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EXETER HOUSES 1400 - 1700

By D. Portman - 1966.

Sample text :-
' a flourishing industrial quarter had grown up on the reclaimed land. Further suburbs were also developing outside the other gates at an early date, particularly to the east in the St. Sidwell's area, which housed a high proportion of the working class, and by the I520's a quarter of the citizens were living outside the walls.1 Later on, in the seventeenth century when Exeter was expanding rapidly, it was these same areas which assimilated the bulk of the increasing population.

If Exeter encroached on the surrounding countryside this was because, in a sense, the countryside had already invaded the city which, like so many of its contemporaries, was remarkable for the amount of open space left within the walls. Hooker's well-known map of 1587 gives us some idea of how extensive this was. The Cathedral, the castle and Bedford House, with their respective precincts, dominated the eastern half of the city, while the south-western quarter near the Snayle Tower was taken up largely by Friernhay, with its racks for drying the partly finished cloths, and by the grounds of the then dissolved St. Nicholas Priory. In addition there were many large gardens and orchards scattered about. Altogether about one third of the enclosed area was open space and remained so throughout the whole of the period, for it was not until the late eighteenth century that the built-up intramural sectors began to be appreciably extended.

The houses in the suburbs, set among a patchwork of gardens, closes and orchards, lined the main approaches to the city and formed no set pattern. But the arrangement within the walls was much more formal, dictated as it was by a street plan which, for convenience's sake, tended towards the gridiron type. Thoroughfares lay roughly parallel with or at right angles to each other, and were further connected by a maze of narrow alleys. In this restricted setting only the town houses of the aristocracy and of ecclesiastical dignitaries could command sufficient space to spread themselves, as they did in the Close (fig. iii). Elsewhere the townspeople, from the merchants downwards, who lived in the main streets were forced to accommodate themselves on narrow, rectangular sites, though wider ones were often to be found in some of the back streets, where the pressure on space was less severe. At worst sites might be large enough to contain only the house itself, but the more fortunate inhabitants had a tenement strip long enough to take a private garden at the rear, though in the central areas these have long since been sacrificed (figs, i-iii). The plan of Exeter represented a particular response to a particular set of topographical, economic and social circumstances, and the success of this can be judged by the fad that most of the old property boundaries remained substantially unchanged until the Second World War.... '

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