top of page
Search

History of a House

While not associated with a burgage, this is a fascinating insight into the architectural history of a medieval building from a full survey with excellent visuals which helps understand the likely development of so many medieval town buildings with street frontage (or in this case a close.)




History of a House

R. Parker and A. Collings of Exeter Archaeology Medieval Britain and Ireland in 2006 General Editor: NEIL CHRISTIE Medieval Britain and Ireland compiled and edited by: MÄRIT GAIMSTER EXETER 33. At 2 Broadgate (SX 9178 9260) R. Parker and A. Collings of Exeter Archaeology completed building recording and documentary study. Situated at the corner of Broadgate and Cathedral Yard, the property adjoins the site of the medieval Broad Gate; demolished in 1825, this was formerly the principal entrance to Exeter Cathedral Close. The existing building is an extremely complex structure which reflects the division of the site into two tenements: one within and one without the boundary of the Close. In fact, the building originated as a group of several, originally separate, properties which were combined into a single structure in the 19th century. For generations the property has been known as ‘Tinley’s Café’; however, in 1995-6 it was leased to Pizza Express (Restaurants) Ltd. and extensively refurbished. During the alterations Exeter Archaeology were commissioned by the new occupiers to carry out the recording works. The alterations affected much of the building, which was in poor condition. The stripping out was comprehensive; nearly all modern surfaces and cladding were removed, except the floorboards and parts of the staircases, which were retained to allow access. The greater part of the structure was exposed, and was selectively recorded by measured drawings. A full photographic record was made in black and white, colour print and also in colour transparency. The earlier fabric was recorded as fully as was possible. The full publication of the building recording can be found in Proc. Devon Archaeol. Soc. 64 (2006), 267–342. The limits of the Cathedral Close at Exeter were formally defined in 1286-8, though some form of enclosure of the Cathedral precincts may already have existed. The frontage to the churchyard, however, may not have been intensively developed in the medieval period. It may have consisted mainly of a boundary wall separating the churchyard from domestic yards and gardens, or the rear elevations of the High Street houses. In the medieval period the Broadgate area consisted of a large and valuable tenement, with frontages to both High Street and the churchyard. No. 2 Broadgate occupies only a small part of the original medieval tenement, the rest of which is now covered by buildings in High Street. The rear half of the existing buildings at No. 2 consists of the remains of a large Late-medieval house of high status, which was probably constructed by the Wilsford family in the early 16th century. The house was predominantly timber-framed, but backed onto a high stone rear wall containing the fireplaces, staircases and other services (Fig. 4). The traditional identification of this wall as the ‘Close wall’ (DoE Listing description) is incorrect; the Close boundary actually ran on the line of the frontage of the house, roughly through the centre of the existing building. The W. part of the house was altered in the early 17th century, when the house was subdivided to form two properties. It was subsequently demolished with Broad Gate in 1825, and only the E. part of the house now retains medieval fabric.

fig.4 The medieval frontage was progressively obscured from the early 17th century by the development of buildings on the S. side of the boundary of the Close, on a tenement created from part of the former churchyard (Fig. 5).

fig.5 This land was the property of the Dean and Chapter, and may have been developed on their initiative as a means of increasing their income after the losses of the Reformation. There were initially two buildings on this tenement, but these were later subdivided to form three smaller units. By the early 19th century a substantial bow-windowed house had been erected on the E. part of the S. tenement, and a two-storey gabled building with an oriel window stood at the W. corner, close to Broadgate. After the demolition of the Broad Gate in 1825, the W. part of the medieval house and the small gabled building were completely demolished and a new structure erected on the site. The front buildings were remodelled, and the various properties were then united behind a new, taller frontage to form the present building. These alterations, and many later modifications, were extremely destructive to the historic and structural integrity of the buildings. At the time of recording the buildings were close to collapse. More than half the timber structure of the original 16th-century building had been removed, including the entire first floor and all but fragments of the original façade. Many of the internal structural partitions of the late 18th- and early 19th-century buildings had also been removed in order to open up the interiors for commercial use. Despite these severe alterations, enough primary fabric remains to allow a relatively confident reconstruction of the development of the buildings and the plan and appearance of the Late-medieval house. The 16th-century house

The 16th-century house stood three storeys high over a full cellar (Fig. 6). The S. wall of the house formed its main elevation, and enjoyed a prime site overlooking the churchyard and the Cathedral. This facade was elaborate, with stone walls on the ground floor and timber-framed upper floors jettying at each storey, and with roofs arranged gable-end to the street. The E. wall was also originally partly timber-framed, though apparently not jettied. The house was confined to a narrow strip of land measuring approximately 13.5 m long and 5.5 m deep, running E.–W. immediately alongside the Close boundary. The extent of the house may have been determined by existing buildings or gardens on the High Street, and on the west by the position of the Broad Gate, which formed its W. wall and lay at an angle to the building, distorting the rooms at its W. end.

fig.6 Ground floor The surviving primary fabric on the ground floor is now concentrated in the E. half of the building, especially in the N. wall and ceiling. This floor has been gutted for commercial use, and no primary partitions now survive; the N. wall and the surviving fragment of the S. wall, however, retain several early features which are instructive as to the layout of the rooms. The cellar underlies the entire area and the ground-floor structure is formed by a medieval floor-frame sealing the cellar. Two bays survive, formed by large beams running N.–S., and linked by plain, square-sectioned joists tenoned into these. The primary build of the N. wall consists of locally quarried Heavitree breccia, well coursed, and bonded with white lime mortar. This wall is around 1 m thick and contains the services for the building, including fireplaces, garderobes and the remains of a stair turret serving both the cellar and the upper floors of the house. The westernmost 5 m of this wall is a 19th-century rebuild, dating from after the demolition of Broad Gate. At the extreme E. end of the N. wall, adjoining the door to the stair turret, is a medieval fireplace. It is small and oddly proportioned, with a high relieving arch constructed of shaped stone voussoirs. The lintel has unfortunately been removed, but it probably consisted of a flat slab of stone surmounting an opening 1 m square. The small size and awkward proportions of this fireplace were necessitated by its position in the NE. corner of the building, awkwardly close to an arched opening leading to the stair turret. The stairs formerly projected from the rear of the building in a polygonal turret which was observed in the mid 1970s by Exeter Museums Archaeological Field Unit after fire damage to an adjoining building. None of the stairs now survive in situ, and the remains of the turret were unfortunately destroyed during the redevelopment of the buildings on the High Street frontage. The turret was entered through a tall, chamfered doorway with a two-centred arch. A pair of iron pintles survive in the W. jamb of the archway, showing that the opening was originally closed by a single wooden door. The door opened into the stair turret and was fastened from the room by a bolt, for which the socket remains in the E. jamb of the archway. The door must have opened upon a small landing, beyond which the stairs ascended and descended to the upper storeys and the cellar. The S. wall was the house’s main façade and contained large window openings, and possibly also the original entrance. The only surviving fragment of the façade consists of a stone column or pier which formerly supported a ceiling beam. This is 0.65 m thick and 0.7 m wide, and formed an upstand of masonry between a door, on the W. side, and a large window on the east. The plastered splays of both openings survive. The dimensions of the doorway are unknown, but it was large, at least 2.5 m tall, and probably had a timber door frame. The doorway does not appear to have been cut through the wall, and probably represents the original main entrance. No evidence was observed of a corresponding doorway in the N. wall, so it is unlikely that there was a through passage; there may have been an entry or vestibule, screened off from the E. rooms of the house by a timber partition. The window on the E. side of the stone pier has been largely removed, but 1.8 m of the top rail of its frame survives, ornamented with fillets and a cyma recta moulding. There are marks on the timber representing both the W. jamb of the frame and the central ‘king mullion’ which appears to have divided the window into two halves. There is a slight projection in the E. face of the stone pier, which represents the scar of the wall below the sill. The opening may thus have originally measured 2.7 x 1.7 m. The size of the opening implies a room of some prestige; however, the existing fireplace in this area is a 19th-century addition, and the position of the medieval fireplace is so far to the east that it is unlikely to have heated this room. An unheated room with a large window suggests a shop, but in this case the window appears to have been glazed, and it is more likely that the room had a domestic function. The medieval fireplace and the stair turret door in the extreme NE. corner of the building probably served a small parlour or private apartment at the E. end of the house, separated from the unheated room by a wooden screen or partition. The screen may have run along the line of one of the main beams in the ceiling, and terminated at the E. jamb of the window in the main façade. The medieval house almost certainly had a third ground-floor room at its W. end. The function of this room is unknown due to the total rebuilding of that part of the house in 1825, as is the site of the original staircase that served this part of the house. A newel stair or framed stair may have been inserted after the house was subdivided, or alternatively, there is a possibility that the medieval house had a stair turret at both its E. and W. ends. First floor The first floor was originally approached by the spiral stair in the NE. corner. It contained large, prestigious rooms, probably the hall and principal chamber, and overhung the ground-floor front wall by 0.65 m. Very little now remains of these rooms, as this storey was completely gutted in the early 19th century. The primary structural supports, internal partitions and the front wall have all been removed, and the superstructure of the building is now supported entirely on early 19th-century and modern fabric. Nevertheless, fragmentary remains of a partition, of the joists and beams of the ceiling, and the evidence from the N. wall, allow a reconstruction of this floor to be attempted. The façade of the house at first-floor level was formed by close-studded timber framing. Though none of the timbers survive, the mortices for the studs remain in the top surface of the jetty bressumer. The N. wall contains a pair of large fireplaces. These are identical in size and appearance, measuring 1.5 x 1.5 m, with large stone slabs for lintels, and relieving arches of shaped stone voussoirs. The space between each lintel and the arch above is filled with segmental stone blocks. The W. fireplace was blocked and mutilated during the demolitions in 1825, and a staircase was constructed against it when the house was rebuilt. No primary fabric now survives to the west of this point. The E. fireplace was partially blocked, but it has now been re-opened, revealing some remains of plaster adhering to its sides and back. The soot-blackening on the stonework extends beneath this plaster, and it may be assumed that the plaster is not an original feature. The plaster does not appear to have been painted or decorated with sgraffito work. Between the fireplaces, incorporated into the structure of the western staircase, a single vertical stud survived of an internal partition which formerly divided the first floor into two large rooms measuring around 6 x 6 m. The partition was evidently constructed in the same manner as other partitions which survive within the house, except in that it had no integral top rail. Adjoining the E. fireplace is a small niche which is likely to have functioned as a garderobe. This niche is somewhat awkwardly accommodated between the fireplace and the stair turret. The doorway to the stair turret is a narrow, chamfered opening with a two-centred arch and straight-cut stops. There are pintles on its W. side for a door with a single leaf. In order to accommodate the garderobe and the stair turret, the E. fireplace is sited off-centre to the room it served, close to the partition dividing the rooms. The W. fireplace is also off-centre, which may suggest that the first floor was symmetrically planned and that further services formerly existed to the west of this fireplace. This may lend support to the conjecture that a second stair turret existed at that end of the building, though all trace of this has been removed. The E. wall of the room was rebuilt in brick in the 19th century, but one stud of its external wall survives. This wall was also constructed from close-studded timber-framing, but the structure was reinforced by a diagonal brace, part of which is preserved at the foot of the remaining stud. The head-beam of this wall also survives, now supported on the 19th-century brick. This beam is large, and ornamented with mouldings consisting of two identical but opposed ogee curves. There are some traces of decorative paintwork on the mouldings, which were formerly picked out in blue and orange. There are further beam sockets in the N. wall, and it is clear that the first floor was formerly covered by an elaborate timber ceiling consisting of intersecting moulded beams and joists. This ceiling was unfortunately removed in the early 19th century, though enough fragments remain to allow a confident reconstruction. Second floor The second floor is much the best-preserved part of the house. It was divided into three bays, unlike the lower floors which were divided into four. Each bay had a separate roof, forming three gables on the main façade. Because of the distorted shape of the house, the ridges of the roofs were not parallel, and the trusses splayed outwards and became asymmetrical towards the rear of the house. The second floor contained a number of chambers; a single large chamber in the central gable, and two smaller unheated chambers in the gables on either side. The primary internal partitions between the central chamber and the other rooms survive almost complete, though all the other partitions on this storey are later. The stair turret from the first floor opened upon the minor chambers of the second floor through an arched doorway. The doorway was identical to the stair-turret doors on the lower storeys, with the exception that pintles for the door hinges remained in the jambs on both sides of the doorway. From this it is clear that there were originally double doors at the head of the stairs, possibly as a result of confined space within the turret at this level. The doors themselves survive, though not in situ. They had been reused above the doorway, to support the ceiling of the stair turret following the rebuilding of the turret as a cupboard. Despite some damage caused by a fire in the 1970s both the doors are in a good state of preservation. During the alterations in 1995–6 the doors were removed from the ceiling to make way for a ventilation flue, and are now stored at Exeter Museum. The doors are constructed from two layers of planks; the external face, facing the second-floor room, having vertical planks and the internal face having horizontal planking (Fig. 7). The planks are secured by many large iron nails or rivets scattered in no particular pattern across the surface of the doors. These nails have been cold-forged after insertion into the door; their projecting ends have been crudely beaten flat, so that they have fused with large square ‘washers’ visible on the rear surface of the door.

fig. 7

Both doors have been truncated by the removal of their arched tops, and all the door furniture has been removed. Faint traces of the hinges are visible on the front surface of the doors; these appear to have been plain strap hinges without finials or other ornamentation. Oddly, the lower hinge on the E. leaf is at a much higher level than the corresponding hinge on the western leaf. This does not appear to have been an alteration to the doors, since the pintle in the door jamb is also much higher. The reason for this anomaly is unclear. No evidence for latches, locks or bolts is visible; it is possible that these were located in the fire-damaged areas. To the west of the stair turret door is a rectangular recess in the north wall. This is almost certainly a garderobe recess similar to that on the first floor. The E. wall of the building was originally timber-framed, but was replaced with a brick wall in the 19th century during the rebuilding of the neighbouring property. It is probable that the wall contained a window lighting the chamber at the head of the stairs. The partition forming the W. wall of the chamber is of close-studded construction, originally with an integral sill-beam and head-beam, and large vertical studs reinforced by a diagonal brace. The sill-beam has been entirely removed, and large sections of the head-beam have been replaced with modern timbers. The head-beam was originally 0.4 m wide, with chamfered corners. It is laid flat in order to serve as a wall plate for the roof, and the common rafters of the surviving medieval roof are seated in the head-beam with bird’s mouth joints.


Despite the damage to the head-beam and the replacement of the sill-beam, many of the vertical studs of the partition remain in place. Until the alterations in 1995–6, two panels of the partition retained their infilling of cleft oak laths, complete with the original finish of hard white plaster and whitewash. Two of the studs have chamfers and stops, and represent a primary doorway into the main second-floor chamber in the central gable of the house. This doorway originally had an arched timber door-head, of which just over half survives. At the centre of the partition one of the vertical studs is wider than the others, and the chamfer on the head-beam finishes in a run-out stop. It is probable that a lateral partition crossed the building at this point, dividing the E. bay of the house into two chambers. Neither the SE. nor the NE. chamber was originally heated. There does not appear to have been a chimney in the SE. part of the house, and there was no evidence of a primary fireplace in the NE. chamber. The chamber in the central bay of the building had been divided into two small rooms in the early 19th century, but was originally one large room. The roofs of this chamber and of the chambers in the W. bay of the house were destroyed when an extra storey was added to the building in the early 19th century. The scar of part of the roof is just visible in the NW. corner of the room on the N. wall. The chamber in the central bay is bounded on both its E. and W. sides by medieval partitions, which in places retain their original plaster panels. It was lit by a large window in the S. wall (which does not survive), and was heated by a fireplace in the N. wall similar to those on the first floor. The fireplace is well preserved; it has a large stone lintel with a chamfered soffit and a relieving arch of shaped stone voussoirs. No plaster or paintwork survived on the fireplace, which appears to have been ‘restored’ in the 20th century.

The partition on the W. side of the chamber is identical in form to that on the E. side, and much better preserved. The primary doorway communicating with the W. bay of the house has lost its door head, but is otherwise unaltered. The doorway, the thick stud and the diagonal brace correspond exactly with the positions of the same features in the eastern partition. This suggests that the W. bay of the house mirrored the layout of its E. bay, and consisted of two chambers separated by a lateral partition. This conjecture is supported by the evidence of a wall-painting on the W. side of the partition, which runs from the south wall as far as the central stud, and no further. The wall painting in the SW. chamber was in poor condition, and has been partially removed; the remains have now been covered up. The painting was applied directly onto the timber studs and plaster panels of the partition, and was partly covered by later finishes (Fig. 8).

fig. 8

The plaster panels were collapsing, and very little of the motifs on the panels could be seen clearly. No evidence of any figurative painting was visible; the painting appears to have consisted of a pattern of two stencilled motifs in a variety of colours, including red, white, light green and dark green or grey. On the studs, pairs of stencilled rosettes alternated with lozenge-shaped floral motifs, and in the panels the same lozenges appeared, ranked in vertical bands or stripes in alternating colours. The lozenge motifs were stencilled in two colours, which were reversed in neighbouring motifs, to create positive-negative effects. The original effect must have been like rather garish flock wallpaper. Apart from the colouring on the beams on the first floor, this room was the only one to retain evidence of painted decoration. The other rooms on the second floor appear to have had simple whitewashing over the plaster, and no decoration was observed on the studs. The room was obviously of high status, and may have served as a bedroom or a private solar. The cellar The cellar of the medieval house was entered from the stair turret in the N. wall. The doorway was identical with the stair openings on the upper floors, and does not appear to have been of lower status. The cellar appears to have covered the entire area of the medieval house and may have been divided into separate rooms or areas with specific functions. Very few architectural features are visible, and there is little evidence for its original use; it is probable that there were alternative entrances, and possibly window openings in the S. wall. In the cellar’s N. wall is a large fireplace, clad with late 19th- or early 20th-century ceramic tiles; however the interior of the chimney flue is of Heavitree breccia, and appears to be part of the primary build of the N. wall. The fireplace is probably medieval, and its large size suggests the possibility that this part of the cellar functioned as the kitchen of the medieval house. Underground or cellar kitchens are not unknown in Exeter houses of the 16th and 17th centuries, though they remained rare until the late 18th and 19th centuries. At No. 2 Broadgate the cramped site of the house may have necessitated the unusual location of the kitchen. It is possible that the room immediately above, in the demolished W. part of the house, had functioned as a dining room. This room may have been linked to the kitchen by a stair turret in the NW. corner of the cellar, corresponding with that at the other end of the house. The façade Both the surviving medieval partitions on the second floor terminate to the south in large wall posts, which formerly divided the front wall of the house into three bays. These posts retain evidence, in the form of mortices and peg-holes, of the structural timbers which formed the front wall of the house. The front wall has now been almost entirely removed, but enough evidence survived at the time of the recording to allow a confident reconstruction of its general appearance. The front wall was of close-studded timber-framed construction, with closely spaced minor studs alternating with plaster panels between the wall posts. One of the minor studs still remained at the time of recording, but has now been removed. Both the studs and the wall posts were tenoned into the jetty bressumer, and also into a head-beam which crossed the frontage of the building just below the eaves. The closest surviving parallels in both date and status to the Broadgate house are probably Nos 46 and 47 High Street. These houses are believed to date from the early to mid-16th century and are entirely of close-studded timber-framed construction. No. 46 retains its original three-storey façade with coved jetties, formerly supported on carved posts forming a shallow ‘loggia’ in front of a recessed shop front. The timbers of the frontage are carved with spirally banded and beaded collonettes, and the corner posts feature (?) praying figures which were formerly supported on angel corbels. The second floor of this house once featured continuous ranges of small windows, with arched lights. Some of these windows still remain, though blocked, and retain some of their original glazing and ironwork. It is possible that the windows at No. 2 Broadgate were similar in character. Two other houses with elaborate late medieval façades formerly stood nearby. ‘King John’s Tavern’ in South Street was a four-storey house demolished in 1834. The façade was decorated with collonettes and figurative sculpture on brackets supporting the jettying storeys. There was extensive patterned framing, a rarity in Devon, and a continuous range of large, square-headed mullioned windows on the first floor, with no oriel projections. The ground-floor windows had shouldered arched heads and the door was elaborately carved with flamboyant gothic tracery. The house is known from drawings made by John Gendall and Edward Ashworth during and after its demolition. Nearby, on the north corner of The Carfax, stood another highly decorated house, demolished in the late 18th century but known from a 19th-century lithograph by G. Palmer, based upon earlier drawings. This house had a jettied frontage to both High Street and North Street, ornamented with carved panelling, crenellations, and an enormous figure of St Peter bearing the whole structure upon his head. Both these houses were probably erected in the late 15th or early 16th centuries, and their façades demonstrate the type of ‘fantastic’ decoration which might appear on the houses of some of the wealthiest, or most ostentatious, citizens of Exeter at that time.

203 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page