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Description:The Bishop’s Palace contains at its core a substantial remnant of the first palace building erected by Bishop William Brewer (1224-44) in the early 13th century. The building has been extensively altered and, in the case of the west wing (which grew gradually through the medieval period as rooms were added piecemeal), entirely rebuilt in the 19th century. The present appearance of the exterior is the result of several changes to the fenestration and surface treatments during the 18th and 19th centuries, and the masonry is now thoroughly mixed; the masonry contains a good deal of volcanic trap and Triassic sandstone (both typical of the period of first construction), but mixed in with Permian breccia which is characteristic of later periods. The overall effect is one of heavy patching and probably the refacing of much of the exterior facework of the building. As far as is known, there were three elements to the original palace complex: a great hall, with screens passage and associated service rooms attached to the lower end; private retiring rooms at the upper end of the hall: a chamber (called a solar or the ‘Bishop’s Camera’), along with a ‘little study’, and chambers above (Chanter 1932, 14); and a attached chapel, dedicated to St Mary the Virgin (perhaps anciently to St Faith: Lega-Weekes and Rose-Troup 1932), to the north west. Chanter presented a reconstruction of the plan of the palace at this stage (ibid., facing p. 9; cf. a more recent attempt at the plan of the hall and service rooms by Blaylock 1987, Fig. 1). Much is known of the dimensions of the original parts of the palace from a survey of the building carried out for Parliament in 1647, at which time substantial parts of the 13th century building survived, albeit enlarged and added to (transcribed in detail by Chanter 1932, 84-9). The great hall is described as follows: ‘Item The great hall conteyning per mensur in breadth forty two foote and in length sixty three foote with a high roof supported with foure great pillars of squared tymber’ (ibid., 85). The shell of this structure survives, although the south wall was rebuilt in refurbishments after the Civil War, and demonstrates the accuracy of the description and measurements (although the surviving span is closer to 48 feet in breadth: this has given rise to suggestions in the past that the south wall of the hall was rebuilt further out in the 18th century [Chanter 1932, 107], but surviving fabric and a medieval doorway in the south-west corner of the hall rule this out [Blaylock 1987, 3]). The width of the building, at 14.6m is greater by far than any other medieval hall surviving in Exeter; and is approached only by the great halls of the Deanery (span 9.2m) and the Archdeacon of Exeter’s House in Palace Gate (span 8.65m); nevertheless, these are less than two-thirds of the width of the palace. This immense span was roofed with an aisled structure supported on four posts, i.e. was of three bays. This is also suggested by the two equally-spaced buttresses positioned on the north wall of the building (the absence of such buttresses on the south wall is one of the pieces of evidence for the rebuilding of that wall: above). Sections of the posts survive in the building, having been cut up and re-used in an axial partition supporting the 17th century roof. They take the form of massive oak posts, with a central square core 300 x 300mm with a circular shaft, 150mm in diameter, attached to each face; fragments of abaci and stiff-leaf capitals survived on one post fragment, now visible from the roof space; and the remains of a base survive on a fragment visible in the ground floor axial passage of the modern arrangement (a full description of the surviving fragments is given in Blaylock 1987, 3-4 and 8-11). The present east wall of the palace represents the end wall of the great hall, and incorporates three arches which preserve the doorways to the medieval kitchen and service rooms. The 1647 survey describes a kitchen 30 x 48 feet and a bakehouse 17 x 48 feet; these had become ‘two old outhouses’ by 1695 when they were demolished, leaving the smaller inner service rooms alone standing to the east of the screens passage. These, described as ‘Beer cellar and wash house with chaplain’s apartments over’ were demolished in 1812 (Blaylock 1987, 2; Chanter 1932, 109-10). At the south end of the screens passage, the original entry survives: ‘early C13, on a massive scale, or three orders, the middle one with heavily undercut Transitional–style zigzag, stiff-leaf capitals, keeled minor shafts, and a hoodmould with carved head-stops’ (Cherry and Pevsner 1989, 416). The porch was added to the outside of the doorway in the 14th century (and further extended above at first-floor level in the early 16th century, the so-called Bishop Oldham’s tower, and in the 19th century: ibid., 416). The chapel is the other element to survive from the primary building, although it was heavily restored by Butterfield in 1875 (a process which included the cladding of the exterior with Permian breccia, and the renewal of window stonework, etc.), the position and dimensions of the 13th century chapel survive at first-floor level, presumably with an undercroft below. The three lancet windows in the east elevation provide the most obvious manifestation of work of this period (Pictorial Source no. 3061). The evidence of the survey of 1647 shows that the great hall, and probably the other elements so far described, had survived without much alteration at that date. The focus of additions and improvements to the palace in the later medieval period was the west range, which gradually grew through the addition of rooms until it occupied much of the area between the great hall and the chapter house of the cathedral. The initial construction of the palace may have stretched through much of the 12th century, in fact, as Bishop Quinil (1280-91) obtained a licence to crenellate the palace in 1290 (Higham 1988, 146); and this could well have marked the completion of the initial phase of building (which will have included outbuildings around the courtyard stretching from the palace towards the gatehouse; cf. Chanter 1932, chapter 7 and plan facing p. 65). Further additions took place under Bishops Bytton (1292-1307), Grandisson (1326-69), Courtenay (1478-87), and Oldham (1504-19). Recent work has added less to the understanding of this part of the palace than it has to the great hall area, and Chanter’s conjectural reconstruction of the west range (Chanter 1932, facing p. 27) remains a valid attempt at interpreting the information of the 1647 survey within the limits set by the known plan of the building (as represented, for instance, on John Carter’s engraved plan of the building shown in outline on his plan of the Cathedral: Carter 1797). The most notable room in the range was the parlour added by John Grandisson in the mid 14th century. This had a moulded beamed ceiling with bosses, four of which survive: three are now in the Victoria and Albert Museum; the fourth is in the RAM Museum, Exeter (Alexander and Binski 1987, 464; Blaylock 1990, 43). Bishop Courtenay’s ornate fireplace, now in the drawing room of the modern palace was also originally placed in this parlour (Chanter 1932, 31-3; Blaylock 1990, Fig. 13). This has an immensely ornate lintel carved in relief with heraldic panels, one of the most ornate versions of a type of fireplace occurring in may houses of the close. Courtenay also added oriel windows to the south elevation of the palace (Chanter 1932, 31). Later history [based on Blaylock 1990, 43-4]: The palace was dilapidated in the mid-seventeenth century. A major rearrangement of the hall was carried out involving the gutting of the interior and its subdivision into four low floors. A double roof was supported on a central axial partition in which sections of timber posts of the medieval arcades were re-used. Five sections have been recorded, of which the most accessible is visible in the passage on the ground floor with a remnant of a cross beam above. There may be more in inaccessible positions. The south wall was rebuilt at the same time, to support the new roof. The character of the alterations suggests a date c.1660-80 for this replanning. This may be a part of the repair of the palace attributed to Bishop Ward (1662-7) by a contemporary biographer (Pope 1697, 57); conceivably it could belong to a slightly earlier period and relate to some humble use of the building during the Commonwealth when amongst other uses the building was used as a sugar refinery. Further alterations and the removal of the medieval service rooms took place in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, mainly under Bishops Keppel (1762-77) and Philpotts (1830-69). These changes are shown in a sequence of plans (Blaylock 1990, Fig. 12). Among them only the insertion, in a modified form, of the Elyott window into the south elevation requires individual mention here. This late-medieval window (originally of three storeys) was retrieved from a house near the Broadgate (Monument No. 11100) when it was demolished c.1840. The window was altered to fit the elevation of the palace and inserted here during alterations by Ewan Christian and E.B. Gribble in 1845-6. The chapel was divided in half during the Butterfield alterations in 1875; the west half is now used as vestries for the Cathedral. Addition: Re-examination of the so-called well-pool beneath the south choir aisle of the Cathedral by Stewart Brown (EUAD 15253) led to the conclusion that the remains here represent structures associated with the Bishop’s Palace of the late 12th or early 13th century rather than the previous interpretation that they were associated with a spring perhaps as early as the late Roman/post-Roman periods (cf. EUAD 175). The argument hinges on the common orientation of the wall fragments with that of the palace. Two structures are represented: the first incorporating a semi-circular niche that probably accommodated a stair turret, with an external projection incorporating a buttress. This could well have been a structure attached to the north/west walls of the palace chapel. This appears to have remained standing when the east end of the cathedral was rebuilt in the late 13th century, and therefore conditioned the odd disposition of the cathedral buttress in this position. The second structure was represented by remains of two walls forming the SE corner of a structure, perhaps with shallow pilaster buttresses. This lay largely beneath the late 13th century choir aisle, and so must have been demolished by the time of its construction. These walls too align with the palace rather than the cathedral, and seem to represent an independent ?free-standing structure of uncertain extent to the north of the palace and to the east of the east end of the Norman church. Report ref.: Brown, S.W. 2005 Exeter Cathedral Archaeological Recording - South Quire Aisle and St. Gabriel's Chapel (External), 2005, Stewart Brown Associates, Otterton, February 2005. The mapping of this monument has been done to a minimum so that the block with the stair turret forms a plan element projecting from the north wall of the Bishop’s Palace (the plan limited by a window part way along this wall). The detached building to the north has also been mapped so as to keep conjectural elements to a minimum. Original description SRB, 2000; addition SRB, 29.iii.05.

Extant: Yes
Grid reference:SX921924
Map reference: [ EPSG:27700] 292161, 92498
Periods:1068 - 1300
Identifiers:[ ADS] Depositor ID - 11060.0

People Involved:

  • [ Publisher] Exeter City Council

Bibliographic References:

  • Stewart Brown (February 2005) Exeter Cathedral Archaeological Recording - South Quire Aisle and St. Gabriel's Chapel (External), 2005. Stewart Brown Associates, Otterton.
  • Blaylock, S.R. (1990) 'Exeter: The Bishop's Palace', in Cooper, N.H. (ed.), The Exeter Area: Proceedings of the 136th Summer Meeting of the Royal Archaeological Institute, 1990 in Archaeol. J., 147, Supplement, pg(s)41-45. The Royal Archaeological Institute.
  • Egan, G. (1988) 'Devon: Exeter, The Bishop's Palace', pp. 199-201 in 'Post-Medieval Britain in 1987' in Post-Medieval Archaeol. 22, pg(s)189-231. Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology.
  • Jenkins, A. (1806) The History and Description of the city of Exeter and its environs ancient and modern, pp. 313-4. Exeter.
  • Youngs, S.M., Clark, J., & Barry, T. (1987) 'Devon, Exeter. 32. Bishop's Palace', pp. 121-22 in 'Medieval Britain and Ireland in 1986' in Medieval Archaeol. 31, pg(s)110-91. Society for Medieval Archaeology.
  • -- (unknown)
  • Woolmer's Exeter and Plymouth Gazette (1868) 'Our City No. X. The Bishop's Palace' in Woolmer's Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 28.2.1868, Supplement. Exeter.
  • Blaylock, S.R. (1987) Observations in the Bishop's Palace, Exeter, 1985 in EMAFU Report No. 87.03. Exeter Museums Archaeological Field Unit.
  • -- (unknown) 'The Bishop's Palace Exeter' in Bright Collection
  • Exeter Museums Archaeological Field Unit (1982) Report to Exeter Archaeological Advisory Committee, 3.12.82, p. 14. Exeter City Council.
  • Somers Cocks, J.V. (1977) Devon Topographical Prints, 1660-1870, p. 66. Exeter.
  • Jukes, F. (1791) 'A South East View of the Cathedral Church of St Peter, Exeter; taken from the terrace in the Bishop's garden'. London & Exeter.