Lost Landscapes Recreated

From Exeter Canal  c. 1860

This image shows the entrance to Exeter Canal from the River Exe just downstream from The Quay.

The canal was engineered by John Trew from 1563-66, and was the first pound lock canal built in this country.  Prior to this, the Exe had been navigable to Exeter until the 14th century, when Isabella, Countess of Devon, built two weirs for the purpose of driving a new mill, built in her Manor at Topsham, and giving name to ‘Countess Wear’. She left a 30 foot gap in each for the purpose of navigation to Exeter, but her successor, Hugh de Courtenay, blocked them, forcing ships to unload cargo at Topsham, to his financial benefit.

The Courtenay family owned and controlled the river area outside the City Wall until Hugh de Courtenay was executed in 1538 after becoming involved in a conspiracy against Henry VIII, which stripped the family of its power.  Following this, Edward VI gave the area to the City of Exeter, and work began to restore navigation.

Trew was unable to remove the heavily silted up weirs, and the canal was built to bypass them and restore shipping and trade to the city.

The entrance to The Basin, completed in 1830, can be seen on the left of the picture.

The cottage shown here stood on the spur of land between the river and the canal entrance and was possibly the gate keeper’s cottage.  This was taken down in the 1950s. The Port Royal stands on the opposite bank of the river, seen here between the cottage and the rather curious brick building.  St Leonards Church stands on the hill behind: this building replaced the much earlier church in 1831, and was itself replaced by the current Church in 1876.

The two buildings shown centre picture on the opposite bank were known as ‘Sheldons and Williams’; these were presumably industrial.  Lime kilns still exist downstream from this site towards the Port Royal.

Colleton Crescent, The Quay’s warehouses and cellars and The Customs House and Cathedral can all be seen in the background.


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