Exeter City Wall

Has been described as a Certain Urban Defence

There are major building remains

NameExeter City Wall
Alternative Names
Historic CountryDevonshire
Modern AuthorityDevon
1974 AuthorityDevon
Civil ParishExeter

The city walls of Exeter have been proved to originate in Roman times (see SX 99 SW 12). The medieval and later walls (as shown on OS maps for the full circuit of the city) were essentially the Roman walls extensively rebuilt and repaired at various times (and there were many occasions of threat when it would have been prudent for Exeter to look to its defences, from sub-Roman times right up to the Civil War, when the city was twice besieged, and even later).

The Roman ditch, becoming the Town ditch, seems to have been similarly maintained, and survived up to the 18th or 19th century (though its extent does not seem to have been fully ascertained, and it may never have existed on the SW and NW sides of the city, where there were respectively the Exe and the slopes of the Longbrook valley). The four main city gates, which were demolished in the 18th

and 19th centuries, almost certainly occupied the sites of the Roman gates, although this has only been proved at the South Gate. The origin of the various wall turrets and bastions is uncertain. The only one excavated proved to be 17th century on a 13th century base, but others were possibly roman or Dark Ages in the firstplace. The tradition that the walls, with turrets, were built by Athelstan derives from William of Malmesbury, but can only mean that the walls were of remote antiquity (and therefore Roman) when he wrote in about 1130. There could, however, have been extensive Saxon repairwork which came to be regarded as the original construction. (PastScape)

The city of Exeter has been strategically important since its foundation in the Roman Period when the original walled defences were constructed. Exeter was also an Anglo Saxon burh so continued to be a highly influential central place, one of only four in the whole of Devon

Following its capitulation to William the Conqueror, it became a Royal town and was briefly the residence of King John. It was a key military objective during the first English civil war between King Stephen and the Empress Maud and later in the Civil War between the Royalists and Parliamentarians. As a result, its city walls have reflected the need for adequate and significant defence throughout turbulent times and still survive well. The important archaeological end environmental evidence which they will contain is extremely significant.

This monument, which falls into nine separate areas, includes Roman, Anglo Saxon and medieval city walls which define the original extent of the city of Exeter. The walls survive as a roughly rectangular circuit approximately 2.35km in length of which 72% (1705m) is still visible as upstanding fabric. The city walls originated in around 200 AD and some sections still survive up to 2.5m high. The city originally had four gateways, also of Roman origin, as proven by excavations of the South Gate, but were generally dismantled in the 18th to 19th centuries. The Roman walls were repaired and rebuilt throughout the Anglo Saxon, medieval and Civil War periods since the city was besieged at least twice. There are also a number of wall turrets and bastions which may date to the Roman, Anglo Saxon or medieval periods. Traditionally they were constructed by Athelstan, this being derived from writings by William of Malmesbury in around 1130, although their Roman origin cannot be dismissed. During the Anglo Saxon period the walls underwent significant repair and strengthening. The same is true for the medieval period when such works continued as it was prudent to do so. As a result the surviving walls contain a complex palimpsest of successive works dating throughout different periods. Through much of the circuit the walls, turrets and bastions still attain a significant height. Part of the city wall around Rougemont Castle is the subject of a separate scheduling. (Scheduling Report)

Gatehouse Comments

About 70% of the one and a third mile circuit remains although all four main gates were demolished in C18 and C19. Regular murage for repairs and upkeep were granted from 1224 until late C14.

- Philip Davis

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law

Not Listed

Historic England (PastScape) Defra or Monument number(s)
County Historic Environment Record
OS Map Grid ReferenceSX919925
Latitude50.722469329834
Longitude-3.52766990661621
Eastings291900
Northings92500
HyperLink HyperLink HyperLink
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Most of the sites or buildings recorded in this web site are NOT open to the public and permission to visit a site must always be sought from the landowner or tenant.

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Books

  • Salter, Mike, 2013, Medieval Walled Towns (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 64-7
  • Purton, P.F., 2009, A History of the Early Medieval Siege c. 450-1220 (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press) p. 91, 152, 167
  • Creighton, O.H. and Higham, R.A., 2005, Medieval Town Walls (Stroud: Tempus)
  • Stoyle, M.J., 2003, Circled with a stone: Exeter's city walls 1485-1660 (Exeter: University of Exeter Press)
  • Henderson, C., 1999, 'The city of Exeter from AD 50 to the early nineteeth century' in Kain, R. and Ravenhill, W. (eds), Historical Atlas of South-West England (University of Exeter Press) p. 482-498
  • Higham, Robert A., 1999, 'Castles, Fortified Houses and Fortified Towns in the Middle Ages' in Kain, R. and Ravenhill, W., Historical Atlas of South-West England (University of Exeter Press) p. 136-43
  • Salter, Mike, 1999, The Castles of Devon and Cornwall (Malvern: Folly Publications) p. 60, 63
  • Pettifer, A., 1995, English Castles, A guide by counties (Woodbridge: Boydell Press) p. 57-8
  • Blaylock, S.R., 1995, Exeter City Wall Survey (Exeter: Exeter Archaeology)
  • Bond, C.J., 1987, 'Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Defences' in Schofield, J. and Leech, R. (eds) Urban Archaeology in Britain (CBA Research Report 61) p. 92-116 online copy
  • King, D.J.C., 1983, Castellarium Anglicanum (London: Kraus) Vol. 1 p. 122
  • Henderson, C.G. et al, 1977, 'Exeter' Archaeological excavations 1976 (HMSO) p. 112-14
  • Barley, M.W., 1975, 'Town Defences in England and Wales after 1066' in Barley (ed) The plans and topography of medieval towns in England and Wales (CBA Research Report 14) p. 57-71 plan p. 62 download/view online
  • Turner, H.L., 1971, Town Defences in England and Wales (London) p. 191-6
  • Harvey, Alfred, 1911, Castles and Walled Towns of England (London: Methuen and Co) p. 214-6
  • Timbs, J. and Gunn, A., 1872, Abbeys, Castles and Ancient Halls of England and Wales Vol. 1 (London) p. 470 online copy
  • Sprake, 1832, The Gates, etc., of City of Exeter (Exeter)

Antiquarian

  • Camden, Wm, 1607, Britannia hypertext critical edition by Dana F. Sutton (2004)
  • John Hooker, 1575, The Antique Description and Account of the City of Exeter (Exeter: Andrew Brice) online copy
  • Chandler, John, 1993, John Leland's Itinerary: travels in Tudor England  (Sutton Publishing) p. 120
  • Toulmin-Smith, Lucy (ed), 1907, The itinerary of John Leland in or about the years 1535-1543 (London: Bell and Sons) Vol. 1 p. 227 online copy
  • Celia Fiennes, 1888, Through England on a Side Saddle in the Time of William and Mary (London: Field and Tuer, The Leadenhall Press) Vision of Britain online transcription

Journals

  • Creighton, Oliver, 2006, ''Castles of Communities': Medieval Town Defences in England; Wales and Gascony' Château Gaillard Vol. 22 p. 75-86
  • Henderson, C., 2001, 'The development of the south gate of Exeter and its role in the city's defences' Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society Vol. 59
  • Kowaleski, M., 1980, 'Tax payers in late fourteenth-century Exeter: the 1377 Murage Roll' Devon and Cornwall notes and queries Vol. 34.6 p. 217-222
  • Burrow, I., 1977, 'The town defences of Exeter' Transactions of the Devonshire Association Vol. 109 p. 13-40
  • Griffiths, M., 1974, 'Recent work by the Exeter Archaeological Field Unit' Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society Vol. 32 p. 167-70
  • Fox, A., 1968, 'Excavations at the South Gate, Exeter, 1964-5' Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society Vol. 26 p. 1-20
  • Morris, P., Montague, L. and Radford, C., 1946 'Report on the excavations in the Palace garden, Exeter' Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society Vol. 3 Part 3
  • Montgomerie-Neilson, E. et al., 1934, 'Report of the Exeter Excavation Committee' Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society Vol. 2 Part 2
  • Montgomerie-Neilson, E. & Montague, L., 1931, 'Exeter excavations 1931' Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society Vol. 1 Part 3

Guide Books

  • Blaylock, S.R., 1998, Exeter City Wall, Devon Archaeological Society Field Guide No. 12 (Exeter: Devon Archaeological Society and Exeter Archaeology)

Primary Sources

  • Ingram, James, (ed) 1912, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Everyman Press, London) Worcester Chronicle AD1067 view online transcription (Ingram's translation and notes date from 1823. More recent translations of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles should be consulted for serious study)
  • Hardy, T.D. (ed), 1833, Rotuli litterarum clausarum in turri Londinensi asservati (Record Commission) Vol. 1 p. 186, 268 (order to clear houses from wall and ditches)
  • 1972, The Great Roll of the Pipe for the second year of the reign of King Henry III : Michaelmas 1218 (Pipe Roll Society 77) Rot. 9a (grants from tallage for walls)
  • Maxwell Lyte, H.C. (ed), 1891-1916, Calendar of Patent Rolls (1216-1225) p. 495; (1232-47) p. 151; (1247-1258) p. 592; (1258-1266) p. 141; (1266-1272) p. 456; (1281-1291) p. 149; p. 375; (1292-1301) p. 144; p. 512; (1338-1340) p. 156; (1340-1343) p. 44; p. 335; p. 562; (1367-1370) p. 284 (murage grants) online copies via University of Iowa LibrariesRowe, M.M. and Draisey, J.M. (eds), 1989, The Receivers’ Accounts of the City of Exeter, 1304-1353 (Exeter: Devon and Cornwall Record Society (new series) 32) (Has murage accounts)
  • Maxwell Lyte, H.C. (ed), 1891-1916, Calendar of Patent Rolls (1374-1377) p. 476, 502; (1377-1381) p. 3 (A commission to levy inhabitants and enforce workman in response to invasion scare.) online copies via University of Iowa Libraries1916, Report on the Records of the City of Exeter (Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts 73) [online copy > http://www.british-history.ac.uk/source.aspx?pubid=728] (For location and summary of city accounts)
  • - < >Also see the Gatehouse murage pages for full details of murage [grants > http://www.gatehouse-gazetteer.info/murage/murindex.html], [petitions > http://www.gatehouse-gazetteer.info/murage/mupindex.html ] and [other such > http://www.gatehouse-gazetteer.info/murage/muaindex.html]. < >

Other

  • Pearce, P., 2009, Archaeological Excavations at the Southgate Hotel, Southernhay, Exeter (09.103. Exeter Archaeology: Exeter) online copy