After centuries when Exeter was virtually abandoned (excepting its monastery), town life was re-established at Exeter in late Saxon times. It is probably King Alfred the Great (AD 871-899) who should be credited with its re-foundation.
A new street grid, different from the Roman one, was laid out within the walls, and the defences were refurbished. The city evidently grew rapidly. By the year 1000 it was about the sixth most prosperous city in Britain, after London, York, Lincoln, Winchester and probably Chester. By the 11th century there were as many as 30 parish churches, with many timber buildings fronting the main streets where crafts such as the working of metals, leather, cloth and wood were practised. Trade in the mineral wealth of South-West England, especially tin, appears to have been the source of much of its prosperity.
The four Devon burhs (defended towns) were:
Exeter, Barnstaple, Lydford, Totnes
These had the following features:
- Defences – in the case of Exeter the old Roman wall and bank
- A planned street system with a main street and minor streets at right-angles
- A market (often held in the open High Street)
- A mint
- An urban population – perhaps 2000 people in Exeter by 1066