City of Exeter
Devon Exeter
Shown within Devon
Status: City
Region: South West England
Admin. County: Devon
- Total
Ranked 303rd
47.03 km²
Admin. HQ: Exeter
ONS code: 18UC
- Total (2004 est.)
- Density
Ranked 177th
2,450 / km²
Ethnicity: 97.6% White
Arms of Exeter City Council
Exeter City Council
Leadership: Leader & Cabinet
Executive: Labour (council NOC)
MP: Ben Bradshaw

The city of Exeter is the county town of Devon, in England, UK. It is located at 50°43′25″N, 3°31′39″W. In the 2001 census its population was recorded at 111,066. The city's motto, Semper fidelis, was suggested by Elizabeth I.


Until the construction of main road by-passes in the 20th century, Exeter was the lowest bridging point of the River Exe, and therefore developed as an administrative and route centre. From Saxon times until the 19th century, the diocese of Exeter covered the whole of the counties of Devon and Cornwall, and civil administration and services tended to follow the lines of the ecclesiastical. Exeter was also a port: the limit of tides of the River Exe lies below Exeter, and the small town of Topsham on the estuary (nowadays within the city limits) developed as a port for the city, but goods were transported to the city's quays in lighters. Eventually a ship canal was constructed so that ocean-going vessels could reach the city's quays, and this remained in regular use until ships increased in size with the development of steam power. It is still used for leisure boating.


The city provides strong industries and services to a sizable area. The Met Office, the main weather forecasting organisation for the United Kingdom and one of the most significant in the world, relocated from Bracknell in Berkshire to Exeter in early 2004. It is one of the three largest employers in the area (the others being the University of Exeter and Devon County Council), providing a welcome boost to the local economy.

On June 26, 2004, Exeter was granted Fairtrade City status.

Exeter's independent shops are mostly in the roads such as Gandy Street off the High St, which was reconstructed after bombing in 1942.

Princesshay, which runs parallel to the High Street is undergoing redevelopment in 2005–2006.


The Latin name for Exeter, Isca Dumnoniorum ("Isca of the Dumnones"), suggests that the city was originally a Celtic oppidum, or town, on the banks on the River Exe prior to the foundation of the Roman city in about AD 50. Such early towns, or proto-cities, had been a feature of pre-Roman Gaul as described by Julius Caesar in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico ("Commentaries on the Gallic Wars") and it is not improbable that they existed in neighbouring Great Britain as well. Isca is clearly a Celtic generic noun and the Romans felt the need to label the city Isca Dumnoniorum, or the Isca of the Dumnonii, in order to distinguish it from such settlements as Isca Silurum (modern Caerleon-on-Usk in Monmouthshire).

Isca Dumnoniorum was the most south-westerly Roman fortified settlement in England. Significant parts of the Roman wall remain, though the present visible structure was largely built on the orders of Alfred the Great to protect the far west of his kingdom following the Viking occupation of 876. Most of its route can be traced on foot. There is a substantial Roman baths complex that was excavated in the 1970s, but because of its proximity to the cathedral, it has not been practicable to retain the excavation for public view. Exeter was also the southern starting point for the Fosse Way Roman road.

In 876 Exeter was attacked and captured by the Danes. King Alfred drove them out the next year. In 894 the city stood off another siege by Danes.

In 1067 the city rebelled against William the Conqueror who promptly marched West and laid siege. The city submitted only after 18 days. Part of the capitulation agreement was that all the nobles in the city would be confirmed in their positions as long as a castle was built.

Exeter was held against King Stephen by Baldwin de Redvers in 1140 and submitted only after a three month siege when the supplies of fresh water ran out.

In 1537, the city was made a county corporate. The Livery Dole Almshouses and Chapel at Heavitree were founded in March 1591 and finished in 1594. They can still be seen today in the street which bears the name Livery Dole.

Exeter was at first a Parliamentary town in the English Civil War in the largely Royalist South West, but it was captured by the Royalists on 4 September 1643 and it remained in their control until near the end of the war, being one of the final Royalist cities to fall into Parliamentary hands.

Early in the English industrial revolution, Exeter's industry developed on the basis of locally available agricultural products, since the city's location on a fast-flowing river gave it ready access to water power. However when steam power replaced water in the nineteenth century, Exeter was too far from sources of coal (or iron) to develop further. As a result the city declined in relative importance, and was spared the rapid nineteenth century development that changed many historic European cities.

Exeter was bombed by the German Luftwaffe during World War II, in a 1942 raid that formed part of the Baedeker Blitz. Forty acres (160,000 m²) of the city, particularly adjacent to its central High Street and Sidwell Street, were levelled by incendiary bombing. Many historic buildings were destroyed, and others, including Exeter Cathedral, damaged. The city was rebuilt in the 1950s in an attempt to preserve its ancient heritage, though many feel that the post-war reconstruction was weak and failed to conserve partly-damaged structures that could have been saved, as well as making too many concessions to motor traffic. Currently, despite some local opposition, one rebuilt street, Princesshay, is being redeveloped again in a more modern style. Previously regarded as second only to Bath as an architectural site in southern England, Exeter is now a city with some beautiful buildings rather than a beautiful city. As a result, although there is a significant tourist trade, Exeter is not dominated by tourism.

Politics and administration

Exeter forms a single parliamentary constituency. It is relatively marginal, and since World War II its Member of Parliament has usually been drawn from the governing party. At the United Kingdom general election, 1997, Ben Bradshaw was elected as MP for Exeter, and he retained the seat at the elections of 2001 and 2005.

Exeter's city council is a district authority, and shares responsibility for local government with the Devon County Council. In recent years, the city council has been dominated by Labour Party and Liberal Democrat members. Since 2003, no party has had a majority on the council.

Notable Buildings

The front of Exeter Cathedral

Ruined gatehouse at Rougemont Castle
Ruined gatehouse at Rougemont Castle. Note the red sandstone, characteristic of many older Exeter buildings.

Among the notable buildings in Exeter are:

  • The cathedral, founded in 1050 when the bishop's seat was moved from the nearby town of Crediton (birthplace of Saint Boniface) because Exeter's Roman walls offered better protection against "pirates", presumably Vikings. A statue of Richard Hooker, the sixteenth century Anglican theologian, who was born in Exeter, has a prominent place in the Cathedral Close.
  • The ruins of Rougemont Castle, built soon after the Norman Conquest; later parts of the castle are still in use as an Assize court, though a new courts complex is under construction and the castle will probably become accessible to tourists as a result.
  • The Guildhall, the oldest municipal building in England still in use.
  • The Guild of Tuckers and Weavers, a fine old building that is still used for smart functions.
  • The Custom House in the attractive Quay area, which is the oldest brick building surviving in the city.
  • St Nicholas Priory in Mint Lane.
  • A number of medieval churches including St Mary Steps which has an elaborate clock.
  • 'The House That Moved', a 14th century Tudor building, earned its name in 1961 when it was moved from its original location on the corner of Edmund Street in order for a new road to be built in its place. Weighing more than twenty-one tonnes, it was strapped together and slowly moved a few inches at a time to its present day home.

Many of these are built in the local dark red sandstone, which gives its name to the castle and the park that now surrounds it (Rougemont means red hill). A plaque near the gatehouse recalls that in 1685 Alice Molland the last person executed for witchcraft in England, was imprisoned in Exeter.

Northernhay Gardens located just outside the castle, is the oldest public open space in the whole of England, being originally laid out in 1612 as a pleasure walk for Exeter residents. Much of Northernhay gardens now represent Victorian design, with a beautiful display of trees, mature shrubs and bushes and plenty of flower beds. There are also many statues here, most importantly the War Memorial by John Angel and the Deerstalker by E.B. Stephens. The Volunteer Memorial from 1895, also in the gardens commemorates the formation of the 1st Rifle Volunteers in 1852. Other statues include John Dinham, Thomas Dyke Acland and Stafford Northcote (a local landowner who was a Victorian Chancellor of the Exchequer).



The Riddles in the High St
The Riddles in the High St

The Exeter Book, an original manuscript and one of the most important documents in Anglo-Saxon literature, is kept in the vaults of Exeter Cathedral. The Exeter Book dates back to the 10th century and is one of four manuscripts that between them contain virtually all the surviving poetry in Old English. It includes most of the more highly regarded shorter poems, some religious pieces, and a series of riddles, a handful of which are famously lewd. Some of the riddles are inscribed on a highly polished steel obelisk in the high street, placed on March 30, 2005.

The Inquisitio Eliensis, the "Exon Domesday" (so called from the preservation of the volume at Exeter), is a volume of Domesday Book that contains the full details which the original returns supplied.


The Northcott Theatre is located on the campus of the university and is one of relatively few provincial English theatres to maintain its own repertory company. Its annual open air Shakespeare performance in the grounds of Rougemont Castle is well regarded nationally. There are also two amateur theatre buildings with associated companies.

Barnfield Theatre
Barnfield Theatre

The Barnfield Theatre was converted in 1972 from The Barnfield Hall which was built towards the end of the 19th century by Exeter Literary Society. The theatre is a charity and is used as a venue for amateur and professional theatrical companies.


  • The Cavern Club in Queen Street is the place to go for live punk and indie music
  • Exeter does not have a resident professional orchestra. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra tours to the city regularly.

The largest orchestra based in Exeter is the EMG Symphony Orchestra which presents regular concerts at the University of Exeter and in Exeter Cathedral.

  • The cathedral choir is nationally known, and the cathedral is frequently the venue for concerts by visiting orchestras.
  • There is an annual Festival, of all the arts but with a particular concentration of musical events
  • The annual "Vibraphonic" festival held in the spring provides a fortnight of soul, blues and jazz inspired music. A radio station, Vibraphonic FM, runs for a month around the festival.
  • Children of the Drone is an improvisational music collective, based in Exeter since 2001

Museums and galleries

  • The city museum is the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Queen Street.
  • The Phoenix Arts Centre occupies the former university site in Gandy Street.
  • Spacex is a long established modern art gallery


Twin towns

Exeter is twinned with:

The city also seeks to maintain a relationship with HMS Exeter.


  • The University of Exeter has two campuses in the city, both notable for their attractive parkland. It is one of the largest employers in the city.
  • Exeter is one of the four main sites of the University of Plymouth
  • The Peninsula Medical School, a joint operation of the two universities, has one of its main sites in Exeter
  • St Loye's School of Health Studies, well known for training in occupational therapy has now been incorporated into the University of Plymouth.
  • Exeter College is a major Further Education college. It operates as a sixth form for the entire maintained school sector in the city.
  • For about 30 years the city of Exeter operated a maintained school system in which the divisions between phases came at different ages from most of the United Kingdom, with First, Middle and High rather than Infant, Junior and Secondary schools, so that children transferred between schools at age (about) 8 and 12 rather than 7 and 11. From 2005, however, it has adopted the more usual pattern, because of the pressures of the UK National Curriculum.
  • Exeter School is the oldest of several private schools in the city.
  • Exeter is home to several substantial language schools


  • Exeter's football club, Exeter City F.C., were relegated from the Football League in 2003 after 83 years' membership. Despite a strong showing in the early half of the 2005/06 season, the team's efforts weakened and they have failed to gain promotion back to the football league.
  • Rugby Union is popular in the south-west: Exeter's team is the Exeter Chiefs.
  • Exeter C.C. play in the Premier Division of the Devon Cricket League at both First and Second XI level.
  • The University of Exeter has a strong reputation in sport and regularly wins or comes close to winning national trophies in inter-university sports.
  • Exeter Rowing Club enjoys much success both locally and nationally, and has a recorded history stretching back to the early 1800s.
  • The Devon & Exeter Squash club is one of the most active squash clubs in the region, annually hosting the Exeter Diamonds which is a professional team of world class players. The club also boasts a strong membership, high standards and a notably junior team.
  • The Great West Run half marathon is run through the streets of Exeter in late April each year
  • Exeter's speedway team, Exeter Falcons, was founded in 1929 and were located at the County Ground until its closure in 2005. Exeter Falcons are hoping to ride again in a proposed new location, possibly at Haldon Racecourse in 2007. The site was where Exeter Falcons legend Australian Jack Geran trained youngsters in the art of the shale sport on a speedway training track at Exeter Racecourse in the late 1970s and early 1980s.



The M5 motorway to Bristol and Birmingham starts at Exeter, and connects at Bristol with the M4 to London. The older A30 road provides a shorter but sometimes slower route to London.

Going west, the A38 connects Exeter to Plymouth and South Cornwall, whilst the A30 continues to Okehampton and North Cornwall.


There are two main line railway routes from Exeter to London, the faster Great Western Main Line route via Taunton to London Paddington and the slower West of England Main Line via Salisbury to London Waterloo. Another main line, the Cross-Country Route, links Exeter with Bristol, Birmingham, the Midlands, Northern England, and Scotland. Many trains on all three lines continue westwards from Exeter, variously serving Torbay, Plymouth and Cornwall.

Local branch lines run to Paignton (see Riviera Line), Exmouth (see Avocet Line) and Barnstaple (see Tarka Line). There is also a summer weekend service to Okehampton for access to Dartmoor.

Exeter is served by two main railway stations. Exeter St David's is served by all services, whilst Exeter Central is more convenient for the city centre but served only by local services and the main line route to London Waterloo. There are also six suburban stations, Topsham, St. James Park, Exeter St. Thomas, Polsloe Bridge, Pinhoe and Digby & Sowton, served only by local services.


Exeter International Airport lies east of the city and the local airline, previously called Jersey European and British European but now known as Flybe, is a significant local employer. The Airport offers a variety of scheduled and charter flights including a seasonal service to Toronto in Canada. Since 2005 the daily services to Paris Charles de Gaulle airport have provided easy access to an international hub.

See also


Districts of South West England Flag of England

Bath and North East Somerset | Bournemouth | Bristol | Caradon | Carrick | Cheltenham | Christchurch | Cotswold | East Devon | East Dorset | Exeter | Forest of Dean | Gloucester | Isles of Scilly | Kennet | Kerrier | Mendip | Mid Devon | North Cornwall | North Devon | North Dorset | North Somerset | North Wiltshire | Penwith | Plymouth | Poole | Purbeck | Restormel | Salisbury | Sedgemoor | South Gloucestershire | South Hams | South Somerset | Stroud | Swindon | Taunton Deane | Teignbridge | Tewkesbury | Torbay | Torridge | West Devon | West Dorset | West Somerset | West Wiltshire | Weymouth and Portland

Counties with multiple districts: Cornwall - Devon - Dorset - Gloucestershire - Somerset - Wiltshire

Places with City status in England
Bath | Birmingham | Bradford | Brighton & Hove | Bristol | Cambridge | Canterbury | Carlisle | Chester | Chichester | Coventry | Derby | Durham | Ely | Exeter | Gloucester | Hereford | Kingston upon Hull | Lancaster | Leeds | Leicester | Lichfield | Lincoln | Liverpool | London (City of London and Westminster) | Manchester | Newcastle upon Tyne | Norwich | Nottingham | Oxford | Peterborough | Plymouth | Portsmouth | Preston | Ripon | Saint Albans | Salford | Salisbury | Sheffield | Southampton | Stoke-on-Trent | Sunderland | Truro | Wakefield | Wells | Winchester | Wolverhampton | Worcester | York

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