Medieval City

After the vigorous growth of the 10th and 11th centuries, Exeter experienced a prolonged period of more modest success in the later middle ages. Nevertheless it functioned as a regional centre for much of Devon and Somerset, with its markets and fairs, town crafts and foreign trade.

Exeter was also an important centre of the church, with its cathedral, monasteries, friaries, and hospitals, in addition to its thirty parish churches. 

Gandy Street

Gandy Street

Most of the Saxon streets in Exeter have been widened in later centuries. Gandy Street is unusual as it retains its early medieval form.

St Martin’s Church

St Martin’s Church

According to a late medieval document, St Martin’s church, at the corner of Cathedral Close and Catherine Street, was founded in 1065. An important discovery made in the 1980s and 1990s was the recognition that the surviving church, which was previously believed to date to the later middle ages, is in large part Anglo-Saxon, and presumably the church of 1065. It has a simple plan of two cells (rooms), the masonry being largely of local volcanic rubble.

The parishes of central Exeter

The parishes of central Exeter

The plan shows the sites of the ancient churches of Exeter, with the boundaries of their parishes as recorded on 19th-century maps. The process of the formation of churches and parishes seems to have its origin in the late Saxon period, although documentary evidence of the existence of most of the parishes begins only at the end of the 12th century.

Plan of Medieval Exeter

Plan of Medieval Exeter

This digitised map was prepared for the Exeter Urban Archaeological Database, compiled by Exeter Archaeology and funded by English Heritage. It forms the most precise record of the exact positions and widths of streets and other features within the old city; it should be used in conjunction with the interpretative map.

The position of the river Exe in the later middle ages, with a wide course to the southwest of the city, is apparent. The yellow features indicate the castle, the dots (top right) indicate the positions of wells at St Sidwells.

Engraving of the Guildhall

Engraving of the Guildhall

The engraving, from a drawing by the architect Edward Ashworth, shows the appearance of the Guildhall c. 1840. At that time the late 17th-century picture-frames and furnishings were a prominent feature of the medieval building; they were removed in late Victorian restoration.

Thomas Rowlandson’s view of the South Gate of Exeter

Thomas Rowlandson’s view of the South Gate of Exeter

This pen and watercolour drawing by Thomas Rowlandson shows the outer face of the gate; it is not precisely dated but may belong in the 1790s. The gate was demolished in 1819. It shows the massive projecting towers of the gate rebuilt in the years 1410-20. They served as prisons, whilst the room over the gate provided a place for civic functions. Outside the gate are houses constructed at the close of the Civil War in the 1650s and 1660s.

South Gate: the Farington engraving

South Gate: the Farington engraving

Commanding the important road to Topsham and the sea, the South Gate was greatly enlarged in the period 1410-20, when projecting towers flanking the passageway in front of the gate arch were added. The gate also served as a notorious prison. It was eventually demolished in 1819 as a barrier to traffic. Although many views of the gate survive, many are very inaccurate, some based only on memory. This engraving, published in the Devon volumes of Lysons' Britannia in 1822 but prepared from a drawing made by the artist Joseph Farington in 1810, is the most reliable record of its appearance.

The North Gate

The North Gate

In contrast to the South Gate, the North Gate, which defended the less important route to Crediton and North Devon, was a much more modest affair, consisting of a small tower within the walls, lacking projecting towers. This view was drawn in the 1830s; it is far from clear how reliable it is, since the gate had been demolished two generations before.

The interior of Broadgate

The interior of Broadgate

The clergy occupied a separate enclosed area within the city - The Close, surrounding the cathedral. Of its seven gates, the Broadgate, leading to High Street, was the grandest. It was removed in 1819. Broadgate was the principal entrance into the Cathedral Close in the late middle ages. Following the murder of the cathedral Precentor in 1283, the clergy protected each of the seven entrances into the Close with a gate. The one at Broadgate, leading into High Street, was the most impressive, with an elaborately carved archway and rooms above. It was eventually demolished in 1819 because it was a barrier to traffic. The watercolour is by the local artist John Gendall.

The City Wall by John White Abbott

The City Wall by John White Abbott

John White Abbott's view shows a length of the city wall in Southernhay as it appeared at the beginning of the 19th century. This stretch consists of medieval wall with projecting towers at intervals, strengthened and in places rebuilt during the Civil War of the 17th century. The doorway giving access to the Bishop's Palace garden would not have been allowed in the middle ages.

Exe Bridge: a modern view

Exe Bridge: a modern view

The view shows the monument as it survives today. Of the original seventeen arches, exactly half survive - those which bridged the low marshy land on the city side of the river. Built c. 1200, with alternating rounded and pointed arches, it is the only major surviving element of one of early medieval Britain's major bridges.

Reconstruction of Exe Bridge in late 13th century

Reconstruction of Exe Bridge in late 13th century

This modern reconstruction drawing by Erich Kadow shows the portion of Exe Bridge which survives today, with reconstructions of the medieval buildings at the water's edge, which were excavated by Exeter Archaeology in 1975-6. The arches of the bridges sit on projecting cutwaters, protected from erosion by stout wooden piles driven into the bed of the Exe. Close to the end of the bridge stands St Edmund's church, with a small chantry chapel opposite. To the left of the view are in Frog Street and in the distance the city wall.

The Seal of the Wardens of Exe Bridge

The Seal of the Wardens of Exe Bridge

The seal is of bronze. Its inscription reads S'PONTIS EXE CIVTATIS EXONIE (the seal of Exe Bridge of the city of Exeter ). Above the arches of the bridge is a chapel (with a cross above the roof) and two other buildings. The chapel might be St Edmund's, built with the bridge. The seal was used by the wardens of the bridge, who administered lands and monies donated for its upkeep. The earliest surviving example of an impression of this seal is attached to a document of 1256-64.

An impression from the Exe Bridge seal

An impression from the Exe Bridge seal

This Victorian impression is taken from the bronze seal matrix.

Spreat’s view of Exeter Cathedral

Spreat’s view of Exeter Cathedral

William Spreat's view of the cathedral from the north-west was drawn about 1846. It shows the Norman transeptal towers, the 14th-century nave and sculpted image screen to their right, and the choir in the distance to the left.

Exeter Cathedral

Exeter Cathedral

The view shows the Lady Chapel (left), and presbytery and choir (central) of the Gothic church with their fine series of Geometric Decorated window tracery. To the right are the Norman towers at the crossing. The view comes from the Winkles Cathedral series of c. 1840.

Carter’s drawing of the Cathedral west front (north end)

Carter’s drawing of the Cathedral west front (north end)

John Carter was a leading architectural draftsman of his day. He made the original drawings from which these engravings were prepared in 1792. They are a most important record of the medieval sculptures before they suffered much damage. The group of seated kings shown here with their rather static poses was added to the west front in the late 14th century.

Carter’s drawing of the Cathedral west front (south end)

Carter’s drawing of the Cathedral west front (south end)

Carter's drawing shows the rich costumes and highly animated poses of the kings and knights of the image screen added to the cathedral by Bishop Grandisson in the 1340s. The programme was brought to a halt by the Black Death.

The Cathedral nave

The Cathedral nave

The view looks eastward from the south nave aisle. The nave was built in the years 1328-42 and displays the characteristic tierceron ribbed vaults and richly moulded piers of English late Decorated style. John Coney's view shows the Courtenay monument in its original position prior to its removal to the south tower.

The tomb of Bishop Stafford

The tomb of Bishop Stafford

The grandiose tomb of Bishop Stafford, with its alabaster effigy and Beer stone surround with flying angels, was constructed in the cathedral in the early 15th century. The anonymous painting indicates how much of its dramatic colour scheme survived into the 19th century; the tomb was repainted in the 1960s.

The Minstrels’ Gallery

The Minstrels’ Gallery

The drawing by Charles Pinn was made in 1886. The gallery was added to the cathedral nave in the years c. 1335-45, providing an angelic host who would conceal real musicians playing at cathedral's great festivals. The gallery is an important source of information about the sorts of musical instruments known in the 14th century in England.

Bishop Marshall’s tomb

Bishop Marshall’s tomb

When Bishop Marshall died in 1206 he was buried in a costly tomb chest of Purbeck marble. These drawings by S. Kyffin Greenslade, dated 1884, show the effigy of the bishop (top) with its richly ornamented side panels below.

Mouldings in the Lady Chapel

Mouldings in the Lady Chapel

The study of the form of stone mouldings is an important way in which the style of a gothic church can be studied. Sometimes they can be identified almost as signatures of particular master masons or schools of work. This drawing by Norman Irwin shows the form of the mouldings of the Cathedral Lady Chapel of c. 1270 - 1300.

The Bishop’s Throne

The Bishop’s Throne

The throne was designed by Thomas of Witney, one of England's leading 14th- century architects, and constructed by local craftsman between 1313 and c. 1325. The view, taken from the Winkles Cathedral series, shows its appearance c.1840.

Architectural drawing of the cathedral choir

Architectural drawing of the cathedral choir

The publication of John Britton's drawings of the cathedrals of England set a new standard in architectural recording in Britain, showing analytical sections of superb quality. This view of the east end of the cathedral was drawn for Britton's Exeter volume of 1826 by T. Wyatt and engraved by John le Keux.

The Cathedral Choir

The Cathedral Choir

The choir and presbytery (area around the high altar) were built and furnished in the years 1290-1328, and are a major monument of the English Decorated style. This view, engraved by W. Deeble from a drawing by J. Gandy, shows its Georgian choir stalls and pulpit, removed in Gilbert Scott's restoration of 1870-7.

The Cathedral Chapter House

The Cathedral Chapter House

The Chapter House was the room in which the cathedral clergy would meet to discuss their business and duties. It was first built in the period 1225-50, and the lower walls belong to that time. Following a fire in the early 15th century the upper parts of the room were rebuilt in Perpendicular style, and the fine roof belongs to this period. This view, taken from Winkles' Cathedrals series, shows the Chapter House in c. 1840 when it housed the cathedral library.

A boss from the Bishop’s Palace

A boss from the Bishop’s Palace

Bishop Grandisson (1327-69) added rooms to the Bishop's Palace, from which only four giant bosses survive, carved in a style similar to the bosses of the cathedral nave. Three are now in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, the fourth, shown here, at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter.

The College of the Vicars Choral in the late 19th century

The College of the Vicars Choral in the late 19th century

The college was built in 1383-88 to house the Vicars Choral, the junior clergy who sang the cathedral's many daily services. It consisted of two rows of lodgings facing each other across a narrow courtyard, with their eating hall on South Street and a gatehouse at its east end.

This painting by George Townsend records the appearance of the northern row of lodgings in the years c. 1850-93. Each originally consisted of one ground-floor and one first-floor room, but extra rooms were later contrived in the attics. To the left of the view is a tall window of the college hall. By this time the facing lodgings on the south side had been demolished. Only the ruin of the hall survives today.

A holy water stoup from the College of the Vicars Choral

A holy water stoup from the College of the Vicars Choral

The stoup dates to the late 14th or 15th century and is made of limestone from Beer in S.E. Devon. Angels holding scrolls support the bowl; above them is a band of cusped and recusped circles enclosing floral motifs. The bowl was badly damaged by fire in 1942.

Reconstruction view of the Annuellars’ College

Reconstruction view of the Annuellars’ College

The Annuellars were the minor clergy employed by the cathedral to perform the daily masses commemorating the cathedral's wealthy patrons. In 1528 a small college was built to accommodate their eighteen members. It stood on the north side of the Close, and its site is now occupied by Nos 1-5 Cathedral Close. Recent archaeological survey has shown that much of the college remains, embedded in later housing. The view shows a reconstruction of its appearance before the Reformation.

The fireplace from the Precentor’s house, Cathedral Close

The fireplace from the Precentor’s house, Cathedral Close

The fireplace is one of a series of grandiose fireplaces installed in the houses of the wealthy clergy in Cathedral Close in the period 1485-1530, reflecting their elevated status. The trend-setter was the magnificent creation built in the Bishop's Palace in the 1480s, which still survives, and which remained the grandest of all. Others soon followed, however, and the one in the museum is datable to 1496-9, since it shows the initials JC of John Coombe, who was Precentor for that brief period. The Precentor or Cantor was the clergyman in charge of the cathedral's music - an ancient and prestigious office in the Middle Ages. His house stood in the Cathedral Close until it was demolished in 1870; the Cathedral School now occupies its successor, still called The Chantry. The old house had two very elaborate late medieval fireplaces, one of which is now lost. The one now in the museum was salvaged after 1870, installed nearby in the Deanery c. 1900, but removed from there c. 1971, when it was regarded as inappropriate for the Deanery Hall. Carved in Beer stone, the fireplace is a showpiece of late medieval ornament. On the lintel, shields flank the central motif, with a charming band of angels above, surmounted by a row of tall leaves (probably lilies).

Detail of an angel from the Chantry fireplace

Detail of an angel from the Chantry fireplace

One of the angels holding scrolls on the lintel of the fireplace from the house of the Precentor in Cathedral Close (see Fireplace). The angels bear some similarities to those carved in the Eastern chantry chapels of the Cathedral. The colour is modern.

The initials of John Coombe from the Chantry fireplace

The initials of John Coombe from the Chantry fireplace

This image shows a detail of the Chantry fireplace. John Coombe must have been the Precentor at the time it was made (1496-9) as shown by his initials on the fireplace.

A view of the guest hall at St Nicholas Priory

A view of the guest hall at St Nicholas Priory

In the later middle ages St Nicholas Priory was the city's second major church community. The view shows the surviving first-floor hall in the west range, where the priory's guests would have been entertained. The hall was built in its present form in the 15th century and the roof and screens belong to that period.

Polsloe Priory

Polsloe Priory

Polsloe Priory was a nunnery, founded around the year c. 1160 and dissolved by Henry VIII in 1536. Here a small community of nuns, many of them daughters of local aristocratic families, lived a communal life. The priory consisted of four ranges of buildings surrounding a square cloister. Three of these, including the church, were demolished at the Dissolution of the Monasteries, but one range, with its first-floor hall, was adapted for use as a country house and still survives today. The photograph is taken during excavation from the site of the chapter house in the wet winter of 1976. It looks across the square cloister to the standing west range. The raised platform to the right is the site of the church; to the left stood the refectory. The trenches formerly held the foundations of successive phases of medieval walls.

Reconstruction view of the west range of Polsloe Priory

Reconstruction view of the west range of Polsloe Priory

The view shows the reconstructed appearance of the standing range as rebuilt built around 1300. The ground floor was used principally for storage. On the upper floor the chamber of the prioress with fireplace, cupboard and garderobe occupied the upper end, whilst the centre of the range served as the hall for guests.

View of the kitchens at Polsloe Priory under excavation

View of the kitchens at Polsloe Priory under excavation

Excavation revealed a long sequence of kitchen and service rooms spanning the late 12th to early 16th centuries.

Two late 13th–century finger rings worn by nuns

Two late 13th–century finger rings worn by nuns

These two humble rings of copper alloy (probably bronze), with traces of gilding which would make them appear golden, were found at Polsloe Priory in an archaeological context dating to c. 1300. They must have been worn by nuns. Instead of semi-precious stones, the settings hold cheap glass paste.

Seal of Prior Thomas Dene

Seal of Prior Thomas Dene

Found in Southernhay in 1822, this silver seal matrix with its chain is a fine illustration of the craftsmanship of a medieval goldsmith and one of the finest examples of a medieval prior's seal in Britain. It is therefore a surprise to find that it was made for the priory of St James, Exeter, which at this time was a very minor house with only two or three monks. The seal has been fully discussed by Mr John Cherry of the British Museum. It shows the standing figure of St James with his pilgrim's staff, bag and hat, below an elaborate canopy. The inscription reads (in reverse), 'S fris thome dene prior exonie' (the seal of brother Thomas Dene prior of Exeter). It must have been made at about the time that Thomas Dene became prior in 1419. Not long afterwards, in 1444, the priory was dissolved.

An angel in alabaster

An angel in alabaster

The small seated angel is carved in alabaster and dates to the 15th century. Plucking a lute with its long delicate fingers, it is a typical example of a peculiarly English craft. Alabaster (sulphate of lime) occurs naturally in NW Europe only in a small area of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. Because it is a beautiful material which can easily be carved, it was much prized in the middle ages for sculpture, and 'alabastermen' carved this material in workshops in various northern towns such as Nottingham, York and Lincoln. An important aspect of their work was the creation of retables - the sequences of carved panels placed on altars, telling the life of Christ, the Joys of the Virgin Mary, etc. Our angel certainly comes from such a retable, and probably from one showing the Life of the Virgin Mary. Previously unrecorded, the angel was bought by our museum in 1994. It was in fact found long before - in 1831 - when a box containing many alabaster panels was discovered buried below the floor of Monkerton Farm at Pinhoe. Evidently they were concealed at the Reformation. The whereabouts of the rest of the alabasters is now unknown.

The medieval vestment from St Mary Arches church

The medieval vestment from St Mary Arches church

In the later middle ages the churches of Exeter were richly furnished with sculptures, metalwork, textiles and glass, but most of these were stripped at the Reformation and are now lost. Of the dozens of rich vestments which were recorded in the inventories of Exeter churches in early Tudor times, only two survive. One from St Petrock's is now in the Bishop's Palace; the other is in the museum's collections. It is shown in this image.

The museum's textile comes from the parish church of St Mary Arches and dates to c. 1500. It consists of a series of strips of silk, linen and canvas, embroidered with silver-gilt threads and silk, in green, yellow, red, blue and black. The narrow bands are richly ornamented, displaying the crucifixion and a series of saints below canopies; they alternate with broad bands of foliage. Originally the narrow strips formed part of a cope (the semi-circular cloak worn by a priest at the Mass).

At the Reformation vestments of this sort were condemned, but, rather than discard this one, the thrifty parishioners of St Mary Arches unpicked the offending figures, which now appear as blank shadows, then cut the cope into strips and re-assembled the pieces as a pall - a cover for a coffin. In this way it served the needs of the reformed Protestant church.

Crucifixion scene from the St Mary Arches vestment

Crucifixion scene from the St Mary Arches vestment

This is a detail from the St Mary Arches vestment. It shows the figure of Christ has been unpicked, as has the Holy Spirit, represented by a bird above the cross. The angels, who collect Christ's blood in chalices, were retained.

Detail showing St Paul from the St Mary Arches vestment

Detail showing St Paul from the St Mary Arches vestment

St Paul is shown in conventional manner; with halo and bare feet (showing he is a saint), holding his symbol, a spear, and a book representing his letters to the New Testament.

Old Heavitree Church

Old Heavitree Church

This small oil painting in the museum collection shows the state of the old medieval church of Heavitree before it was completely rebuilt in the late-19th century. It displays the typical large Perpendicular windows of the late Middle Ages which are common throughout Devon, but the church site is much more ancient and probably dates back to Late Saxon times. As the suburb of Heavitree grew in the 19th century, the church was found to be too small for the needs of the late Victorian period, and it was entirely replaced in 1844-6.

St Leonard’s Old Church

St Leonard’s Old Church

This engraving by Sprake shows the old medieval parish church of St Leonard, demolished in 1831 when the local population grew. The parish was the smallest in Devon and the church correspondingly modest.

Head in Beer stone

Head in Beer stone

This stone fragment was found during excavation in Preston Street in 1977-8. It is made from Beer stone and shows a musician's head, playing a wind instrument which would have fitted into their mouth. The musician's cheeks are puffed out. It dates from the 14th century and presumably was part of an ensemble in a church.

Glass panel of an angel by the Exeter Cathedral Master

Glass panel of an angel by the Exeter Cathedral Master

The panel shows a standing angel, wearing a feathered suit of 15th-century sort and holding a censer. The figure displays characteristic features of work of the Exeter glaziers' workshop of the late 15th century, sometimes described as the 'Doddiscombsleigh school'. Detailed points of similarity indicate that this is very closely related to the elaborate polychrome lights provided for Exeter Cathedral Chapter House in the years c. 1460-70. These now form elements of the Cathedral's great east window, and the east window of the chapel of St John the Evangelist, having been removed there in the 18th century. These have been the subject of detailed study by C. Brooks and D. Evans in their book The Great East Window of Exeter Cathedral (1988). They attribute this specific group to 'the Exeter Cathedral Master', whose true name is now lost.

The face of the angel

The face of the angel

The view shows the appearance of the angel after conservation by the museum. The springy bunches of hair and the form of eyes and mouth are all characteristic of the Exeter Cathedral Master, as is the folded collar at the neck.

The feet of the angel

The feet of the angel

A quirky feature of the Exeter Cathedral Master's style of painting in his treatment of feet, almost triangular in form. The rosettes of the background are another trade mark.

A bell cast by Robert Norton of Exeter

A bell cast by Robert Norton of Exeter

In the late middle ages the casting of bells was a complicated and sometimes dangerous craft skill. In each casting large quantities of molten bell metal were poured into an underground casting pit where a cavity corresponding to the final shape of the bell had been prepared between clay moulds. The tone of the bell depended on the precise thickness of its various parts; in a successful casting its different notes are in harmony. The particular interest of the bell lies in the founder's mark in the inscription band, which incorporates the initials R and N, flanking a bell and enclosed within a cabled circle. These allow the maker to be identified as Robert Norton of Exeter, who became a freeman of the city in 1423 and was still working in the 1440s. Norton was a prolific founder: more than twenty of his bells are known in Devon, with a scatter of others in the adjacent counties of Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset. This example came from Halse, near Taunton in Somerset. The bell which hangs above St Pancras church in the Guildhall Shopping Centre is another example of his work.

These have long been admired, both for their beauty of tone and for their clean and precise workmanship. Norton was a progressive figure in English foundry practice, adopting at an early date or even introducing the use of stock legends in which each word of the inscription was impressed from a single stamp, superseding the earlier and more laborious practice of impressing each letter of the inscription individually into the mould. The inscription (in Latin) reads: : + Est michi collatum ihc istud nomen amatum [To me is given Jesus that beloved name]. Archaeological excavations at Mermaid Yard, Exeter, in 1977-8 recovered evidence of the city's late medieval foundry, including fragmentary clay-loam moulds in which bells and domestic metalwork such as cauldrons and skillets were cast.

The founder’s mark on the bell cast by Robert Norton

The founder’s mark on the bell cast by Robert Norton

In the late middle ages the casting of bells was a complicated and sometimes dangerous craft skill. In each casting large quantities of molten bell metal were poured into an underground casting pit where a cavity corresponding to the final shape of the bell had been prepared between clay moulds. The tone of the bell depended on the precise thickness of its various parts; in a successful casting its different notes are in harmony.

The particular interest of the bell lies in the founder’s mark in the inscription band, which incorporates the initials r and n, flanking a bell and enclosed within a cabled circle. These allow the maker to be identified as Robert Norton of Exeter, who became a freeman of the city in 1423 and was still working in the 1440s.

Norton was a prolific founder: more than twenty of his bells are known in Devon, with a scatter of others in the adjacent counties of Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset. This example came from Halse, near Taunton in Somerset. The bell which hangs above St Pancras church in the Guildhall Shopping Centre is another example of his work.

Two iron coin dies used to forge gold coins

Two iron coin dies used to forge gold coins

In the middle ages coins were made by striking a blank disc of precious metal between two engraved iron dies. The process of making the official coinage of England was closely controlled by the crown, and took place only in official workshops. In the later middle ages, Exeter was distant from the approved mints. These two iron dies, one for striking the English gold noble, the other the half-noble, were found in Trichay Street in 1972. The coin types which they cut were struck in the period 1351-1413. They must have been made to forge replicas of the official gold coinage at this time.

Bronze scrap from Exe Bridge

Bronze scrap from Exe Bridge

Found in a 15th century deposit below one of the houses on Exe Bridge, these trimmings of copper alloy are the waste pieces from a metal worker's shop. The items being produced seem to have been fairly small and entailed cutting sheets of copper alloy.

An ampulla mould

An ampulla mould

An ampulla was a pilgrim's badge in which holy water could be taken from a well or other holy place . This mould of fine limestone appears to be one of a pair in which a barrel-shaped ampullae, perhaps of lead or alloy, could be cast.

It was found in a tenement in High Street in the 1930s and might have been used to carry holy water from a local holy well such as St Sidwell's or St Clarus' well, which seems to have been in Matford Lane.

Fragment of a knight’s tomb, Greyfriar’s church

Fragment of a knight’s tomb, Greyfriar’s church

This sculpted Caen stone fragment depicts the head of a knight in chain mail, lying on a cushion. It formed part of a tomb in the church of the Dominican Friary in Exeter, on whose site it was found in 1826 (Bedford Street).

The flattened conical form of the mail over the head (coiffe de maille) indicates a date of c. 1260 -1300. The intact figure would have worn a mail suit covered by a tunic or surcoat. Tombs like this were commonly painted; several examples of this kind of monument survive in Devon, as at Haccombe, Modbury and Bere Ferrers.

A fragment of a Valencian lustreware dish

A fragment of a Valencian lustreware dish

It was the Islamic world which discovered and developed the art of making lustreware. When it was seen in northern Europe it was often greatly prized. In the 15th century the most important source of such wares for English households were kilns in Valencia in southern Spain. The fragment, from the centre of a dish, was found in the Dissolution deposit of the Franciscan Friary at Colleton Crescent. It shows in lustre the sacred trigram IHS (Iesus Hominum Salvator - Jesus the Saviour of men); its presence at a friary may show it had a sacred use. The fragment is attributable to the Mature Valencian Lustreware style of c. 1425-1475.

The Exeter Puzzle Jug

The Exeter Puzzle Jug

This jug is perhaps the most celebrated example of medieval imported pottery found in England, and one of the most extraordinary pieces of medieval ceramics to have been discovered anywhere in northern Europe. Made in the Saintonge, western France, c. 1300, it was discovered in fragments in South Street, Exeter, in 1899.

'Puzzle jugs' are so-called because they were made as trick jugs, designed to pour their contents over the unsuspecting drinker. Despite its intricate appearance, the Exeter example is not strictly a puzzle jug since it lacks the concealed holes which caused the liquid to spill out. In this example liquid would be poured into the upper chamber, flowing down through the hollow handle into the bottom chamber, allowing it to be drunk without spills.

The jug shows a tower in which are two bishops (with croziers); young ladies disport themselves from its windows and musicians play below. The scene points fun at the morals of the medieval clergy.

Detail of the Exeter Puzzle Jug

Detail of the Exeter Puzzle Jug

This image shows musicians with a woman looking out from a balcony.

Detail of the Exeter Puzzle Jug

Detail of the Exeter Puzzle Jug

This figure from the puzzle jug is a bishop.

Two Saintonge polychrome jugs

Two Saintonge polychrome jugs

In the years around 1250 new potteries were established in the Saintonge, the area around Saintes in South West France. They used very fine white clays, contrasting with the common red earthenwares of England. Most of their output was of fine green-glazed jugs, but in the years c. 1280-1330 they also made superb jugs painted with birds, shields or other patterns. The two polychrome jugs, excavated together in Goldsmith Street in 1971, are examples of this second type. One is decorated with birds and shields, the other with an unusual abstract pattern; both are works of remarkable skill and great delicacy.

A Saintonge green–glazed jug

A Saintonge green–glazed jug

The jug, found in the same pit as the two polychrome vessels, is typical of the main output of green-glazed Saintonge jugs, which arrived in Britain over a long period from c. 1250 to c. 1450. Although an everyday household object, it is a vessel made with much technical skill.

North French jugs

North French jugs

These two splendid examples of medieval pottery were both dug up in Exeter but both were made in northern France. They are wheel-thrown vessels with buff sandy fabrics, their lead glaze enriched by the addition of copper. The production centre or centres where such wares were made is unknown. Fragments of similar vessels have been found in several major ports of the period in England and Ireland - Southampton, London, Bristol and Dublin in contexts of c. 1170-1250.

Elaborate medieval pottery from Lincoln, Nottingham and Doncaster

Elaborate medieval pottery from Lincoln, Nottingham and Doncaster

A surprising aspect of the medieval finds at Exeter is the presence of various elaborate earthenwares from north-east England, found far outside their normal market range. Three such wares are shown here. On the left is a highly-decorated spouted jug made in Nottingham; discovered behind High Street in 1950. At the centre is the head of an aquamanile, a vessel in the form of an animal in which the water used to wash a diner's hand after a meal was stored. It was made at Doncaster, Yorkshire, in the mid 13th century. To the right is the head of an animal, perhaps a ram, from the spout of a jug made at Lincoln in the late 13th century.

A South Somerset jug

A South Somerset jug

Found in Friernhay in 1981, the jug illustrates the changes in the style of jugs introduced around the mid 15th century. Plain bases replaced thumbed ones, with a band of thin slip incised with a single line in sgraffito (scratched) technique. This example matches very closely finds for the kiln site at Donyatt in Somerset and probably comes from there.

A group of late medieval pottery

A group of late medieval pottery

These three vessels were found in a pit in Trichay Street, associated with leather objects datable to the years c. 1350-1450. All are examples of local pottery, probably made fairly close to the medieval city. The large globular jug to left is an example of an 'Exeter striped jug' whilst that to the right copies the form of contemporary French jugs.

Italian glass fragments

Italian glass fragments

These two clear glass fragments illustrate the costly luxury glasses imported from the Mediterranean in the 13th and 14th centuries. They come from fragments of a small bowl ornamented with clear and blue bosses. Soda was used in the mix of such vessels, giving a clear body resembling crystal.

A silver ring from Exe Bridge

A silver ring from Exe Bridge

In the later middle ages the wearing of rings was popular, and tomb effigies commonly show several rings on one person's fingers. A range of types was available, according to wealth and taste. Some of the principal types of medieval ring of c. 1300-1500 are represented in the collection.

Found during excavations at Exe Bridge, the ring is of silver, engraved with the letter 'T' in black-letter script, flanked by crosses and below a ?coronet. This is likely to have been intended to seal personal documents. This ring dates to c. 1500.

Model of The House that Moved, Frog Street

Model of The House that Moved, Frog Street

This sturdy and well-carpentered late medieval house (dating to around c. 1500) stood at the corner of Frog Street and Exe Bridge until the 1960s. During developments to the roads in the area it was moved on rollers to West Street, where it now stands.

The model suggests how it would have been used. On the ground floor is the shop. Above this is the hall, with chamber (bedroom) and cockloft above.

Moving The House that Moved in 1963

Moving The House that Moved in 1963

The house stood in the path of Exeter's proposed Inner Bypass, so was removed to a site about 100m away. As the view shows, the event aroused great public interest.

Figure of St Peter

Figure of St Peter

Holding a church and the keys of heaven, and trampling the Devil, this oak figure of St Peter once formed the corner-post of a house at the junction of High Street and North Street. No comparable figure is known to have survived in Britain. The figure has recently been the subject of a lengthy conservation programme in which decayed areas of wood have been consolidated in resin; these are indicated by stippled surface painting.

The figure displays the sharply angular drapery characteristic of the late 15th and early 16th centuries. He is believed to date to c.1500. Since no local tradition of large wooden sculpture is known, and indeed the figure is hard to place in an English context, the possibility arises that this is the work of an immigrant craftsman. The Low Countries or Germany are perhaps the most obvious origins for such an individual, but a third possibility could be northern France, where broadly comparable figures stand on house facades, for example at Morlaix. City documents of the early 16th century record a sizeable immigrant community including people from all these areas. The sculpture of the devil was replaced about a century ago.

It was located at No. 187 High Street, Exeter, and removed in 1986.

A wooden mallet

A wooden mallet

Found in a 14th century pit at Friernhay the mallet has a roughly rectangular head and rather spindly handle.

Wooden bowls and a plate

Wooden bowls and a plate

Recovered from waterlogged pits in the area of the Guildhall Shopping Centre, these lathe-turned vessels were once very numerous in medieval and early modern households, but they only survive under waterlogged conditions. About 20 examples are known from excavations in the city, ranging in date from the late 13th to the mid 17th centuries.

Current research is emphasising the importance of the Exeter series, especially the choice of material. Robin Wood, an expert on wooden bowls, notes the unusually high proportion of elm and maple vessels in the Exeter series. Nationally, the most common woods used were ash, alder and maple. The reason for this choice of material in Exeter is unknown. Also of note is the similarity in form of some of these bowls to contemporary pewter dishes, both featuring a raised domed centre.

A stone mortar

A stone mortar

Much medieval food was prepared for cooking by being pounded in a mortar, a bowl usually of stone but sometimes of metal. Fragments of about 20 mortars are known from Exeter, some carved from southern English stones such as Beer stone (from Devon) and Purbeck marble (from the Dorset coast), other imported from Caen in Normandy. This unusually grand example, recovered from an Exeter garden, would have served the kitchen of a large house or an institution. It dates to the 14th or 15th century.

A glass jug

A glass jug

Glass jugs of green ('potash') glass are known from a few sites in Britain - London, Southampton and Exeter. This fragment from Goldsmith Street consists of the rim, neck and adjoining handle; the handle folds back in a loop before turning to the lower part of the vessel. Now brown and heavily weathered, it would originally have been pale green. The source of such jugs is not firmly known: perhaps one of the glass-houses of the Weald of Sussex and Surrey, or alternatively Northern France or Germany.

A pewter dish

A pewter dish

Finds of pewter tableware of medieval date are unusual, and this small dish, found associated with early 14th-century pottery in a pit in Goldsmith Street, an important find. It is a close parallel to a similar dish found in an early 14th-century pit in Southampton. Both are probably English products.

A medieval barrel from Paul Street

A medieval barrel from Paul Street

During excavations in Paul Street a medieval well was encountered. Its sides had been lined by packing two old barrels, their heads and bases removed, one above the other in the shaft. The upper barrel had largely decayed; the lower one was extremely well preserved. It was formed of oak cask staves, tightly bound with hoops of hazel. The view shows it during excavation.

A detail of the barrel from Paul Street

A detail of the barrel from Paul Street

A detail of the hazel hoops, themselves tightly bound with split strands, possibly also hazel.

Leather shoes

Leather shoes

In this image are the remains of two leather shoes - on the top is an adult's shoe, and on the bottom is the sole from a child's shoe.

The sub-soil of much of central Exeter is clay. In the medieval city many pits were dug into this and used as rubbish tips. They often remained waterlogged which has preserved leather, wood and sometimes even cloth - everyday materials from medieval life which rarely survive in the archaeological record.

Wynard’s Almshouses

Wynard’s Almshouses

William Wynard was a wealthy Exeter citizen of the early 15th century. He founded these alms in 1435 to provide homes for twelve poor and infirm people. The buildings suffered much damage in the Civil War in the 17th century and were extensively restored in the 1860s, when the present cobbling, well house in the courtyard and chimneys were rebuilt. This view looks down on the courtyard of the alms, with the rear of the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital in the background.

Reconstruction view of the College of Vicars Choral

Reconstruction view of the College of Vicars Choral

The Vicars Choral were the junior clergy of the cathedral who sang the many daily services in its choir. In the years 1383-88 Bishop Brantingham built for them this college, where each was allocated a lodging, and where their lives could be more closely supervised. The college was squeezed into a narrow site between the Deanery (right) and St Mary Major church (top left). The rows of lodgings were demolished in stages between 1850 and 1893; the hall in South Street stood until 1942, when it was burnt in the Exeter Blitz. Only the ruined shell of the hall survives today.

A gold ring from Flowerpot

A gold ring from Flowerpot

In the later middle ages the wearing of rings was popular, and tomb effigies commonly show several rings on one person’s fingers. A range of types was available, according to wealth and taste. Some of the principal types of medieval ring of c. 1300-1500 are represented in the collection.

This gold ring of c. 1300 was found at Flowerpot Field, St Thomas, the site of Hayes Barton. The ring holds a sapphire, a popular stone, connected in the medieval mind with wisdom.

Medieval roof finial

Medieval roof finial

This quaint earthenware animal was found when foundations were dug for the tower of the Roman Catholic church in South Street in 1883. The body of the creature was thrown on a potter's wheel, the legs and head being added separately before glazing and firing. The fabric indicates that it was made in one of the potteries which used the sands of streams running off Dartmoor, perhaps that at Bridgetown near Totnes. When this vessel was first discovered it was thought to be an aquamanile - a vessel used at table to wash hands after a meal. In fact it is a finial - the ornamental end to the tiles on the ridge of a roof. Prior to its loss in World War II, one such finial was still visible in Exeter- the early 17th century example on the old Chevalier House in Fore Street. There was once others: for example in 1394-5 a crest tile carrying the figure of St Paul was bought for a house in High Street.

A series of hones

A series of hones

Hones were stones, often of rectangular form, used to sharpen knives and other blades. They were sometimes carried at the waist. Such everyday items were sometimes imported from surprisingly distant sources. The hone to the left is made of a ragstone quarried at Eidsborg near Telemark, Norway, but was found in a poor family's home in Rack Street in a context of c.1300.

Glass

Glass

These decayed brownish fragments, now sometimes hardly recognisable as glass but originally pale green, were made in the glass-houses operating in the forests of northern Europe. In England the principal centre of manufacture was the Weald, where these may well have been made, although they might equally be French in origin.

The forms shown here are a jug, several goblets and beakers (centre) and examples of the glass flasks used in medicine (right). In medieval medicine samples of urine were examined by doctors in such flasks; they would diagnose according to its colour.

A glass alembic

A glass alembic

An alembic was a domed vessel used in distillation. It was designed to collect distilled liquid, which would run down the sides of the dome, gathering in the channel at its bottom before draining through a glass tube into a receiver. The vessel dates to the 15th or early 16th centuries. In this instance the thin and fragile dome of the vessel has perished, leaving the spout and the distinctive recurving form of the channel. A vessel such as this could have been used in industrial processes but the most popular use of such vessels was in preparing medicines.

Bowhill House

Bowhill House

Bowhill is the surviving portion of a large courtyard house built by the Holland family in the years around 1500. The view shows one side of the building, with the tall windows of the its hall, prior to a long-running programme of conservation by English Heritage and study by Exeter Archaeology.

Bowhill: the hall roof

Bowhill: the hall roof

Built around 1500, the open hall retains its fine roof, now carefully restored by English Heritage. It is one of the group of late medieval roofs, made by craftsmen of the Exeter area in a distinctive local manner. Characteristic of their work are the little semi-circular structure running along the apex of the roof, and the use of large principal trusses alternating with smaller intermediate trusses.

Bowhill: drawing of a chamber roof

Bowhill: drawing of a chamber roof

Drawn by staff of Exeter Archaeology, this measured survey record shows an 'exploded' view of the roof of one of the chambers at Bowhill. It is contemporary with the hall roof but rather simpler. Nevertheless the drawing shows what a complicated job such a roof was.

An alabaster panel

An alabaster panel

The panel was found in Exeter in 1854. It shows the head of John the Baptist on a platter (alluding to his martyrdom) flanked by St Catherine (bottom right with her Catherine Wheel) and St Margaret (bottom left). Above, the soul of St John is held in a sheet supported on each side by an angel; this scene is damaged. The panel is an example of the devotional panels known as 'St John's heads' which were made in Nottingham and other English towns in the 15th century.

Excavation in Trichay Street in 1972

Excavation in Trichay Street in 1972

The view shows the excavation of the back yards of houses on Trichay Street. The holes represent medieval rubbish and cess pits, wells and industrial features dug into the yards over the late Saxon, Norman and medieval periods. Almost the entire area has been disturbed, and cess and rubbish must have contaminated the water taken from the wells here.

Excavations at the Gardeners Arms, Wonford

Excavations at the Gardeners Arms, Wonford

In 2001-2 excavations at the site of the former Gardeners Arms in Wonford uncovered this silted moat. This had once surrounded a substantial late medieval building. The view shows a section through the ditch of the moat; preserved in its fills were plant remains and other environmental evidence.

Plan of the moated site at the Gardeners Arms, Wonford

Plan of the moated site at the Gardeners Arms, Wonford

The grey tone indicates the position of the roughly square moat underlying the new buildings at the corner of Coronation Road and Wonford Street.

St Loyes Chapel

St Loyes Chapel

Taken during consolidation of the medieval fabric by Exeter City Council in 1988-90, the view shows the chapel's north wall with its tall lancet windows. The chapel seems to have been established in the 14th century. Excavation on the site recovered much domestic debris of the 17th century, showing that by that time it had been converted to use as a cottage.

The Cathedral and Bishop’s Palace

The Cathedral and Bishop’s Palace

This view of the cathedral with the adjacent 13th-century chapel of the Bishop's Palace (left) was popular with artists. It shows the late 13th-century Lady Chapel and flanking chapels rising to the choir and presbytery (area around high altar) of c. 1290 - 1320. This view was prepared for Winkles Cathedrals Series c. 1840.

A view of the guest hall at St Nicholas Priory around 1900

A view of the guest hall at St Nicholas Priory around 1900

St Nicholas Priory, Exeter: Guest Room by Sydney Curnow Vosper (1866-1942) © Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, Exeter

The engraving by S Curnow Vosper shows the guest hall of St Nicholas Priory prior to its conversion to a museum in 1913.

Plan of the city c 1220–1540

Plan of the city c 1220–1540

The map shows medieval Exeter as it appeared in the 14th and 15th centuries. The Cathedral Close and precincts of various religious houses occupy large parts of the city, whilst the royal castle of Rougemont continues to dominate the northern area. Some of the medieval street names, such as Rack Street, Coombe Street, Smythen Street, Paul Street and Goldsmith Street, survive within the walls today. Others’ names have changed, such as Corre Street (now Gandy Street), Canon Street (now Cathedral Close) and Strike Street (now Chapel Street).

Source: Kain, R. and Ravenhill, W. (eds) 1999, 'Historical Atlas of South-West England'.

Daniel King’s view of Exeter Cathedral

Daniel King’s view of Exeter Cathedral

Daniel King’s etchings of the exterior of the Cathedral are the earliest Devon prints. This view, published in c. 1660, was drawn and engraved by King to illustrate William Dugdale’s 'Monasticum Anglicanum'; a History of the Religious Houses of England.

Daniel King’s view of the West Front at Exeter Cathedral

Daniel King’s view of the West Front at Exeter Cathedral

Daniel King’s etchings of the exterior of the cathedral are the earliest Devon prints. This view, published in c. 1665, was drawn and engraved by King to illustrate William Dugdale’s 'Monasticum Anglicanum'; a History of the Religious Houses of England.

The development of Exeter Cathedral

The development of Exeter Cathedral

These drawings were prepared as part of the programme of archaeological study by Stuart Blaylock and John Allan in the late 1980s.

Measured drawing of Exeter Cathedral’s West Front

Measured drawing of Exeter Cathedral’s West Front

The drawing was made in the late 1980s by Stuart Blaylock of Exeter Archaeology in the course of the front’s repair and conservation. It shows the sculptures around the south porch.

The sculptures at the centre of the lower half of the drawing belong to c. 1342-7 and show the rich and elaborate style favoured in the last stages of Decorated Gothic before the Black Death.

These sculptures consist of a grand row of kings, seated above a row of demi-figures of angels and surrounded by very elaborate canopies. The kings shown in the separate drawings to each side are later in date-late 14th and 15th centuries. The upper tier of sculptures, which probably shows prophets, was added c. 1460-80.

Sculptures in the West Front of Exeter Cathedral

Sculptures in the West Front of Exeter Cathedral

The view shows the northern end of the image screen. Although the niches for the seated kings and the lower angels in this part of the front are in the elaborate style of the 1340s, the kings here are quite different- plainer figures with long, wavy hair. They probably date to the 1370s. The top tier, with standing figures who are probably prophets, dates to c. 1460-80.

The quarries supplying Exeter Cathedral

The quarries supplying Exeter Cathedral

Exeter Cathedral was built from stone taken from more than 20 different quarries; it is sometimes claimed to have the most varied geology of any English cathedral.

There were two main sorts:

1. Freestone – stones which could be dressed with chisels and axes into the rectangular blocks of ashlar which formed the wall surfaces and could also be carved to form windows, vaulting stone and sculpture.

2. Rubble – the in-filling within the walls which is not normally visible.

This map shows the main sources of stone supplying the cathedral in the years 1200-1400. The main sources of ashlar were around Salcombe and Beer, but the quarries at Portland and Ham Hill also supplied stone.

The stone for in-filling wall cores was acquired as locally as possible; much came from the small outcrops of purple volcanic rocks in the Exe Valley.

Measured drawing of Exeter Cathedral

Measured drawing of Exeter Cathedral

This measured archaeological drawing was prepared by Stuart Blaylock and John Allan in the course of repair and conservation in the early 1980s. It provides a precise record of the image screen and its sculptures, and served as a base record in which fine details, such as the survival of traces of paint, medieval and later, was recorded.

This portion of screen has a complex structural history. The main medieval phases are described elsewhere. The lowest metre and the parapet were rebuilt by John Kendall. 1820; further repairs, especially to the parapet, followed in Bath stone in 1833-7 and Ketton stone in 1906-14.

Publication: J.P. Allan & S.R. Blaylock 1991, The Structural History of the West Front in F. Kelly (ed.) Medieval Art and Architecture at Exeter Cathedral, British Archaeological Association Conference Transaction XI, 94-115.

Decorated window tracery at Exeter Cathedral

Decorated window tracery at Exeter Cathedral

This measured drawing was prepared by Stewart Brown Associates in the course of their study of Bay 6 of the Cathedral nave. It shows the complex tracery designed by Thomas of Witney and built in the years 1328-42. His tracery was much more complex that the geometric tracery of his predecessors, and must have demanded great skill of the cathedral masons.

Decorated window tracery at Exeter Cathedral

Decorated window tracery at Exeter Cathedral

The view shows a detail of the motif at the head of the clerestory window in Bay 3 of Exeter Cathedral’s nave; it was recorded in the course of conservation work in 1996.

The motif consist of four mouchettes (curving dagger-like motifs) enclosed within a circle. The photograph was taken after the masonry was protected by shelter coating, a technique in which a thin layer of lime wash is applied to the old surface.

Tracery patterns in the choir at Exeter Cathedral

Tracery patterns in the choir at Exeter Cathedral

Exeter Cathedral’s presbytery and choir preserve a fine series of Geometric Decorated tracery windows, perhaps the finest of their date in England. The presbytery was constructed in the 1290s, followed by the choir in the years 1300-10, and they share patterns. The tracery includes trefoils (with three lobes), quatrefoils (with four lobes), sexfoils (with six lobes) and triangles with curved sides which fit within circles.

Elevation drawing of Exeter Cathedral choir

Elevation drawing of Exeter Cathedral choir

This measured drawing was prepared when scaffolding was erected for cleaning the choir stonework in the late 1970s. It shows the adjacent bays of the presbytery (right) and choir (left). A building break is discernible running to the left of the central pier. This marks the completion of the presbytery c.1299-1300 before work began on the choir a few years later. Comparison of the triforium gallery (the arches at the centre of the view) show differences between the two bays. The initial scheme in the presbytery had no triforium. When work began after 1300 in the choir, the triforium was added. A triforium gallery was subsequently added into the presbytery to disguise the difference between the two.

The geology of a bay of Exeter Cathedral

The geology of a bay of Exeter Cathedral

These measured line drawings were prepared in 1998 by Stewart Brown Associates during conservation work on the south side of the nave of the cathedral. They show the clerestory (above) and aisle elevations in Bay 4. The different colours indicate the different stone types represented.

The principal stone used in the medieval church was yellow sandstone from Salcombe Regis, which forms most of the facework in the Norman period (the stonework surviving below the lower window) and in the early 14th century (the masonry above each window). Later repairs were carried out in stone from different sources, including Bath, Ketton in Northamptonshire and Portland in Dorset.

Sculpture of the Annunciation at Exeter Cathedral

Sculpture of the Annunciation at Exeter Cathedral

This superb group of sculptures was placed within the south porch of Exeter cathedral’s image screen in the years c. 1342-7. It displays all the richness and drama of the late Decorated style at Exeter.

The upper pair of sculptures, now headless, are the Angel Gabriel (left) appearing to the Virgin Mary (right). Gabriel’s body shows the ‘S’ shaped curves typical of this period, whilst Mary is cast back in surprise. Both wear garments which gather in elaborate folds, the hems curving back and forward as they descend towards the feet. Below, Moses looks on (left) as an angel tells Joseph of Christ’s birth.

Medieval floor tiles in Exeter Cathedral

Medieval floor tiles in Exeter Cathedral

Many parts of the medieval Cathedral were originally paved with decorated floor-tiles. Most of the pavements formerly in the body of the church are now lost, but the first-floor rooms above the eastern transepts preserve important collections of tiles in fresh condition.

The view shows part of the pavement of the Archive Chamber, on the south side of the choir. The tiles date to c.1280, and were made by impressing a wooden stamp in the red clay body of the tile, then infilling the impression with white clay. Some of the stamps used here had previously been used in Wessex, e.g. at Salisbury, and either these tiles or the stamps for making them must have been carried from that area.

Archaeological study of the high roofs at Exeter Cathedral

Archaeological study of the high roofs at Exeter Cathedral

This long section was prepared by Stewart Brown Associates in 2000 as part of their archaeological study of the Cathedral’s high roofs. The blocks of solid colour at the foot of the drawing show the masonry above the high vaults; above them are the trusses of the high roof, which lean to the west. The cathedral’s high altar lies below the right edge of the drawing, whilst the organ at the crossing lies below its left edge.

The study showed that the high roofs of the presbytery (red- to the right), choir (blue- to the left) and crossing were made as single units of eight principal frames, with intermediate trusses between them, which no doubt would have been framed up at ground level before being erected.

Dendrochronology in progress at Exeter cathedral

Dendrochronology in progress at Exeter cathedral

Dendrochronological studies of the fine series of roofs surviving above the high vaults at Exeter Cathedral have been carried out at intervals since the early 1980s.

This view shows one of the sole plates on which the main trusses of the cathedral roof sit. It has a fairly typical sequence of rings, about 80-100, and in two places rather distinctive bunching of rings is evident. A particularly important feature of this sample is its preservation of sapwood and bark, which allows its precise felling date to be determined. This is very unusual, because medieval carpenters normally removed bark and sapwood; the sapwood was vulnerable to decay.

Analysis in the 1980s showed, disappointingly, that this timber was actually a repair of the late 18th century and therefore did not provide an exact felling date for this portion of the medieval roof.

The roof of Exeter Cathedral Chapter House

The roof of Exeter Cathedral Chapter House

The Cathedral’s early 13th-century Chapter House suffered a major fire in 1413; its upper parts and roof were all rebuilt in the 15th century. This seems to have been a long process; the glass was added in c. 1460-80, whilst the roof bears the coat of arms of Bishop Booth (1465-78).

The roof is of oak. It is low-pitched, with tie beams (large horizontal timbers) supported on arch-bracing. The slopes of the roof are divided into square panels, each painted in imitation of the fan vaults used in contemporary stone vaults.

The vault of Exeter Cathedral’s nave

The vault of Exeter Cathedral’s nave

The Cathedral nave was provided with its stone vault in the years c. 1335-42 (it was once mistakenly believed to be of rather later date). It is a ribbed tierceron vault of great richness, with thirteen ribs springing from each vaulting cone; essentially, however, it simply continued the style of that built 40 years earlier in the choir.

By this time other masons in the West Country were developing lierne vaults which further enriched vault design by introducing a net of subsidiary ribs. The master mason responsible for Exeter’s vault, Thomas of Witney, had been in the forefront of these developments to the years c. 1315-30, but must have felt that more was to be gained in the nave by following the older design in the choir.

The ribs of the vault are of white limestone from Beer in South Devon, the webs (in-filling panels between them) of purple volcanic lava from the Exe Valley. It was formerly plastered.

The timber vault in Exeter Cathedral

The timber vault in Exeter Cathedral

The two towers which flank the crossing of Exeter cathedral had formed part of the Norman cathedral. In the years c. 1313-20 they were absorbed within the new Decorated Gothic building: new windows were cut into the old masonry, galleries were added, and vaults built within each tower.

The towers were given ribbed tierceron vaults which conformed in style with the high vaults used in the main vessel of the church, but built in wood rather than stone. The choice of wood was almost certainly because this would allow the vault to be so constructed that its centre could be removed when bells were drawn up into the bell chamber at the top of each tower. These drawings show the ingenious structures employed. It allowed the central portion of the vault to be removed, leaving the remainder suspended from vertical posts, pegged into the floor above.

The timber vault in Exeter Cathedral

The timber vault in Exeter Cathedral

View through the floor above the vault, showing its radiating timbers. The timber vault can be seen below.

Measured drawing of the north tower vault

Measured drawing of the north tower vault

This view of the vault in the Cathedral's north tower looks from above, down onto the wooden vault. Rising from each rib are vertical posts, which are pegged into the ribs.

The floor above the vault in the Cathedral’s north tower

The floor above the vault in the Cathedral’s north tower

The view shows the timbers which received the upright posts. These in turn were tied to the corners and sides of the tower.

The Guildhall: a modern view of the interior

The Guildhall: a modern view of the interior

The Guildhall has been the centre of civic life in Exeter since the 12th century. The structure of the hall, with its fine roof by local craftsmen, belongs to the late 15th century and is closely related to roofs in the Cathedral Close, at Cadhay near Ottery St Mary and at Bowhill . The furnishings reflect Elizabethan and later additions.

The development of the nunnery of Polsloe Priory

The development of the nunnery of Polsloe Priory

This series of plans shows the development of the small nunnery at Polsloe between its foundation c.1160 and its dissolution in 1536. The sequence was uncovered by excavation by Exeter Archaeology in 1976-8. The large plan (top left) shows the outlines of all the different medieval features as excavated. The series of smaller plans beside it and at the foot of the illustration unravel the different phases of building represented.

The first buildings were of timber; only portions of these were found. They were soon replaced by plain Norman structures laid out around a square cloister. In the 13th century a series of buildings of timber and stone were added to the south of the cloister, providing additional service rooms for the kitchens and domestic quarters. The main ranges were rebuilt in the early 14th century. The buildings seem to have contracted towards the close of the middle ages in the 15th and 16th centuries, but the last phase of activity is represented by quite rich finds and improvements to the water supply. Only one of the four ranges around the cloister survived the dissolution of the monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII.

Publication: Allan, J.P. 1979 Summary, Medieval Archaeology (23), 250.

Timber screen at Polsloe Priory

Timber screen at Polsloe Priory

The standing west range of Polsloe priory dates to c. 1310-30. One of its most impressive features is the unique timber screen at the service end of the guest hall, which stood on the first floor. This view looks up to the arches of timber at the service end of the guest hall in 1976. On the ground floor is a massive timber post (Samson post) supporting the first floor screen. The floor of the hall formerly butted the screen at first floor level; the arches gave access to chambers, presumably used by guests, and to the kitchen.

In recent years a new first-floor has replaced the lost original.

Fragment of a sculpture of the Virgin and Child

Fragment of a sculpture of the Virgin and Child

This small sculpture, carved in Beer stone, is the central portion of a sculpture of the Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus. The Virgin’s hand supports the Infant’s body, most of which is lost. The curving draperies are characteristic of the early- and mid-14th century.

The fragment was found in demolition rubble at Polsloe Priory; it must have formed part of an image which was smashed when the Priory was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1536.

St Petrock’s church

St Petrock’s church

St Petrock’s church stands close to the centre of Exeter’s High Street. Its origins are not known, but it was certainly in existence by the 1190s. The view shows the side of the church visible from High Street. The lower parts of the church would probably date to the 12th or 13th centuries. Houses formerly stood in front of the church, and access was through a passageway to the doorway seen in the view; these were demolished in 1905. The nave was heightened in the 15th century when the tower was also added.

In the later Middle Ages and early modern period this was one of the city’s richest parishes, reflecting the fashion for rich people to live at the centre of the city.

Archaeological survey of St Petrock’s church

Archaeological survey of St Petrock’s church

Exeter Archaeology conducted a survey of St Petrock’s church when the upper parts of the tower were conserved in the late 1990s. This measured drawing shows some of the different periods of masonry represented.

Misericord showing a woman picking nits from her daughter’s hair

Misericord showing a woman picking nits from her daughter’s hair

A misericord was a tip-up seat which allowed a priest to perch rather than stand through long medieval services; they are a distinctive furnishing of colleges, chapels and cathedrals. Their undersides were commonly carved with scenes taken from everyday life.

This misericord of the 15th century comes from the Hems collection in Exeter Museum, which consists largely of West Country woodwork salvaged during Victorian church restorations; the precise origin of the carving is unknown. It shows a woman searching through the long hair of a young girl; there can be little doubt this is a mother picking nits from her daughter's hair.

Occasionally medieval sources tell us of such intimate relationships. For example the remarkable documents relating to the peasants of Montaillou in southern France tell us that they picked nits only from close members of the family.

Seal of Topsham

Seal of Topsham

This vesica-shaped bronze seal shows St Margaret, the patron saint of Topsham church, standing on a dragon into whose mouth she thrusts a cross. The seal turned up for auction at Sotheby’s in the 1930s.

Provision for the sick: Wynard’s almshouses

Provision for the sick: Wynard’s almshouses

The view shows the frontage of Wynard’s almshouses as they appeared after late Victorian restoration. The almshouses had been set up in 1435 on Magdalen Street outside the city wall by My Wynard and consisted of four ranges of rooms arranged around a central courtyard. The frontage consists of the tall chapel to the right with its belfry, with the entrance to its left, probably where the Warden was accommodated. Around the courtyard behind the façade were the cells of each aged and infirm person. The drawing forms part of a group attributable to Edward Ashworth, the local architect who was responsible for the restoration of the building in 1863-4. The chapel is associated with the Kennaway family, some of whom are commemorated within it.

Heavitree stone

Heavitree stone

Heavitree stone was the principal building stone used in Exeter during the late Middle Ages and early modern period. It is a coarse breccia, that is a stone in which are embedded angular stone fragments. It was laid down in semi-arid conditions by flash flooding, so the stone fragments are not rounded in the manner of sedimentary deposits laid down in the sea. It dates to the Triassic period, and is about 280 million years old.

Quarries were opened at Heavitree and Wonford around 1350, and operated until the mid 19th century. The stone is prone to weathering, but nevertheless was used in many of Exeter’s parish churches and other buildings including Wynard’s almshouses, the Guildhall, many of the merchants’ houses in the High Street, the Georgian warehouses at the Quay and the Victorian pumping stations built by Brunel along the railway between Exeter and Torquay.

Exeter Trap stone

Exeter Trap stone

Trap is the popular local name for a type of grey or purple volcanic ash, commonly peppered with holes, used in the Exe valley. This stone could be found in a number of places along the Exe valley, notably at Rougemont in Exeter, and Thorverton and Silverton where small volcanoes had erupted in the Permo-Triassic period c. 250 million years ago.

Volcanic stone of this type can be seen in Exeter’s city wall, where it was used both in the Roman period and throughout the Middle Ages. It can also be seen at Exe Bridge (c. 1200), in some of the houses of Cathedral Close, and in some of the houses of the High Street and South Street.

Late medieval ridge–tile from Bowhill

Late medieval ridge–tile from Bowhill

To provide a water-tight finish along the ridge of a slate roof, earthenware ridge tiles were used in Devon buildings from the mid 13th century onwards. Several such tiles survived at Bowhill, Exeter, until its repair by English Heritage in the 1980s, when it was decided that they were too old and frail to remain on the roofs. They have now been replaced by modern replicas.

The ridge-tile shown here is believed to belong to the original roof of Bowhill, datable to about 1500. Such tiles were known locally as ‘crests’. They commonly receive mention in building accounts; they usually cost about 1 1/2d each at this time. This particular example was made close to Totnes.

The lierne vault of JL Pearson

The lierne vault of JL Pearson

When J.L. Pearson cleared the area of the medieval cloister of the cathedral, in which he intended to build this new cloister, a series of bosses from the vaults of the 14th-century cloister was recovered. Careful examination of these bosses by Pearson allowed him to provide an archaeological reconstruction of the medieval vault, incorporating the older pieces.

Pearson built a lierne vault, in which short ornamental ribs or liernes join the main structural ribs. In this view the medieval bosses of white limestone quarried at Beer in south-east Devon may be distinguishable from the cream-grey limestone, quarried at Doulting in Somerset, used in the 1880s.

Engravings on slate

Engravings on slate

These line drawings are copies of delightful sketches which had been scratched onto pieces of slate. They were found during excavations in Bartholomew Street East and North Street in the 1970s. The pictures include a horse and its rider, a female face, and what appears to be a gaming board. They date from between the 13th - 15th centuries.

Publication: Allan, J.P. 1984, Medieval and Post-Medieval Finds from Exeter, 1971-1980, Exeter Archaeology Reports 3.

A 13th–century brooch

A 13th–century brooch

In medieval costume a man would wear a tunic, held at the neck by a brooch, under a cloak, held at the shoulder by a second brooch. A cast copper alloy brooch such as this could have served either purpose. In this example there are six raised settings, each with traces of decayed green infilling of either paste or glass. In publishing this piece, Dr Alison Goodall, a specialist in medieval small finds, drew attention to its similarity to other 13th century brooches: at Durrance Moat, Upton Warren, Worcestershire, and Little Avebury, Wilts. The Exeter example is the best-dated of the three, since it was found in a rubbish pit of the mid 13th century.

Domesticated dogs

Domesticated dogs

These dog skulls were found during excavations in Trichay Street, now underneath the Guildhall Shopping Centre. They were found in a rubbish pit which was used from the late 14th century to the very early 17th century.

The smallest skull is probably a pet lapdog. The small, domed skull indicates an animal with a poor level of jaw strength and a vulnerable cranium. This would have made it unsuitable as a working dog. The two larger specimens can be classified as the ‘plain dog’ type. It is possible they were pets but they were most likely working dogs, perhaps guard dogs if they had a fierce temperament.