The city of Exeter was established on the eastern bank of the River Exe on a ridge of land backed by a steep hill. It is at this point that the Exe, having just been joined by the River Creedy, opens onto a wide flood plain and estuary which results in quite common flooding. Historically this was the lowest bridging point of the River Exe which was tidal and navigable up to the city until the construction of weirs later in its history. This combined with the easily defensible higher ground of the ridge made the current location of the city a natural choice for settlement and trade. In George Oliver’s The History of the City of Exeter, it is noted that the most likely reasons for the original settling of what would become modern Exeter was the “fertility of the surrounding countryside” and the area’s “beautiful and commanding elevation and its rapid and navigable river”.Its woodland would also have been ideal for natural resources and hunting.
Exeter sits predominantly on sandstone and conglomerate geology, although the structure of the surrounding areas is varied. The topography of the ridge which forms the backbone of the city includes a volcanic plug, on which the Rougemont Castle is situated. The Cathedral is located on the edge of this ridge and is therefore visible for a considerable distance.
There are many Landmarks and attractions in Exeter including 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 ofRichard Hooker, the 16th century Anglican theologian, who was born in Exeter, has a prominent place in the Cathedral Close. St Nicholas Priory in Mint Lane, the remains of a monastery, later used as a private house and now a museum owned by the city council. The priory was founded in 1087 and was home to Benedictine monks for over 400 years, until it was closed and partly demolished by Henry VIII. The remaining buildings were then sold off in 1602 and became the home of the locally wealthy Hurst family. The property has been fully renovated by Exeter City Council, and the small garden area features Tudor plants and herbs. A number of medieval churches including St Mary Steps which has an elaborate clock. The Exeter Synagogue is the third oldest synagogue in Britain, completed in 1763.
The ruins of Rougemont Castle, built soon after the Norman Conquest; later parts of the castle were still in use as a County Court until early 2006 when a new Crown Courts building opened. A plaque near the ruined Norman gatehouse recalls the fate ofAlice Molland, tried for witchcraft at Exeter in 1685, and reputedly the last person in England to have been executed for that crime. Other supposed ‘witches’ are known to have hanged in Exeter in 1581, 1610 and 1682. The Guildhall, which has medieval foundations and has been claimed to be the oldest municipal building in England still in use. Mol’s Coffee House, a historic building in the Cathedral Close. Tuckers’ Hall, 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.
“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 position. Parliament Street in the city centre is one of the narrowest streets in the World. The Butts Ferry, an ancient cable ferry across the River Exe. Wyvern Barracks, a former artillery barracks, dates back to about 1800. Higher Barracks, a former cavalry barracks, dates back to 1794.
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). The pavements on Queen Street are composed of the rock diorite and exhibit feldspar crystals, while those around Princesshay are composed of granodiorite
Located just outside the castle, Northernhay Gardens is the oldest public open space in England, being originally laid out in 1612 as a pleasure walk for Exeter residents. Much of Northernhay Gardens now reflects Victorian design, with trees, mature shrubs and bushes and plenty of flower beds. There are many statues here, including the war memorial by John Angel, The Deer Stalker by E. B. Stephens, and the Volunteer Memorial from 1895, which 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). There are many churches in Exeter belonging to different Christian denominations and an Anglican cathedral. It is the seat of the Bishop of Exeter. The present building was complete by about 1400, and has the longest uninterrupted vaulted ceiling in England, and other notable features. The Anglican churches form the Exeter Deanery