Friday, 17 July 2009

Exeter/ Exanceaster: Place in Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Series ****

Exeter (pronounced /ˈɛksɨtər/ ( listen)) is a city, district and county town of Devon, England. Exeter is located approximately 37 miles (60 km) northeast of Plymouth, and 70 miles (110 km) southwest of Bristol, on the River Exe. The city has a population of 111,076 according to the 2001 Census.

Devon, the red mark showing Exeter

Exeter was the most south-westerly Roman fortified settlement in Britain and has existed since time immemorial. Exeter Cathedral, founded in 1050 is Anglican.
Tourism forms a vital part of the city's economy, and in 2004 Exeter was granted Fairtrade City status. Exeter has been identified as one of the top ten most profitable locations for a business to be based. The city has good transport links, with Exeter St David's railway station, Exeter Central railway station, the M5 motorway and Exeter International Airport connecting the city both nationally and internationally.

Roman times
The Latin name for Exeter, Isca Dumnoniorum ("Isca of the Dumnones"), suggests that the city was of Celtic origin. This oppidum, (a Latin term meaning an important town), on the banks of the River Exe certainly existed prior to the foundation of the Roman city in about AD 50, however the name may have been suggested by a Celtic adviser to the Romans, rather than by the original inhabitants of the place.

An illustration of Exeter in 1563, entitled Civitas Exoniae (vulgo Excester) urbs primaria in comitatu Devoniae

Such early towns, or proto-cities, had been a feature of pre-Roman Gaul as described by Julius Caesar in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico ("Commentaries on the Gallic Wars") and it is possible that they existed in neighbouring Great Britain as well. Isca is derived from a Brythonic Celtic word for flowing water, which was given to the Exe and, elsewhere, to the River Usk on which Caerleon in Monmouthshire stands. The Romans gave the city the name Isca Dumnoniorum in order to distinguish it from Isca Augusta, modern Caerleon.
Significant parts of the Roman wall remain, though the present visible structure was largely built on the orders of Alfred the Great to protect the far west of his kingdom following the Viking occupation of 876. Most of its route can be traced on foot. There is a substantial Roman baths complex that was excavated in the 1970s, but because of its proximity to the cathedral, it has not been practicable to retain the excavation for public view. Exeter was also the southern starting point for the Fosse Way Roman road.

Saxon times

Exeter in 1844. A print by William Spreat showing St David's shortly after its consecration in 1844

In 876 Exeter (then known as Escanceaster) was attacked and captured by the Danes. King Alfred (Alfred the Great) drove them out the next year. In 894 the city held off another siege by the Danes. However, the city fell to the Danes a second time in 1001. In 927 Athelstan drove out the Cornish people who had continued to live in their own quarter (the north west quarter, known as Britayne) of the walled city since Roman times. It is considered that the Cornishmen returned to Exeter sometime later and their language could still be heard in the city until the 13th Century.
In 1067 the city rebelled against William the Conqueror who promptly marched west and laid siege. The city submitted after only 18 days. Part of the capitulation agreement was that all the nobles in the city would be confirmed in their positions as long as a castle was built.

Medieval times
Exeter was held against King Stephen by Baldwin de Redvers in 1140 and submitted only after a three month siege when the supplies of fresh water ran out.
Tudor and Stuart times

Plaque on St Mary Steps Church commemorating the old West Gate and some of the military campaigns in which it featured

In 1537, the city was made a county corporate. In 1549 the city successfully withstood a month-long siege by the Prayer Book rebels. The Livery Dole Almshouses and Chapel at Heavitree were founded in March 1591 and finished in 1594. They can still be seen today in the street which bears the name Livery Dole.
The city's motto, Semper fidelis, is traditionally held to have been suggested by Elizabeth I, in acknowledgement of the city's contribution of ships to help defeat the Spanish Armada in 1588; however its first documented use is in 1660.
Exeter was at first a Parliamentary town in the English Civil War in the largely Royalist South West, but it was captured by the Royalists on 4 September 1643 and it remained in their control until near the end of the war, being one of the final Royalist cities to fall into Parliamentary hands.
During this period, Exeter was an economically powerful city, with a strong trade of wool. This was partly due to the surrounding area which was "more fertile and better inhabited than that passed over the preceding day" according to Count Lorenzo Magalotti who visited the city when he was 26 years old. Magalotti writes of over thirty thousand people
the West Indies, Spain, France and Italy" being employed in the county of Devon as part of the wool and cloth industries, merchandise that was sold to ". Celia Fiennes also visited Exeter during this period, in the early 1700s. She remarked on the "vast trade" and "incredible quantity" in Exeter, recording that "it turns the most money in a week of anything in England", between £10,000—£15,000.
Georgian and Victorian times

The High Street ca. 1895

Early in the Industrial Revolution, Exeter's industry developed on the basis of locally available agricultural products and, since the city's location on a fast-flowing river gave it ready access to water power, an early industrial site developed on drained marshland to the west of the city, at Exe Island. However when steam power replaced water in the 19th century, Exeter was too far from sources of coal (or iron) to develop further. As a result the city declined in relative importance, and was spared the rapid 19th century development that changed many historic European cities. Extensive canal redevelopments during this period further expanded Exeter's economy, with "vessels of 15 to 16 tons burthen [bringing] up goods and merchandise from Topsham to the City Quay".
The first railway to arrive in Exeter was the Bristol and Exeter Railway that opened a station at St Davids on the western edge in 1844. The South Devon Railway Company extended the line westwards to Plymouth, opening their own smaller station at St Thomas, near the lower end of Fore Street. A more central railway station, that at Queen Street, was opened by the London and South Western Railway in 1860 when it opened its alternative route to London.

Wartime and post-war times

Two people cannot easily pass in Parliament Street, one of the narrowest streets in the United Kingdom.

Exeter was bombed by the German Luftwaffe in the Second World War, when a total of 18 raids between 1940 and 1942 flattened much of the city centre. In 1942, as part of the Baedeker Blitz and specifically in response to the RAF bombing of Lübeck, forty acres (160,000 m²) of the city, particularly adjacent to its central High Street and Sidwell Street, were levelled by incendiary bombing. Many historic buildings were destroyed, and others, including the grand Cathedral of St Peter in the heart of the city, were damaged.
Large areas of the city were rebuilt in the 1950s, when little attempt was made to preserve Exeter's ancient heritage. Damaged buildings were generally demolished rather than restored, and even the street plan was altered in an attempt to improve traffic circulation. The post-war buildings are generally perceived as being of little architectural merit, unlike many of those that they replaced, such as Bedford Circus and a section of the ancient city wall.
Despite some local opposition, the Princesshay shopping centre has been redeveloped between the Cathedral Close and the High Street. The development was completed and opened on time on 20 September 2007. There are 123 varied residential units incorporated into the new Princessha .
In order to enable people with limited mobility to enjoy the city, Exeter Community Transport Association provides shopmobility for use by anyone suffering from short or long-term mobility impairment to access to the city centre and shopping facilities, events and meetings with friends and company.
Previously regarded as second only to Bath as an architectural site in southern England, since the 1942 bombing and subsequent reconstruction Exeter has been a city with some beautiful buildings rather than a beautiful city. As a result, although there is a significant tourist trade, Exeter is not dominated by tourism. In May 2008 there was an attempted terrorist attack in Princesshay.

View of the Exe estuary. Exeter outskirts show
in the bottom right hand corner

The city of Exeter was established on the eastern bank of the River Exe on a ridge of land backed by a steep hill. It is at this point that the Exe, having just been joined by the River Creedy, opens onto a wide flood plain and estuary which results in quite common flooding. Historically this was the lowest bridging point of the River Exe which was tidal and navigable up to the city until the construction of weirs later in its history. This combined with the easily defensible higher ground of the ridge made the current location of the city a natural choice for settlement and trade. In George Oliver's The History of the City of Exeter, it is noted that the most likely reasons for the original settling of what would become modern Exeter was the "fertility of the surrounding countryside" and the area's "beautiful and commanding elevation [and] its rapid and navigable river".
Its woodland would also have been ideal for natural resources and hunting.
Exeter sits predominantly on sandstone and conglomerate geology, although the structure of the surrounding areas is varied. The topography of the ridge which forms the backbone of the city includes a volcanic plug, on which the Rougemont Castle is situated. The Cathedral is located on the edge of this ridge and is therefore visible for a considerable distance.

Little Britayne
It is recorded by William of Malmesbury that Athelstan, the king of England, drove the Cornishmen from the city of Exeter in 928AD. The Cornish had continued to live in Exeter (then known as Isca or Kaer Uisc) from the end of the Roman occupation until this time and had maintained the practise of Christianity within the city. After the Anglo-Saxon Conquest of Dumnonia in the early 9th Century the Cornishmen had been confined to their own quarter of the old city of Exeter and enjoyed their own laws. Their quarter was in the north-west corner of the city which was closest to the West Gate which received traffic from Cornwall and was also considered the least desirable as it was down hill and suffered from the pollution which washed through towards the River Exe. Several churches with Celtic names including Saint Petroc and Saint Kerrian existed close to their quarter and may have been based on sub-Roman foundations. It is generally believed that the Cornishmen returned to the city at some time before the Norman Conquest as the Cornish language could still be heard in the city until the 13th Century. A street called Britayne existed in their old quarter until the 17th Century when it was renamed Bartholomew Street


A statue of Richard Hooker stands on the Cathedral Green.

Among the notable buildings in Exeter are:
The cathedral, founded in 1050 when the bishop's seat was moved from the nearby town of Crediton (birthplace of Saint Boniface) because Exeter's Roman walls offered better protection against "pirates", presumably Vikings.

Exeter Cathedral

A statue of Richard Hooker, the 16th century Anglican theologian, who was born in Exeter, has a prominent place in the Cathedral Close.
The ruins of Rougemont Castle, built soon after the Norman Conquest; later parts of the castle were still in use as an Assize court until early 2006 when a new Crown Courts building opened.
A plaque near the ruined Norman gatehouse recalls that in 1685 Alice Molland, the last person executed for witchcraft in England, was imprisoned in Exeter.
The future of the castle is at the moment uncertain, but moves are afoot to alter its use, possibly to a restaurant and housing.
The Guildhall, the oldest municipal building in England still in use.
Mols Coffee House Historic building in the Cathedral close.
The Guild of Tuckers and Weavers, a fine old building that is still used for smart functions.
The Custom House in the attractive Quay area, which is the oldest brick building surviving in the city.
St Nicholas Priory in Mint Lane, the remains of a monastery, later used as a private house and now a museum owned by the city council.
A number of medieval churches including St Mary Steps which has an elaborate clock.
"The House That Moved", a 14th century Tudor building, earned its name in 1961 when it was moved from its original location on the corner of Edmund Street in order for a new road to be built in its place. Weighing more than twenty-one tonnes, it was strapped together and slowly moved a few inches at a time to its present day position.
Parliament Street in the city centre is one of the narrowest streets in the United Kingdom.
The Butts Ferry, an ancient cable ferry across the River Exe.

Ruined gatehouse at Rougemont Castle. Note the red sandstone, characteristic of many older Exeter buildings.

Many of these are built in the local dark red sandstone, which gives its name to the castle and the park that now surrounds it (Rougemont means red hill).
The pavements on Queen Street are composed of the rock Diorite and exhbit some fine feldspar crystals, while those around Princesshay are composed of Granodiorite
Northernhay Gardens located just outside the castle, is the oldest public open space in the whole of England, being originally laid out in 1612 as a pleasure walk for Exeter residents. Much of Northernhay Gardens now represent Victorian design, with a beautiful display of trees, mature shrubs and bushes and plenty of flower beds. There are also many statues here, most importantly the war memorial by John Angel and the Deerstalker by E.B. Stephens. The Volunteer Memorial from 1895, also in the gardens, commemorates the formation of the 1st Rifle Volunteers in 1852. Other statues include John Dinham, Thomas Dyke Acland and Stafford Northcote(a local landowner who was a Victorian Chancellor of the Exchequer).
Religion Exeter Cathedral.There are many churches in Exeter belonging to different Christian movements and an Anglican cathedral. It is the seat of the Bishop of Exeter. The present building was complete by about 1400, and has the longest uninterrupted vaulted ceiling in England, and other notable features. The Anglican churches form the Deanery of Christianity (Exeter)

The Riddles in the High St

The Exeter Book, an original manuscript and one of the most important documents in Anglo-Saxon literature, is kept in the vaults of the cathedral. The Exeter Book dates back to the 10th century and is one of four manuscripts that between them contain virtually all the surviving poetry in Old English. It includes most of the more highly regarded shorter poems, some religious pieces, and a series of riddles, a handful of which are famously lewd. Some of the riddles are inscribed on a highly polished steel obelisk in the High Street, placed on 30 March 2005.
The Inquisitio Eliensis, the "Exon Domesday" (so called from the preservation of the volume at Exeter), is a volume of Domesday Book that contains the full details which the original returns supplied.
One of Rosemary Sutcliff's best-known children's books, The Eagle of the Ninth, begins in Roman Isca Dumnoniorum.
The Crowner John Mysteries by Bernard Knight are a series of books set in 12th century Exeter.

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