Recently I heard Richard Parker lecture on the stones of St Nicholas Priory, describing how fragments of the Priory occasionally come to light in strange places. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536, the south and east ranges of the Priory were torn down and the stonework was reused in other buildings. Pieces of this stonework have been found in other city buildings, such as the decorative stonework found in the ‘Norman House’ which stood on Preston Street, which is now thought to have originated from the Priory. This example struck me, as in the course of my research into post-war reconstruction I had found similar examples of the salvaging and reuse of stonework.
The ‘Norman House’ was a victim of the Exeter Blitz in 1942, and the stonework was rescued and placed in the RAMM. However, other pieces of architectural fabric quietly vanished in the aftermath of the blitz. Most striking was the case of Old Black Lions, a building with medieval origins which stood at the bottom of South Street and was badly damaged in the blitz. The ruins were examined by the Inspector of Ancient Monuments, who decided that the remains of some important medieval stonework and windows should be preserved. To his dismay, and the City Council’s consternation, on his next visit to the city, the Inspector found that Black Lions had been pulled down and the stonework missing. It appears that the demolition team had ‘salvaged’ the stonework, presumably for sale, and removed it from the site. Similar experiences can be found in other blitzed cities, as demolition and salvage were not fully regulated by the authorities at the time. As such, there are potentially many pieces of architectural history, from the Priory and beyond, awaiting discovery in the walls of our buildings.
Dr Clare Maudling is a researcher, historian and former library professional. She spent fifteen years working in specialist libraries, including the Exeter Performing Arts Library and the Westcountry Studies Library, before undertaking postgraduate study in history at the University of Exeter. Born in Exeter, Clare’s interest in history was inherited from her father, who used to take her on walks around the city’s historical landmarks. She developed a love of architectural history and her main research interest is the evolution of urban planning and housing in the UK. She completed her PhD on post-war reconstruction in Exeter, Plymouth and Bristol in 2018, culminating over a decade of research into Exeter’s post-war rebuilding. Clare currently works for Exeter Historic Buildings Trust and is a researcher for the university’s politics department, working on a project investigating the structure of UK government.