Lost Landscapes Recreated


Exeter Bridge c. 1750

The first stone bridge at Exeter crossed the river diagonally, linking St Thomas to the West Gate, and Stepcote Hill which was the access route to the city from the west.
Work on the bridge commenced in the 12th century. Prior to that a wooden footbridge served the crossing, possibly from as far back as the Roman occupation of the city, though many travellers forded the river on foot or on horseback, the river being wider and shallower in those days. However, many were washed away and drowned in times of flood.

The most part of the bridge construction was undertaken by Nicolas Gervase and his son Walter, who completed the bridge after his fatherís death in about 1228. Walter travelled to raise funding for the bridge and lands to secure an endowment for itís future, whilst Nicolas remained in Exeter to oversee the building.
Nicolas and his wife were buried in the church of St Edmunds, shown here on the Eastern end of the bridge, and which can be seen today as a ruin on the city side of the Exe Bridges traffic system.

The bridge is estimated to have been about 700 feet long, and had 17 or 18 arches, all different. Some of these can still be seen by the ruin of St Edmunds. It was taken down in about 1778; the subsequent bridge spanned the river at a different angle and New Bridge Street was built to link it to Fore Street.

The area on the East bank to the right of the picture, known as Shilhay, was reclaimed in the 12th century from marshland which ran right up to the city wall by the cutting of leats for industrial purposes. Until then the Exe was tidal to this point.

Exeter had a prosperous cloth industry and the racks shown on the Shilhay were for the purpose of stretching and drying finished cloth.

This image has been put together from 5 engravings, all of which contradict each other. The weir is shown in some of them, and is backed up by map evidence.

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