There are five best bedrooms, each about 18ft by 14ft and 10ft in height, three dressing rooms and a water closet on the first floor. Three attics and room for three more in an unfinished state on the second floor and back staircase.

The basement offices consist of a kitchen 27ft by 18ft, back kitchen, servants' hall, butler's pantry, store closet, larder, beer, wine and coal cellars, with other useful offices, and is well supplied with pump water.

The land and pleasure ground attached to the house is three and a half acres; and from 35 to 40 acres immediately adjoining of rich pasture land may also be had if required."

The estate was duly sold in 1848 to wealthy tailor Stephen Brunskill. The electoral roll in 1856 had a Reverend William Grylls in residence. From around 1864 houses were being built on the southern end of the estate (now South, North and East Avenues) under the auspices of the Exeter Freehold Land Society established in 1857.

A major change at the northern end came about in 1881 with the construction of a long-forgotten sports ground for the Devon County Cycling and Athletic Society. The Exeter Flying Post reported:
"The ground acquired by the Society was a splendid site on the south side of Polsloe Park. It lays high and commands a wide range of scenery, including the estuary of the Exe."

The facility consisted of two tracks, one cinder for cycling, the other turf for foot races. The centre of the grass track was for tennis and cricket; the Exeter Cricket Club played here in 1884 and 1885. The Exeter Flying Post also reports:
"Under the trees which skirt the western end of the ground, a number of seats have been fixed for accommodation of spectators."

A 1905 OS map of Polsloe Park estate showing completed building at the northern end

A 1905 OS map of Polsloe Park estate showing completed building at the northern end

The mayor of Exeter opened the ground. In those days Heavitree was independent of Exeter, and the mayor is reported as saying that "although the grounds were outside the city boundary at present, he has no doubt that in future they would come within it (laughter)." His prediction of course finally came true in 1913.

The tracks, said the mayor, would "bear comparison with any in England." They were launched with a grand two day cycling and athletic meeting, and ended with "an excellent display of fireworks" witnessed by a great crowd of spectators. The principal piece was a bicycle and rider in motion, with the words "Success to our Sports."

Despite all this, within just a few year plans were being drawn up for a housing estate (Park Road, St Johns Road, Jubilee Road, etc) on the site, and by 1886 roads were being laid out.

There was now housing at both the southern and northern ends of the site, but what about the middle? Here the Exeter Brick and Tile Company established a brickyard where Ladysmith Junior School playing fields are now. The company was formed in 1899 to manufacture 100,000 bricks per week.

Within forty years a quiet corner of Heavitree had been turned into a major hive of housing and industry. A small but representative example of the transformation the area saw during Victorian times.

Regent Square And John James Fry Ellis

John James Fry Ellis

John James Fry Ellis was born in 1849 and trained as a builder before specialising in plumbing and gas-fitting work. He married Brenda Louise Elliot, an Exeter girl of twenty years of age. They lived at 7 Plantation Buildings, Newtown later moving to 50 Clifton Road, which he owned, along with number 49, from where he ran his business as a registered plumber and gasfitter.


A 1904 OS map showing Plantation Buildings, Ellis' first home

Coming from a poor family (his grandparents were registered as paupers), it isn’t known where Ellis found the money to begin building and selling houses, but his ambition and enthusiasm for property is clear. Ellis had certainly chosen a trade that would have been in high demand as gas became more popular in the home. Personal contacts and connections were vitally important, and Ellis must have had these. No doubt he also took advantage of Exeter's huge need for new, rentable properties.


Bertha Villas, Alexandra Terrace (named after Ellis' eldest daughter) in 2019

In 1879 Ellis built two houses on Alexandra Terrace, Exeter, which he named Bertha Villas, after his eldest daughter. These were grand houses were described in 1880 by the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette as: “each containing, on the ground floor, front parlour with bay window, two kitchens, cupboards, larder, coal-cellar and WC; two gardens in front and garden at the back; on the first floor, drawing-room and bedroom and WC and lavatory off landing; on the second floor, two bedrooms. These houses are well-built and furnished in good style. They contain numerous cupboards and useful fixtures, gas and water pipes, two cisterns, lead pumps...”

Not long after this, Ellis transferred his business (which appears to have been flourishing) to a new owner, although he retained ownership of the building. He must have been ambitious, as he tried unsuccessfully to become a Sanitary Inspector for the Council.

Although it was a short-lived venture, it was perhaps this failure that inspired Ellis to take a new direction and become landlord of the Bristol Inn (destroyed in the Blitz, it stood where John Lewis is now, at 3 Sidwell Street). The 1881 census shows Ellis as Innkeeper, living there with Brenda, their eight children ranging from 11 years to 5 months, Louise Elliot, mother-in-law, and a general servant.


John James Fry Ellis with his wife Brenda and family c.1880

Many auctions of land and property were held at the Bristol Inn. Ellis himself bought land in Newtown at these auctions, and also sold newly-built properties in the area.

Perhaps being present at so many auctions, in an ever-expanding Exeter, was what inspired Ellis to purchase the land to build Regent Square, his most ambitious venture yet. Although he had already built several houses by this time, planning and building sixty-three terraced houses was a new challenge entirely. It’s not known where Ellis got the money, but one can only assume that it was being ‘in the right place at the right time’ combined with an urge to better himself, and a knowledge of the practical work involved in building houses, that led him to have such a dream, and to take such a risk financially. Conveyances show that he borrowed heavily to carry out his project.

By the end of 1882, the Bristol Inn was under new license, and the Ellis family had moved to 71 Fore Street, Heavitree (now Shauls bakery) – conveniently close to the Regent Square site whilst building took place.


Brenda Villas, West Homefield (named after Ellis' wife) in 2019

Once the building of Regent Square was complete, Ellis moved to 1 Brenda Villas, West Homefield (now Homefield Road), one of two houses that he had built some time before 1884. These houses were named after his wife, and adjoined Homefield House (where the United Reformed Church now stands). They are still there today.

Conveyances show that he must have been under some financial strain due to the building of Regent Square. He tried to sell many of his properties and several more passed to Robert E Seward, when Ellis was unable to settle his debts.

Around 1885, Ellis built Progress Villas - a pair of semi-detached houses, with large kitchen gardens to the rear - in one of the more upmarket areas of Heavitree, Polsloe Park Estate. This area could have been described as ‘upwardly mobile’. We know that Ellis was responsible for building these houses, as we can just make out his name on the plaque. Today they still stand, now 42 East Avenue.


Progress Villas, East Avenue in 2019

It is uncertain where Ellis and his family were living for the next few years, but it is clear that he was finding it difficult to repay his mortgages and debts, especially as he seems to have had trouble selling some of the properties that he had built. In 1887, he took out a loan of £1000 on security of numbers 50, 53 and 62 Regent Square.

By 1891, he seems to have been managing a bit better, as he moved his family to 1 Progress Villas. The Ellis family found themselves living amongst solicitors, accountants, music teachers and journalists. What a rise from Plantation Buildings!

Alas, Ellis' debts seem to have caught up with him again by the end of 1896. Adverts appeared for auctions of probably all the property he owned, including Progress Villas, where the family were still living.

The last property he acquired was 13 Verney Place, St Sidwells, and we think that it was into this property that the family moved when Progress Villas was sold. What a contrast! Verney Place was destroyed in the Blitz, but is remembered as being one of many dark, narrow, slum-like areas off Sidwell Street.


Ellis' death certificate

Ellis died suddenly in 1898, aged just 49 years, of a cerebral haemorrhage and hemiplegia (paralysis of one side of the body). Oddly, his death certificate shows the place of death as 38 St Leonards Avenue. Perhaps this was another property that he owned or had acquired. We know that it was purchased a couple of years later ‘as part of a bankrupt estate’, which could have been Ellis’. His funeral took place on April 2nd at Higher Cemetery, where he is buried with his father John.

The Exeter Flying Post simply stated:
“DEATHS: ELLIS, March 27th, John Ellis, plumber and builder, late of Newtown and Heavitree, aged 49”

One would have expected more to be said about a man who showed such resourcefulness and was so important to Exeter. His memory lives on in the properties that he built; he certainly left his mark on Exeter. If he had conquered his financial problems, and lived to an older age, one can imagine how much more he could have contributed to Exeter.


Ellis' headstone, Higher Cemetery in 2019

After his death, Brenda continued to live in Verney Place, before later moving to 11 Holloway Street. Despite having many children, supporting her husband and moving all over Exeter, Brenda lived to 78 years old, outliving most of her children.

Regent Square: From Gardens To Residential Development

By the mid-Victorian period, housing for the artisan sector was in demand, provided it was built to a good standard and could be rented out for a good return. In the course of his business and work, Ellis would have seen the potential for development in many areas of Exeter, and must have been waiting for his chance to cash in. When the land on which Regent Square now stands came up for sale, Ellis had the chance to really make his mark. Just like modern-day property developers Ellis planned to fit as many properties into the area as possible.


An 1813 map illustrating how rural Heavitree was, consisting mainly of fields and orchards.
The land to the left of Burrow’s Field is roughly where Regent Square now stands

Ellis would have completed a detailed survey to acknowledge the potential of the land (currently market gardens) for development, and to highlight any possible problems. The fall of ground would have been a good sign that there would be natural surface water disposal. The 1875 Public Health Act (aimed at combating filthy urban living conditions and the diseases associated with them) required that all new residential construction had to include running water and an internal drainage system, and gave local authorities the power to purchase, repair or create sewers. Ellis’ experience of being a trained plumber would certainly prove its worth.


The 1840s tithe map of Heavitree showing the area that was to become Regent Square

Regent Square was to have 28 three-bedroom and 35 two-bedroom houses, a total of 63 properties, within a very compact parcel of land. There were no front gardens and the small rear gardens (with perimeter brick walls) had no official rear access (apart from the centre block which provided access to 18 properties from either side).

The houses of Regent Square are good examples of early ‘byelaw terraced houses’. No planning permission was required at this time, but thanks to the 1875 Public Health Act, local authorities were given the power to set down some building regulations to ensure that the houses were safe and sanitary. This act would only just have come into practice so controls were probably still minimal in Exeter. The quality of housing in Regent Square, therefore, is a credit to the builders, tradesmen and materials of the time.


The plaque at the corner of Regent Square bearing Ellis' insignia in 2019

There is no record of when work actually commenced on Regent Square. The plaque on the Force charity shop (73 Fore Street) shows a date of 1883; such plaques were usually placed on completion of works.

The houses were built of locally sourced bricks, most likely from Pengelly’s Brickworks, recently opened in what is now part of the Pleasure Ground, behind Roseland Crescent. (Pengelly, another keen property developer in Heavitree, built Newcombe Street around the same time as Regent Square was built. These tightly-packed streets of terraced houses were similar examples of Heavitree’s first proper Victorian developments). Sampson's Brick Yard, where Ladysmith School playing fields are now, was another possibility for brick supplies, but Pengelly’s would have been the most convenient. Transportation of bricks and materials by horse and cart would have been very labour intensive; probably 500 cart loads of bricks alone for the Square.


The 1887 OS map, showing Regent Square, with rear entrance opening
onto meadow / market garden, and the brickworks in close proximity

The houses had cast iron guttering, cast stone lintels, wooden sash windows, standard wooden front doors and front steps that were probably tiled. As they opened straight onto the road, boot scrapers were built into the front of the houses, next to the door. These were cast iron and the designs vary from house to house, perhaps because not all the houses were built at once.

Roofs were covered by what would appear to be Welsh Slate. Even with the extra transport cost, the Welsh slate would have been more cost effective than Cornish Slate. The slate would have been transported from the Welsh quarries, shipped to Bridgewater or Watchet in Somerset, then to Exeter by steam goods train. A total of 44,000 slates would eventually be delivered to Regent Square by horse and cart from the rail terminus.

The houses would have been some of the last terraced houses to have been built identically. Soon after, it became more popular to build ‘handed’ houses (i.e. differentiated into right and left) with front doors next to each other, a shared chimney stack and often more light due to the extensions sharing a wall.

Ellis sold some of the plots, with houses yet to be built, to repay some of his debts. For example, he sold the plot of land for 2 Regent Square for £25 in February 1883, along with neighbouring building plots. The legal documents contain very specific instructions as to how the remaining houses should be built, in keeping with the overall plan. The purchaser of some of this land was John Sampson, a very significant figure in Heavitree's history with ‘a finger in every pie’. Sampson later owned two houses on Regent Square (51 and 52) which he rented out to provide income to fund one of his philanthropic projects – Manor Cottages (off Fore Street), almshouses for the poor.

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8 Regent Square in 191062 Regent Square around 1932

This article is an extract from a 2019 publication by Sally Robinson (former resident of the Square, and a member of the HLHS) detailing the life of J J F Ellis and the history of Regent Square. The publication can be downloaded here; hard-copies are available on request from the Society.

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The Gordon Lamp

The Gordon Lamp stands at Livery Dole at the forking of Magdalen Road and Fore Street, on the site of an old toll house that was demolished in 1884. The lamp was cast by Garton and King at their foundary in Waterbeer Street, Exeter. It was erected in 1885 at the request of Prebendary Barnes, the vicar of Heavitree, in memory of his friend General Charles George Gordon (1833-1885), who had stayed as a guest at the vicarage, and who was killed in his attempt to relieve Khartoum. It bears the simple inscription: “Charles George Gordon 26th January 1885”. Originally lit by gas, this has been replaced by a modern but aesthetically-pleasing electric reproduction. In 2015, the Exeter Civic Society renovated the lamp and placed an information board near by.

The Gordon Lampin 2015

The Gordon Lamp in 2015

General Gordon was born in 1833 in Woolwich into a military background, but his family was connected with the St Thomas area of Exeter. His grandparents had lived in Lower Bowhill House, subsequently the site of St Thomas Lunatic Asylum; their memorial is in St Thomas Church. Gordon visited the church early in 1884 to see the memorial shortly before being summoned to the Sudan where he was to die a hero a year later.

An image of General Gordon

An image of General Gordon

The Exeter Civic Society publication 'Discovering Exeter: Heavitree' provides an insight into street lighting in Heavitree at the time:

'Public lighting was a major concern. Although gas mains were laid to private houses, it was not until 1870 that "ten lamps now illuminate the path of the traveller". By 1874 there were thirteen, and proposals were then made to more than double the number, but even after that date the small number of lamps publicly provided explains the importance attached to the provision of the Gordon Lamp after the General's death in 1885, and of Councillor Nethercott's lamp in North Street as late as 1912.

The significance of public lighting is indicated by the fact that Heavitree Urban District Council (HUDC) had a lighting committee from its creation, and found plenty to discuss and do. In 1902, for example, the Secretary of the Exeter Gas Light Offices referred to the lamp at the corner of Sivell Place:

"I find it is a general practice to use this post for tying horses to and frequently the mantles are broken, also very much damage is done by waggons colliding with it."

The committee minutes for 1908 record that "the Heavitree Brewery had paid for the new lamp fixed in Church Street in the place of the one destroyed by their runaway horse."

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Heavitree And The Railways

The Bristol and Exeter Railway arrived at Exeter St Davids in 1844, followed by the London and South-Western Railway (LSWR) at Queen Street in 1860 (renamed Exeter Central in 1933). A branch-line to Exmouth opened in 1861. A link between Queen Street and St Davids was added in 1862.

An engine shed was initially based to the east of Queen Street station, but this proved inadequate for the number of engines, so in 1887 an improved facility opened at Exmouth Junction, on land north of the LSWR main line, at the point where the Exmouth branch-line diverged. The site lay within the historic parish of Heavitree, and is the focus of this article.

Map of Exmouth Junction 1904

Map of Exmouth Junction 1904. The turntable can be seen behind the Engine Shed.

Map of Exmouth Junction 1932

Map of Exmouth Junction 1932. The sidings and the Concrete Works can be seen to the left; the Repairing Shed in the centre; the Coal Tower and turntable below the Engine Shed.

To serve the expanding population of Exeter, a number of small stations were opened between Queen Street and the vicinity of Exmouth Junction: Lion’s Holt Halt (after the field name) [1906-] (renamed St James’ Park in 1946); Mount Pleasant Road Halt (by the current Health Centre) [1906-1928]; Whipton Bridge Halt (by Summer Lane) [1906-1923] on the main line after the Junction; Polsloe Bridge Halt [1908-] on the Exmouth branch-line.

Exmouth Junction railway apprentices c.1910

Exmouth Junction railway apprentices c.1910

A path, known as ‘the junction path’, ran alongside St Katherine’s Priory and could be used to reach Exmouth Junction. The retaining wall of the Junction towered above you on the left.

Exmouth Junction contained a large steam shed, built initially of corrugated iron but rebuilt to brick and concrete in 1924/6. Engine repairs could be carried out at the site.

There was a turntable, and there were quite a few incidents where the engine missed the turntable and ended up in the lane. On one occasion, an engine ended up in Monks Road.

Exmouth Junction Engine Shed c.1930

Exmouth Junction’s twelve lane Engine Shed c.1930. The Coal Tower is on the right.

A large coal tower, opened in 1930, was in use practically 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Coal would be hoisted up out of the wagon into the tender. Anyone nearby was likely to be covered. There was also an area where you would clean out. Many people ended up with lung problems.

During World War II, railway sidings were built for military storage, using clinker from steam engines. Ambulance trains travelling from Southampton to Exeter went into these sidings to await their next assignment. In the RAMM there is a map showing German targets - Exmouth Junction had a big circle around it, but somehow they never hit it.

Exmouth Junction had its own Railway Club, which was very well used. Older drivers would often have 3-4 pints of cider. There were old nameplates all over the walls, worth over £100,000.

At its peak between 1930 and 1960, Exmouth Junction typically had an allocation of over 120 locomotives, but this could rise to 150 on busy summer Saturdays. Additionally, it had responsibility for engines from other depots in the south-west. It was a large employer, with around 500 men working from there.

Exmouth Junction Coal Tower c.1930

Exmouth Junction Coal Tower c.1930

By the early 1960s, the railways needed a major overhaul. Steam trains were dirty and had had their day; a more modern alternative was needed, thus diesel / electric trains would be gradually introduced throughout. In the wake of the infamous Beeching Report, a huge number of loss-making lines were completely closed. Many of the remaining lines were downgraded to cut costs: stations were closed, train frequency was cut, and dual track was replaced by single track with few passing places. These changes would be the death knell for Exmouth Junction.

During 1965 steam finished in Okehampton, and by the end of that year in Yeovil. Exmouth Junction started to run down very quickly and closed in 1967. Some employees moved to St Davids, others all over the Southern and Western regions. It was heartbreaking. People who had worked all their lives on the railway suddenly found they had no job. Exmouth Junction was completely ripped up: the steam shed employing 500+ men; the concrete depot; the marshalling yard. Workers who lived in that area were suddenly gone. The impact on Heavitree would have been huge.

The Royal Engineers asked if they could practice by blowing up the coal tower. It was built so solidly that their efforts ended in failure; they gave up after four attempts.

In 1973, the Topsham, and the Salisbury to Exeter lines, were downgraded from dual track to single track. The second track was removed entirely; just a few passing places were left in situ. Train frequency was forced down to one train every two hours, the rails of the single track wore out more quickly, and the journey to Waterloo became much slower than that to Paddington, despite the fact that it’s actually a quicker line.

Polsloe Bridge Halt c.1910

Polsloe Bridge Halt c.1910

Polsloe Bridge Halt 1959

Polsloe Bridge Halt 1959. Both platforms were in use until 1973 when the line was singled.

The site of Exmouth Junction is now occupied by Morrisons. As you come into the car park, you can see where the World War II sidings were, and the cement works. These works provided reinforced concrete, cement, and fencing for the whole of the Southern Railway.

The land housing the sidings was contaminated for years. They were built from clinker; oil would have been dumped there. For a long time, any trees or plants planted would die. In spite the refusal of planning permission for many years, approval was granted in the early 2020s for the building of 400 dwellings.

The railways were a massive part of Heavitree’s local history, but since the closure and demolition of the facilities at Exmouth Junction you wouldn’t appreciate it. All the old drivers are gone, and along with them, the history.

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Heavitree And The Trams

Tram services arrived in Exeter in 1882. They were horse-drawn and operated over two routes on behalf of the City Council by the Exeter Tramway Company on a 21 year franchise – St Davids Station to the Mount Pleasant Inn (now Henry’s Bar), and London Inn Square to St Lukes College, Heavitree Road. The latter was extended to Livery Dole in 1893.

The trams were canary yellow, with brown lettering. They had bench-style seats on top, and inside the seats faced each other. Two horses pulled each tram, but four were needed to pull a tram up St David’s Hill.

An Exeter horse-drawn tram

An Exeter horse-drawn tram

The trams completely bypassed the City centre as traders objected, preferring people to travel by carriage and pull up outside their shops. As a result, the trams were never very profitable, and the service declined appreciably towards the end of the nineteenth century.

With the end of the 21 year franchise looming, in 1902 a poll of residents was taken on whether the trams should a) be run by the City Council and b) run along the High Street. The result was a decisive “yes” on both counts. Clearly the shopkeepers who had opposed horse-drawn trams had noticed that Sidwell Street was thriving, and this time wanted to be part of the action.

A map of the Exeter tram network

A map of the Exeter tram network

In 1904, Exeter Corporation purchased Exeter Tramway Company and its stock. New lines were put down, and the network extended across the River Exe to St Thomas, as well as through Heavitree to Cross Park.

New electric trams began operating in 1905 from a depot in Heavitree Road, close to where the Pyramids now stands. They were dark green and cream, with gold lettering and a dark maroon undercarriage, and utilised the overhead trolley system for their supply of electricity. Within a couple of months, the new trams were carrying 80,000 passengers a week, rising to 100,000 before long.

Exeter tram depot in Heavitree Road

Exeter tram depot in Heavitree Road

Generally, the trams were reliable and ran to time, with few accidents occurring, although the weather caused occasional upheaval. Most of the problems happened during World War I when there was a shortage of staff and of electricity.

Pedestrian safety was the real issue that began to be encountered. To board a tram, one had to walk to the centre of the road. By the 1920s there were a lot more vehicles on the roads, and with many motorists believing they were entitled to keep going in spite the fact the tram had stopped, there were several episodes of people getting hit.

An electric tram at Cross Park, Heavitree

An electric tram at Cross Park, Heavitree

With car ownership increasing exponentially, the High Street was far too narrow for both trams and cars. The Council realised that buses were far more manœuvrable than trams: they could pull in, and there was scope for two lanes of traffic.

In 1931, Exeter’s final tram made its journey, ending a period of almost fifty years of trams between Exeter and Heavitree.

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Heavitree Urban District Council

For centuries the parish was responsible for overseeing most things in Heavitree: care of the needy, maintaining law and order, and education, for example. During the nineteenth century, the population of Heavitree grew rapidly, and the area changed from a village into more of an urban area. It became necessary for a more formal body to administer day-to-day affairs, thus the Heavitree Urban District Council (HUDC) was formed in 1896 and took on most of the parish’s responsibilities.

Church Street in 1909 showing the location of the Heavitree UDC offices

Church Street in 1909 showing the location of the Heavitree UDC offices

Its life proved to be a short one of just seventeen years. It's not clear why this is, but the issue of annexation no doubt came into the equation somewhere. Among the benefits the HUDC brought to Heavitree during its lifetime were:

The battle against annexation of Heavitree by Exeter had been going on for decades, and although the HUDC fought a good fight on behalf of the people of Heavitree, it was becoming increasingly clear that the area was in effect already a suburb of Exeter, and thus sooner or later annexation was inevitable. It's not clear why annexation occurred when it did, or how it ultimately came about.

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Heavitree Pleasure Ground

One of the most treasured and frequented areas of Heavitree has to be its Pleasure Ground, often incorrectly referred to as Heavitree Park which is located nearby at the intersection of Butts Road and Fore Street.

At the start of the twentieth century, fields and orchards in the Heavitree area were being secured for housing at an alarming rate. Thus, in 1905 the Heavitree Urban District Council (HUDC) purchased four fields off Whipton Lane for the purpose of a Pleasure Ground, similar to those that had already opened in the Belmont and St Thomas areas of Exeter in 1886 and 1891 respectively.

Site of Heavitree Pleasure Ground, 1904 Heavitree Pleasure Ground, 1936
Site of Heavitree Pleasure Ground, 1904Heavitree Pleasure Ground, 1936

The Pleasure Ground was designed to have something for everyone: gardens and open spaces in which to relax and improve well-being, sports areas, and a play-area for children. It had been noted that youths often congregated on Fore Street, causing a nuisance with their antics and colourful language; the development would give them somewhere to go, and something to do.

F.W. Meyer **, an employee of Veitch and Sons, well-established and respected horticulturists in the area, was tasked with planning and ornamental planting of the Pleasure Ground. A path was laid around the site, drainage improved, and trees and shrubs from around the world were planted.

The Heavitree Pleasure Ground was opened on 1st May 1906 by Colonel Vaughan (Chairman of the HUDC), attended by J.W.W. Matthew (Clerk) and F.E. Simpson (Surveyor). A plaque commemorating this can be seen in the wall next to the main entrance in Whipton Lane.

The opening memorial stone at Heavitree Pleasure Ground in 2013

Plaque commemorating the opening of Heavitree Pleasure Ground on 1st May 1906

There was still much to be done. Development continued after this date until the annexation of Heavitree into Exeter in 1913, and beyond.

In 1906, a further area was acquired, and two fields were let for mowing and sheep grazing.

Also in 1906, a tennis court, bowling green, and children’s play-area near the current basketball court, were added, the children having been warned that they must behave properly. To begin with, only Heavitree parishioners were allowed to use the tennis court and bowling green; over time others were allowed to use the facilities but had to pay at a higher rate.

By Whipton Lane entrance The tennis courts, Heavitree Pleasure Ground Relaxing at Heavitree Pleasure Ground
Early views of Heavitree Pleasure Ground

In 1907, Robert James was appointed ground keeper and gardener, at a rate of 24/- a week, and “that he be provided with a cap”. Mr James was needed as several boys had been brought before the Committee and fined for causing damage to the grounds. There was swearing during football matches, and help was needed on Sundays when behaviour was especially poor – broken bottles and damage to plants were noted.

In 1908, Heavitree Cricket Club requested a portion of land for cricket practice.

Other Improvements over the next five years: Entrance gates were provided; ladies and children’s toilets were built; additional trees and shrubs were planted, including in 1911, the King George V coronation oak, which survived until 2016 before being severely lopped due to disease; seats were provided around the swings; see-saws provided in the playground; a plant nursery established.

The plaque in Heavitree Pleasure Ground by the King George V coronation oak in 2016

The plaque in Heavitree Pleasure Ground by the King George V coronation oak in 2016

Over the years, features have been added (new play-area, paddling pools, BMX/skateboard ramps, basketball court), others have come and gone (a pavilion, Heavitree United Football Club using the Ground for matches), some in the original plans by F.W. Meyer never came to fruition (e.g. a large, formal, circular bed in the centre of the Ground with a statue in the midst, a small lake near the bowling green), but the Pleasure Ground remains as popular now as when it was first opened.

Bowls match, Heavitree Pleasure Ground The tennis courts, Heavitree Pleasure Ground The old pavilion, Heavitree Pleasure Ground
Views of Heavitree Pleasure Ground in the 1970s (Courtesy: Mal Morrison)

Parklife Heavitree was established in 2010 to build and nurture the local community, based around the Pleasure Ground. They hold regular events: an annual Fun-Day, weekly keep fit and running groups, and monthly seasonal events (e.g. Easter egg hunt, Carol singing). The group opened a Community Hub near to the bowling green in 2021. This houses a popular café, and is used by numerous groups each week.

The centenary memorial in Heavitree Pleasure Ground in 2016

The centenary memorial in Heavitree Pleasure Ground in 2016


Did You Know?

A small part of the current Pleasure Ground used to be a brickworks.

This area - bounded by Roseland Crescent, Hamlin Lane and Chard Road - was only added to the Pleasure Ground after World War II.

** Frederick W. Meyer was born in Germany in 1853, and died in 1906 just a few months after the Pleasure Ground was opened. The 1891 census lists him as living at 15 Elmside. He is buried in the Higher Cemetery. At the suggestion of David Morrish, one of the HLHS founding members, retirement apartments in Butts Road that replaced the old Red Cross H.Q. were named Meyer Court in memory of him.

HLHS – Dec 2005 (Newsletter 23), Mar 2007 (Newsletter 28) + Sep 2007 (Newsletter 30);
National Library of Scotland – Ordnance Survey 25", 1841-1952 series, Devon LXXX.7 (1904 + 1936)

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The Widening Of North Street

By the beginning of the 20th century Heavitree was starting to expand more rapidly than ever before. Fields and orchards were being sold to developers and laid out for housing at an alarming rate. This in turn would lead to a projected growth of road traffic in the area, and consequently a requirement to improve the existing road network.

North Street, Heavitree had existed for years, yet was still relatively narrow. Although only a short stretch of road, given recent building at Polsloe Park (creating a through-route to Pinhoe Road for the first time via Goldsmith Street and Ladysmith Road), and around South Lawn Terrace, this was an ideal candidate for upgrade. Thus the Heavitree Urban District Council (HUDC), itself only established in 1896, proposed it be doubled in width.

North Street prior to widening

North Street prior to widening

The minutes of the HUDC Streets Committee in 1908 record various payments to owners of properties in North Street to compensate them for the loss of their land required for the widening:

  • A Mr Hutchings received three shillings per foot, and £7 10s to include the cost of setting back the railings;
  • A Mr C. offered a portion of his garden for £47 10s to include the cost of setting back railings, but this offer was rejected;
  • An offer was made by Messrs H & R, for four properties in Homefield Place for the purpose of widening North Street; the HUDC made a lower offer which was subsequently rejected.

An inspection of maps of the area show that corner properties, 8 and 9 Homefield Place, which hitherto had adjoined the property now occupied by the ‘Curry King’ Indian restaurant (then 7 Homefield Place), were demolished and became part of the highway.

Map of North Street, 1904 Map of North Street, 1936
Map of North Street, 1904Map of North Street, 1936

In a scheme that cost £2,200, the Medical Officer of Health hailed in his annual report that the street had been turned "from a narrow and dangerous lane, to one of the widest streets in the district."

As an indication of civic pride at the time, a wall plaque marks the completion of the widening by the HUDC. It records the names of Henry Hill (chairman), J.R. Nethercott (vice-chair), J.W.W. Mathew (clerk) and F.E. Simpson (surveyor).


The commemorative plaque to the 1910 widening of North Street, seen here in 2018

A gas lamp, widely known as the Nethercott Lamp (named after the aforementioned J.R. Nethercott), was erected in 1912 to give light to the widened junction; this can still be seen today. Until their relocation in the early 1960s, when there was further modification of the area, there were public conveniences under the street, the entrance being in the centre of the street to the rear of the lamp.

The official unveiling of the Nethercott Lamp in 1912

The official unveiling of the Nethercott Lamp in 1912

The number of houses in North Street, according to Besley’s 1909 Exeter Directory was eleven on the east side – known as North Place, and twenty-four on the west – four of which were known as Oak Close, and eighteen of which were known as Shelton Place. The occupations of the inhabitants of these houses make interesting reading: they include several gardeners, a plumber, a blacksmith, a launderess, a coachman, an ironmonger, a wheelwright, an undertaker, a chimney sweep (remembered in the late 1920s as ‘Sooty’ Reed), an insurance agent, a butcher and a dairyman.

Apart from one or two recent additions, most of the buildings in North Street, including the Windsor Castle public house, remain as they were at the time of road widening in 1910.

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The Annexation Of Heavitree

During the nineteenth century, propositions by the Exeter City Council regarding the matter of annexation were persistent as the town of of Heavitree began to develop and expand on its doorstep.

As early as 1835, the Vicar recognised the "increase of building which has lately taken place and converted the Parish into a suburb of Exeter," with the Parish Vestry resolving that "no part of it should come under the new City Council." In 1838 it opposed "any encroachment or extension of the Exeter jurisdiction or power whatever," and formed a standing committee to defeat any attempt. In 1840 it objected to Exeter's attempts to get market jurisdiction in Heavitree, in 1845 to extend county court jurisdiction, and in 1847 it resolved to fight "any attempt to sacrifice the independence of this Parish by incorporating it with the City of Exeter."

The creation of the Heavitree Urban District Council in 1896 gave some continued measure of independence and an elected body with wider powers to improve the district. It carried out a poll of residents in Heavitree around the turn of the century, the results of which are reported thus by the Western Times on 26th January 1900:

Result of polling at Heavitree.

The result of the poll demanded at the recent public meeting on the annexation question was declared early on Wednesday. Little interest was evinced by the inhabitants generally and only a few assembled to hear the result.

The figures were:

  • Against Annexation 974
  • For 349
  • Majority 625

The number of papers sent out was about 1500. There were 15 spoilt votes and 178 did not fill in their paper.

The annexation of St Leonards in 1877 and St Thomas in 1899 had set a precedent however. It had been clear for years that the City Council wanted Heavitree to go the same way. A press cutting from 1912 illustrates well the battle for control of Heavitree. Although it was likely all members of the City Council agreed annexation of Heavitree was a desirable thing, there was something of an internal division as it seemed inappropriate practices might be used.

Press cutting of 4th March 1912, Exeter & Plymouth Gazette

Press cutting of 4th March 1912, Exeter & Plymouth Gazette
The caption reads:
Miss Heavitree: "Unhand me sir!"
The Pirate Captain: "Once on board the lugger, you will and shall be ours!"
"Exeter wanted something that did not belong to it. The City desired to forcibly take Heavitree,
which was not right." - Alderman Stocker, at the last meeting of the Exeter City Council.

On 21st February 1913, the Devon and Exeter Gazette reported:
'At a meeting of Heavitree Urban District Council, held on Wednesday, among the items of estimated expenditure to be provided for during the ensuing year was a sum of £1,800 for "annexation opposition." The Chairman of the Finance Committee (Mr. White) said the annexation inquiry had already cost Heavitree £2,200 and was an iniquitous business, no doubt engineered by a few interested parties in Exeter. On the recommendation of the Finance Committee it was decided to levy a general district rate of 4s 4d in the £ in no.1 district, and 3s 10d in the £ in no.2 district – an increase of a shilling.'

It was clear from this that during 1913 the Urban District Council intended to continue resisting annexation. Justification for this is portrayed by a cutting from May 1913, that depicts the City Council presenting to the people of Heavitree a very different impression to reality, namely that it was amiable rather than greedy and self-centred.

Press cutting of 12th May 1913, Exeter & Plymouth Gazette

Press cutting of 12th May 1913, Exeter & Plymouth Gazette

It's unclear as to whether the people of Heavitree felt that the advantages of being a part of Exeter outweighed the disadvantages, they were hood-winked or even forced into annexation by the City Council, they objected to the increasing cost of the resistance campaign and thus lost faith in the Urban District Council, or simply accepted the inevitable having fought a noble battle for so many years.

Whatever the situation, Heavitree finally succumbed at some point during 1913. Exeter had won and Heavitree became merely another district thereof. Life in the area would certainly change, for better or worse, in order to bring the hitherto independently-run town of over a thousand years into line with City practices.

Following annexation, a great controversy apparently raged in the City concerning the adjustment of the salaries of the City officials. This is illustrated in a satirical cartoon from the Devon & Exeter Gazette in 1914. This perhaps realised Heavitree's worst fears, viz. the City Council didn't care about them only promoting itself.

Satirical cartoon from 1914, Devon & Exeter Gazette

Satirical cartoon from 1914, Devon & Exeter Gazette
[The figures in the illustration represent Councillor Lucas, Councillor McGahey,
and Councillor Thomas Linscott (the oldest member of the Council)]

Writing in the parish magazine a few years after the takeover, the antiquarian Miss Beatrice Cresswell expressed the contemporary views of regret at annexation, and in particular over the loss of the system of rating independent of the City.

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Churches Of Heavitree

Heavitree Parish Church

It is likely that a church has stood on the current site in Church Street since the late Saxon era, however the oldest surviving record is of its grant to Exeter Cathedral in 1152. The building was extensively rebuilt in the fifteenth century and restored in 1541.

A lithograph showing Heavitree Parish Church in 1842

A lithograph showing Heavitree Parish Church in 1842

After this, no major work took place until the nineteenth century, when population growth meant the building was no longer sufficient for its needs. The old fifteenth century red sandstone building was largely rebuilt between 1844 and 1846 at a cost of £3000 raised by subscription.

Only 2 years after the new building was consecrated however, the lower skirting of the pews and the flooring was found to be "in a state of putrescence." The church was closed for several months whilst rotting timber was replaced and a new concrete floor laid, but also due to the "noxious vapour from the bodies under the floor."

Painting of Heavitree Parish Church in 1857 showing the rebuilt church alongside the older tower (Courtesy: Stephen Bees)

Painting of Heavitree Parish Church in 1857 showing the rebuilt church alongside the older tower (Courtesy: Stephen Bees)

Due to a shortage of funds when the main part of the church was rebuilt, the tower wasn't replaced until 1887. Thus for around 40 years, the new church and the old tower existed alongside one another. A peal of eight bells replaced the original four in 1897 to commemorate Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee.

Heavitree Parish Church in 1880 showing the rebuilt church alongside the older tower

Heavitree Parish Church in 1880 showing the rebuilt church alongside the older tower

Within the sizeable churchyard stands the Heavitree Yew, the oldest tree in Exeter, which is probably over 500 years old. It is likely that this tree is formed of side-shoots from a much older tree felled at the time of the fifteenth century rebuilding of the church. Whether this was the head tree (heafod treow) beneath which the Saxon kings held court will never be known.

The Heavitree Yew alongside the old church

The Heavitree Yew alongside the old church

When the church tower was rebuilt in 1887, the Medieval gargoyles from the old tower were embedded in concrete around the base of the tree. In the early 1990s, having discovered the importance of the tree, Devon members of the International Tree Foundation removed the detritus to allow water to be fed down to the roots; ivy and dead branches were also trimmed back. Members now keep an eye on the tree to ensure it stays healthy.

In 2002, The Tree Council included the tree in their list of 50 'Great British Trees' in celebration of Queen Elizabeth II's golden jubilee; a plaque has since been added in recognition of this fact.

Heavitree Parish Records

The earliest surviving parish record is the baptism of Robert Knoll on 1st February 1556. Records of weddings and burials did not commence until a century later.

During the Civil War and the years following, parishes were subjected to ever-changing and confusing regulations from Parliament as regards the records they had to keep. For example, the Marriage and Registration Act of 1653 denied the Church the right to celebrate marriages and stipulated that clerics had no authority to keep parish registers or bury the dead.

The first surviving marriage record in Heavitree is in 1654. The following gives a taste of how people responded to the various Puritan laws:

1654		 7
1655		 5
1656		 6
1657		11
1658		38		Cromwell died
1659		39
1660		62		James II restored
1661		21
1662		22

It seems that either many marriages were not recorded when they occurred, or couples felt that a civil marriage had no standing in the eyes of God or their neighbours, and regularised the position as soon as they were able.

St Loyes Chapel

The ruins of St Loyes Chapel in Rifford Road are the remains of a chapel first recorded in 1387 and likely to have been consecrated the year before. It is dedicated to St Loye, a 7th century French Goldsmith who became Bishop of Noyau and was adopted as the patron saint of all metal workers.

The ruins of St Loyes Chapel in 2018

The ruins of St Loyes Chapel in 2018

Worship probably ended or declined with the Reformation, and by 1607 part of the building was used as a house. By 1785 it was used as a stable. In the 1890s an attempt was made to restore the chapel but this failed. The ruins survive as an example of the local use of Heavitree Stone.

The Chapel Of St Clare

Although it has often been claimed that the chapel at Livery Dole is medieval in date and was dedicated to St Clarus, this is now known to be false; it was in fact built with the almshouses adjacent to it in 1592. It is possible that the chapel was built as a place where prayers were offered for the souls of persons executed at the nearby crossroads.

The chapel of St Clare alongside the sixteenth century almshouses in 1850

The chapel of St Clare alongside the sixteenth century almshouses in 1850

The building consists of a nave, of which the chancel is a continuation. The doorway is at the western end and the windows are filled with stained glass. It is built of Heavitree Stone, one of the few in the Parish, supported by buttresses. The tracery of the eastern window is a mixture of the late Decorated and Perpendicular styles and has probably been taken from a medieval building.

Heavitree Congregational Church

In 1884 Exeter Congregationalists purchased Homefield House and its grounds for £798; Homefield House was formerly located on the corner of what is now Homefield Road.

In 1885 they opened a Mission Chapel in the gardens at a cost of £990 and seating 180. The memorial stone was laid in January of that year and bears witness to the fact that for 18 years hitherto a Mr Joseph Hayman had opened his house for public worship; Mr Hayman lived at Stafford Villas (now 83 Fore Street).

The 1889 OS map showing the Mission Chapel

The 1889 OS map showing the Mission Chapel prior to extension.
Prospect Villas can be seen to the left, Homefield House and Brenda Villas to the right.

In 1902 Homefield House was demolished and a new church was built on the site at a cost of £4,000. This was at right angles to the original building, which was incorporated to the rear of the development. The new structure included a hall that seated 450, a lecture hall holding 120, and a basement hall. The foundation stone was laid on 29th September 1902, and the new church dedicated on 2nd June 1903.

Heavitree Congregational Church in 1907

Heavitree Congregational Church in 1907.
Prospect Villas can be seen to the left, Brenda Villas to the right above the railings of Homefield Place.

During World War II the basement was used as an air-raid shelter but was badly damaged in 1942 by enemy bombing. This also destroyed the adjacent Prospect Villas that once stood in Fore Street to the west of the church.

In 1972 the Congregational and Presbyterian Churches merged to form the United Reformed Church, by which the church is now known.

Heavitree Catholic Church

Heavitree House, an early nineteenth century property in Fore Street, was purchased along with the adjoining land in about 1930 for the building of a Roman Catholic church.

The church was built at a cost of £15,000, and is located well back from the road. The foundation stone was laid in June 1931, whilst the church opened in May 1932. In spite of its positioning the structure is readily visible from Fore Street, and is a very striking one even by today's standards. It includes a portico of six marble columns, and a tower that houses a massive 4 ton bell, which at the time was the second largest in Devon, and caused quite a bit of local protest.

A pre-war image of the Catholic Church showing the full height of the tower

A pre-war image of the Catholic Church showing the full height of the tower

Although the tower currently stands at 60 foot high, it was originally stood at 90 foot. A direct hit during the Baedeker Raids of May 1942 caused serious structural damage to the tower and completely destroyed the neighbouring presbytery. The tower was never rebuilt to its former glory.

The Catholic Church in 2011 showing the shortened tower

The Catholic Church in 2011 showing the shortened tower

Meanwhile, Heavitree House was renamed Rosary House by the church and was used as a school for a good number of years. When this closed it was initially used for other purposes by the church before being sold to raise funds. The building is still known by the same name and now houses City Vets.

Rosary House (formerly Heavitree House) is now home to City Vets, seen here in 2019

Rosary House (formerly Heavitree House) is now home to City Vets, seen here in 2019

Heavitree Gospel Hall

In the early twentieth century, the Plymouth Brethren opened Heavitree Gospel Hall on the corner of Alpha Street, opposite where Shaul House is now. In 1935, the Conservative Rooms relocated from Fore Street to to their present home in Church Street. The church moved into the vacant premises and was renamed Ebenezer Gospel Hall. The Alpha Street site was later used as a Weslyan Chapel.

Enemy action in 1942 destroyed the Fore Street building along with others in the vicinity, namely 1-5 Sivell Place and those on the opposite side of Fore Street where the filling station now stands. Mr Alford, graciously opened his home at 'Eagle House', Salutary Mount, for Brethren services at this time.

After the war, the Brethren constructed a Nissan type hut meeting place on the current site, along with a car park where 1-5 Sivell Place had been. This was replaced in 1979 by the present building. The church is now known as Heavitree Evangelical Church.

St Mark's Church

The HLHS has always been interested in developments as the parish of Heavitree became more urbanised.

Contrasting images of St Mark’s Church as a tin tabernacle in Manston Road in 1902 with the 1937 church in Pinhoe Road that stands today really illustrate the changes that occurred as the population of Heavitree grew.

A map from around 1890 shows very few houses on Pinhoe Road, the female reformatory on Polsloe Road, and the tram lines which had reached Mount Pleasant. There was no church on either Manston Road or Pinhoe Road.

In 1899, land was obtained for a church in Manston Road. The Iron Church was erected and first used in 1901. The foundation stone for a new, more permanent, church was laid in 1910; this church was first used for services in 1911.

The ‘Mission Chapel’ is visible in Manston Road on the 1910 map. Other churches in the area by this stage were The Mount Pleasant Methodist Church and Polsloe Park Christian Chapel.

Tin Tabernacle, Manston Road Aerial view of St Mark's Church Laying of foundation stone Plan of Polsloe Park Church
Tin Tabernacle, Manston RoadAerial view of St Mark's ChurchLaying of foundation stonePlan of Polsloe Park Church

As the population of the area continued to rise, it became clear that this second church was still inadequate. The Polsloe Park Fund was set up to raise money for a bigger, grander church that would seat 500 people. A number of public fundraising events were held, including a Dickens Fair in 1925 and a Shakespearean Fayre in 1927.

Dame Violet Wills, a well-known woman who had grown rich through cigarettes, paid a huge amount towards the new church. The church was always reputed to be paid for by British workmen as they were the ones who had made her rich by buying her Woodbines! The Wills Foundation continues even today, and recently funded a new organ for the church.

In the early 1930s, as funding approached its target, the church site in Pinhoe Road was cleared. Violet Wills increased her donation, and an appeal went out to the people of Exeter for final contributions. In 1937, the church was consecrated. This was preceded by a lunch at Dellers and a procession from the old church to the new.

Procession arriving at the new church 1937 Group photo showing Dame Violet Wills (holding flowers) Extract from burial records showing some of those lost in the Baedeker Raids
Procession arriving at the new churchGroup photo showing Dame Violet Wills (holding flowers)Extract from burial records showing some of those lost in the Baedeker Raids

The Baedeker Raids of WW2 destroyed many buildings in the area and took the lives of parishioners, as can be seen in the burial records from the time.

Bells were acquired in 1951, made from melted down bells from former Exeter churches. A new west window was funded portraying two local saints: St Sidwella and St Katherine.

In 1975, the Manston Road site was sold and a new church hall built near the present church. There are now six 'modern' houses on the land where the original tin tabernacle was located.

Other Churches And Chapels

Mowbray Cottage, the attractive house opposite Meyer Court in Butts Road, entered non-conformist use as an independent, possibly Congregational chapel in 1833. By 1851 the premises appear to have been used by Wesleyan Methodists. It ceased to be used for religious purposes by 1860, and was converted into a private dwelling.

Mowbray Cottage in 2018

Mowbray Cottage in 2018

Hope Hall in Hope Road was built as a Sunday School by the Baptists in 1905. Apparently, the name of the road was changed from Muddy Lane at the same time. In 1931 they moved to new premises in Wonford Street.

Hope Hall in 2018

Hope Hall in 2018

The Burnthouse Lane estate has had a number of chapels in the past:

  • There was a Salvation Army chapel at the corner of Chestnut Avenue.
  • In 1939 the Exeter City Mission built a hall on land now occupied by Wynstream School.
  • There was a Brethren Gospel Hall on the Lidl site.
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Education In Heavitree

Heavitree Parochial School

With the exception of the small charity school that existed in the eighteenth century, there was no provision for education in Heavitree prior to 1840. In that year, the Heavitree Parochial School was built using public subscriptions raised at the instigation of the local vicar of the day Arthur Atherley; it stood in Fore Street on the site of what is now the Co-op store.

The school was constructed on the site of a church house, the land for which was granted in 1516 by John Kelly, Lord of the Manor, to the vicar and others, on condition that they built a parish house and commemorated the souls of him and his ancestors. That building was described in 1823 as being "in tolerable condition, inhabited by paupers having been placed there by the parish officers." However by 1835, due to the increasing population of Heavitree, the vicar reported that the parish had no workhouse and that "the Poor House, which is very dilapidated, is capable of containing only one tenth of the poor." The building was soon freed by the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 which centralised the paupers in the St Thomas Union Workhouse.

Although the 1840 structure was a fairly substantial stone building consisting of one large room with a stepped floor type of gallery, reports indicate that the lighting of the school was unsatisfactory as the sills of the windows were too high up and cast shadows over many of the desks. Ventilation was not good and the one stove was insufficient to warm the school. The playground was enclosed by high walls and was rather sunless.

The 1889 OS map showing the site of the original Heavitree Parochial School

The 1889 OS map showing the site of the original Heavitree Parochial School

In 1856, St Luke's College Committee of Management entered into an agreement with the vicar and the trustees, which gave the management of the school over to the training college. The school was then run by the Normal Master of the College and was to be a practising school for the students of St Luke's. This continued until 1872 when the college opened their own school. At the time the arrangement was made there were 80 pupils. However, some of the children travelled from country districts, which was a cause of poor attendance in wet weather during summer and autumn terms. Many left school at the age of 9 or 10.

A plot of land on South Lawn Terrace (then still known as Whipton Lane), was donated to St Michael's Church by Augustus Frederick George Warwick, Baron Poltimore, for the building of a new school. The school, a replacement for the Fore Street building, opened to boys on 29th September 1871. The girls, who had hitherto been educated in the old church house in Church Street, a site occupied by a former vicarage and where the Rifford Room now stands, followed a few years later in 1875. The school was known simply as Heavitree School.

South Lawn Terrace site in 1910

The side of the South Lawn Terrace site in 1910 (viewed from the adjacent footpath)

Internally, the building was divided in two, each half having a separate entrance. Similarly, the external plot was divided with separate play areas so, at school, boys and girls never met. A pair of semi-detached houses were provided for the Head teachers. These houses were used more recently to house Heavitree library and a dental surgery. The former was demolished along with the Victorian school buildings in around 2006 when the school was rebuilt as part of an Exeter-wide modernisation programme; the latter remains.

Meanwhile, the original Parochial School building in Fore Street continued as Heavitree Infant School. The house next door, called Lyndale, was an addition to the school in 1895 as the population increased. The school finally closed in 1937 when pupils were transferred to the restructured South Lawn Terrace site. The buildings remained until 1967 when they were demolished making way for the current retail premises. In the interim, the building housed Thorn's Garage, and prior to that it had been successively used as a chair store and a community centre.

Site of the original Heavitree Parochial School in Fore Street
Fore Street 1930s Fore Street 1958 Fore Street early 1970s
1930s1958Early 1970s

Returning to the South Lawn Terrace site ... Over the years the school has been restructured or renamed a number of times:

  • 1937: the two schools were modernised and re-modelled into a single building. Infants transferred from the Fore Street site. Renamed Heavitree Mixed and Infants School.
  • 1975: the school became Heavitree First + Middle School. Pupils over 12 years of age moved to high schools in the area.
  • 1997: renamed St Michael's Church of England First + Middle School, marking the school's close and continuing links with Heavitree's parish church over the centuries.
  • 2006: as part of a restructuring of all Exeter schools, the Victorian buildings were demolished and replaced with modern buildings further back from the road. The school was further renamed St Michael's Church of England Primary School.
  • 2013: the school became a self-governing academy and was renamed St Michael's Church of England Primary Academy.

Ladysmith Schools

The Origin Of The Name Ladysmith

In 1812 following the siege of the Spanish city of Badajos, a young infantry captain, Harry Smith, met and married the beautiful fourteen year-old Spanish noblewoman Juana Maria de los Dolores de Leon.

After a long military career he became Sir Harry Smith, and while he was Governor of Cape Town the town of Ladysmith was named in honour of his wife, Lady Smith.

Lt. General Sir Harry Smith, 1788-1860 Juana Maria de los Dolores de Leon
Lt. General Sir Harry Smith, 1788-1860Juana Maria de los Dolores de Leon

In the winter of 1899/1900 during the Boer War, the British garrison at Ladysmith was besieged for several months by a large Boer army. When it was finally relieved the British public celebrated for several days and many places, including Heavitree, named streets after the scene of a British triumph. A few months later Pretoria was the scene of another British victory.

An illustration of the Boer War, 1899-1902

An illustration of the Boer War, 1899-1902

School History

There are currently two schools in Pretoria Road, Heavitree - Ladysmith Infants and Ladysmith Junior. The original school catering for ages 5-12, built on the current Infants School site, was named Heavitree Council School. It opened in February 1908.

The school subsequently adopted the name of the road on which it stood apparently because local people had been calling it Ladysmith School for some years.

Opening ceremony of Heavitree Council Schools, 1908

Colonel Vaughan (chairman of the Heavitree Urban District Council) officiates
at the flag unfurling ceremony at Heavitree Council Schools, 1908

Due to the school leaving-age being raised in 1921 from 12 to 14, and the increase in Heavitree's population as further housing was built, it became clear that additional accommodation was required, and in 1936 the foundation stone of what is now the Junior School was laid.

This second building, on the opposite side of Pretoria road, was built to Secondary Modern standards, and was able to accommodate additional pupils when the school leaving-age was raised again in 1948 to 15.

In 1974, following further education reforms raising the leaving-age to 16, Ladysmith Secondary Modern School merged with St James School for girls, Beacon Heath, Exeter. The original Council School became Ladysmith First School and the 1936 building became the Middle School.

1936 Building Prior to Demolition 2017 Replacement of 1936 Building
1936 building2017 replacement

In 2006, as part of a reorganisation of the school structure in Exeter, the First School was renamed to an Infant School and the Middle School to a Junior School.

2017 saw the demolition of the 1936 buildings to be replaced by new buildings further to the north on the same site. The original 1908 buildings remain, supplemented by additional out-buildings added at various times.

Bramdean School

Bramdean School was opened in 1908 for two scholars in one house, by Mr A Clements Walters. He retired in 1935 after seeing the school expand, both numerically and physically. By now it occupied two joined detached houses (known as Richmond Lodge) of a group of four; the school field was located on the opposite side of the road.

The four houses, collectively known as Richmond Grove, were built in 1834 on land bought from the Baring estate by Edward Eardley, an Exeter Glass and china merchant, who was also involved in the building of properties at Heavitree Park. Richmond Grove lost its name in 1939 when the thoroughfare on which it stood was numbered and named Homefield Road.

The school saw further expansion over the years, with additional buildings added in the grounds.

In the 2010s, poor academic performance led to a decline in pupil numbers, and falling revenue. Closure of the school followed in April 2020. The site reverted to private dwellings during 2023, with only the school sports field remaining.

bramdean-school bramdean-school
Bramdean School buildings c.1920

The building of houses at Richmond Grove were soon followed by three others around the corner in Bicton Place. The middle of these three, named Belmont (Collingwood House from the 1880s) was built in 1835, and used as a private school when Miss Elizabeth Clarence moved there from St Leonards. The 1851 census shows Miss Clarence living there with her two spinster daughters (all school mistresses), twelve female pupils aged eight to seventeen, and three servants.

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Retailing In Heavitree


From the time that retail really took off in the nineteenth century, right through until the latter part of the twentieth century, small, family-run shops could be found on many residential streets, in addition to shops on the main high streets. Smaller shops were initially run from people's front-rooms, but later, purpose-built premises were incorporated into residential developments, many at street junctions or at the corner of a road where they could catch the trade from both streets; they were collectively known as corner shops. In some locations, shops would be grouped together to form a parade. By far the largest proportion of corner shops sold groceries or provisions, and often passed down through several generations of the same family.

With only family members and may be a couple of workers to run the shop, rather than several shifts that we see today, opening hours were limited: most shops would close for an hour at lunchtime, would always be closed on Sunday, often on a Saturday afternoon, and on another weekday afternoon (usually a Wednesday or Thursday); this gave a 5 day working week spread over 6 days for workers; the owner would have accounts and orders to process out the back or after closing. Such hours were more than sufficient: customers worked around the opening hours - shops were there to provide a basic but adequate service for local customers, rather than trying to compete with others shops by attracting customers from a wider area or by staying open over longer hours.

Shopping in the early days was done as a necessity rather than the pastime that it has become today. Visits to larger stores, only to be found in the city centre, would take place no more than a couple of times a month at the very most, as there was little disposable income for every-day folk. Clothing was usually home-made, and was frequently handed down to younger siblings and friends, or could be bought cheaply at jumble sales (car-boot sales, charity shops and door-to-door collections have only been around since the 1990s). Household items would have been very basic and sparse by today's standards.

Before the refrigerator was invented and was cheap enough for everyone to afford, cool storage cupboards known as larders, were used to store food. As most food had a very limited shelf-life, it was necessary to buy in small amounts and to visit the grocery shop on a daily basis or at least several times a week. Customers would be served at the counter - goods were weighed, sliced and parcelled-up by the proprietor.

World War II might be regarded as the hey-day of the local shop. Rationing was introduced due to severe shortages - everyone was allocated to their local corner shop, meaning that they could only buy goods at this particular shop; the shop on the other hand would have a guaranteed and loyal set of customers. Most items were in very short supply, giving rise to the phrases "Dig for Victory" and "Make Do and Mend". Luxuries, that had hitherto been shipped in, were not seen in Britain for years - locally grown substitutes would be used instead, for example, parsnips mixed with banana-flavoured essence were eaten in the absence of real bananas. Those fortunate enough to have a garden or allotment did their bit for the war-effort by growing their own fruit and vegetables, and sharing surplus with neighbours and friends; parks and open spaces were converted into allotments. Home-grown items were very seasonably-orientated, yields varying greatly from one year to another with the weather conditions. Most items were only available for a few weeks each year, but could be blanched or par-boiled then stored in brine for eating as required out of season. Rationing continued for several years after the war for certain items as the country gradually return to normality.

After the war, in practically all areas of life there was a desire to leave the old behind, to look forward and never turn back, to embrace new radical ideas. Retail was no different - by the late 1950s self-service stores (later known as supermarkets) began to open. The convenience of being able to buy everything in a single store, and more and more people being able to afford to own a fridge and a car, gave way to the idea of a 'weekly food shop'. Once loyal customers of the corner shop slowly began to defect; the decline of the local shop had begun. Many survived for a number of decades longer, until their owners retired and younger folk had no desire to take them on.

Today even the larger high-street stores struggle to survive as rents rise, tastes change more rapidly and become more diverse, and on-line shopping becomes more prevalent. However, there is some evidence of late to suggest that there is something of a revolt against larger stores in favour of smaller shops once again, as climate-change and excessive use of packaging, especially (single-use) plastic, has become an important issue for many people; in addition, some supermarkets tempt shoppers with offers that penalise suppliers rather than the shop bearing the cost. Home delivery by larger stores and independent tradesman, that was once common-place but largely died out as people chose to tackle the 'weekly food shop' by themselves, is taking off again as people juggle their time between work and leisure. Sadly, it's unlikely that the corner shop will ever be as ubiquitous as it was in days gone by.

Retailing In Fore Street

As the main street in Heavitree, Fore Street has for many years been lined with a good number of shops and establishments providing a range of services to residents and passers-by.

In common with the local corner shops, in the early years these outlets would have been small, family-run affairs that often saw little change for years. More recently, a number of the small businesses have been taken over by larger franchises seen in many towns and cities. The pace of change has also quickened meaning that shops especially often stay for a much shorter period of time.

Retailing in Fore Street
Retailing in Fore Street

[transcribed from a booklet published by the Society in 1999 & augmented]

It is interesting to note how the type of outlet has changed over the years. Modern Fore Street, although still relatively thriving, is not perhaps what it once was, now dominated by charity shops and cafés / restaurants rather than shops selling provisions or household items.

When Heavitree was a separate urban area from Exeter, Fore Street would have been the main shopping street; sadly now it is seen by many merely as a means to reach the main shopping area - Exeter city centre - with large numbers simply driving through.

Fore Street, Heavitree at various times throughout the twentieth century
Fore Street 1905 Fore Street 1908 Fore Street 1930s Fore Street 1973 Fore Street 1999

Banks Of Heavitree

Heavitree's first bank, based at 1 Isca Terrace (now 34 Fore Street), opened in July 1906 as The Union of London and Smiths Bank Limited. By 1919 this became The National Provincial and Union Bank of England, Ltd (Exeter Bank Branch). It relocated to next to Ellis' Place in 1927, by which time the name had been shortened to a more manageable National Provincial Bank. In the early 1970s, the bank enlarged to take over the adjacent property and was renamed again to the National Westminster Bank, latterly known simply as Natwest.

Heavitree's first bank, opened in July 1906

Heavitree's first bank, opened in July 1906

Lloyds Bank also had a branch in Heavitree, initially located next to The Ship Inn but latterly at 65 Fore Street.

In 2015 both banks closed within a few months of each other, due to falling customer numbers as people increasingly turned to on-line banking. This left Heavitree without a bank for the first time in nigh on 110 years.

Lost Corner Shops Of Heavitree

Heavitree holds the 'ghosts' of many lost corner shops. Some live on only in the memories of people who used to work or shop there; others still reveal clues that they were once shops, be it in the shape of a window, or an old advertisement on the side of the building; many have been converted into houses, flats, or offices.

We've gathered together some examples, and some people's memories of shops that have disappeared. This is not a comprehensive list and may include errors. Do you remember shopping in any of these shops, or know of others? Please let us know and we'll update the list.

StreetShopAdditional Information / Memories
Baker StreetGrocersNumber 1. Run by a Jewish lady and her husband.
Barrack RoadDykes grocersNumber 1.
Bonnington GroveGrocersOn the corner of Goldsmith Street. Called Mizens in the 50s and 60s. Believe it became H A & M A Jones grocery.
Chard RoadTellings grocersOn the left hand corner of Chard Road and Nicholas Avenue. 'J.P. Telling did some super magic tricks, and apparently had half a thumb missing. He also had a hobby of breeding exotic fish. As a kid I could only ever afford a basic goldfish from him, but they generally lived a long time.' Later known as Chard Road News.
Chard Road Post OfficeOn the right hand corner of Chard Road and Nicholas Road, opposite Tellings.
Chards sweet shopOn the corner of Whipton Lane. At various times run by Col. Himbury, Philps, Bissex. Also sold fireworks. At one time had a small library you could borrow books from. Now Quickprint.
Dawsons grocersTo the right of Chards. Existed until early 2000s, when Quickprint expanded from neighbouring premises.
East Wonford HillFitzroys grocersOn the right hand corner of Victor Lane. 'The little shop with the big stock'. Now a hairdressers.
ChemistOn the left hand corner of Victor Street. Now a reptile shop.
First AvenueButchersNumber 1
GrocersNumber 23. On the left hand corner of Second Avenue.
Hoker RoadDavids 
Homefield RoadHodgsons shoe repairsNumber 1 (Brenda Villas). 'He used to sit in the window of the shop with his assistant, next up to Thornes’ Ironmongers. When he spoke to us young boys he always had a mouthful of tacks that he took out one at a time to nail in the shoes. He also had a cigarette in his mouth at the same time.'
DairyNumber 5. Still there in late 1950s. Since replaced with more modern housing.
CastlesNumber 10. Became Fortes chip shop. Open until around 1970. One lady recalls 'Used to get six penny-worth of chips and gribbles after Guides.'
BakersShort-lived, but 'the lady made the best doughnuts.'
Ladysmith RoadChambers grocersNumber 1A. Near the corner of St Marks Avenue. Closed 2013.
Post Office & newsagentOn the left hand corner of Lower Avenue. Closed 2015.
Yandells sweet shopDiagonally opposite the post office, on the left hand corner of Hanover Road.
Marks & Co.Opposite the post office, on the right hand corner of Hanover Road. Electrical engineers. Closed 2012.
Livery DoleTop VideoOn the corner of Barrack Road and Heavitree Road. The shop closed in 1995.
Livery Dole NewsCharlie Rogers was newsagent in the 1960s. He always had a pipe or thick cigar in his mouth. Later, the shop was called Langmaids News. At some point ‘The Rainbow Café’ was next door. In the mid 70s there was a Players No.6 cigarette machine outside, selling twenty cigarettes for 20p.
Lower AvenueJoinery workplaceBehind Ladysmith Road post office. Closed at the same time as the Post Office in 2015.
Midway TerraceSutton dairy/grocer/greengrocerMr & Mrs Sutton took over the shop at 154 Heavitree Road in 1948. They built up the business, and had a milk round covering the full extent of Heavitree and into St Leonards. They retired in 1988.
Newcombe TerraceNewcombe DairySold ice-lollies in the 1970s. On right hand corner of Newcombe Street, where the entrance was. See also 'Memories Of Heavitree'.
ShopOn left hand corner of Newcombe Street, where the entrance was. Opposite the dairy.
Normandy RoadLeylands PaintsSold wallpaper and paint for some years. Originally a Drill Hall; the Home Guard used it during the war. Sold in the 1980s and converted into flats.
North StreetMoores pork butcherSold 'the best pies and pasties.'
HandymanOpposite The Windsor Castle PH. 'I remember taking mowers, scissors and other tools to be sharpened up the little alley opposite the Windsor Castle. The old chap always used to do magic with coins for my kids. Lovely man.'
Oakfield StreetBarbers' shopRun from the front room. The owner also ran a newspaper delivery service.
Park PlacePark Place StoresGrocer + Off License, run by Mrs Stuckey.
Park RoadStamps grocersNumber 25. On the left hand corner of Jubilee Road. 'They would deliver for you; I used to see people sat on a chair while they put the groceries in their bag for them. They did boxes of broken biscuits as well. Anything loose was wrapped in brown paper.'
Regent SquareSkinners grocersOpened by 1886, probably closed at the start of, or during, World War II; became the only double-fronted house in the Square. Located at the bottom of the left side of the square, and numbered 62, the numbering of the premises is somewhat out of kilter with the rest of the square; number 61 is at the top right of the Square. See also page 37 of pdf.
Roseland CrescentThe Candy ShopSouth Lawn Terrace end. Later moved to South Lawn Terrace and became Robinson's News. 'Rainbow sherbet in cone-shaped bag for 1d; fruit salads were 4 for 1d on way to school.'
ThackersAfter this it was the Roseland Dairy, then Roseland Stores, selling groceries / greengrocery. Closed 1982. 'I used to deliver customers' grocery orders on Saturday mornings for 3/6 + tips. (1950-1953).' ' My mum used to get her shopping there, it took all afternoon!'
Magnet StoresOpposite the other shops and turning into Roseland Avenue. Sold groceries, fruit and veg in the early 1960s.
Salters RoadA fish and chip shop + a grocersBuilt in the 1930s at the junction with Peryam Crescent. It was initially two shops owned by the Pike family. The Co-op took over and converted the chip shop into a butchers, which they later closed when the two shops merged, and counter-service was replaced by self-service.
Wickhams paper shopOpposite the grocers.
ChemistRun by Mr Coneybeare, who apparently used to make his own tinctures on the premises. Opposite the grocers.
Tom the butchersOpposite an orchard. 'I remember PC Gumm catching me scrumping in there and took me back home to Peryam Crescent. God I got a hiding!!!'
Dykes general storeNumber 51. On the corner of Lethbridge Road. Previously Tootell's shop. 'I was remembering Tootells shop, when we were kids we always called it Tootell's Hill. Used to go there a lot, can remember being fascinated when the lady used to make 'cones' from paper for our sweets, feeling rich if I had a penny-worth instead of a farthing or ha'penny.'
Handyman storeOpposite Dykes.
Sivell PlaceP GupaA chap who sold cheap car tyres.
Panel Beater Spray WorkshopNext door to P Gupa. Run by Steve Norman Plum.
South Lawn TerraceRobinson's NewsWas previously a video shop, Shauls bakery, hairdressers and gym.
Stuart RoadBirds grocersNumber 1. South Lawn Terrace end. Children used to return Corona bottles to top-up their pocket money.
RopersNumber 53. First on the right coming in from Hanover Road.
Warwick RoadCourtney and Son butchers 
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Recreation And Pastimes In Heavitree

Heavitree Archery Club

[We are very grateful to Stephen Bees for providing the information below]

A plot of land known as Sixteen Acres belonged to John Milford (1792-1888) of Coaver House.

A number of prestigious events were held on the Sixteen Acres field: in 1850, it was the venue for the Royal Agriculture Society of England exhibition; in 1858 and 1859 it was the venue for the extravagant and spectacular Grand National Archery fête; and in 1863 it was the venue for the Bath and West of England exhibition.

Until 1871, it was the home ground of both the Devon & Exeter Archery Club and the Heavitree Archery Club.

Further reading: The Great Archery Meeting (The Western Times; Exeter, Saturday 24th July 1858)

Tithe apportionment map

Tithe apportionment map showing the Sixteen Acres field

1888 map

1888 map showing the location of the Sixteen Acres field

1850 exhibition

Bird’s eye view of the show yard for the Royal Agricultural Society exhibition of July 1850
(sketch by Exeter artist Frederick Josiah Ellis (1812-1889))

1858 fete

Engraving of the Grand National Archery fête of 1858 held at Sixteen Acres field
(Courtesy of The London Illustrated News)

2023 map

2023 Google map showing the former location of the Sixteen Acres field

Heavitree United Football Club

Founded in 1885 as a church team, Heavitree United Football Club is one of the oldest amateur football clubs in Devon.

In the early years matches were played on a pitch where the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, Heavitree now stands. After World War II the club returned to a pitch in Heavitree Pleasure Ground, sometimes playing in front of a crowd of several thousand people. In the early 1950s the club moved to its present ground at Wingfield Park.

From 1976 to 1999 they played in the Western Football League, their highest level. These days they are part of the Devon and Exeter Football League.

Heavitree Parish Church football team, 1900

Heavitree Parish Church football team, 1900

Pinhoe Road Football Ground: The Grecians First Home

St Sidwell’s United (now Exeter City) played their first two seasons (1901/2 and 1902/3) at a ground generally referred to as Pinhoe Road, although some reports merely said Mount Pleasant. It was a sloping pitch roughly in the area in which Monks Road is now situated.

As this is the club’s first ground, we are keen to establish exactly where it was. Frustratingly, we have no maps showing the location, neither do we have any photographs of the pitch or even of a St Sidwell’s team. We know photographs were taken of local clubs at the time – so they must be out there somewhere!

Early newspaper clipping referring to Association Football

Early newspaper clipping referring to Association Football

It’s likely, although not conclusive, that St Sidwell’s played on the same sloping pitch at Pinhoe Road that was used by Exeter Wesleyan United and Exeter Athletic during the 1900/1 season. It may well have been on land owned by the Countess Dowager of Morley. There’s a Morley Road off Monks Road.

The only detailed information we have on the ground comes from Sid Thomas when reminiscing in the Football Express in 1939. Referring to St Sidwell’s United, he wrote:
‘This little team operated at first in a field on which Monks Road has since been built. In those days there were very few houses on that side of Mount Pleasant, and the whole of the land down to the bottom of Pinhoe Road was entirely unbuilt upon. I remember well that we tried to take a gate in those days and had a sentry-box placed at the entrance to the ground. Result of the first game was that something like 9d was collected. You will see that “gates” were a sore point even in those days, but I saw the time arrive when amateur soccer drew thousands to its matches.’

A map of the likely area of Pinhoe Road Football Ground the early 1900s

A map of the likely area of Pinhoe Road Football Ground the early 1900s

Even so, there were signs that association football was growing in popularity. For St Sidwell’s second league game of their first season at home to St David’s, the Evening Post reported that it ‘drew a good gate’. Their next home match against St John’s Athletic was in front of a ‘fair number of spectators’.

It’s also from these newspaper reports that we can glean more about the ground. The most prominent feature was the slope. There were regular mentions, for example, about sides having to ‘play up the hill’. It seems most likely that the slope ran west to east, down towards the Polsloe Bridge area.

This would tie in with the issue of the sun – a problem to this day at St James’ Park which is on a similar axis to the Pinhoe Road ground. Indeed, when St Sidwell’s played the second half up the slope in their very first match against Dawlish, according to one report: ‘The home team had to face the sun but continued to hold their own’. And hold their own they did for two seasons before the move to St James’ Park.

Morley Road, off Monks Road

Morley Road, off Monks Road

Why are Exeter City known as ‘the Grecians’? In the past, people who lived in St Sidwells area used to refer to themselves as Grecians, St Sidwells being the first place outside the Roman city walls. This tradition dates back to the 1600s. When people used to write to the Express and Echo, they might sign it ‘from a Grecian’. Charles Dickens even mentioned the Grecians of St Sidwells!

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Heavitree Bridge

The Northbrook rises in springs on Stoke Hill. One tributary runs through Mincinglake Valley Park, Polsloe and Hamlin Lane Playing Field, another through Whipton; the two tributaries converge in Vaughan Road. After crossing the Honiton Road, the Northbrook continues its way through Wonford and Ludwell Valley Park to join the River Exe at Northbrook Park and the historic Countess Wear Mill. Its upper reaches are sometimes known as Mincinglake Brook or Whipton Brook; locals know it as The Panny. The origin of this name is much disputed but some say it comes from Indian soldiers billeted at Wyvern Barracks in the First World War, as the Hindi word for water is 'paani'. That said, the Romany word for water is also 'pani'.

plan map map
Maps of the Heavitree Bridge area

In the nineteenth century and earlier, the Northbrook would have been clean and full of fish. Although it still hosts a good deal of wildlife, it is classified as being in a "poor" state by the Environment Agency. The reason for its condition is unknown, but several factors must surely have a part to play: the Mincinglake Valley was utilised as an official tip for a some years; a great deal of residential development has taken place around the brook; concrete banking has been built in places; and the brook is culverted for considerable stretches in two places - Beacon Heath to Polsloe Bridge, and Vaughan Road to Woodwater Lane.

east-wonford east-wonford
1802 painting of the village of East Wonford showing Heavitree Bridge (Courtesy: Stephen Bees)

Until the 1930s, the Honiton Road crossed the Northbrook at Heavitree Bridge, roughly where Sweetbrier Lane and Rifford Road now meet the Honiton Road. The bridge would have been narrow, similar to those seen today at Stoke Canon and Bickleigh. As traffic volumes rose during the 1920s, it became increasingly obvious something had to be done to improve the crossing.

heavitree-bridge heavitree-bridge heavitree-bridge heavitree-bridge
Images of Heavitree Bridge

In 1932, the bridge was removed and the watercourse covered, as part of the widening of the Honiton Road as far as Gallows Corner. Flooding was a regular occurrence around the bridge. Even today after a heavy burst of rain, manhole covers lift as the culvert fails to cope with the volume of water.

road-widening heavitree-bridge cottages
Widening of the Honiton Road in 1932Flooding outside cottages at Heavitree BridgeCottages near Heavitree Bridge

There used to be quite a good community in this area – Birchy Barton Farm, the quarry close by, cottages, and even a pub, The Bridge Inn, until the landlord committed suicide in 1866. A few of the cottages near to the site of the bridge remain, but all traces of the bridge itself have gone. Despite this, many still refer to the area as Heavitree Bridge.

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Wyvern Barracks

The opening of the barracks in 1804 was part of the government’s reluctant response to widespread criticism of the poor standard of soldiers’ accommodation. Even these barracks lacked accommodation for married soldiers – families being separated from other soldiers by a blanket hanging across the room.

The barracks were originally simply called Artillery Barracks to distinguish them from the Cavalry Barracks (Higher Barracks). In 1861 they were renamed Topsham Barracks, and in 1964 the present name was adopted. The wyvern is the traditional dragon of Wessex.

The front of Topsham Barracks

The front of Topsham Barracks

From 1804 to 1815 the barracks housed a number of different Royal Artillery companies. From 1816 to 1867 they were occupied by various cavalry regiments. Infantry units occupied the barracks from 1867 to 1871, and then Artillery regiments returned until it became a training depot in 1944.

The barracks had also been the depot of the Devonshire Regiment since before the First World War. They ceased being a base for active regiments in 1974.

The Royal Artillery, Topsham Barracks

The Royal Artillery, Topsham Barracks

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The Inter-War Years: Homes For Heroes

Information and images in this article are courtesy of Dr Julia Neville, an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Exeter with an interest in twentieth century social change.
Dr Neville is Project Manager for "Devon in the 1920s", a research collaboration between the Devon History Society, the Devon Family History Society, and the South-West Heritage Trust.


During the course of World War I, the Government started to plan what would happen when it was over. Work began as early as 1916, with a primary focus on the logistics of demobilisation and the munitions industry.

The Ministry of Reconstruction was formed, led by Christopher Addison, and was charged with overseeing the task of rebuilding 'the national life on a better and more durable foundation.’ It produced a series of booklets called “The Aims of Reconstruction”.

Booklet from the series “The Aims of Reconstruction”

Booklet from the series “The Aims of Reconstruction”

The Ministry was of the mind that the country would pick up broken threads and return to the social and industrial situation that existed at the outbreak of war.

The populace thought differently. They doubted the pre-war situation was worthy of being reconstructed. The immensity of the sacrifice of World War I created a demand for a better way of life.

There was much to be ashamed of when looking back at the conditions of 1914, and now, at the end of the war, there was a desire to create a better world, to do justice to the living, and in reverence to the dead.

The problem of housing loomed large. Providing a satisfactory solution would be an enormous task for several reasons:

  1. There was a shortage of 300,000-400,000 houses in England and Wales
  2. There were lots of defective and unsanitary houses
  3. Many places, including Heavitree, had crowded and narrow slum areas

Each of these problems had been exacerbated by the war, and were both urban and rural. There had been no effort to build new houses or repair buildings. Building materials were consistently diverted toward the war-effort.

The Ministry tasked each local authority with calculation of the number of houses needing to be built in their area. There was an agreement in principle by the Cabinet to fund this.

Local authorities were seen as the primary agents in getting this done (a new role for councils); it was also a role for public utility services and private enterprises: everyone would work together to create a better country.

From Promise To Reality

Lloyd George

Lloyd George

There was a great need for housing, reinforced by a sense of debt owed to heroes. This commitment to public expenditure had to survive a general election. Now, post war, there was a new electorate which included men who had hitherto been unable to vote, and also many women.

Lloyd George was elected with an overwhelming victory. Now was the time to turn ideas into reality. The task was to make Britain a fit country for heroes to live in, and there was no time to lose.

Within three months, local authorities were to assess the needs of their inhabitants, and decide how to meet them. The Government was to subsidise this, and to make provision where needed.

Exeter’s Post-War Housing Scheme Statistics

Exeter’s local authority had an active committee, and immediately appointed personnel to plan for the future. Using data from the 1911 census, their initial estimate was that they needed to build 300 houses in three years.

The housing commissioner said that this was insufficient. The number was revised to 1000 houses, and by October 1919 the authority was given a provisional agreement. The number of houses built would never reach this figure as the subsidy was later reduced.

Municipal Year Book, 1931

Municipal Year Book, 1931

Parlour / non-parlour was a big topic of the time. This referred to whether you had a second room apart from the kitchen. Those against thought that it a waste, as the second room would be kept for best; those in favour felt it would be of great benefit for families with children.

The Opportunities Of Annexation

Exeter City Council had recently swallowed up Heavitree (1913), and so Heavitree was going to absorb many of the new schemes.

Map showing Heavitree Parish boundary

Map showing Heavitree Parish boundary

Heavitree was already popular for its location. It was easy to commute into Exeter. Adverts in local papers constantly referred to houses being minutes from the nearest tram stop, whilst being amidst rural surroundings.

Stafford Terrace, Fore Street, Heavitree

Stafford Terrace, Fore Street, Heavitree

The New Estates:

Due to the current level of overcrowding, any new housing had to be built on green-field sites; Polsloe Bridge, Buddle Lane, and Burnthouse Lane, were chosen. Each was a good distance from the City centre, accordingly many complained of the sense of isolation. The areas were nicknamed Shanghai, Chinatown, and Siberia, respectively.

Modern map of Exeter showing the location of proposed housing estates relative to the City centre

Modern map of Exeter showing the location of proposed housing estates relative to the City centre

Polsloe Bridge Estate

30 acres of land was purchased. Half of this would accommodate 150 homes, the other half was to be left as open space. The Ministry was concerned about standards, and the ratio of open space to development was important. The 1919 manual talked of standards, layouts, etc.

The Tudor Walters Report said that new houses should be cottages of two storeys, in groups of four to six, with medium to low pitched roofs, little exterior decoration and in cul-de-sacs. They wanted to avoid projections at the rear, which might impede sunlight and access.

Housing in Beacon Avenue

Housing in Beacon Avenue

The houses were to have three bedrooms, a bathroom (there was debate as to whether this should be up or downstairs), a cold-store, larder, kitchen / living room, and parlour (which shouldn’t be the sunniest room).

The system gave priority to ex-servicemen, disabled servicemen and widows with children.

The Money Runs Out

Departmental Expenditure Plans (£m)

Departmental Expenditure Plans (£m)

Before long, the country was in the grip of a recession, and Government expenditure increased. The national debt was £359.8 million. The Government had no choice but to agree on austerity measures. Everything was cut, including the housing programme. The pace changed; there were no longer generous subsidies from the Government, so councils could do only what they could afford.

This lasted until 1923, when there was a change of Government and Neville Chamberlain took over as Minster of Health. He wasn’t averse to the idea of municipalities taking on responsibilities. Any builder or organisation could put in a bid and get a grant to build houses. The Housing Act of 1924 supported this even further.

Clearing The Slum Areas

West Quarter slum clearance, Stepcote Hill

West Quarter slum clearance, Stepcote Hill

Exeter City Council had to designate slum areas. They had already started demolishing Paul Street, but the West Quarter had to be cleared and the occupants moved out.

Rents proved too expensive, however. Residents had been paying 3/6 per week in the West Quarter, but the starting rent for a non-parlour newly-built house was 6/1 a week. For most, finding this extra money was impossible. Houses continued to be condemned, but their occupants had nowhere to go.

Dr J S Steele-Perkins, Chair of the Public Health Committee

Dr J S Steele-Perkins, Chair of the Public Health Committee

The situation came to a head in 1924, when Dr J S Steele Perkins, chair of the Public Health Committee, questioned how the Council could contemplate spending extra money on buildings for themselves when there were such slums in the West Quarter.

This did advance things a little, but didn’t resolve the rents problem.

The First Exeter Church Army Houses, May 1927

An offshoot of the main Church Army organisation built houses in Rutherford Street, Wonford. The group could build more cheaply than the Council as they were subject to fewer regulations. The group particularly wanted to build housing for larger families who earned less than £3 a week. By the end of the 1920s they had built 18 such houses: 14 in Rutherford Street, and 4 in the West Quarter.

Ceremonial unveiling of Church Army housing

Ceremonial unveiling of Church Army housing

Church Army houses in Rutherford Street

Church Army houses in Rutherford Street

Another Crusader – Dr Charles Newton Lovely

Dr Charles Newton Lovely

Dr Charles Newton Lovely

Dr Lovely was a GP appalled at the conditions of the West Quarter. He really wanted to tackle the problem quickly, and was more entrepreneurial than Church Army Housing. As a very dynamic person, he would target groups as such Mothers’ Unions, or go door to door. He founded the Exeter Workmans’ Dwellings Company Limited (the fore-runner of today's Cornerstone Housing).

The EWD built the Polsloe Bridge Estate. It was slightly less ‘frilly’ – the houses were very plain (the ones in the picture had been upgraded). By the end of 1929 they had provided 79 houses. We can see the difference that his dynamism made. This attracted national congratulation, and Exeter was considered to be leading in the field of voluntary societies.

Upgraded housing in Beacon Avenue

Upgraded housing in Beacon Avenue

From Renting To Owning

During the 20th century, house ownership increased significantly. In 1918, 77% of houses were rented. By 1939 this had fallen to 38%. This vast rise in private ownership was facilitated by more ready availability of money. In 1923, private builders could apply for a grant from the Government. Houses such as Dr Neville’s grandparents’ house in First Avenue were built.

Housing in First Avenue, Heavitree

Housing in First Avenue, Heavitree

The houses had new-fangled features like light switches, and cost-reducing modifications like a lower ceiling height and a combined bathroom and lavatory. Private builders didn’t need to adhere to Government regulation. The house cost £600 in 1927.

Birchy Barton Estate

Land at Birchy Barton prior to sale by Lord Poltimore

Land at Birchy Barton prior to sale by Lord Poltimore

At this time there were many sales of landed estates.

In this instance, Lord Poltimore sold land in 14 lots:

  • Mr G Lee bought the farmhouse
  • The Wonford Allotment Holders Association bought Barn Close
  • Mr C Warren of Exeter bought the Garden Plot, Footsfield Plot and the Gallows Field
  • Mr S Chard of Heavitree purchased Footsfield and Lower North Park
  • Mr J W Seward of Exeter bought Higher North Park
  • Messrs Drake, Harris, Vincent, and Ardern, secured the arable land
Housing in Lower Hill Barton Road, Birchy Barton

Housing in Lower Hill Barton Road, Birchy Barton

Mr Warren, a City councillor and estate agent, proposed creation of a garden suburb at Birchy Barton. He envisaged 150 semi-detached residences, with room for tennis courts and vegetable gardens.

Burnthouse Lane Estate

The West Quarter was slowly being cleared. Preston Street School classes were becoming progressively smaller as increasing numbers of people moved to Burnthouse Lane. The busiest phase of moving was in the 1930s. The Government had changed its policy to subsidise rents for West Quarter people.

Plan of the Burnthouse Lane estate

Plan of the Burnthouse Lane estate

Burnthouse Lane had been a small, country lane, but in 1927 the City made a compulsory purchase of 38 acres. It was resolved to be Exeter’s third large development of social housing, and would be Exeter’s very own garden-city with wide roads, churches, trees, and gardens. City architect John Bennett chose a simple, classic style for the houses.

The Dolphin Inn, Burnthouse Lane, in 1935

The Dolphin Inn, Burnthouse Lane, in 1935

All did not go smoothly at first, as much of the infrastructure was unfinished. People held a protest meeting, demanding a reduction in rent of at least 2s a week, with free conveyance to school for children, alterations and additions to the bus service, fences, roads and footpaths, lamps fixed to lamp posts, and proper dustbins supplied.

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Heavitree In The Second World War

Air Raids On Heavitree

Exeter didn't suffer in World War II to the same degree as some of the larger cities such as London, Coventry and Liverpool, the exception being on the night of the 3rd / 4th May 1942.

Map showing location of bombs dropped in the Heavitree area during the Second World War

Map showing location of bombs dropped in the Heavitree area
during the Second World War

The first bomb to cause any damage in Heavitree crashed through the roof of 48 Normandy Road on 6th September 1940. Although it failed to explode, it caused the front of the house to collapse into the street. Fortunately no one was killed.

Bomb damage at 48 Normandy Road on 6th September 1940

Bomb damage at 48 Normandy Road on 6th September 1940
(image courtesy of Esmé Kershaw)

There were further air-raids in Exeter during 1940 and 1941, but none as sustained or severe as that on just three nights in April + May 1942. Over this period, Hitler's bombers tried their best to destroy 'The Jewel of the West' as part of The Baedeker Raids, a series of retaliatory raids on historic English cities following allied bombing of the German city of Lübeck in March 1942.

More than 250 people, including 50 Heavitree residents, lost their lives during these raids. Many hundreds more were injured or traumatised, and there was extensive damage to buildings. In Heavitree, properties between the Catholic and Congregational Churches were destroyed, as were 1-5 Sivell Place, and others where the Tesco garage now stands.

Personal Account Of The Reprisal Baedeker Blitz On Exeter, 3rd-4th May 1942, By Thomas Oliver, Teenage Resident Of 3 Baring Place

I was awoken at 02:15 to the sound of sirens. I half dressed and went straight to the playroom which had been strengthened and sandbagged and which we used as our shelter. When we had been in there two minutes we heard 'plane engines. The 'planes sounded as though they were heavily laden and as we later discovered, they were. They soon began to drop their eggs. The first explosions were colossal and I believe that they were in Topsham Road. These explosions were not as bad as some of the other ones we heard later. After about two minutes of continuous high explosives exploding we were conscious of a swishing sound. Immediately the word incendiaries came to our lips. I at once followed daddy out into the hall. Here we were aware of a terrible pungent smell and acrid smoke. Out by the front door Pam had discovered an incendiary underneath the floorboards. Kathleen put paid to this bomb by pouring water down the hole. Meanwhile daddy had been up to the top of the house and reported an incendiary burning in the small attic. I rushed up and started pumping the stirrup pump furiously. Daddy turned the fire extinguisher upside-down to prevent the fire from spreading. Pam, Kathleen and Mrs Cobb brought up water reinforcements. Whilst changing the pump from bucket to bucket I went and put my foot in a bucket of water feeling very silly at doing such a daft thing at that awkward moment. Mrs Cobb went next door to fetch the A.T.S. just in case the fire spread. They came up the stairs all tin-helmeted, laughing and joking as though nothing was happening; luckily they were not needed. The hun was machine-gunning and bombing the whole time. We were not sorry to leave the attic when the bomb was extinguished. The bomb nose could just be seen above my papered ceiling in my bedroom. In the strong-room again we just sat listening to the planes diving over the city and then to the bombs exploding. The scream of the bombs could be heard for quite a time, then there was a short pause and then the thunderous explosion. The nearer bombs were accompanied by the noise of smashing glass or of a ceiling collapsing and the blast of air rushing past outside. Every now and then the house seemed to jump an inch out of the ground. The whole house vibrated and shook. The damage done to the house was comparatively slight. Three ceilings down, five panes of glass smashed, two roofs damaged. After about one and a half hours of continuous bombing the all-clear went. We were never more pleased and thankful to hear an all-clear.

Directly the all-clear went we all rushed down to the gate to behold the spectacle of Mr Reeks' house well on fire. We had seen it before through the smashed glass of our front door. Nothing much could be done as the fire had got too good a hold. However we tried to do the best we could. We got water from the bathroom until the water supply ran out. Anybody and everybody came into the house treading over the hall ceiling to get water. Whilst some people were fighting the fire, others helped the Whitesides to evacuate every bit of furniture out of their house in case it caught fire. A fire had also started at the back of the house in Heavitree Road. Daddy and I therefore used our stirrup pump again to spray the side of the house with water in case some sparks might catch fire to some dry woodwork. Uncle Ted and cousin Dorothy came in while we were doing this. They came over because they had heard our area had been rather badly blitzed.

The city was a terrific sight from the attic window. Fires in every part. There were tremendous flames leaping up from the centre of the city. Probably this was the High Street, Bedford Circus and Southernhay.

At about six o'clock in the morning Pam and I set to to get the furniture back into the Whitesides house as by then the Reeks fire had practically died down although it was actually smouldering for four days. Mrs Leech came over with John and Ann Whiteside for all meals during he day as Mrs Whiteside was too busy getting her house ship-shape.

After breakfast I met Yates staring at the Reeks' ruins. In that house were all the wedding presents of the two daughters. Yates was just off to St Leonards Road to see Mr Bagnall so I decided to go with him as I wanted to go to St Davids Station. We went by way of Lyndhurst Road, where there was an unexploded bomb, and Wonford Road. At the bottom of Wonford Road there was a crater which practically filled the road. There was not really much of Wonford Road left. Passed Mr Gilbert Stephen's house which was still smouldering, then into St Leonards Road. This had also had a bad knocking about. Mr Bagnalls' house was absolutely gutted as also was Mr Liveseys. Saw Mr Bagnall in his A.R.P. uniform in a house nearby and with him he had all his possessions he had in the world. A clock, some rugs and a few other odds and ends. I left Yates here and went on to the end of the road. Here there was a mass of hoses and fire pumps. The whole of Magdalen Street was practically wiped out by fire. Went up past the Maynard School which looked extremely sorry for itself and into Barnfield Hill. The nice big houses opposite the Bradbeers were still on fire but luckily only three were burnt out. I then turned up into Southernhay East - this was appalling; the Southernhay Congregational Church gutted but the spire standing alright. From Dixs Field up to the High Street was completely gone on one side. On the road running parallel to this there was not a single house out of about 30 four storied houses that had escaped being gutted. So I came into the High Street, or what was once High Street; to get into it I had to clamber over bricks and smouldering debris. As yet there had been no proper path made. Soldiers were busy at the corner doing their best to clean up the place. There was a terrible sickly smell of burning all round the place, primarily from Fearis who were burnt out except for the ground floor. To look down High Street was a terrible sight. Hoses playing onto buildings still a mass of flames. There was terrible congestion in London Inn Square: canteens, fire engines from all over the west country. The corner of Longbrook Street and Sidwell Street was completely gone. The Plaza was burnt out. The Savoy was intact except it had its bar smashed up. I went along New North Road past the theatre. Going along the embankment by the Central station there was a terrible smell. Thousands of tins of something had caught fire and were still smouldering. Went on down St Davids Hill. Large branches still in the road. At the station enquired about P.L.A. Also had to go to the canteen with a message from mummy.

Took a taxi into town but could only get as far as North Street. Saw Mr Commis on duty in Queen Street. He told me that his shop was completely burnt out. To get home had to go up Longbrook Street as they found an unexploded bomb in New North Road. I watched some railway A.R.E. filling in a large crater plumb on the railway lines for a little while. Came through the terrible London Inn Square again. Walked home with Dyson. After dinner I had a short rest and then cycled out to Pinhoe to say good-bye to grandpa and also to tell him we were alright. Heavitree was still on fire in parts. On my way home from Pinhoe I came up Pinhoe Road. Saw a huge crater right in the road. It was the whole width of the road and the two pavements. After supper went over to see when Trafford was coming back. I went to bed very early that night and got a lot of extra sleep. Unexploded bombs going off intermittently throughout the night.

During Tuesday I had to cycle over to the Emergency Advice Centre. Here there was everything anyone could possibly want to know. I went there because I had to get some supplementary ration cards. Everything was in splendid working order there. During the day I saw a lot more horrors. Summerland Street area was the worst I think. Only two houses and a pub that could be lived in out of about two hundred in the street. Saw Mr Cocks, Dr Gates houses burnt out. Saw the Maynard School buildings, some time before they will be able to return to school.

The most tragic disaster in the way of damage was the direct hit on St. James' Chapel in the Cathedral. The whole building suffered a severe shock but luckily it was alright and the damage was reparable. The organ was badly knocked around.

Summing up: the damage was terrible although it might have been worse. Above Lyons there is nothing left of High Street except two banks which had to be rebuilt. Sidwell Street from old including the Church up to Summerland Street all gone. Many fires in Blackboy Road. Of course stray bombs all over the place. A bomb in Polsloe Road killed Mrs Down and her son. The Jenner house was badly knocked about by a blast from a bomb in the pit opposite. The Rowes in Matford Avenue had a bomb in their garden. The Miss Brocks were buried under debris caused by a land mine in their garden.

Courtesy: Christopher Rudd
resident of 159 Magdalen Road, Exeter (formerly 3 Baring Place) in 2023

Victory In Europe Day

When Germany signed an unconditional surrender to allied forces on 7th May 1945, it brought to an end nigh on six years of war in Europe. The following day was declared a national holiday to mark Victory in Europe Day (VE Day); the next day (9th May) was also a national holiday.

Jean Smith of Regent Square recalls:

"As it became certain that the war was coming to an end, the women got together to organise street parties. My mother did a raffle every Saturday morning with items being donated from local businesses that she canvassed, the money going towards food, etc. I was trusted to go around selling from a book of cloakroom tickets. I was most upset the time my number came up and I wasn't allowed to have the prize. I asked why I was allowed to buy a ticket with my pocket money but not take the prize; I must have been about nine. As for the VE and VJ parties, trestle tables were laid out along the bottom; we would have had rolls, sandwiches, fairy cakes and lots of lemonade. By the time of the latter, some of the serving men had arrived back. Bill Allen, the milkman, had served in the Royal Navy. Harold Miller, who got married to Winnie from number 7 at the start of the war, had been in the Signals and served in Syria for a lot of the time. His daughter Rita remembers him telling her bedtime stories of what he experienced in the war."

Everyone listened intently as King George VI congratulated the troops for carrying out their duties with "valour and distinction," adding "How unbounded is our admiration for the courage and determination which, under wise leadership, have brought them to their goal of complete and crushing victory."

Prime Minister Winston Churchill announced:
"We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing; but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead. Japan with all her treachery and greed, remains unsubdued. We must now devote all our strength and resources to the completion of our task, both at home and abroad."

Many had lost loved ones or seen them suffer life-changing injuries on the battlefield. Yet now that victory had been declared, there was a feeling of tremendous relief following such a lengthy period of suffering and hardship. In spite of food shortages and rationing, the whole community rallied round, and street parties were held just about everywhere, with celebrations widely continuing well into the night.

Street parties celebrating the end of World War II
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The war in Asia and the Pacific regions was to continue for another three months, and see atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, before Japan finally surrendered on 14th August 1945. Again the following day was declared a national holiday in the form of Victory in Japan Day (VJ Day), heralding further cause for celebration.

A Happy Ending For One Young Couple

In 1939, at the start of the war, Joseph Terry lived with his parents in Wardrew Road, St Thomas.

He joined the Royal Signals, and after spending time in Egypt due to a political rather than a military decision, he was one of the thousands of young men sent to aid Greece against the Germans. In 1941 he was captured in a boat off the island of Kitheria. He said that he was very grateful to the Greek people who hid him during the day from the Germans and smuggled him at night in small boats from island to island.


This photo was taken in Exeter High Street. The young soldier is Joseph Terry. We believe the man with whom he is shaking hands to be the mayor. The couple are his parents.

He was transported to Austria where he was held in Stalag 18a. For six months Mr and Mrs Terry didn’t know what had happened to their only child; eventually they received a letter from the Red Cross to inform them of Joe’s fate. Meanwhile in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, the girls of the local grammar school had been asked to write letters to troops being held as POW. A letter written by one young student, Marjorie Phillips, found its way to Joe. They continued to write to each other and even when Joe was liberated and returned home to Exeter, they continued to correspond. In 1947 Marjorie and Joe married and spent their life together living in Heavitree. Unfortunately, Joe died in 2015, but Marjorie continues to live in Kingsway, Heavitree.

Children Not Forgotten

Members of the community that were too young to play an active role in the war were not forgotten for the position they held. Every school-child in the country received this letter of commendation in 1946 from King George VI.


A letter to school-children from King George VI

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Heavitree Social Centre

Built in the 1820s in the grounds of Heavitree Park, and readily visible from East Wonford Hill, is an attractive Grade II listed property, originally known as Park Villa then from the turn of the century as The Knoll.

Soon after World War II ended and servicemen were returning home, the Government was keen on neighbourhoods starting social centres for which it would give grants.

As a result of VE and VJ tea parties held in the South Lawn Terrace area, the organisers, having ended up with a small profit, formed the 'Heavitree Social Committee' and started raising money to buy a centre. It ran weekly events - whist drives, barn dances and a youth club - in the old Parochial School hall where the Co-op now stands.

Park Villa / The Knoll / Wingfield Park that now houses Heavitree Social Club in 2018

Park Villa / The Knoll / Wingfield Park that now houses Heavitree Social Club in 2018

The Knoll came on the market and Mrs Ouseley of South Lawn Terrace and Hilda Mitchelmore visited the current owners, Misses Wingfield. They agreed to sell the property to the Committee on the understanding that their name was kept alive in Heavitree. This was duly agreed, and thus the Knoll became known as Wingfield Park, and home to Heavitree Social Centre.

Applications were made for Government grants and a bank loan, and a constitution was drawn up. Alderman C. Hill (Hill, Palmer and Edwards) became president, chairman was Councillor B Howe (Devon Meat), and Mr Partridge (newsagent) served as treasurer. To help pay off the loan, the Committee organised the annual Heavitree Carnival which ran until the 1980s.

In the early 1950s Heavitree United AFC adopted Wingfield Park as their new home. They remain there today, as does the Social Centre although in 2016 it was re-branded Heavitree Social Club.

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Famous Heavitree Residents

Richard Hooker

Richard Hooker was born in Heavitree in the Spring of 1554. Along with Sir Walter Raleigh, he is often referred to as being one of the two most influential men to have been born in Devon.

Although he is the lesser known of the two, he was instrumental in the development of Anglicanism, in ensuring that it took a middle road between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. His defence of every aspect of Anglican worship was acknowledged by Elizabeth I.

A statue of Richard can still be seen in the grounds of Exeter Cathedral, and a special prayer is said each year on the anniversary of his death.

The statue of Richard Hooker on Cathedral Green, Exeter in 2013

The statue of Richard Hooker on Cathedral Green, Exeter in 2013

John Sampson

John Sampson was born at South Tawton in 1836, but lived at Spreyton near Bow as a child. On leaving education, Sampson initially worked for the Great Western Railway at Churston, South Devon, before moving to Exeter and setting up in business. Over time he became an eminent businessman owning a tin mine, a brewery + The Plymouth & Stonehouse Gas Company.

Sampson built a kiln on Polsloe Road on land attached to the City Workhouse, before transferring his business in around 1870 to a recently purchased piece of land between Polsloe Road and Ladysmith Road. Part of this land was used for his brickworks, which became his chief source of income at a time when much house building was taking place in the area. He employed a large work-force of men and boys, and amassed a considerable fortune.

Sampson's brickworks
Map of Sampson's Brickworks, 1889 Aerial view of Sampson's Brickworks, 2016

Sampson acquired a good deal of property - including that in Heavitree, Wonford, Fore Street and St Thomas - reportedly becoming one of the richest men in Exeter area at the time. In 1897, he was listed as: 'John Sampson: brick & tile manufacturer, proprietor of patent vans for removing furniture, agent for London cement, glazed pipes & the Dorset Lime Company’.

Sampson lived in the Polsloe Road area of Heavitree. In 1871, he lived at ‘Floriston Villas’, South Avenue, but later moved to in a fourteen room villa named 'Melrose House', Polsloe Road, on the corner of the lane leading to his brickworks. This lane became known as Sampson’s Lane, a name which it retains to this day; it now acts as a thoroughfare from Polsloe Road to Pretoria Road. To the north of 'Melrose House' was a plot of pasture land (used for housing in the 1960s) and four fourteen room villas that Sampson sold to Mr Price, Mrs Morgan, Mr Quick and a Mr Hussan respectively.

Sampson's fourteen room villa, 'Melrose House' (left), at the entrance to Sampson's Lane, in 2016

Sampson's fourteen room villa, 'Melrose House' (left),
at the entrance to Sampson's Lane, in 2016

Sampson married twice. His first wife, Jane, died in 1893. He had 2 children by her – both sons. They died at an early age after reaching manhood. Understandably, their death was a terrible blow to Sampson. He married again in 1906; his second wife out-lived him.

Despite his wealth, Sampson had an affinity for poorer folk and filled many public offices:

  • He was on the St Thomas Board of Guardians and overseer to the poor.
  • A Heavitree parishioner from 1864, he displayed an active interest in Church matters.
  • He was a church-warden of Heavitree Parish Church between 1881 and 1904.
  • He was, for many years, a member of Heavitree Parish Council.
  • He was member of the Heavitree Urban District Council, and as an ardent Conservative was a prominent figure at Conservative Meetings, exhibiting a keen interest in the City contest
    (Exeter’s proposal for Heavitree subsummation – a proposition Heavitree residents resisted for many years).
  • He was a generous supporter of the West of England Institution for the Deaf & Dumb,
    being on the House Committee at the time of his death.
  • A regular follower of the East Devon Hounds.
  • A prominent Freemason.
Maps showing Manor Cottages off Fore StreetFrontage
Map showing Manor Cottages early 1950s Map showing Manor Cottages early 1960s Map showing no Manor Cottages early 1970s 120 Fore Street in 2016
Early 1950sEarly 1960sEarly 1970s2016

In his life-time, Sampson gave a number gifts to Heavitree:

  • A piece of ground enabling a road to be built connecting Ladysmith Road to Goldsmith Street, enabling a through-route between old and new Heavitree.
  • Land for the building of Heavitree Council School in Ladysmith Road.
  • Four houses named ‘Manor Cottages’, to be used as almshouses in Heavitree.
    [Maps show these were to the rear of the present-day 120 / 120a Fore Street. The almshouses were demolished in the 1960s, along with the original 120 Fore Street (42 Fore Street prior to re-numbering in the mid to late 1950s)].
    [The 1950s and 1960s was a period of much change in Fore Street, e.g. demolition of Ellis’ Place, Shrubbery Place and Gordon Place, and subsequent addition of car parks; relocation of toilets from under North Street to their current location next the Royal Oak; replacement of the North Street police call-box with a police sub-station next to the United Reformed Church; re-numbering of properties.]
    A block of apartments, Manor Court, has subsequently been built further to the east in Fore Street.
  • Two houses in Regent Square (nos. 51 and 52) which were rented out to provide income for the upkeep of the aforementioned almshouses.
The announcement of John Sampson's death, 19th Jan 1910
Front page of the Express and Echo, 19th Jan 1910 John Sampson's death announcement

Sampson died quite unexpectedly at 'Melrose House' aged 75 on the morning of 19th January 1910, after collapsing whilst readying himself for work. A servant called for relative and employee, Tom Shute, of ‘Discombe Villas’, 56 Polsloe Road, who in turn summoned local physician, Dr Wolfe, who ‘pronounced life extinct’. It is believed Sampson died due to a fatty degeneration of the heart.

In his will, Sampson:

  • Bequeathed £200 to the vicar and church-wardens of Heavitree Parish Church, to be used for gifts to the poor, and a further £200 for the provision of a parish nurse.
  • Left a legacy to install a stained-glass window and a clock in the tower of Heavitree Parish Church. The clock, given to the Church at Christmas 1910, can be found inside and above the west entrance of the Church. It's not known if the stained-glass window was ever installed.
John Sampson memorial plaque & clock, Heavitree Parish Church
Sampson memorial plaque in Heavitree Parish Church Clock in Heavitree Parish Church

Sampson's assets were sold by auction at The Half Moon Inn on 22nd September 1910:

  • The brickworks + associated buildings and cottages.
  • 13 acres of land for building.
  • 'Melrose House' and 3 other dwellings named ‘Polsloe Villas’.
The auction map of Sampson's property, 22nd Sep 1910

The auction map of Sampson's property, 22nd Sep 1910

There are no other records of the existence of the brickworks after its sale. The land was later utilised for the playing fields of Ladysmith Boys’ School built in the 1930s (Ladysmith Junior School following education reforms in the early 1970s).

Sampson's house, 'Melrose House' (40 Polsloe Road), still exists but is now named ‘Rockhaven’. The adjacent property, 38 Polsloe Road, was destroyed by a direct hit during enemy action of as part of the Baedeker Raids on 4th May 1942; it has since been rebuilt.

Express & Echo (19th Jan 1910), Exeter Memories,, 1871 census, Mrs Ann Yorath

Dame Irene Vanbrugh

Dame Irene Vanbrugh was a famous actress and film star who was born in the vicarage at Heavitree on 2nd December 1872, the fifth of six children and the youngest girl. Her elder sister, Violet, born in the City centre, but lived in Heavitree during her early years, was also a very successful actress. Their father, the Reverend Reginald Barnes, had became vicar of Heavitree in 1869.

Irene made her debut on the West End stage whilst still in her teens, working almost continually until her death in 1949. She starred in the first run of Oscar Wilde's play The Importance of Being Ernest, also appearing many times on New York's Broadway.

Dame Irene Vanbrugh

Dame Irene Vanbrugh

Dame Irene had leading roles in a number of major films before the Second World War, sharing the billing with the likes of Douglas Fairbanks and Marlene Dietrich. She was one of the driving forces behind the formation of The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. Her youngest brother, Kenneth, was director there for over 40 years; he named its playhouse the Vanbrugh Theatre in honour of his sisters.

In 2014, the Exeter Civic Society installed a blue plaque commemorating the sisters, on the walkway between Roman Walk and Southernhay, at a spot close to where Violet was born.

A further link to the Barnes family is the Gordon Lamp, at the junction of Fore Street and Magdalen Road. Reverend Barnes was a close friend of General Charles Gordon. He was so affected by the General’s death at the siege of Khartoum that he paid for the lamp and its installation in his memory.

Clifford Bastin

Clifford Bastin was born in New North Road, Exeter on 14th March 1912 and attended Heavitree Council School (now Ladysmith Infant School).

His footballing skills were recognised at an early age playing for England's schoolboys team and making his debut for Exeter when he was 16. His potential was brought to the attention of Herbert Chapman, the manager who was destined to turn Arsenal football club into one of the leading clubs in the world.

Clifford 'boy' Bastin - Exeter, Arsenal & England footballer

Clifford 'boy' Bastin - Exeter, Arsenal & England footballer

Dick Manley

Dick was born in 1932 at his parents' house - 25 East Avenue, Heavitree; his grandparents lived next door. His father Charles and grandfather James were cabinet makers and had a workshop in Lower Avenue. Subsequently they set up a new workshop on their land in East Avenue. The wooden hut still stands beside the footpath running down to Lower Avenue. It is an interesting piece of local history as it previously was a World War I barrack room at Wyvern Barracks. On the other side of the path down to Lower Avenue there used to be a market garden run by the Dingle family. They lived at 32 East Avenue, and had a horse and cart which used to go round the Avenues selling vegetables.

Dick followed the family tradition of cabinet making by getting a five year apprenticeship with Brocks who had a shop and factory in King Street. Once qualified, he worked there for a few years until it closed. At this point he decided to set up his own business with Ron Sloman and Stan Hanford. They rented workshop space from the Dingle family in the grounds of 32 East Avenue, trading as 'Manley, Sloman and Hanford', employing a couple of apprentices and an upholsterer, polisher and carpet layer. They got a lot of work from the County Council laying lino and carpets in schools. When Dick married, he bought a plot of land (a former tennis court) behind his parents' house (25 East Avenue). He built a bungalow and lived there until the chance came up to buy number 32 (where is his workshop already was). The workshop is still going strong now trading just as 'Manley and Sloman'.

For many, life as a busy craftsman would be enough. However, Dick was an outstanding rugby player; he started playing whilst at Hele's School and represented Devon Colts. A strong forward, he joined Exeter, made his debut away to Bristol, went on to become club captain and played there for 15 years. While on National Service he won two Army Cup winners medals - the second being played in Hanover, Germany in 1954. He was capped by Devon sixty times. In 1958 Devon beat Yorkshire to win the County Championships, one of the great events of Dick's career. He also played for the Barbarians on thirteen occasions.

Dick's greatest claim to fame was that he played in all four games when England won the Home International Championship in 1963. His caps came late in his career as Dick was 30 when he made his debut against Wales at Cardiff Arms Park. England won 13-6 and also beat France 6-5 and Scotland 10-8. The other game away to Ireland was notable as it was the last 0-0 draw in an International; the weather was terrible and everyone got really bogged down. Dick was offered the chance to tour New Zealand with the England rugby team later in 1963 but turned it down as he was so busy with his Heavitree workshop. I don't have any regrets. That's just the way it was in those days. I had a job to do.

We can all be very proud of this true son of Heavitree who represented his country whilst staying true to his craft and his roots.

The Hoare Family

The Hoare family lived at 27 Church Terrace, Heavitree for a number of years until around the start of the Second World War. They played a significant part in the development of the Express and Echo for over 70 years.

Sam Hoare (d. 1947), was the paper's first works manager/overseer, recruited from the Bideford Gazette by Sir James Owen when the Echo was launched in 1904. He remained in this post until his retirement in 1937.

Sam’s two sons, Marcus Cecil Bradfored Hoare (known generally as Cec) and Eric George Rounsfell Hoare (born in 1911 at 27 Church Terrace), both joined the paper as 15-year-old schoolboys and gave 50 years’ service before retirement.

Cecil became editor and Eric sports editor, retiring in 1968 and 1976 respectively.

Cecil was at one time chairman of the City Rowing Club. His war service included spells in the Home Guard, and as a war correspondent while he was in a reserved occupation and still editing the paper.

Eric, Sam & Cecil Hoare

Eric, Sam & Cecil Hoare

Eric served in the 4th Devons in Gibraltar and with the King's African Rifles in Kenya.

Eric was a keen cricketer, playing pre-war for Heavitree CC, which was disbanded in September 1939, and later for St James' CC, both of which had grounds, along with Christchurch CC, at Wonford House, until the hospital expansion. St James' are now Topsham St James', whilst Christchurch folded.

Eric took over 800 wickets for Heavitree who were highly-successful in the 1930s. He combined his playing career with writing, under the pen-name ‘Willow’, for the Express and Echo.

Eric’s early sporting success came at Ladysmith School where he played football alongside Clifford Bastin. They played for Exeter and District Schools together with Ladysmith not surprisingly very successful and known as a "wonder team".

The family tradition at the Express and Echo continued when Eric's son, Philip, now living in Stamford, Lincolnshire, joined the paper in 1960. In his four years there, he covered amateur football in the city and has happy memories of watching Heavitree United's first team.

Philip’s Heavitree connections include attending Exeter School, and playing cricket for St James'. He holds Heavitree CC's last scorebook, photos and medals, as well as his father's war diaries which he has transcribed.

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Neighbourhood Watch 1831 Style

Helping convict thieves could be a lucrative business in the nineteenth century. Documents held at the Devon Heritage Centre provide details and give great insight into the types of crime that concerned our essentially rural parish at the time.

A handbill dated October 1831 states that:
"Rewards will be paid by the parishioners of Heavitree on the conviction of any person or persons, who shall have stolen any fruit, vegetables, shrubs, gates, fences, poultry, or other property belonging to any person in the parish."

If the offence was committed during the day the reward was 5 shillings, and 10 shillings if at night "between sunset and sun rising."

The notice also stated that 10 shillings would be paid on the conviction of anyone for "housebreaking, or entering and stealing" in the daytime and 20 shillings if was at night.

Applications had to be made to the Overseer of the Poor. The scheme obviously had some impact for another document is an 1832 receipt for 20 shillings paid out by the Overseer for "4 rewards on the conviction of 4 persons for stealing apples."

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Disorderly Houses In Heavitree

Local resident, Val Hawker, has shared the story of her great grandmother, Ellen Coles.

She was born Ellen Elizabeth Manley at Cullompton in 1860. She married Harry Coles in 1884 and had seven children. I presume all went well until Harry’s death in 1901, but that’s when it all went a bit pear-shaped. We next hear of her when she was taken to court on 13th January 1903, appearing before Chairman of Magistrates, Mr E F Studd, at Wonford Petty Sessions.

The Exeter Flying Post of 17th January 1903 reports:
"Ellen Coles, of Heavitree, was sentenced to three months hard labour for keeping disorderly houses [brothels] at 2 Sivell Place and 7 Ellis Place, Heavitree, during December. The Chairman said the case was 'the worst they had ever tried.' He commended PC Rowland and all who had assisted in bringing the prisoner to book."

Val’s research reveals that Ellen was again in court a year later for assisting in another brothel in Cheeke Street, Exeter. This time the case was dismissed. I catch up with her again in the 1911 census where she is a domestic in Tiverton workhouse. Here she remained until her death from heart failure in April 1920; she was only 59.

Of course, life was particularly difficult for Ellen’s children. Two of her daughters were sent to Canada, one with Barnardos and the other through the Salvation Army. One son drowned off Plymouth Hoe and another was killed in World War I. Thankfully, my grandmother survived until the mid-1970s.

By amazing co-incidence, at the same time as Val was passing on this family history, the Society was contacted by a researcher with an interest in Ellis Place (sometimes known as Ellis’s Place). This was a row of cottages, now demolished, behind where the Co-op now stands; the electricity sub-station to the rear of the Co-op still bears the name Ellis’s Place. It turns out the street had a further story to tell.

The researcher was investigating the murder in 1949 of Doreen Messenger, of Meadow Way, Heavitree. The man convicted of the murder, Sidney Archibald Chamberlin, lived in Ellis Place. Amazingly he also lived at number 7; the same property that had been a brothel back in 1902. Chamberlin was hung at Winchester Prison on 28th July 1949.

Further information on the case can be found on the True Crime Library website.

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Heavitree Postboxes

Heavitree is extremely lucky to have a complete range of post boxes, from the outset of the postal system to the present day. It’s another part of our heritage that deserves not to be forgotten.

Before post boxes, sending letters could be difficult. Lady Patterson of 4 Baring Place wrote in her diary on 14th July 1832:
“I did not know how to convey my letter to Exeter, as the servants were so busy, so gave it to the butcher’s boy. I hope he will take care of it.”

Victorian postboxEdward VII postbox
Postbox 01 Postbox 02 Postbox 03 Postbox 04

The first post box to be set up in the United Kingdom was in Carlisle in 1853. Boxes started to spread across the country during the rest of Queen Victoria’s reign. Having distinctive VR markings, we are lucky to have some of these in Heavitree including, for example, at Regents Park.

In Victorian times boxes were cleared seven times a day on weekdays and twice a day on Sundays.

Edward VII only reigned for nine years (1901-10) but again he is well represented in Heavitree. A good example is outside Livery Dole almshouses. The boxes are marked ER with a small VII by the lettering.

George V postboxEdward VIII postbox
Postbox 05 Postbox 06 Postbox 07 Postbox 08

We also have several George V (1910-36) boxes locally. The boxes from his reign just have GR. This causes some confusion as some of these were also used when George VI (1936-52) came to the throne. Later VI was added to the GR on boxes. There is a good example of one of these in School Lane, just off Topsham Road.

In between the two Georges, we had the extremely short reign of Edward VIII (1936). Only about 160 post boxes were produced with his lettering and numerals, but we do have one in Heavitree! It stands at the corner of Peryam Crescent and Woodwater Lane – a real rarity.

George VI postboxElizabeth II postbox
Postbox 09 Postbox 10 Postbox 11 Postbox 12

Finally, there are boxes, set up during the lengthy reign of Queen Elizabeth II (1952-2022), bearing the distinctive ER II markings.

Keep an eye out as you walk around Heavitree and check in whose reign each post box was erected.

How long before we see a box created within the reign of Charles III (2022-)? If you come across one in Heavitree, please do let us know.

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Researching A Heavitree Silk Merchant

Whilst wandering around the graveyard at Pinhoe Church, I was struck by scale of a memorial in the distance and so ventured over for a closer look. It proved to have a Heavitree connection.

The grave inscription said: ‘In loving memory of Stafford Northcote Green of Heavitree.’ Intrigued by this I set out to see if I could find out who he was.

Headstone on the grave of Stafford Northcote Green, Pinhoe Cemetery

Headstone on the grave of Stafford Northcote Green, Pinhoe Cemetery

Information on the internet quickly provided a lot of detail. The Devon Heritage Centre holds a 1900 mortgage document which states: ‘Stafford Northcote Green, formerly of Stafford Lodge, Heavitree, now of Exeter, silk mercer.’

This tells us his trade – a silk mercer was a dealer in silk - and also where he lived when in Heavitree. Where is/was Stafford Lodge? Our own Heavitree Local History Society website had the answer to this.

Stafford Lodge was a large, detached building facing the Livery Dole Almshouses. It was built between 1851 and 1861. It is still there today although now known as Rowancroft, part of the University of Exeter complex there. It stands behind a large listed Heavitree Stone boundary wall along the main road into Heavitree.

Stafford Lodge, Heavitree (named Rowancroft in 1890)

Stafford Lodge, Heavitree (named Rowancroft in 1890)

We have a man named Stafford, and a house named Stafford. I was keen to delve some more. Thankfully on a genealogy site someone had posted some very useful background details. It turns out that Stafford Lodge belonged to Edward Green (1805-1876), also a silk merchant. He was the son of a brewery manager from Watford.

Edward married Sarah in 1842. She was the daughter of Stafford Northcote. In 1843 their elder son was born and named Stafford Northcote Green. This son later carried on the family’s silk business which operated out of 25 High Street, Exeter.

Presumably when they had the Lodge built in Heavitree they named it after the family name of Stafford. It’s a name with great Devon connections. Sarah’s great grandfather was Sir Henry Northcote, 5th Baronet, who lived at Pynes on the outskirts of Exeter. He had moved there when he married Bridget Stafford. Pynes was the Stafford family home.

The names Stafford and Northcote have quite a bit of resonance, becoming family names and the name of a grand Heavitree house.

Footnote: Stafford Lodge was renamed Rowancroft in 1890 and used as a girls’ school until 1921. By 1927 it was an elementary school for boys in training for holy orders. In 1943 it was requisitioned by the Army Pay Corps. It was rocked by tragedy when one of the female soldiers was murdered in the house by an American serviceman stationed in the city.

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Researching Heavitree At The Devon Heritage Centre

The Devon Records Office was founded in 1952 as part of the movement for creating a systematic holding of records post World War II – this hadn’t happened much before the war. It had various bases – the old City Library building and a warehouse on Marsh Barton.

In 1998 Devon County Council bought Great Moor House, Exeter from BT, and when the Heritage Lottery Fund gave them money to convert it, the Records Office moved there in 2005.

In 2012 they amalgamated with the Westcountry Studies Library (which held published materials and was housed a separate building in Exeter city centre) to form the Devon Heritage Centre. There are branch offices in Barnstaple and Plymouth. In 2014 the South-West Heritage Trust was founded, with Somerset and other museums.

Storage facilities at the Devon Heritage Centre

Storage facilities at the Devon Heritage Centre

The Centre is open Tuesdays to Thursdays 10-5pm, with Mondays and Fridays reserved for behind the scenes work – lots of cataloguing, clearing, processing, etc, plus tours, open days and group visits. Since the Covid pandemic, advance booking via their website is required. The online catalogue is the main way to find details of what they hold. There is more on the card indexes (dating from the 1950s) at the Centre.

In an average week, three or four packages of ‘things’ arrive to be processed. These could be van-loads of information from businesses or just a few leaflets. There are always things of interest being found in lofts, cellars, collections from societies, local government, etc. Before anything can be stored, it has to be repackaged and referenced.

The Devon Heritage Centre Holds:

  • Parish records: records of baptisms, marriages, burials, etc. The earliest record is from 1538, the earliest for Heavitree from 1555. Records survive for 450 parishes, from most parts of the county. Some have lots, some very little as a lot has been lost over the years.
    The collection for Heavitree is one of the largest and most comprehensive. In the past, Heavitree was a rural village outside the City. The fact that so much survived is a tribute to how well records were looked after.
  • The earliest parish record for Heavitree held at the Devon Heritage Centre dates from 1555

    The earliest parish record for Heavitree held at the Devon Heritage Centre dates from 1555

  • School records: mostly for primary schools. These include admission registers, log-books with details of day-to-day events (evacuees, the Blitz, boys not attending school as they were helping with the harvest, etc)
  • Hospital and asylum records: Records of Southernhay, plus Exminster, Digby, and Wonford House asylums give a huge insight into mental health care in the mid 19th century.
  • Records of ‘Landed Families’ and their estates: vast amounts of material on landholding – title deeds, surveys, what the land was used for, old and interesting maps. Relating to families like the Courtneys, Aclands, Rolle, etc.
  • Records of the Diocese of Exeter and local authorities
  • Records of clubs and societies
  • Records of courts

The Westcountry Studies Library Holds:

Primarily printed material related to Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Cornwall, Bristol and Bath.

  • Books: research, novels, street and trade directories
  • Photographs and illustrations
  • Newspapers: more often than not, people use the National Newspaper Archives. However, it’s free at the library and there are many on microfilm that aren’t online yet.
  • Early printed maps and OS maps from 1880s onwards (the Heritage Centre holds manuscript maps, but the Studies Library holds printed ones)

Some Examples Of Items Held:

Rules For The Good Governance Of The Parish, 1586:

Parchment containing articles relating to governance, 1586

Parchment containing articles relating to governance, 1586

This large piece of parchment contains articles relating to governance, drawn up by a group called Four Men of Heavitree. We assume they were senior members of the parish community.

It had been decided upon by the Four Men and all parishioners of the church that records would be kept in a strong chest bounded with iron with three locks and three keys. This would have been kept in the church.

Survey Of The Manor Of Heavitree, 1740:

The ‘manor’ of Heavitree differed slightly from the parish. It was a slightly different legal constitution originating in the feudal system. Historically the main system of governance would have been via the lord of the manor, manorial courts, etc.

This survey is pretty typical: it gives lists of properties, with names of tenants, their rent, and technicalities. Some place names are recognisable.

Extract from Survey of the manor of Heavitree - Entry for the Royal Oak

Extract from Survey of the manor of Heavitree, 1740 - Entry for the Royal Oak

There is reference to the Royal Oak and the name of the landlord at that time. Heavitree at that time was rural. There were a total of 9 acres attached to the pub itself.

The Royal Oak originally stood on the corner of North Street and Fore Street (see map of Heavitree Towne 1816); it moved to its current location in the 1820s.

Milking Cows Without Permission, 1740:

This story is part of the ongoing project to catalogue court sessions, of which there were four each year.

In Exeter there were two sets: the Devon Quarter Sessions and the Exeter Sessions. Exeter was classed as a county AND a city.

These sessions were the main way that less serious crimes were tried. The sessions also had admin responsibilities which were later passed onto county councils (things like the requirement to repair roads).

Record from the Exeter court sessions, 1740

Record from the Exeter court sessions, 1740

This extract is an example of the sort of crime that would be tried in the quarter sessions: a woman called Mary was accused of breaking and entering and feloniously obtaining 5 quarts of milk from two cows.

The Ruinous State of Heavitree Road, 1747:

This document condemns the mile-long stretch of road from the old workhouse (where Waitrose now stands) towards Honiton, home of the gallows.

It describes the road as very ruinous, deep, broken and in decay, saying that liege-people (citizens) could not pass in their horses, coaches, and carriages without great danger.

Churchwarden’s Account, 1780:

This details money collected from citizens and paid out for expenses of the church.

Extract from the churchwarden's account, 1780

Extract from the churchwarden's account, 1780

Overseers of the Poor Accounts, 1783:

This records the collection of poor rates and redistributions to the poor of the parish. There were some standard expenses here:

  • ‘Information and warrant to search William Hatherly’s house on suspicion of her robing Plias Forward’s garden and carrying away cloaths as it was owt a drying.’
  • Coffin for Peter Pibble (a poor person)
  • Liquor for putting him into the coffin as he died in a bad fever
    (this would be drink given to the undertakers)
Extract from Overseers of the poor accounts, 1783

Extract from Overseers of the poor accounts, 1783

This is standard stuff but is all part of the fabric of the history of the parish.

The Parish Commemorates The Golden Jubilee Of George III, 1809:

This is from the minutes of a vestry meeting – an aspect of the parish that governed things prior to a Parish Council. In this 50th year, it was decided that a special collection would be taken from landowners and householders, and redistributed amongst the working poor and those receiving parochial relief. John Baring, for example, paid £1 1s (1 guinea).

Maps Of The Manors Of Heavitree And Mount Radford, 1816:

Two good examples of intricate, coloured, hand-drawn maps, produced by John Coldridge, surveyor for the Thomas Baring Estate. They show a number of orchards. The letters and numbers cross-refer to more detail on the plots.

Hand-drawn map of part of the manor of Heavitree, 1816

Hand-drawn map of part of the manor of Heavitree, 1816

The Heavitree map was used in 2001 by Den Perrin to sketch a map of Heavitree Towne, highlighting the buildings and road layout of the time (see map of Heavitree Towne in 1816).

Hand-drawn map of Mount Radford and Larkbeare, 1816

Hand-drawn map of Mount Radford and Larkbeare, 1816

Overseer’s Notice, 1831:

This poster offers an incentive to anyone who can help apprehend people of committing crimes locally.

Overseer’s Notice, 1831

Overseer’s Notice, 1831

Letter To The Parish Highway Surveyors, 1834:

This letter, on behalf of the inhabitants of the Topsham Road, was complaining about the state of the road, in particular the footpath in front of the house of Dr Rhodes.

The letter threatened that unless it was repaired immediately, they would take action and go to the Justice of the Peace at the Quarter Sessions.

Letter of complaint about the state of the footpath on Topsham Road, 1834

Letter of complaint about the state of the footpath on Topsham Road, 1834

Heavitree Parish Tithe Map, 1843:

The giving of one tenth of your land’s income was phased out by 1836, so maps were drawn up of tithing areas. They are superb sources for tracing the history of parishes.

Tithe map, 1843

Tithe map, 1843

Heavitree Bridge, 19th Century:

This is from a volume of illustrations of bridges throughout the county, produced for the Quarter Sessions. They are wonderful drawings. You can see the Turnpike Gate is marked, just past the Bridge.

Heavitree Bridge in the 19th century
Surveyor's drawing Map Painting
Surveyor's drawingMapPainting

Sale Catalogue: Grâs Lawn, 1911:

The Heritage Centre holds thousands of sale catalogues.

Grâs Lawn had a cricket ground attached. The catalogue shows plans, what’s included, and the land attached; there were often photos too.

Sale of Grâs Lawn, nr. Exeter, 1911
Catalogue Plan Photo
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The Cathedral Archives And Heavitree History

The Cathedral Archive holds two maps of Heavitree that greatly improve confidence in historical facts we could otherwise simply speculate on. They are:

  • ‘Map of the Tything of East Wonford in Heavitree’ (a copy of a map made in 1813; we don’t know where the original is or when it was made)
  • ‘Map of the Tything of Polsloe and Rolestone Barton in Heavitree, Devon’ (1785)

Field names on the maps pre-date the Victorian era, sometimes stretching back to Tudor or even medieval times. They can give clues on land-use way back in time.

An example is ‘Lower Butts’. This piece of land is shown on the 1889 OS map as ‘Pengelly’s brickworks’, located behind Roseland Crescent. Looking at historical features there, a long wall that stretches along today’s Pleasure Ground, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this had something to do with a Victorian Market Garden that was located where Roseland Avenue and Cobden Villa are now.

The Cathedral Library Wall of large ashlar blocks of Heavitree Stone Map showing 'The Butts'
The Cathedral LibraryWall of large ashlar blocks of Heavitree StoneMap showing 'The Butts'

A closer inspection reveals that the wall is made of large ashlar blocks of Heavitree Stone. Blocks like these are very likely to be from Tudor times. Post Black Death, builders were taking a lot of care, and were skilled craftsmen. The cob above the Heavitree Stone is most likely Victorian, but looking below it – could we have a Tudor wall in Heavitree Pleasure Ground?

This is where looking at the tithe maps is interesting. ‘Lower Butts’ extended to ‘Middle Butts’ and then ‘Higher Butts’, which sets us thinking that this land could have been used for archery.

In 1511, Henry VIII ordered that all men under the age of 60 regularly practise archery, and that fathers be responsible for providing their sons and young male servants with archery equipment and training. In 1541 he said that the inhabitants of every town "shall cut Butts and shoot at them."

Looking at the wall on its own would not be enough evidence to say that this area was used for archery. Looking at the tithe map field names alone would also not be enough evidence. However, using both sources together, we can quite confidently say what this area was used for.

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Ladysmith Road Squilometre Project

Residents were fascinated by the many different designs of housing along the road. Initially housing looks uniform – long terraces line both sides of what is a lengthy road. Closer inspection reveals there are in fact a number of designs in ‘pockets’ of the same type. [Ed: This was frequently the case with early urban housing. Terraces would be built by different developers, sometimes over many years. Any gaps would usually be in-filled at a later date.]

The OS map from 1906 shows a large gap in the middle section of the street. Heavitree Council School (now Ladysmith Infants) opened that year. A lot of housing was going up at the same time. This was a time of rapid, energetic development. One can imagine fields being snapped up. The houses reflect the old field shapes. One landowner owned the unbuilt upon gap, and it seems he hung onto that bit of land and just sold it off little parcel by little parcel. The shop was built as late as the 1930s.

1906 OS map showing location of Ladysmith Road Example of housing in Ladysmith Road Polychrome bricks from Candy & Co, Newton Abbot Residents at the unveiling of the new plaque
1906 OS map showing location of Ladysmith RoadExample of housing in Ladysmith RoadPolychrome bricks from Candy & Co, Newton AbbotResidents at the unveiling of the new plaque

The higher end of the road was connected with the nearby Brick and Tile works. What is interesting is that houses feature so many pale bricks, when Sampson’s Yard was producing red bricks. The polychrome (pale) bricks can’t be quarried in Exeter – so where did they come from, and why not make full use of what was available near by?

Perhaps it was as simple as the local works couldn’t keep up with demands of rapid development. On the other hand, as one imagines the entrepreneurs of Heavitree at the time – Nethercott, Vaughn, and Henry Sivell – sat in meetings wanting gas lamps, trams, their own park … maybe it really was just the joie de vivre of the time; a Belle Époque enthusiasm, that made the builders fancy something special.

Residents gradually pieced together that the arrival of the railway in Exeter would have made it far easier to transport the pale decorative bricks from Candy & Co in Newton Abbot into the City. The building of Exmouth Junction in 1908 would have made it easier still to reach the Polsloe area.

Images from the 1953 coronation party (Courtesy of Bob Squires)
Procession entrants Fancy dress costumes Fancy dress costumes The table is laid The table is laid
Procession entrantsFancy dress costumesThe table is laid

The Project wasn’t just about history, but was a way to bring people together. Taking inspiration from the finials from windows, and using the double line of pale bricks as a motif, artists ran a workshop in Ladysmith Infants School, looking at architectural features and using ideas generated to create a plaque outside number 1 Ladysmith Road. This was a way of introducing young minds to history that is all around us.

There was also a party – a historical pageant. After being locked down for so long due to COVID restrictions, residents just wanted a party. They spoke to a resident, Bob Squires, who had been part of the 1953 historical pageant coronation party and still had a programme. The day was very successful; what was especially nice is that older residents, younger people and children all mixed. It was very patriotic, joyful and happy.

Further information on the project can be found here.

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The Entrepreneurial Spirit of Heavitree
And The Heritage Of Victor Street


For hundreds of years, Heavitree had been little more than a sleepy, agricultural parish, quite separate from Exeter. It was, however, the biggest parish around Exeter with a perimeter of nigh on twenty miles.

During the 19th century the area changed dramatically. The 1801 census tells us that there were just 833 people living in the parish, over 500 of whom had agriculture as their source of income. By 1901 there were 7529; the population had increased by nearly 7000 people in just 100 years. To ascertain the reason for this, one has to look at how the people of Exeter were feeling.

Plan for the second phase of building on the Polsloe Park estate.<br>Some of this never materialised as Heavitree Council School was built instead

Plan for the second phase of building on the Polsloe Park estate.
Some of this never materialised as Heavitree Council School was built instead

In the early 19th century, the inhabitants of Exeter were probably wondering how on earth they were going to survive. Health-wise, the city stank, and cholera was ravaging. Little by little, people began moving out from the dirty city to Heavitree, considered at the time to be countryside, with clean air. In order to attract pupils, advertisements for schools talked of how healthy Heavitree was.

Heavitree started to become a counter to Exeter. As industry started to grow, many employees wanted homes in Heavitree. A prime example, the railways, employed hundreds.

There were early developments in the 1820s in Heavitree Park – a series of five grand villas with a wooded area. Even the name 'park' gave the impression of living in the countryside. This was followed by Salutary Mount, Mont le Grand and the Polsloe Park Estate.

Polsloe Park was a massive house and estate of fields and trees, diagonally opposite where Henry's Bar now stands. It slowly started to be sold off. When the main house was put up for sale in 1846, it was described as being "in the most elevated and healthy part of Heavitree, with views and richness of scenery: a town and country residence with three carriage entrances".

This really paints a picture of how Heavitree was viewed at that time.

Plan showing plots of land for sale by auction

Plan showing plots of land for sale by auction

Late Victorian / Edwardian Entrepreneurial Heavitree

Heavitree Squilometre takes a Hoskins-inspired approach of starting with what can be seen. The evidence around us shows a whole crop of Victorian and Edwardian builders taking advantage of land-owners selling off their estates, to create rapid development and promote their own social mobility.

In 1896, Heavitree set up its own Urban District Council. The HUDC had a dynamic, innovative approach to the modernisation of Heavitree. Everything from trams, to gas street lighting, to the development of the Pleasure Ground was up for discussion, and there was a notable 'can-do' feel.

Some prominent Heavitree developers of the time were:

a) Henry and Septimus Hitt

Headstone of Septimus Hitt

Headstone of Septimus Hitt

Henry Hitt and his son Septimus were instrumental in the development of South Lawn Terrace and Alpha Street. They had property in other parts of Exeter, including Walton Street, St Sidwells. Septimus had fortunate marriages, as his headstone shows. His was a success story, but other entrepreneurs were not so successful.

b) John James Fry Ellis

John James Fry Ellis with his wife Brenda and family c.1880

John James Fry Ellis with his wife Brenda and family c.1880

JJF Ellis' name is immortalised on a plaque at the top of Regent Square, but he built several other properties around Exeter. He came from a poor background in Newtown, but really left a mark on Exeter, as a plumber, landlord, aspiring city councillor and property developer. He died young and poor, having got into difficulty with debt, and had to auction most of his properties.

c) Robert Pengelly

Site of Pengelly's brickworks, later part of Heavitree Pleasure Ground

Site of Pengelly's brickworks, later part of Heavitree Pleasure Ground

As early as 1852, Robert Pengelly was involved in buying and selling land around South Lawn Terrace. He owned the brickworks (later part of Heavitree Pleasure Ground), and was listed in the 1883 Kelly's directory as 'Brick and Tile Maker'. He lived in Roseland Villa (the large house on the corner of Roseland Crescent and Hamlin Lane).

In October 1883, a Mr Timewall from Newton Abbot, bought numbers 18 and 19 [Ed: South Lawn Terrace?] from Mr Pengelly for £500 (around £25,000 at 2023 prices) as he planned to move to Heavitree to live. Something made him change his mind; he decided it would be “detrimental to his interests", and sold the properties back to Mr Pengelly a month later for £670 (nearer £34,000 at 2023 prices). Why had the price increased by so much in such a short space of time, and why was Mr Pengelly prepared to pay so much more?

By 1889, the Pengelly brothers were listed as "Builders", living in East Street (off Newcombe Terrace), with the brickworks already closed. By 1893, Pengelly was in Magdalen Street, with no mention of a business at all.

Changing Times

What these late Victorian go-getters did, was to move us from a time when land and property was owned by large estate owners like the Poltimores or the Barings, to a point, in the Edwardian period, when anything felt possible. Suddenly we saw rows of terraces appear, often with that distinctive polychrome brickwork – Ladysmith Road, Stuart Road, Normandy Road, for example. There seem to have been multiple builders involved.

Brick bearing 1876 as the year of manufacture

Brick bearing 1876 as the year of manufacture

One piece of evidence that this building was rapid and entrepreneurial is the fact that Stuart and Normandy Road in particular follow the original field pattern, suggesting that a field was bought, quickly developed, and properties sold on, leaving the somewhat unusual 45 degree alignment of Stuart Road to South Lawn Terrace.

The Heritage Of Victor Street

The Victor Street Squilometre Project

As part of the Heavitree Squilometre Project, research on Victor Street was voted in by the people of Heavitree.

The residents of Victor Street came together to share stories and experiences of living on the street. They decided to work towards bringing greenery to the street, and secured funding to provide a free window box for anyone who wants one.

The Victor Street 'pod' have a visit booked to the Heritage Centre in October 2023. They hope to find out more about Victor Lane (simply mentioned as an unnamed lane in 1931), and other aspects of the street's history. They are also planning bunting, a parade and a picnic in the Pleasure Ground. There has even been talk of an exhibition.

The Early Days Of Victor Street

When researching the history of the plot, the group discovered that the meadow on which Victor Street was built was called 'The Witchet'. A witchet is apparently a type of poisonous lupin, brought in by the Romans.

Children in Victor Street during building

Children in Victor Street during building

In 1897, it was described as 'grazing land'. It was purchased by H G Stokes, a butcher of 34 Fore Street (out on East Wonford Hill), and sold as 'freehold building land’. It was described as 2 acres (it was likely that a bit had already been grabbed by the houses on East Wonford Hill). As was common in this age of building, the land would be purchased and houses built a few at a time.

H G Stokes had arrived in Heavitree in 1878, but in 1900 he committed suicide. An inquest at The Horse and Groom cited that he was addicted to alcohol. He shot himself in the face and took 30 minutes to die, leaving behind a wife and seven children. In 1907, 17 properties were being sold off.

Entrance to Victor Street in the early twentieth century

Entrance to Victor Street in the early twentieth century

Resident Tammy Laskey's great grandmother, Annie Shute, lived on Victor Street from 1905-1911. Aged 8, she had 7 brothers. In 1911 the family were still there, Annie's father was listed as a 'Mason's Labourer'. Annie left Victor Street to go into service at Bystock Terrace.

Case Study: 35 Victor Street - Sue Jackson

Census And Street Directory Findings

The 1911 census reveals that odd numbers 1 to 35 Victor Street had been built, but no end of the street is mentioned.

The 1921 census, on the other hand, shows that all houses on the street were completed. Many of the same families still lived on Victor Street; a few had moved to a different numbered house on the same street. You can see where people had been widowed because of the war.

The 1921 census is particularly interesting. In addition to requesting the residents' occupation, this one detailed where they worked. In the 53 houses, there was a range of occupations. There were railway workers, builders, mental hospital workers, ...

Sue Jackson also looked at the old street directories in her collection. The first time the path from Victor Street to Whipton Lane is mentioned it is described in Besley's simply as 'a passage to Whipton Lane.' In 1957 and 1961 there was a dairy and builder's yard at the top of the lane. From 1994-2014 it was Apex Roofing Contractors, and is now (2023) called Build Space.

Family Connections

Sue Jackson has very strong connections to Victor Street; her family lived there for many years.

Sue's maternal grandfather, William Henry Bolt, as a young sailor

Sue's maternal grandfather, William Henry Bolt, as a young sailor

Sue's maternal grandfather, William Henry Bolt, one of nine children, was born in Sandford on 22nd April 1880, the son of Richard Bolt and Emma Dart. A saying passed down the family was that at their wedding Emma ‘Darted’ into church and ‘Bolted’ out.

William Henry Bolt was a stoker in the Royal Navy until just before 1911. He then emigrated to Nova Scotia where he undertook a variety of jobs. When World War I broke out, he enlisted in the Canadian Navy, again as a stoker.

Sue's maternal grandparents, Emma Jane Bolt + William Henry Bolt

Sue's maternal grandparents, Emma Jane Bolt + William Henry Bolt

Emma Jane Chanter served as a cook in big London houses. During one of William’s trips back to Devon, they married at St Leonard’s Parish Church in Exeter on 1st February 1917, and the couple returned to Canada.

Sue's mother, Creina Joan Bolt, was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia on 23rd July 1918. The three of them returned to Exeter when Creina was a year old, and the family purchased 35 Victor Street. Creina lived there until her marriage in 1945. William and Emma went on to have a son, Derek Richard Bolt, and another daughter, Muriel Eileen Bolt.

Sue's maternal grandfather, William Henry Bolt, as a coal merchant, with his horse Prince, outside 35 Victor Street

Sue's maternal grandfather, William Henry Bolt, as a coal merchant, with his horse Prince,
outside 35 Victor Street

Sue's maternal grandfather, William Henry Bolt, as a coal merchant, with his horse Prince, outside 35 Victor Street

Sue's maternal grandfather, William Henry Bolt, as a coal merchant, with his horse Prince,
outside 35 Victor Street

After a long career shovelling coal on board ship, William started up his own coal delivery business, getting his coal from a Chanter relative who was an established coal merchant.

Sue's mother used to tell her that he had no head for book-keeping which he left to his wife. William either didn’t know, or couldn’t remember, the names of his customers. He used to write things like ‘Mrs Green Curtains’ or ‘The Painted Lady’ (who evidently overdid the make-up) in his delivery book, leaving Emma to work out who he meant.

He was fond of his beer, and was generous to a fault. When entering his favourite pub after he had finished his deliveries, he would happily buy everyone a drink. His wife got wise to this and used to intercept him and take his money bag off him, otherwise she was left short of housekeeping money for the week ahead.

Sue's mother Creina, aunt Muriel, and uncle Derek (with a Chanter relative?)

Sue's mother Creina, aunt Muriel, and uncle Derek (with a Chanter relative?)

Creina, Derek and Muriel all attended the local Heavitree schools. One story told by Sue's mother related to Derek’s school days. He frequently got the cane for misdemeanours, and got septic fingers as a result. His mother eventually got fed up and went to see his teacher. She said she perfectly understood that he needed to be punished, but would he please do her a favour and cane the other hand, as she had just managed to heal his injuries only to have them opened up and bleeding again.

William died 13th October 1945 and Emma Jane followed him on 24th February 1946. Sue was born in December 1947, so sadly never knew either of her maternal grandparents.

Sue's aunt, Muriel Eileen Bolt, sitting on a window sill of 35 Victor Street

Sue's aunt, Muriel Eileen Bolt, sitting on a window sill of 35 Victor Street

Muriel had already married in August 1941 to Percy Reginald Cridlin (known always as George) and they continued to live at 35 Victor Street along with their children, Brian and Pat, until George’s death on 20th March 2004, and Muriel’s move to a care home in Exmouth where she died on 20th September 2008.

Derek married in December 1941 to Olive Mary Channing, and they bought a house at 9 Wyndham Avenue.

Sue's cousin, Brian Cridlin, and a friend, on their tricycles

Sue's cousin, Brian Cridlin, and a friend, on their tricycles

Sue's mother, Creina, continued to live at 35 Victor Street until she married Albert Henry Richards in December 1945.

Creina had trained as a nurse at the Eye Infirmary before moving to the City Hospital; she was there at the time of the Blitz. She was then moved to Whipton Isolation Hospital, where she met and nursed Albert, who was suffering from TB.

The couple went to live with Derek and Olive until December 1948, when they were given the tenancy of a prefab in Prescot Road, Redhills, when Sue was a year old.

Sue's mother, Creina Joan Bolt, as a nurse

Sue's mother, Creina Joan Bolt, as a nurse

The Channings lived at 49 Victor Street, and are listed there in the 1939 Besley’s street directory. They moved to live with Derek and Olive after Sue's parents moved to the prefab.

Emma’s mother, Mary Chanter (nee Ware), moved from the Crediton area some time after her husband’s death in 1907, to 69 Wonford Street, where she is listed as the occupant in the 1939 Besley’s.

Mary evidently liked to know everyone’s business and earning capacity as in a story related by Sue's mother when Derek went to visit his Gran, Mary was reputed to have said “What might ‘e be earning then Derek?” and his reply was “I might be earning a fortune Gran, but I’m not”.

Mary died in the June quarter of 1944, age 86 – another relative Sue didn’t have a chance to know.

Sue Jackson outside her family's home, 35 Victor Street

Sue Jackson outside her family's home, 35 Victor Street

Further information on the Victor Street project can be found here.

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Mile Lane, Beacon Heath: A Hidden Heavitree Treasure

Mile Lane is an ancient path in the Beacon Heath area of Exeter, and rises from Beacon Heath to Stoke Hill. The area lies within the bounds of the Heavitree Parish.

It's not entirely clear why the path is named Mile Lane. It could be the obvious: its length. As the crow flies, from St Katherine's Priory to Stoke Hill is approximately a mile. On the other hand, there is a theory that when the Mincinglake Stream was dammed, Mill Field, which was about half way up, could have given the name to the Lane. Furthermore, Stoke Hill was probably a Roman road (Haldon Hill → Exeter → Stoke Hill → Stoke Canon and beyond), so it may be this was a side-road coming off it, and could date from then.

Mile Lane is well used by walkers, cyclists, and horse-riders alike, yet many in the area are unaware of its presence, let alone its historical significance. These days, it's somewhat lost sandwiched between the edge of the Beacon Heath Estate and Mincinglake Valley Park.

Other than around a dozen houses built at the lower end of the Lane in the early 1920s, Mile Lane remains much the same as it always has been, a tree-lined byway passing through open country. In the past, there were uninterrupted views across cornfields to St Marks Church in Pinhoe. There remains a wonderful view from the top of the Lane looking westwards towards Dartmoor.

When the Beacon Heath Estate was completed in 1953, the initial strip of 1920s houses was separated from the Estate by the hedgerows and trees of Mile Lane; this can clearly be seen on maps of the time. Residents still lead very separate lives today. Additional housing was added to the Estate in the 1970s and 1980s.

1934: OS map 1950s: Aerial photo 2024: OpenStreetMap
1934: OS map1950s: Aerial photo2024: OpenStreetMap

Nowadays, Mincinglake Valley Park is off to the left of the Lane, but many still recall the quarry behind the 1920s housing. It was a feeder for West Brick in Monks Road. After the quarry closed, the site was for a while used for landfill; most knew it as ‘The Dump’. Some of the things that were buried there were not very nice; the site is still being monitored by The Environment Agency.

Mincinglake Stream / the Northbrook, known locally as The Panny, runs through the Valley Park, en route to the River Exe. Lots of old Exeter Brewery bottles have been dug up on the banks of the Panny. The area being a valley, means there are a number of other streams. Some of these are now culverted; it's possible to follow the manhole covers along the culverts.

The valley was popular with kids' as a playground. They would make use of gaps in the hedges lining Mile Lane to cut through from the Beacon Heath Estate to ‘The Dump’ and The Panny. They would build rope-swings across the streams of the valley, and were able to scoop buckets into ponds to retrieve an amazing variety of wildlife: newts, grass snakes, adders, and rats.

View along Mile Lane View along Mile Lane View westwards towards Dartmoor from the top of Mile Lane
View along Mile LaneView along Mile LaneView westwards towards Dartmoor from the top of Mile Lane
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Memories Of Heavitree

Heavitree Dolls' Hospital

A number of people have memories of a Dolls’ Hospital in Fore Street, Heavitree in the 1950s.

It was inside a shop called ‘The Topaz’, a newsagents / confectioners owned by Mr Hollis. It occupied the building that is now Corals, and was next to Dr Tracy and Dr Lamb’s surgery in Homefield Place.

One person remembers it having a large ice-cream cone outside. Her mother would meet her from school every Wednesday (half day) and buy her an ice-cream there.

One lady recalls taking her dolly there, and her being put on a shelf with a goodly number of others lined up waiting to be repaired.

A bear with a broken off head; a doll with perished elastic, and thus whose limbs had fallen off; a 'Tiny Tears'; a 'Chatty Cathy' - were all patients at the hospital over the years.

Roseland Dairy

These are 4 photos of me taken in the late 1960s outside Roseland Dairy which was at no.6 Newcombe Terrace, on the corner of Newcombe Street. The front of the house looked straight down Hamlin Lane towards Polsloe, the shop entrance itself was in Newcombe Street.

Roseland Dairy, 6 Newcombe Terrace in the late 1960s
Roseland Dairy 01 Roseland Dairy 02 Roseland Dairy 03 Roseland Dairy 04

My parents ran the dairy until about 1969. My mother used to deliver bottled milk around the nearby streets using a converted pram. Incidentally, here was another Roseland Dairy in later years located in Fore Street, Heavitree, but there is no connection.

My Grandmother lived in Beacon Lane and was the cleaner in the Heavitree United Reformed Church.

Mark Sanders

Cross Park Terrace

I thought the attached may be of interest for the land my house was eventually built on. The auction notification was obtained from the British Newspaper Archive.

Cross Parks auction advert 6th May 1885 Cross Park Terrace 1915
Auction advert 6th May 18851915

Lee Cusick

Rosary House School

I was there from the age of five until I was eleven. I was extremely happy there and I found the nuns very kind despite the fact that my family were not Catholics.

The large entrance hall was in a Victorian tiled pattern of shades of terracotta, blue and white. In these days at Rosary House there was a class taken by Miss Beck to the left of the entrance hall, and to the right was the BIG room where assemblies, P.E., plays and other activities took place. Behind was the kitchen where Sister Camelia was in charge; to the left of this, under the stairs were the cloakrooms, toilet and back entrance. There was a student teacher in charge, but I can't remember her name.

Up the grand staircase, to the left was what I think must have been the nuns' quarters. I know Sister Superior's room was there. Dead ahead was a large statue of the Virgin Mary. To the left of this was a row of classrooms. Sister Sebastian's was the first in the row, she took the older children. Sister St John was in the middle, took the lower juniors, and at the front of the house was Sister St Alphie's infant class.

Each doorway had a place to dip one's finger in holy water and cross oneself (strange to a non-Catholic child). The classrooms had a picture of a 'stairway to heaven' where if you brought a penny (old money 1d) your paper image could rise a step upwards until eventually your 'paper child' reached heaven.

Sister Sebastian's class c. 1949

Sister Sebastian's class c. 1949:
L-R Standing: Elaine Cruchet, Jill Hayte, Rosemary Wall, Valerie Parker, Anne Collins, Sister Superior, Beryl Reid, Sister Sebastian, Beryl O'Shea, Unknown, Mary Hodges, Unknown, Monica ?, Unknown, Alisha Ramsdon.
Kneeling: Janet ?, Heather Roxburgh, Judith Bridle, Bridget Matthews, Anne Milne, Josephine ?, Hilary ?, Hazel Smith, Geraldine Roberts, Brenda Lewis, Janet ?, Jennifer Pepperel, Cynthia Kirk.
The unnamed girls to the right in the back row were a year older than Rosemary.

On various days we went to a service in the Sacred Heart Church. I can remember being taken back to the school feeling faint from the cold and being given the old fashioned 'SOL VALATILE' by Sister Camelia in her warm kitchen. Not a lot of heating available with wartime fuel rationing.

There were various places to play at the back of the house, but in the summer we had the joys of the field to the side of the house and behind the church. This was also used for fêtes. The nuns were excellent at craft-work and made lovely things from very little, as during wartime and for some time afterwards, everything was on ration.

Occasionally we went to Palace Gate School by bus from Heavitree to Exeter Centre for 1d (one old penny) return. This was to enable us to use their 'proper gym'. The only school outing I can remember was towards the end of my time there when we were taken to Bristol Zoo - see photo of myself with Julie Kirton. This shows our school summer uniform. Blue and white checked dress, navy blazer with school badge and a straw hat with band and badge on it. In winter, I think we had a navy tunic and white blouse and tie, and probably a jumper or a navy cardigan.

I particularly enjoyed Friday afternoons, it was reading and handicraft work. The reading books were graded, and you usually had a new book for the weekend (what an incentive to get on). We learned joined-up writing with old fashioned copy books, and multiplication tables by rote. The nuns were very dedicated and helped us 'get on' in many ways. Discipline was certainly there but not in a heavy-handed way. If only that were true today!! I later became a primary school teacher and corresponded with Sister Sebastian each Christmas until her death at a convent in Hudsen, America, a region from where she originated, I believe.

Rosemary with Julie Kirton at Bristol School outing

Rosemary with Julie Kirton at Bristol School outing

I enclose a photo of Sister Sebastian's class taken about 1949 in front of the school. I have been able to name most but apologise to anyone I've missed out or mis-named. It was taken 70 years ago! The other photo is of myself and Julie Kirton at Bristol School outing.

I am not on the internet but if anyone feels inclined, I would love to hear what happened to you after leaving Rosary House. Sally Robinson would be very happy to pass on any replies.

Rosemary Baxter, née Wall

Regent Square

My family lived in Regent Square from before 1900, at various numbers but always the front, until 1968 when my parents moved to Honiton Road.

Members of my paternal grandmother's family were instrumental in the building of Regents Park and Mont-le-Grand. One set of her great grandparents are buried in Higher Cemetery.

My grandparents
Lilian Emma Gill + Mary Elston Gill [née Taylor] Arthur Robert Dooling Dooling Medals

My grandfather was Arthur Robert Dooling who served in the Exeter City Police Force for 34 years. During World War II he was on duty at the top of North Street with the Police Box as his base. I remember taking his lunch up to him in a brief case; my mother would steam it so that he got it hot. He was also Chairman of Heavitree Conservative Club for many years.

My grandfather received a number of medals in his time: In addition to the three standard World War I medals, he was awarded the Defence medal and an Exeter Police Force long-service medal, of which very few were issued. I remember him cleaning them before he wore them for any official parades, etc.

Regent Square
Regent Square 1937 Street Party 01 Street Party 02 Street Party 03 Street Party 04
1937Street party 1945

My mother was one of the original committee members for the Heavitree Social Club, first based in the old school, which she attended as a child, and later at Wingfield House. She also helped with the catering at the Conservative Club, for their men only events as well as the dances.

I lived in Regent Square for the first 19 years of my life.

Heavitree Carnival float
Carnival 01 Carnival 02 Carnival 03 Carnival 04 Carnival 05

Diana Horne is my cousin; she often visited from Eastleigh. Shirley Roberts, Jennifer Ford and Patricia Abbott were cousins.

I've identified the children in the images as far as I can remember, but you'll appreciate that after all this time I’m unable to recall everybody.

Away from Regent Square
Heavitree Pleasure Ground Street Outing

Jean Bauman, née Smith

Sally Robinson (former resident of the Square, and a member of the HLHS) has published a detailed piece of research on the Square. The publication can be downloaded here; hard-copies are available on request from the Society.

Chard Road #1

Our house, 8 Chard Road, was built in 1926/7 and was one of the first to be built in the road. Nos. 6, 8, 10 and 12 were built first by a builder called Kent. Strangely, nos. 2 and 4 were built later by a different builder. My family lived there from 1927 to 1981 when my mother died; my sister and I sold it in 1982.

At the front of the house there was path straight to the front door from a brick wall and gate. My father loved gardening, thus the front garden was filled with scented flowers, a white lilac, lilies of the valley, near the door there were roses galore, and special pansies - huge ones - the seeds of which he got from Switzerland.

At the back of the house, there were concrete steps and a flat stretch of concrete below the dining room window where my mother mangled her hand washing. No washing machines or spin dryers in those days. The concrete ended where the toilet is (then accessed by an outside door), the coal cupboard was next to it towards the house. The kitchen was very small and down a step from the hall. There were no hedges between neighbours, only concrete posts with wire through them between neighbouring gardens, so the whole garden was much wider than it is now, though less private. The narrow pathway led straight down to a bank at the very bottom where it joins the park. Along this path were five apple trees and a William pear tree. Across the garden were fruit bushes: gooseberries, red and blackcurrants, raspberries and strawberries. Also a plum tree and greengage trees. Vegetables were grown between all of this.

During World War II when food was rationed, this supply of food was essential for the family. "Dig for Victory" as the saying was. It supplemented the weekly rations - 4oz of bacon, the same of meat, 2oz of cheese, 4oz butter or margarine, 8oz of sugar, 2oz of tea, 1 egg, 2-3 pints of milk - per person per week. Even bread became rationed as the war proceeded. We bottled fruit but with virtually no sugar available. Everything strictly rationed, you had a book with food coupon from which your nominated grocer cut out the week's coupon allowances. We had to mostly produce our own food as the Germans were sinking merchants’ vessels to try to starve us out. 2,500 such vessels were sunk.

We had an Anderson shelter dug into the bank just up from the piped stream at the very bottom of the garden. In it, we had Lloyd Loom chairs and a Valor oil heater. When the sirens went, we all trooped out with a blanket and cushion to sit out the time until the "all clear" was sounded. You could hear the bombs dropping on Exeter. The Luftwaffe followed the River Exe from the coast up to the city. It was very frightening.

The only heating in the house were the big open fires in the lounge (front room) and the dining room. They were tiled and had high mantle shelves above them. Red tiles in the back room, pole blue in the front. Coal was strictly rationed as well, so only put on when really cold. There were two grates, one in each bedroom, but only used it someone was pretty ill. No double glazing or loft insulation. I can remember the frost patterns on my bedroom window in winter. You got dressed very quickly, likewise washing yourself, no heating at all there!

In the corner of the kitchen was a big gas water heater, with a coffer underneath to do your hand washing. This left little space for the cooker, called "The Black Prince", cast iron, also gas run. The sink was opposite, and a draining board. No fridge, just the understairs cupboard made into a larder with the window covered with steel meshing. No carpets; only cold lino and rugs.

I remember life in Chard Road as happy days. Little in the way of comfort, and yet the neighbours all helped each other with the little they had and comforted one another in times of distress.

By the late fifties, things had improved in the country and the open fires were replaced by electric ones in the lounge and dining room, and storage heaters in the hall and main bedrooms. The bathroom was modernised.

When Dad died in the late sixties, the fruit trees, etc went and all was put down to grass, as my mother was seventy by then and she just got someone in to cut it in-season. The coal shed was made into a shower, this with the toilet was then accessed from indoors via the kitchen and the outer doors bricked up.

With kind permission of JoJo Spinks

Chard Road #2

Fred Cole was born in Heavitree on 4th May 1929. At one year old, his family moved into a brand-new house on Chard Road. In 2022, at almost 94, he still lives in the very same house. He shared some of his memories with us.

Chard Road

Fred’s house was completed in 1927 and has stood for nearly 100 years, withstanding the Exeter Blitz and many changes to the area. Fred says that you wouldn’t recognise Chard Road when he was a boy there.

Turning right from his front door, there were two shops on the corner. Fred had a stammer so his mother would send him to the shops with a note so that he didn’t have to speak.

As you walked down the hill towards the bottom of Whipton Lane, you’d come into fields and orchards with apples and pears growing. It felt like the countryside. There was a small, rickety wooden bridge over the Northbrook. Fred and his friends would sometimes steal fruit from the orchards. He was the leader of the gang.

One day they went into one of the orchards and he said,‘I’ve an idea. There’s a policeman in this orchard.’ They went running off but Fred caught his trousers on some barbed wire and tore them. He got home safely however and relaxed.

After a while there was a ring on the doorbell. It was indeed a policeman, but he was a nice policeman.
‘Hello, Constable,’ said Fred's father. ‘Any trouble?’
‘Yes. Have you got a boy called Freddy Cole? He's been pinching apples and pears.’
Fred’s father gave the policeman a nice juicy pear to eat. Once he’d enjoyed it, his father announced, ‘That’s one of the pears my boy pinched!’

Fred as a young boy Fred outside 92 Chard Road Fred with his mum and their dog Fred standing at the corner of Chard Road and Whipton Lane
Fred as a young boyFred outside 92 Chard RoadFred with his mum and their dogFred standing at the corner of Chard Road and Whipton Lane

The houses were quite modern for the time, with gas and electricity, and both indoor and outdoor toilets. Each room had a coal fire; Fred and his mother used to lay them first thing in the morning.

When the houses were new, they just had the floorboards showing. Most people couldn’t afford carpet, so they had lino put down.

In 1949, only three people on Chard Road had cars. Fred knew many of the families who lived there, but most have now died. There is nobody left from Fred’s childhood on the road, and Fred remembers a time when ‘everyone seemed to be friendlier’ (although he very much appreciates talking to his neighbours and their children).

Education and Work

Fred went to Ladysmith School, when the girls and boys were still separate. They went in through their own gates and had their own playgrounds, but the boys frequently went into the girls’ playground and Fred managed to have a girlfriend despite the separation of sexes. He always remembers her as being the only girl who wore a proper school dress and belt in the school’s colours – the rest of the girls wore their own clothes.

The teachers were very nice, despite all carrying canes, which they used ‘very often’. They were kind to Fred, and wouldn’t ask him to read aloud, because of his stammer.

Ladysmith School Fred driving a DMU Steam train near Dawlish
Fred was educated at Ladysmith SchoolFred driving a DMUSteam train near Dawlish

Like most children, Fred left school before he was 14. He went to work on the railways, like his father. He showed us the coal dust which is still under the skin of his forehead, from when he once fell many feet into a pit of hot coal, when he was cleaning out the smoke box. The scars, like everything else around Fred, tell a story. After twelve years as a fireman, Fred became a train driver and worked until he was 63. The photo below shows Fred driving a train along the Dawlish/Teignmouth line.

Heavitree in World War II

It is unsurprising that Fred’s memories of the War and the Exeter Blitz still haunt him today.

Chard Road must have felt very different with the threat of German attack. The Pleasure Ground, which is just behind the houses, had 7ft deep trenches dug along it, so the Germans were unable to land their planes. The children played in the trenches with pretend guns or toy cars. Many people are unaware that there were six anti-aircraft guns stationed in the Pleasure Ground.

The Home Guard was formed, to keep civilians out of mischief. Windows had to be blacked out and cars couldn’t have their lights on: everywhere was pitch black.

Everysone was issued with a gas mask, and at school there were weekly drills to make sure you could put them on quickly – if you weren’t fast enough, you’d be in trouble. Babies had to be put inside a special box before being put inside the shelter.

The Council came around and gave people a choice between an indoor or outdoor shelter. Fred’s family had the outdoor, dug out style of shelter. The family lived near a couple who were very frightened of the war, so Fred’s dad cut a hole in the privet hedge at the bottom of their garden, and every time an air raid siren went off, he and Fred went to check if they were OK.

Fred was coming up to leaving school age when the worst night of the Blitz happened. Before Exeter was directly targeted, the risk had mostly been from planes dropping unused bombs on their way home. On Fred’s birthday, 4th May 1942, at six minutes past midnight, the sirens sounded. Fred’s family rushed to the shelter. His sister, who was eight years younger, sat on his mother’s lap. Fred sat next to his father, with the dear old cat on his lap. The noise was terrible.

‘You’ve never heard such a noise in your life, with the anti-aircraft guns in the Park all firing, the planes overhead, and the shells exploding.’

At one point, Fred’s poor old dad looked at him, put a hand on his arm and said,
‘Boy, I think we are coming to the end of the road.’

The planes were so low. Fred peeped out of the shelter and saw the sky lit up with shells, and in the flashes you could see the bombers, black with a cross on the wing.

When finally the siren sounded the all-clear, the family didn’t know what they would see. They couldn’t believe it when they saw their house was mostly intact. The back doors were blown open and the catch broken in half, but the glass was unbroken. Most houses on the street had several ceilings come down inside, and of course many houses were destroyed, and lives lost in other parts of Heavitree and Exeter.

One of the first people Fred saw was a Home Guard Sergeant, who said:
‘Young chap, you’re not in the Army. I suppose you’ll be very pleased your school has been hit. See that glow in the sky? That’s your school burning.’

This was the senior school at Ladysmith. Luckily it was only two ends. They were patched up and the school remained open.

The next day Fred went into town and saw the devastation first hand. There were no shops, no houses. Sidwell Street only half standing, the High Street was all rubble. Everything was gone, replaced with mountains of rubble.

Fighting in World War II

Fred was called up in 1944, and in training was soon recognised as a first-class sniper. As a corporal he had many experiences, but one that he particularly remembers is an encounter with a Japanese soldier in Indonesia. The two young men were firing at each other when they somehow came together.

The Japanese man was only in his twenties, and spoke fairly good English. He told Fred where he was from in Japan and said something along the lines of:
‘English Tommy, don’t you think it’s about time we packed all this nonsense in?’

He threw down his rifle and bullets. Fred did the same. Fred still has some of these bullets, which he brought back to remind him.

Fred was called-up for service in 1944 Fred with comrades in Indonesia awaiting the Japanese on their way to attack Fred (back for a rest from the firing line), with a friend in Heavitree Pleasure Ground, 1948 Fred holding bullets kept as a reminder of service in World War II
Fred was called-up for service in 1944Fred with comrades in Indonesia awaiting the Japanese on their way to attackFred (back for a rest from the firing line), with a friend in Heavitree Pleasure Ground, 1948Fred holding bullets kept as a reminder of service in World War II

There were various prisoners of war (POWs) in Exeter, and Fred became pally with a couple of Italian POWs. They came into his kitchen for a cup of tea and told him about their experiences and where they came from. They were kept at a POW camp where Tesco is now. The Germans wore red and the Italians blue. There were also Japanese POWs in Heavitree.

Fred’s family had a Dutch girl named Annie come to stay with them for a period after the war. She was 12 years old. Later her 18 year old sister also came to stay. The Dutch had had a terrible time under the Nazis; coming to England was seen as a holiday.

One night Fred took the older girl to the Odeon to watch a film. When they came out, some POWs were walking along Sidwell Street. She gripped his arm so tightly and said that she couldn’t walk past them. They crossed the road and she spat in the gutter.

‘My Sweetheart’

Fred was on leave in 1949, wearing his army uniform with stripes on his arm and his carrying his rifle. He and a friend walked past a train at Exeter Central and there she was, looking out of the window; the smile she gave him was ‘a smile from heaven’.

Despite his friend telling him to hurry up, Fred said,
‘No. That girl on the train smiled at me, a lovely smile. I’m going back to talk to her.’

They had seven or eight minutes before her train departed. In that time, Fred found out that her name was Doreen, she worked at Madam Lakes hairdresser’s in Sidwell Street, and she was on her way home to her parents’ home in Crediton.

Before he left, Fred checked and double-checked that the following day she would be on that same train. And she was. This time he got on with her. She had two or three girlfriends with her. Fred said,
‘Why don’t we go and sit in that coach there on our own.’

Fred and his 'sweetheart'
Pre-marriage At their marriage in 1951 In their rear garden In their rear garden In later life
Pre-marriageAt their marriage in 1951In their rear gardenIn later life

He walked her to her home in Crediton, not right to the front door in case they were noticed! It was getting close to tea-time so Fred waited in the park for Doreen to return after she’d eaten. After a fortnight, he met her parents in their cottage, and after courting for 12-18 months, they were married in Heavitree Church in 1951.

Their period of courting involved going dancing or to the pictures. The Gaumont Cinema had a dance hall where they went almost every Thursday night. People smoked a lot but there was no drinking, apart from shandy or lemonade. Fred couldn’t dance very well, but Doreen could. There were several black American soldiers who stayed in Exeter for a few years after the War. They very politely asked Fred if they could dance with his wife; he was happy to let them as they were much better dancers!

After their marriage, Fred and Doreen moved to 8 Roseland Crescent. They had their two boys there, but later moved back to Chard Road where they lived for the rest of their marriage. Fred’s house is full of photos of the couple. He loves to talk about his ‘one love’, with the ‘loveliest smile’ he has ever seen in his life.

Ladysmith School In The 1930s

In the 1930s, Ladysmith School was one of the most recently built schools in Exeter, and consisted of three buildings: the infants', senior boys' and senior girls' schools. The sexes were mixed in the infants' school, and would then be separated when the children went up to senior school at seven.

School began at 9am, when the children would line up in the playground and enter the school to begin lessons. By law, the first lesson of the day was always scripture, even though Ladysmith wasn't a Church of England school. In infants' school, the children would learn the alphabet, their times tables up to seven, their figures, reading (they had to stand and read out passages) and play games. They also learnt the national anthem. At 12pm lunch time began, and all children would return home to eat; Hilda's mum came to collect her from school at lunchtime, and dropped her off again, ready to recommence at 2pm-4pm. It would have been impossible for her to go out to work and do this.

A typical day in the senior school would also begin at 9am, when the children were lined up and marched into the cloakroom, whilst a teacher played a march on the piano. There was no uniform, but the seniors had to change into black plimsolls, which they brought to school in a shoe bag, and hang up their hats and coats.

The school day started with an assembly in the hall. The head teacher, Miss Frayne, had her office upstairs, and at the top of the staircase was a balcony from which she would address the girls. Everybody said a prayer, from the Book of Common Prayer, and sang a hymn, then it was time for lessons.

There were about thirty-five girls to a class. The mornings would be spent sitting in pairs at wooden desks in rows, learning joined-up writing in ink, arithmetic and mental arithmetic, followed by a break, and then History or Geography. Every classroom had a big map, and Hilda remembers the teachers pointing out all the countries in red, which were in our empire, saying 'this is ours …'. The annual Empire Day on 24th May was to be looked forward to; the top classes from all over Exeter would be taken to the Civic Hall (where the pillars at the entrance to the Guildhall Shopping Centre now are; it was pulled down during the post World War II rebuilding). A visitor, often a councillor, would give a speech, and everyone would sing 'I Vow to Thee My Country' and the National Anthem. On return to school, the rest of the day was a holiday.

Afternoons at the senior school were spent knitting, sewing, country dancing or singing songs. They didn't play 'games', instead doing 'drill'. The boys did football, and were known for their excellence. Cliff Bastin, who went on to be a famous footballer, was there at the same time as Hilda. The boys learnt practical skills like woodworking in the afternoons.

There was a single storey building in the playground of the infants' school that served as the 'Domestic Science Centre'. Here, the girls would learn laundry or cooking. In the laundry, they would practise washing clothes with scrubbing boards, removing stains, starching and ironing clothes. There was even a housewifery centre off Queen Street, where girls might be sent for six weeks - Hilda was sent there and learnt how to clean a grate!

Discipline was firm at school, and if you whispered, you might be sent to stand in the corner of the classroom, facing the wall. If you continued, you'd be sent to stand outside the door. As all classrooms opened onto the hall, you would be seen by anyone who passed by. Rude behaviour would result in being hit on the hand with the slipper. The cane was only used at the boys' school. Prefects were chosen in the senior classes, and given jobs with responsibility, such as handing out the 1/3 pint bottles of milk, tidying up the classroom, staying behind to clean the blackboard etc.

Once a term, the nurse would come in to inspect hair. Any girl found to have nits would have to have her hair cut off into an 'Eton crop', which was very shaming. Most working-class people could not afford dentistry, so once a year the school dentist would come and look at teeth. If you had any problems, you would be sent to see the free school dentist at Southernhay.

Hilda had left by 1937, but when World War II broke out, her sister was still at Ladysmith School. The teachers learnt first aid and the children had an air raid drill. They took their masks to school every day, and kept them by their desks. When they heard the siren, each senior child of twelve was responsible for one of the infants. They would need to collect that child and the school was evacuated. Each pair of children would be allocated a house along Ladysmith Road, to which they had to go for shelter. This wasn't ideal for the residents, as it meant it was difficult for them to go out, as they needed to be on standby! The reason for doing this was that if a bomb struck the school, it would not harm a large number of children at once. It took two or three years for Exeter residents to be given air raid shelters. If your garden was big enough, you could dig an Anderson Shelter, or if not the government gave Morrison Shelters, which were like big steel cages, that could protect you from falling masonry etc.

All the teachers at Ladysmith were single women; men were not allowed to teach at a girls' school. When they trained, all female teachers had to sign up to teach for seven years, so that the state got back the money spent on training them. They did have to leave immediately if they got married. A married woman would be expected to be kept by her husband, and her job should become available for someone else. However, due to World War I, women really outnumbered men, so when a teacher at Ladysmith did leave to get married, Hilda remembers it causing a big stir.

In the thirties, everyone started school at five and remained at that one school until they left at fourteen. You would leave at the end of the week that you turned fourteen. Hilda, like many, left on the Friday and started work on the following Monday. There were no exams or tests at school, and parents were not allowed within the school gates - they more or less took it for granted that you were doing OK. It wasn't until 1944 that the Butler Education Act came in, along with the 11+, and Secondary Modern or Grammar schools. Even then it would only be rich children, from public schools, who would have had the opportunity to go to university. This would not have even been a consideration for children at Ladysmith; the education mainly prepared girls for housekeeping. You could go to night school to learn extra skills - Hilda's parents paid for her to learn shorthand typing and book-keeping. Perhaps these days, we don't appreciate how many options are available to us.

Hilda Mitchelmore

Christmas In 1930's Heavitree

Although it had officially become part of Exeter in 1913, twenty years later Heavitree still felt like a village, much like Topsham does today. It had its own community, which came together even more than usual at Christmas time. Hilda was a child living in Newcombe Terrace in the 1930s. She shares some of her memories.

1930's Heavitree would have been an atmospheric place in December after dark, with the gas lights along the main street creating an intimate feel, and almost no cars passing through. Apart from Co-op, all of the shops would have been run by families, who lived above. Every shop would have had a (Christian themed) Christmas display, and shopkeepers would vie with each other to create the best one.

Dunstans would have been the place to buy a Christmas tree, and there were holly wreaths and crosses in the window. A week before Christmas, his butcher's shop on North Street would have had rows of chickens for sale - a luxury for Christmas Day, and probably the only time working-class people would eat chicken all year. Of course, you had to prepare the chicken yourself. Poorer people in the slums, like Ellis Place, would not have had ovens in their houses, and so Mrs Anning at the baker's (where Natwest was until recently) would have opened her bake house early on Christmas day, to cook everyone's lunches.

For those who could afford to set a little money aside, the Royal Oak pub ran a 'thrift club'. Starting in January, every Friday night after getting paid, you could save some money up, to draw out a fortnight before Christmas.

People would make their own decorations. You could buy paper chains, which Hilda and her sister would stick together with glue they made from flour and water. Lots of people would pick holly, which was easy to find, as Heavitree was still surrounded by lots of countryside and scrub land; Hilda found it around the Barrack Road allotments.

Ten days before Christmas, the parish church choir (all men), supplemented by ladies, used to go around the area and sing carols. They didn't collect money, but could be given a mince pie. On Christmas Eve they would be invited back to the vicarage for refreshments.

Hilda belonged to the church guides, and a month before Christmas they would collect up any toys that they no longer needed, and spend meetings painting and renovating them. On Christmas Eve they piled them onto a trek cart and went all around the parish delivering them to poor children in the slums (mostly Wonford, which they called 'the Village'). There was huge deprivation; the 1930s were only twelve years after the end of World War I, and there were a lot of fatherless families, living on a tiny widows' pensions and whatever work the mother could do from home; they were reliant on charity and community support.

Christmas Day was spent at home with the family. The most exciting part of the day for many was when the postman delivered all the Christmas cards, between 10 and 12am. The card giving was part of the celebration for the day; Hilda and her sister would make cards for their parents. The children would have a stocking, perhaps containing a party horn, a notebook and pencil, a comic, something to do, like wool and needles, and an orange at the bottom. They would also sometimes have a small present on Christmas Eve and would have one large present on Christmas Day - Hilda remembers getting a wooden desk.

The rest of the day would be spent playing party games, like Squeak Piggy Squeak, Musical Chairs or Blind Man's Buff. Relatives would often visit, and there would be singing - children were all expected to sing a song alone, and would have their favourite pieces to perform. After the radio came in, the whole family would sit around the radio to listen to the King's speech. They would all stand during the national anthem. Christmas was an exciting time for the children of Heavitree; there would always be parties organised for them. There was a big one at the conservative club in Church Street. The Sunday school children of eight years and older would be taken by bus to the pictures at the Palladium in Paris Street (just up from the Honiton Inn, and lost in World War II). The films were always Laurel and Hardy or cowboys and Indians. They were given an orange when they came out; a treat as the working classes could never afford to buy fruit.

It was always an adventure going to Exeter - you would put your best clothes on for the trip. For a month every year, the big shop called Waltons (where M&S is now) built a fairy land on the second floor, with a series of tableaux: nursery rhymes, a fairy grotto and Father Christmas. You paid to enter, and the money went to local charities - the trip was a highlight of the year.

Thank you so much to Hilda for sharing these memories. They take us back to a time when our busy district of Exeter was a quiet place with a real village feel; where family, community and the Church were the most important things at Christmas time.

Hilda Mitchelmore

Sampson's Lane

Several contributors offer an insight of Sampson’s Lane and the area nearby, including its abattoir and live cattle en route.

The main abattoir building is no longer standing, but a warehouse nearby is believed to be part of the slaughterhouse complex. If a 2021 planning application is successful, then this too is due for demolition. The last vestiges of a bygone Heavitree activity will disappear.

A former resident of North Avenue from 1934 to 1970 reminisces:

The road [North Avenue] used to be very quiet. There were few cars, most things were delivered by horse and cart. I remember from time-to-time cattle were driven down the road to the slaughterhouse behind the cottages off Sampson’s Lane. Thankfully there wasn’t a smell.

Dick Manley’s memories (from HLHS newsletter 40):

East Avenue was an unmade road which used to pond with water thanks to a series of local springs in the area. I remember cows being driven along the street to the abattoir next to Sampson’s Lane. We used to call Sampson’s Lane ‘Bumpy Lane’. In those days it could be accessed directly from East Avenue.

A current resident of North Avenue, John Leech, has first-hand knowledge of the premises, as he visited it as a local Environmental Health Officer [EHO]. John recalls:

Back in the 1980s, Sampson’s Lane was a dirt track connecting Polsloe Road and Pretoria Road. I can’t remember the name of the butcher but if I recall correctly, it was a father and son operation. From the outside, the building looked run-down.; not the sort of premises in which meat would be prepared hygienically. However, the butcher operated in a building within the original building. You entered the outer building via a large double door. There was a large open room containing a portacabin. Inside the portacabin, the meat was butchered in a spotlessly clean environment.

After I’d inspected the premises, the owner told me the original building had previously been used as an abattoir with cattle being driven down Sampson’s Lane. There was a stone floor and wooden beams spanning the building. You could see the hooks in the beams which the butcher said were used for hanging the carcasses. I trained as an EHO in South Wales. The inside of the building was very similar to the abattoir in Abergavenny where I had undertaken my meat inspection training between 1977-80.

The abattoir building in Sampson's Lane

The abattoir building in Sampson's Lane

Tony Cater shared his memories of living in Sampson’s Lane, after reading those shared by others:

My grandparents William [Bill] and Maud Maddocks moved from the West Quarter to Sampson's Cottage during the early to mid '30s. Not sure if they owned or rented it, but suspect the latter. They relocated in the mid '60s to the Council-owned Toronto House off Prince Charles Road. Bill was a foreman at the brickworks.

Their daughter, Vera, was my mother, and after divorcing my father in '43 we both moved into Sampson's Cottage with my grandparents. At that time there was open access from East Avenue and Sampson's Lane. I was born in '41, so was 2 years old. My mother remarried in '47 and we then both lived in Whipton with my stepfather until '51 when we moved to Meadow Way, Heavitree.

I seem to remember that Sampson’s Cottages were a semi-detached pair but am not sure. When we lived there, my grandfather had the garden which I remember extended almost to the border of Ladysmith School.

I don’t recall the abattoir ever being mentioned by my grandparents, so suspect if it was there, it was during the '20s or after they moved. Looking at the photo above, I note the very tall doors. This may mean it was originally used in conjunction with, or maybe it was, the abattoir. High doors are required to accommodate the high mounted rail-work on which cattle to be slaughtered are hung to enable drainage, etc.

I remember in my time, there was a car workshop with mechanic Jack Carnell, owned by Cyril Boobyer who had a used-car business in Sidwell Street opposite the Odeon. I spent a lot of time in the workshop whilst living in Sampson's Cottage and for a few years after. Hooks in the roof beams would be used to help lift out car engines. The Boobyer business eventually moved to Fore Street, Heavitree, and when Cyril retired Jack took it on. I think the site is now a road leading to a small housing development behind Fore Street.

You mention a father and son butchery operation contained within a Portacabin in the same building during the '80s. This was probably a business supplying the catering trade or a centralized unit supplying several retail outlets. Some local meat names that may have operated it: Turton, Leach, Webber, Bridgeman....?

My own career was spent supplying the meat industry with tools and process machinery, initially in the South West, to butcher’s shops, and later nationally and internationally to processors.

I remember Dick Manley. He and my grandfather chatted often.

A final memory. About '45/'46, I was at the top of the Lane when I saw an African American soldier digging a hole beside the house on the left. He then placed a tin of chocolate biscuits in the hole and filled it in. I wonder if it's still there?

Michael Hughes -
Childhood Memories Of Heavitree In The 1930s + 1940s

Michael Hughes was born in Mowbray Maternity Hospital, Heavitree on 1st May 1933. He was brought up in Goldsmith Street, and later moved to Alpha Street in the 1950s. Now living on Beacon Heath, Michael talked to Martin Weiler about his memories of Heavitree.

Michael Hughes in 2024

Michael Hughes in 2024

Exeter Blitz

Michael’s main earliest memories surround the blitz in Exeter during World War Two. “At first, we all had to sit under the stairs when the air raid warnings sounded. Later we had a Morrison shelter set up inside our house. When the sirens went off during the day, I had to take two boys home from Ladysmith School as they lived further away. We also shared the shelter with a neighbour. I didn’t look forward to the air raids, but I did to the stew the neighbour brought in. It was full of Heinz baked beans. It was frightening when bombs were dropping but afterwards you wanted to know what had happened. One dropped on the roof of the school, and I remember saying to my Mum, “Good, I won’t have to go to school in the morning”. There was an air raid shelter in front of the Bramdean School playing fields. We would walk from Heavitree to the Odeon cinema on Saturday mornings. It was totally flattened around there; we used to climb over the bricks. When you looked across from the top of Paris Street, there was only the Cathedral standing. One time we went out to near Exeter Airport and saw a German plane that had been shot down. There was a boy at school who was killed by a mine off St Loye’s Road. Then it really hit you what was happening”.

Home Life

Michael’s Mum, Frances Dorothy nee Hooper, was a Heavitree lass and had been brought up in the same house at 35 Goldsmith Street; also referred to as Lower Goldsmith Street in street directories. His Dad, Alfred, was a plumber from St Thomas. The directories describe his business as ‘Plumber and Hot water Engineer’. Michael recalls that “it was lovely in Goldsmith Street as everyone knew each other. Even when we moved to Alpha Street, a much longer road, it was so friendly, you would know everyone. No one had a car so you could play in the street.

We used to play football in Hanover Road and only had to stop when the Crossmead bus came along”. Meals were simple – Cornflakes for breakfast, a snack at lunchtime and then an evening meal. “My favourite was homemade steak and kidney pudding”.

On Saturday evenings it was fish and chips from Prance’s on Fore Street. Michael remembers the family wireless. “It was the only thing we had for entertainment. It was large with a big battery and accumulator. I had to go to Thorn’s hardware shop to get the accumulator charged up. You had to do that every two or three weeks”. Sometimes for a treat we would go to Exmouth on the train from Polsloe Bridge. When I was older, I would go dancing at The Regal there. I saw many a punch up between boys from Exeter and trainees at the Lympstone camp”.


Michael started at Ladysmith Infants School when he was 5. He used to be delivered there by a local teenage girl as his Mum was busy in the mornings. It was in the grounds of the Infant’s School that Victory in Japan (VJ) was celebrated with a large tea party, of which Michael still has some wonderful photos. His younger sister, Pauline, is there with Michael, as well as Dick Manley, later an England rugby player. He was at School with Frank Potter (Heavitree Local History Society Member), and says Frank was always top in exams.

VJ Day party at Ladysmith School

VJ Day party at Ladysmith School

VJ Day party at Ladysmith School

VJ Day party at Ladysmith School

Michael progressed through the Junior and Senior Schools before attending Technical School in the World War Two huts in Belmont Park. “I studied woodwork and metalwork. A few of us used to walk there, often stopping at Yandell’s shop on the corner of Hanover Road. We would buy a single cigarette each which cost a penny. We would then walk up Sampson’s Lane and smoke them. One day a teacher caught us, but his only question was did we have a spare one for him!”

Technical school boys around 1950

Technical school boys around 1950

Heavitree Pleasure Gardens

“We had the best times of our lives in the Pleasure Gardens”, says Michael. “After school we would play football there. I also remember climbing around a big pile of white rocks at the far entrance. It was probably dangerous. We used to watch the speedway at the County Ground, and were inspired to make our own track in the Gardens. The Park keeper caught us digging the ground up and played up hell with us. I remember during the war that trenches were built in the Pleasure Gardens as shelter if bombs came”.


Michael enjoyed playing football for his school and later for Heavitree United Reserves. He was a winger and could run fast. At the time Heavitree United’s home ground was in the Pleasure Gardens. It was because of football that Michael was exempted from military service. “I was diagnosed with hammer toes. They said this was caused by wearing football boots that were too tight for me”. Michael’s next-door neighbour in Goldsmith Street, Lawrence Taylor, went on to play as a goalkeeper for Bristol Rovers. He also says that Exeter, Arsenal and England striker, Cliff Bastin (also a Ladysmith School pupil in earlier years), was “everyone’s hero. After his career he came back to Heavitree and ran the Horse and Groom in Fore Street. My Dad used to drink in there and one day Bastin gave him a couple of tickets to go and watch Arsenal at Highbury”. Michael was a keen Exeter City fan watching from the Cowshed at St James Park. “There was a lot of smoke, whistling and shouting in there”.


Michael’s family never had to go far for essentials. “There was a bakery where the newsagents are now on the corner of South Lawn Terrace. Jam doughnuts would be a special treat from there. We got our milk from Roseland’s Dairy on Roseland Avenue. Our Vegetables came from Swanstons next to the Horse and Groom. Meat was obtained from Eastmans butchers, two up from where the gun shop is now on Fore Street. Our newsagents were Partridges on Fore Street. Stuckey’s was a corner shop in Shelton Place that sold alcohol. There were other more specialist businesses – there was a blacksmith up a lane between North Street and Homefield Road. As well as making horseshoes, he would sharpen tools. We also sometimes helped ourselves. We used to go and scrump apples in Bastin’s orchard near to where we lived”.

Boys’ Brigade

When he was 11, Michael joined the Boys’ Brigade at the Congregational Church (now United Reformed). “Once a month we would march from the Pleasure Gardens to the church. I played the bugle to start with and won the award for best bugler in Exeter. I later changed to playing the drum. We used to march at the Heavitree Carnival and other local carnivals like St Thomas and Topsham. The drummers would be at the front. We even went to London once and played at the Royal Albert Hall. It was the first time I’d ever been to London and remember everyone rushing and tearing around. We went on the roof of St Paul’s Cathedral and scratched our names there”.

After Michael left Technical School, he joined his dad’s plumbing business on Beacon Heath. He married Pauline in 1965 and they had two children, Sally and Barry. Barry, who had Cerebral Palsy, sadly died when he was 19.

A big thank you to Michael for sharing all his memories. He still takes a great interest in Heavitree’s past, and attended a Heavitree Local History Society talk at which the idea of this oral history conversation came about. We are also very grateful for the fabulous photos that Michael showed us of the VJ celebrations at Ladysmith School and his Technical School classmates. Wonderful local history!

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Snippets From The Local Press

5th October 1820 - Exeter Flying Post

Several robberies have lately been committed at Heavitree: on the night of Monday se'night the house of Mr Slocombe, butcher, was broken open and a quantity of meat and other things stolen there from: and early on Saturday morning last, the sum of 5 pounds was stolen from the shop of Mr Sanders, baker: on the following morning (Sunday) the house of Mr Morren was entered, and cash stolen to the amount of between four and five pounds. Several silver spoons, marked, and two watches lay near the place where the money was kept, at Mr Sander's.

On Monday last John Burnett and James Alsop, the former 18 and the latter 17 years of age, were arrested on suspicion of being the offenders, who on being taken before a Magistrate, confessed their guilt and were committed to Bridewell for a further examination at the Castle, on Friday next. Burnett was later convicted of felony, for which he was imprisoned in the Devon County Bridewell and privately whipped.

14th October 1820 - Exeter Flying Post

Heavitree fire on 11th September. Fire at house belonging to Mr Austin (bricklayer) near the Horse and Groom, on the right hand side leading to the church. 5 Houses in front, 5 cottages behind totally destroyed. Water supply problems. Nearly all properties insured.

6th October 1832 - Exeter Flying Post

Heavitree. The [Cholera] epidemic has made its appearance in this beautiful village, but as if only to afford additional evidence of the salubrity of the situation the following is the very satisfactory Report made by the Board this day.

  • New cases 0
  • Died 0
  • Recovered 0
  • Remaining 8

24th July 1834 - Exeter Flying Post

Mont-le-Grand sale, together with two houses in Bicton Place and 30 acres of land which is 'healthy, with good views'.

11th January 1838 - Exeter Flying Post

Caution against indiscriminate alms giving

A further proof of the necessity of caution in this respect was afforded on Thursday last at Heavitree. The Rev. Arthur Atherley, the clergyman of the parish, [Heavitree's vicar 1820-1857] had received intimation that a man with a petition to which his name was attached as having given the petitioner 10s, was soliciting contributions, in the parish, and in the course of the day the Rev. gentleman in passing through the village of Wonford, fell in with him, and being unknown to the mendicant, he presented his petition, and solicited alms of Mr Atherley.

Convinced now of the imposition endeavoured to be practised, from the forgery of his own name, Mr Atherley told the man the petition would not be returned, and that he must accompany him. This the beggar did for a short distance, but coming to a part where a lane branched off, the fellow bolted, making off at the top of his speed.

Determined, however, by making an example of the impostor, to endeavour to check this prevalent practice, Mr Atherley pursued him, in which he was joined by Mr Crowther. The fellow outran them for a considerable distance, but at length was taken, and being on Friday brought before the Magistrates at the Castle, was convicted as a rogue and vagabond, and sent to exercise at the treadmill for three weeks.

18th July 1846 - Woolmers Exeter & Plymouth Gazette

Heavitree. During the last week the inhabitants of this quiet village have been moved from their accustomed proprietary by the gaieties of a revel. The streets have been animated by the presence of gingerbread stalls, puppet shows, nut barrows and tumblers, whilst in one of the fields whirligigs, swinging boats and "the American wizard from the wizard's magic cave", have respectively demonstrated their mutual high pretensions to public patronage; not have they languished for want of it. The new parish church of Heavitree is fast progressing to completion and will be consecrated on Monday week.

10th July 1851 - Woolmers Exeter & Plymouth Gazette

Heavitree Fair. On Tuesday and Wednesday the annual holiday fair of this village was held and drew together a large number of the pleasure seeking population of this city and neighbourhood, who delight in such recreations. The day's amusements consisted in climbing a pole for a leg of mutton, donkey racing, etc, etc, and in the evening the dance was enjoyed and entered into with great ardour.

12th July 1871 - Exeter Flying Post

Heavitree had its annual revel on Sunday, and it was attended and it was attended with the usual amount of inebriety and misconduct. The writer of this paragraph witnessed a most disgraceful scene. A lot of roughs (men, women and boys) had been turned out of the public houses and commenced to fight, one across the other, neither of them apparently knowing why they were fighting or who they were fighting with. The language was far from being refined and the women out-vied the men in the elegance of their expressions.These annual gatherings would be more honoured in the breach than in the observance. Yesterday the fair commenced with donkey racing, etc. and today there will be climbing for legs of mutton and women for gown pieces.

1st August 1883 - Exeter Flying Post

The Salvation Army at Heavitree. Complaints by Residents.

At the castle Mr F Orchard said he appeared on behalf of a large number of the inhabitants at Heavitree in order to present a petition asking the Bench to assist them in removing the nuisance and obstruction caused by the Salvation Army. The petition set forth that a body of Salvationists created an intolerable and constant nuisance by their shouting and raving in the public thoroughfare at Heavitree. This was a great annoyance to the inhabitants and he asked the Magistrates to take some steps to stop this state of things.

The petition bore the signatures of fifty persons. Mr Orchard remarked that the obstruction and annoyance were caused at the crossway by the junction of Church Street and Fore Street. The Army took up their stand at the path and they completed blocked the free passage of the road. They remained there for a long time hollering and shouting so much that they could be heard at the turnpike gate. [by this date the turnpike was at Livery Dole]

The Deputy Chief Constable said he was perfectly cognizant of the facts stated but that there had been no obstruction that the police could interfere with or the offenders would have been brought before the Bench. The obstruction was rather caused by persons who went there to molest the Army.

After further discussion the question was dropped.

[This was one of many attempts by Devonians of all types to stop the Salvation Army conducting outdoor services]

23rd March 1900 - Devon & Exeter Gazette

Auction Anstey Orchard, Wonford. 95ft frontage to Fore Street, Wonford, 225ft to road at rear, depth 400ft, area 2a 1r 4p. Ripe for development of 60 houses. Land and buildings let for £25 10s p.a., but early possession can be arranged. Rippon Son an d Co., 8 Queen Street. (Withdrawn at £435, on 20/04/1900 D&EG p14).

30th April 1901 - Devon & Exeter Gazette

Carbolic Acid for Cider

Last evening, while Mr Alfred Oxenham, of Heavitree Bridge, Exeter, was engaged in whitewashing a house, to which he was shortly removing, he drank a portion of the contents of a bottle containing carbolic acid in mistake for cider. Mr Andrews, surgeon, was called, and ordered Mr Oxhenham’s removal to the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, where he died soon afterwards. Deceased was 34 years of age, and leaves a widow. An inquest will probably be held today.

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Heavitree Around The World

As Europeans moved around the world, it became common for them to [re]name topographical features and places after family names or places where they had grown up. Devon place-names can be found throughout the world; even small villages such as Heavitree are found in other places.

Heavitree Gap, Australia

A river pass which cuts through the MacDonnell mountain-range providing the southern entrance to Alice Springs in the Northern Territories, Australia. It was named by surveyor William W Mills who was working on the new overland telegraph line in the northern territories. Mills, according to the 1851 census, was born in Heavitree, and aged 6 years old lived in Polsloe Park. He said he named the pass Heavitree Gap after his ‘old school in Devon’. This could refer to the school that used to stand on the site of the present Co-op. It is claimed that he named Alice Springs after Alice Todd, the wife of Sir Charles Todd, the Superintendent of Telegraph.

There are a number of Heavitree named places in Alice Springs including a Heavitree Court and a Heavitree Gap supermarket. One should note that although Mills called the pass Heavitree Gap it did already have a name – Ntaripe (pronounced Ndariba) – a sacred site to the indigenous Arrente (Arunda) people.

A view of Heavitree Gap, Australia

A view of Heavitree Gap, Australia

Heavitree, New Zealand

Heavitree Farm in New Zealand is on the North Island in the town of Gisborne, close to Hawkes Bay. The farm was purchased by the Newman family in 1987 and they named it Heavitree after their ancestors who originally came to New Zealand from Heavitree, Devon in 1854. They grow a variety of fruit there and produce wine and juice under the banner of their ‘Heavitree Juice Ltd’ company.

Heavitree Street Names, USA

There are three Heavitree street names in the Severna Park area of Maryland, USA: Heavitree Lane, Heavitree Hill and Heavitree Garth. These can be found off Devonshire Lane. The local authority has been approached to see if they can throw any light on the use of the Heavitree name.

Heavitree, Jamaica

Founded in the 1830s it lies at an altitude of 756m (2480 feet) in a mountainous area near the middle of the island. It owes its name to the Davy family. They lived at Mere Farm in the parish before moving to Countess Wear in around 1765. The Davys were involved in slavery and compensated after its abolition in 1833. Heavitree would have been founded using the wealth accumulated from slavery. The estate became a coffee plantation and people still live in Heavitree today.

Maps showing the location of Heavitree, Jamaica

Maps showing the location of Heavitree, Jamaica

Heavitree, South Africa

Owes its origins to two maiden aunts living in Heavitree, Devon who in 1857 sent money to Natal to enable two sons of the Ralfe family to purchase land at Eden near Ladysmith. They renamed the farm Heavitree. Winston Churchill refers to a skirmish at Heavitree in his Boer War diaries. For many years there was a prize at the local annual cattle show called the Heavitree Gold Cup. Heavitree still exists and you can even stay at the farm as they run a bed and breakfast there.

Heavitree House, Scotland

This is the name of a large house built in Golspie, Sutherland by a James Anderson in around 1850. It subsequently became a hotel and then a farm. It is now private housing although you can stay there. Why it was called Heavitree?

Heavitree Street Names, Plumstead, London

Heavitree Road and Heavitree Close are two street names in Plumstead, Greenwich in London. Heavitree Road was built in 1877 and was so named at the request of a Mr Braund whose birthplace was Heavitree, Devon. This is believed to be Marwood Kelly Braund a solicitor who moved from Devon to Plumstead in the Victorian era.

Heavitree Road, Kingsand, Cornwall

In the early 1900s, local councils in Cornwall decided to rename some of the old, unfashionable streets and go ‘up-market’. In Kingsand, there was much debate with several changes proposed.

At the time in the village, there was a thriving Wesleyan Methodist Church, most members of which lived in a street called Back Lane; they were supposedly ardent tee-totallers. It hadn't gone unnoticed, however, that on Thursdays the dray of the Heavitree Brewery was particularly busy making numerous deliveries. As a result, the fishing fraternity with their characteristic wry humour, nicknamed the street Heavitree Road.

A public meeting, heavily attended by fisher-folk, was held to discuss street re-naming amongst other matters. A vote was taken and secured to officially rename Back Lane to Heavitree Road.

The road can still be seen today. It even has a Heavitree House.

Heavitree Road Heavitree House
Heavitree Road, Kingsand

Heavitree Way, Taunton

A new street near the railway station and railway line. When approached to discover the link with Heavitree, Devon the local council simply said there wasn’t one but that it “sounds nice”.

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Here we recall the pivotal role of those who founded and ran the Society for many years from its earliest days.

Den Perrin, 1932 - 2017

Den Perrin

Den Perrin, founder of the Heavitree Local History Society, and its first Secretary, passed away on 18th November 2017.

When Den retired from Devon County Council, his active mind turned to potential projects to keep him busy and stimulated. As a Heavitree resident, with a keen interest in history, Den started to explore the idea of a Local History Society.

This culminated on 12th August 1998 when Den, together with David Morrish, Norman Shiel and Martin Weiler, met 'to discuss the possibility of forming a Local History Society for Heavitree'.

The idea was quickly endorsed, and the Society inaugurated in October that year with Den as secretary. From the outset, he was very focussed on doing things rather than just talking about local history. Very speedily he organised for the fledgling Society to publish a guide to the Higher Cemetery, and moreover successfully approached Exeter City Council to pay for this.

Soon after, Den started an annual survey of the shops in Heavitree Fore Street, and researched what had been there previously right back until 1851, producing the results in a booklet. The survey is still continued by members and the changes are updated on our website.

Den also edited a fine publication naming all those from Heavitree who died in World War I - The Heavitree Roll of Honour; when it came to World War II commemorations, Den negotiated the closure of Whipton Lane and organised a street party to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of hostilities. Over 300 enjoyed entertainment, tea and a victory cake.

Den launched the Society newsletter in 2000 and continued documenting the history of the area. Other publications by him included histories of Heavitree Parish Church and Heavitree School. He also wrote a booklet for the Civic Society on all the plaques and public inscriptions around Exeter.

Den's biggest triumph was persuading the Royal Albert Memorial Museum to host an Exhibition on Heavitree's history - Heavitree 2002. This proved a great success and we still use some of the exhibition boards today.

He was very keen on reminding people that Heavitree used to be an independent borough until being annexed by Exeter in 1913. Eventually however he forgave the City, and indeed Den was the main driver behind the setting up of the Exeter Local History Society.

When he organised the first Heavitree Fore Street walk in 2000 an amazing 83 people turned up. Den had touched a nerve. He knew that people were interested in their community and its local history; knew it but crucially did something about it. Everyone with an interest in Heavitree will forever be grateful for Den's foresight and persistence.

The Society is still thriving today - nearly 20 years after Den formed it - a great legacy from the man we are honoured to remember as our founder and inspiration.

David Morrish, 1931 - 2018

David Morrish

David Morrish, co-founder of the Heavitree Local History Society, and its first Chairman, passed away on 14th February 2018.

A County and City Liberal Party Councillor for Heavitree for three decades, David was widely known as 'Mr Heavitree'.

He always had a passionate interest in the local history of Heavitree. In a Heavitree Liberal Newsletter of April 1968 David wrote an article about Heavitree in Australia. Here two of his great interests came together - geography and history.

The newsletter said that David 'makes a spare time hobby of recording aspects of Heavitree's history. As a geographer and Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, he has been busy tracking down Heavitree's Australian 'twin' '.

Given this level of interest in local history, and his 'can do' attitude, it is no surprise that David supported the formation of a Local History Society. Together with Den Perrin, David drew up plans, before hosting an initial meeting at his Birchy Barton Hill home on 12th August 1998.

David and Den's enthusiasm was infectious, and the Society was quickly inaugurated that October. Den was elected Secretary and David the Chairman, a post he held for 12 years.

David immediately got down to work on issues the Society could research and discuss. He wrote a paper for the Society's first meeting suggesting a number of themes. These included: Heavitree Urban District Council (1896-1913), schools, origins of street names, buildings in the conservation area, census returns, the cemetery, old newspaper reports, breweries and the churches.

Particularly popular were David's guided tours of the Fore Street area. The first one was held on Sunday 2nd July 2000; an amazing 83 people turned up. The Society newsletter reported 'Despite the numbers and the constant roar of traffic, David Morrish managed to both entertain and enlighten all those present'.

It was fitting that the Society's meeting on 6th March 2018 was packed to the rafters. Those present held a minute's silence to remember David, then took the opportunity to share personal memories.

Members stressed David's role in supporting and participating in the Heavitree Community Association.

Our current Secretary, Terry Bound, recalled David's role as a lecturer at St Luke's teacher training college. David led a party, including Terry, over the old bridge at Clyst St Mary to the banks of the river Axe. There they saw all the layers in the shingle cliff and David said "Gentleman this is geography being enacted before your very eyes". Terry said he will never forget those words.

Terry also paid tribute to David's role in researching the historic boundary of Heavitree Parish, and how Heavitree Urban District Council celebrated Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897 by erecting additional boundary stones and reviving the beating of the bounds ceremony, when some even rode round on horseback.

Autobiography of David Morrish

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