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Fire destroys Exeter's medieval heritage

The medieval interior of The Clarence Hotel in Exeter has been destroyed in a fire that raged for over 24 hours in the heart of the city. Over 100 firefighters tackled a blaze that threaten to engulf further historic buildings nearby (Picture from the BBC).

Believed to be the first 'hotel' in England the façade and main rooms were built in 1769 and then it was re-named after the visit to the city by the Duchess of Clarence in 1827.

Although it is unlikely that any of the medieval interior can be saved in this fire, restoration often provides an opportunity to improve works done before. In this sense both modern and traditional methods and materials are used, following an on-site assessment and the right approach taken in order to maintain the integrity of individual buildings.

During the middle ages, Exeter became the religious, commercial and administrative centre for the region. A complex relationship grew up between Crown, City and the Church. The cathedral originally built on the site of a Saxon Abbey was re-constructed in the 14th century in Decorated Gothic architectural style.

Exeter Cathedral's west front from Exeter Memories

William Joy designed the image screen of figures on the west front of the cathedral in the 1340's as two tiers of statues set within a series of ornate architectural canopies (Picture from Exeter Memories). Carved from limestone taken from quarry caves at Beer in Devon, they have eroded but still can be made out as 'demi-angels' with musical instruments, seated kings and two chain-mailed knights.

Now a quarry near Salcombe is being opened up to provide stone also originally used in the building of the cathedral.

Other medieval buildings that survive in the city and line the cathedral close are the Guildhall that claims to be the oldest municipal building in England still in use and Mol's Coffee House.

Exeter City Council has also announced that the patron saint of the city, St Sidwell, is to give her name to the new leisure centre for the centre (see separate blog).

In the early hours of May 4, 1942 a large part of Sidwell Street was bombed including St Matthew's church. But several panes of glass survived, one depicting the saint, were put on show for the first time in over seventy years in two heritage days in September.

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