Past Remains

A view of yesterday from today

The House That Moved, Exeter, Devon


A beautiful 15th century house, it looks as though it's always been there, but over 50 years ago it was moved from its site on the corner of Edmund Street and Frog Street to its new position at the bottom of West Street.

The slum clearance of the West Quarter during the 1920's and 1930's and around Exe Island, plus the blitz bombing during May 1942, meant that many of the historic buildings in this area disappeared. Also, the new inner bypass, which was constructed during the 1960's entailed more loss. This particular building, known as Merchant House, was in a very sorry state at the time. Dated from about 1500 (thought to be possibly earlier), it was one of the oldest surviving houses in Exeter, and was scheduled for demolition, but with pressure from archaeologists was listed in time to be saved.

It took some weeks to prepare, stripping it down to it's timber framework and strengthening the whole structure. Iron wheels were placed at each corner attached to hydraulic jacks to ensure that it was always kept upright. Continual checks were made with spirit levels as the slightest move out of alignment would have caused it to fall.

The move was started on 9th December 1961 with the raising of the house and over the next two days was moved to the edge of Edmund Street ready for its journey up the hill, which had a gradient of 1 in 10 in parts. The winches were driven by air compressors and the house was very slowly taken up the street on rails, with the corner jacks constantly adjusted to keep the whole structure upright. Finally placed in its new position four days later, restoration was carried out, which included reinstalling a leaded-light window that had been removed prior to moving.

On the opposite side of West Street is the lovely old St Mary Steps Church with its unusual clock, Stepcote Hill and two similarly historic houses, numbers 10 and 11, one of which was known as the Coffin House. I recall reading or hearing that it was partly because of it's unusual shape but also because it was once belonged an undertaker, but I can't find any reference to it so please don't quote me on that.

Despite the near proximity of the bypass, this is a most delightful corner of Exeter in the West Quarter. So many Mediaeval buildings were lost that it is lovely to be able to enjoy those that were saved. Even though it meant moving them around a bit! ;)

These and a few more photos can be seen in the Photo Gallery album.

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