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City of Exeter
Shown within Devon
Status: City
Region: South West England
Admin. County: Devon
- Total
Ranked 303rd
47.03 km²
Admin. HQ: Exeter
ONS code: 18UC
- Total (2002 est.)
- Density
Ranked 182nd
2,363 / km²
Ethnicity: 97.6% White
Arms of Exeter City Council
Exeter City Council
Leadership: Leader & Cabinet
Executive: All party
MP: Ben Bradshaw

The city of Exeter is the county town of Devon, in England, UK. It is located at . In the 2001 census its population was recorded at 111,066. The city's motto, Semper fidelis, was suggested by Elizabeth I.



Until the construction of main road by-passes in the twentieth century, Exeter was the lowest bridging point of the River Exe, and therefore developed as an administrative and route centre. From Saxon times until the nineteenth century, the diocese of Exeter covered the whole of the counties of Devon and Cornwall, and civil administration and services tended to follow the lines of the ecclesiastical. Exeter was also a port: the limit of tides of the River Exe lies below Exeter, and the small town of Topsham on the estuary (nowadays within the city limits) developed as a port for the city, but goods were transported to the city's quays in lighters. Eventually a ship canal was constructed so that ocean-going vessels could reach the city's quays, and this remained in regular use until ships increased in size with the development of steam power. It is still used for leisure boating.


The city provides light industries and services to a sizeable area. The Met Office, the main weather forecasting organisation for the United Kingdom and one of the most significant in the world, has recently relocated from Berkshire to Exeter. It will be one of the three largest employers in the area (the others being the University of Exeter and Devon County Council), providing a welcome boost to the local economy.

On June 26, 2004, Exeter was granted Fairtrade City status.


There was a settlement on the banks of the Exe prior to the Romans' foundation of Isca Dumnoniorum in c. AD 50, building a defensive wall to surround the settlement. Isca was the most south-westerly Roman fortified settlement in England. Significant parts of the Roman wall remain, though the present visable structure was largely created 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, though because this is close to the cathedral, it has not yet been practicable to excavate it for public view. Exeter was also the southern starting point for the Fosse Way Roman road.

In 876 Exeter was attacked and captured by the Danes. King Alfred drove them out the next year.

The city was again besieged by the Danes in 894 however they were not able to take the city, and soon abandoned the siege.

In 1067 the city rebelled against William the Conqueror who promptly marched west to besiege the city. The city submitted only after a 18 day siege. Part of the Capulation agreement was that all the nobles in the city would be confirmed in their positions as long as a a castle was built.

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.

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.

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 the 4th of September 1643 and it remained in their control until near the end of the war.

Early in the English Industrial revolution, Exeter's industry developed on the basis of locally available agricultural products, since the city's location on a fast-flowing river gave it ready access to water power. However when steam power replaced water in the later nineteenth 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 nineteenth century development that changed many historic European cities.

Exeter was bombed by the German Luftwaffe during WWII, in a 1942 raid that formed part of the Baedeker Blitz. 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 Exeter Cathedral, damaged. The city was rebuilt in the 1950s in an attempt to preserve its ancient heritage, though many feel that the post-war reconstruction was weak and failed to conserve partly-damaged structures that could have been saved, as well as making too many concessions to motor traffic. Currently, despite local opposition, one rebuilt street, Princesshay, is to be redeveloped again in a more modern style. Previously regarded as second only to Bath as an architectural site in southern England, Exeter is now 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.

Politics and administration

Exeter forms a single parliamentary seat. It is relatively marginal, and since the second World War its Member of Parliament has usually been drawn from the governing party. At the United Kingdom general election, 1997, Ben Bradshaw was elected as MP for Exeter.

Exeter's city council is a local government district authority, and shares responsibility for local government with the Devon County Council. In recent years, the city council has been dominated by Labour Party and Liberal Democrat members. Since 2003, no party has had a majority on the council.

Notable Buildings

The front of Exeter Cathedral

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

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. A statue of Richard Hooker, the sixteenth 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 are still in use as an Assize court, though a new courts complex is under construction and the castle will probably become accessible to tourists as a result.
  • The Guildhall, the oldest municipal building in England still in use.
  • The Custom House in the attractive Quay area
  • St Nicholas Priory in Mint Lane.
  • A number of medieval churches including St Mary Steps which has an elaborate clock.

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 = red hill). A plaque near the gatehouse recalls that in 1685 Alice Molland the last person executed for witchcraft in England, was executed in Exeter.

Northenhay Gardens located just outside the castle, is the oldest public open space in the whole of England, being origionally 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. The area is also where many statues are situated, most importantly the War Memorial by John Angel and the Deerstalker by E.B.Stephens (pictured below). The Volenteer Memorial from 1895, also in the gardens commemorates the formation of the 1st Rifle Volunteers in 1852. Other statues include John Dinham and Thomas Dyke Ackland.



  • The original manuscript of one of the most important documents in Anglo-Saxon literature, the tenth century Exeter Book, is kept in the cathedral vaults. The Exeter Book 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 slightly lewd.
  • 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.


  • The Northcott Theatre is located on the campus of the university. It is one of relatively few provincial English theatres to maintain its own repertory company . Its annual open air Shakespeare performance in the grounds of Rougemont Castle is well regarded nationally.
  • There are also two amateur theatre buildings with associated companies.


  • Exeter does not have a resident professional orchestra. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra tours to the city regularly.
  • The cathedral choir is nationally known, and the cathedral is frequently the venue for concerts by visiting orchestras.
  • There is an annual Festival, of all the arts but with a particular concentration of musical events

Museums and galleries

  • The city museum is the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Queen Street.
  • The Phoenix Arts Centre occupies the former university site in Gandy Street.
  • Spacex is a long established modern art gallery


  • Express and Echo , daily (current)
  • Flying Post , weekly (discontinued 1917, but revived in 1975 as an alternative community magazine)
  • The Western Morning News , a Plymouth-printed daily regional paper, is also popular

Twin towns

Exeter is twinned with:

The city also seeks to maintain a relationship with HMS Exeter.

Colleges and Universities

  • The University of Exeter has two campuses in the city, both notable for their attractive parkland. It is one of the largest employers in the city.
  • Exeter is one of the four main sites of the University of Plymouth
  • The Peninsula Medical School , a joint operation of the two universities, has one of its main sites in Exeter
  • St Loye's School of Health Studies, well known for training in occupational therapy has now been incorporated into the University of Plymouth.
  • Exeter College is a major Further Education college
  • Exeter is home to several substantial language schools



The city remains at a critical point on the transport networks.




There is a small airport near the city and the local airline, previously called Jersey European and British European but now known as Flybe, is a significant local employer. The Airport offers a variety of scheduled and charter flights including a seasonal service to Toronto in Canada.

See also

External links


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