Past Remains

A view of yesterday from today

Guildhall, Exeter, Devon

A familiar sight in Exeter's High Street, the Guildhall is one of the oldest municipal buildings in Britain and also reputed to be the oldest civic building still in use today, spanning a term of over 800 years. A Grade I listed building, it is also a scheduled ancient monument; the earliest reference to it in a deed of 1160. The present structure is mainly Mediaeval. 

The pillared front portico was added in 1593, built from Beer stone as was the rest of the frontage, and during recent renovation was discovered to have once been painted in cream, the details coloured with typically Mediaeval red and blue, and the pillars in gilt.

The magnificent carved oak door, below, is also dated 1593 and was made by local carpenter Nicholas Baggett. A short anteroom beyond it leads into the main hall, used as the city's council chamber. 

The chamber is dated 1468-70 and still consists of the original arch-braced roof; its main trusses resting on corbels carved into grotesque animals of a dog/wolf-like nature. However, apart from the roof and chandelier, the rest of the interior was extensively refurbished in the Victorian era. The stained glass, stone floor, gallery and furnishings were all added circa 1863, and the Tudor panelling was heavily restored in 1887.

Wooden seats situated around the wall were centred before the bench for court trials, which the chamber was used for until recent times, and are positioned around the central table for current council meetings.

The chandelier was bought in 1789 from Thomas Pyke of Bridgwater, at a cost of £28.13s.

The walls were built using Heavitree Stone. Those and the side windows were constructed around 1460, whereas the main window at the far end is Victorian.

The panelling contains the shields and names of past mayors, recorders and other civic dignitaries, some dating from the 12th century. Unfortunately my photo, below, couldn't quite pick up the name and date plate details. The carving, however, is totally delightful and each panel varies in it's detail.

There are several portraits adorning the walls, one of which is Princess Henrietta Anne, daughter of Charles I. The Princess was born in Exeter's Bedford House in 1644, and the painting was presented to the city by her brother, Charles II.

Unfortunately, I neglected to take pics of the portraits as I was so engrossed with the architecture and other features, running out of time in the process. Because the Guildhall is still in use, finding it open to the public is a bit hit and miss. Therefore my mission of the day was to see if it was open, take photos, then get the film processed before catching the next bus home. I was delighted to eventually go inside though, as it's not only steeped in history, but is wonderful to see.

These and more photos can also be viewed in the Photo Gallery album.

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