Heavitree - An Overview

For many centuries Heavitree's parish boundaries swept right around from Countess Wear to Cowley, although by 1800 its population, despite its size, was less than 900.

By the time the Heavitree Urban District Council (HUDC) was set up at the end of the 19th century, Wonford, Polsloe, Whipton and Stoke Hill were still within that boundary. Nowadays Heavitree is an identified ward for local election purposes - an area loosely centred on the Fore Street shops.

It is possible that Fore Street, Heavitree is on the route of a Roman road into Exeter, but to date this is unproven. What is known is that Fore Street was on the main Exeter to London road by the 1500s and this, together with the location of the parish church, led to Wonford's local pre-eminence being gradually usurped by the hamlet of Heavitree.

It is known that before William the Conqueror arrived on the scene Heavitree manor was part of the Wonford royal estate. Wonford was the name given to an ancient 'hundred' but unlike many other hundreds it didn't have a minster church. The role seems to have been taken by an early Christian place of worship on a prominent position on the edge of the estate at Heavitree.

St Michael & All Angels Church, Heavitree - Dec 2013

St Michael & All Angels Church, Heavitree - Dec 2013

For centuries, Heavitree provided the inhabitants of Exeter with food, building materials, and, as the city grew in importance, labour. However, the relationship between the city of Exeter and the village of Heavitree wasn't always amicable. Exeter, because of its importance, has been beseiged on many occasions since 1066. The beseiging armies would have camped in Heavitree and demanded that the local farmers provided them with food while stopping trade with the city's inhabitants.

Although there is no recorded evidence, it is likely that this forced collaboration would have led to recriminations when hostilities ceased. This may have been the reason why people living within the city walls called those living in St Sidwell's "Grecians", or untrustworthy, and Heavitree was nominated as the place for executions.

Despite this friction Heavitree became a honey-pot for wealthy Exeter merchants and people returning to England after making their fortunes with the East India Company. One of the main reasons for the building of Baring Crescent, Salutary Mount, Mont Le Grand and Regents Park during the first half of the 19th century was the good health record of the parish. Whilst scores of people died from cholera in Exeter, Heavitree residents escaped almost unscathed.

This expansion escalated as Exeter's prosperity increased. By the middle of the 19th century the city fathers were keen to include Heavitree in the city's boundaries, but it wasn't until 1913 that annexation finally took place and ended a thousand years of independence.

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The Origin Of 'Heavitree'

Most place names are either personal, i.e. named after a person, or topographical, i.e. named after a local feature in the landscape.

These derivations are not always apparent in modern English place-names as most are rooted in ancient languages such Celtic, Latin, Old English or Norman French.

Another barrier to tracing the derivation of an English place-name is that it will undoubtedly have changed over the years. The following are just a few examples of Heavitree found in old texts and documents:

  • 1086 Hevetrowa (Domesday Book)
  • 1130 Hefatriwe
  • 1179 Eveltrea
  • 1270 Hevedtre
  • 1345 Hevtre

One theory as to the origin of the name Heavitree is that it was derived from it being the common place of execution for malefactors, signifying the heavy or sorrowful tree. Another possibility is that it refers to the ‘head tree’, and yet another suggestion is that it is made up of ave or avon (water), and tree the British word for town or settlement.

Most place-name experts now agree however that it probably derives from the personal name Hefa and the Old English word treow meaning a tree, post or beam. Heavitree is included in a group of 38 settlements which have similar characteristics, namely adjacent to a boundary of an estate and associated with a meeting-place. A tree is a natural marker for both purposes.

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Heavitree Parish Boundary

For at least 1000 years prior to 1913, when it was annexed by Exeter, Heavitree parish, which included Polsloe, Stoke Hill, Whipton, Broadfields and Wonford, looked after its own affairs. It has been suggested that the site of its parish church, St Michael and All Angels, was one of the earliest Christian sites in Devon.

The administrative area known as a parish appears in King Alfred's laws and had both spiritual and secular functions. As land-owners and residents had to pay a tithe or tax to their parish church it was essential that the vicar and church officials knew the precise extent of their parish. The parish gradually became the accepted local government unit below the county and was given responsibility for administering the poor law acts, highway maintenance and enforcing the law.

The need to define and defend individual and group territorial boundaries seems to be a basic human instinct that is also found in many animals. The practice of marking land boundaries with physical objects such as wooden posts or stones has lasted for at least 3000 years (see Deuteronomy 19:14) and Tudor boundary stones marking Heavitree's parish boundaries can still be seen.

Heavitree Parish Boundary

Heavitree Parish Boundary

Boundary stones or markers rarely defined every bend and kink in parish boundaries and as accurate maps only became available in the late 19th century parish councils used a technique to define and identify boundaries which dated back to ancient Greece and the Romans. It went under the name of 'beating the bounds'.

Throughout the country vicars and parish officials led a group of their parishioners, including in many places young boys, around their parish boundary. Each boundary stone or significant bend in the boundary was struck with a willow wand or a rock. In many parishes a boy was raised by the ankles and his head was bounced on the stone or the ground. The reasoning was that making young boys witness and take part in in the ceremony would ensure the survival of the group memory and they would make convincing witnesses if the boundary dispute was ever brought to court.

Peramulating Heavitree's twenty mile boundary took most of a day and regular stops for refreshment were required. On returning to the church an ale-feast was often held. Many parishioners used the occasion as an excuse to get drunk and misbehave. It is perhaps no coincidence that the word 'bounder' means a cad or person of objectionable manners.

Heavitree Parish Boundary overlain on a modern OS map

Heavitree Parish Boundary overlain on a modern OS map

The beating of the bounds traditionally took place on Rogation Sunday, but in an attempt to avoid the fights that often broke out when groups of high-spirited, semi-intoxicated youths from neighbouring parishes met, some churches switched the ceremony to their church's dedication day.

Some of the stones which marked the boundary of Heavitree parish have been in existance for many centuries, but in 1897 the Heavitree Urban District Council celebrated Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee by erecting some additional stones and reviving the beating the bounds ceremony which had lapsed over the years. The ceremony again lapsed after the 1913 annexation, but was revived for a second time in 1975 by a group of local enthusiasts. Since then the ceremony has taken place every three years or so.

A booklet published in 2007 by the HLHS exists containing a record of Heavitree's surviving parish and the UDC boundary stones + a description of how to follow as closely as possible the 1897 boundary.

Anyone wishing to attempt the walk will find a good street map is useful. Walkers are warned that bridle paths are often very muddy in winter so stout shoes are advisable; flooding is also possible in low-lying areas after prolonged heavy rain. The Countryside Code should be adhered to at all times. The walk is of moderate difficulty with one long climb in the Stoke Hill area.

Boundary Walk - Full route (14.3 miles, 9 boundary stones)
Boundary Walk - Shortened route (0.3 miles, 4 boundary stones)

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Heavitree As A Place Of Execution

For many centuries up to 1531, persons found guilty of a variety of crimes including murder, witchcraft, heresy or treason were put to death at the Livery Dole crossroads. In 1531, the place of execution was moved to the Sidmouth Road / Honiton Road junction at Ringwell. Here it remained until 1796, when the new County Prison in Exeter was built.

The Heavitree parish records do not mention any executions. However, a number of burials of people executed in Heavitree are recorded in the register of the neighbouring St Sidwell's parish. These entries represent only a small proportion of executions carried out as many churches did not allow the bodies of people who had been executed to be buried in their graveyards. Many bodies were buried in a small walled cemetery adjacent to the gallows (bones still come to the surface from time to time); some were taken to the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital to be anatomised; others were cremated on the spot.

Wood engraving of a typical public execution

Wood engraving of a typical public execution

Public executions were witnessed by hundreds, sometimes thousands, of interested on-lookers of all ages, many employers allowing their workers to have a day's holiday. The prisoners were accompanied on their journey from Exeter Castle to Ringwell by huge crowds, many of whom paused for refreshment at the Heavitree inns. The local printers published broadsheets describing the characters of the people about to be executed setting out full details of their crimes.

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Higher Cemetery

In the nineteenth century, population growth in Exeter resulted in a dramatic increase in mortality, especially during the frequent cholera epidemics. This placed a huge strain on burial space and the Lower Cemetery, off Bartholomew Street, failed to provide a long-term solution.

Land covering an area of 6 acres outside the city boundary at Heavitree was acquired by the Exeter Improvement Commissioners; 4.5 acres was reserved for Church of England burials, the remaining 1.5 acres for Dissenters or Non-Conformists (i.e. those who don’t follow Church of England principles) **. On 26th March 1866 the Higher Cemetery was opened, dedicated by the Reverend James Chapman, former Bishop of Colombo. The first recorded burial was that of Edward Leach Herbert on 7th June 1866.

The Lodge, designed by a Mr Luscombe and the two chapels **, one for the Church of England, the other for Dissenters, both built of Heavitree stone, and designed by Edward Ashworth, were built in 1865. Ashworth had moved to Exeter in 1846 and built or restored many Devon churches. He is buried in the cemetery, as is the proprietor of Robert Veitch and Son, the firm that carried out the landscaping works.

A small area, formerly called St Leonards Churchyard, and lying to the north of the lodge was added to the main cemetery in 1877. Although not added until 11 years after the main cemetery opened, it is the oldest piece of land used for burials now within the cemetery boundary. The shape of a circular coach-drive in this section, although now grassed over, is still visible and is delineated by the headstone positions. Remains exhumed from the ruined St Edmund’s Church are buried in this section.

Entrance to Higher Cemetery

Entrance to Higher Cemetery showing the Dissenters' Chapel (near) & Church of England Chapel (far)

The cemetery, extended at least three times over the years, now occupies 45 acres, contains the remains of over 70,000 people, has over 12,000 memorials and is a peaceful wildlife haven. There is a section containing the bodies of those who died in World War I, another for World War II, and even a section for infant burials that was opened in 2007. Other memorials of great poignancy are those commemorating 83 victims of the 1942 Baedeker raids, an imposing granite cross to the 189 who perished in the 1887 Theatre Royal fire, and the grave of stone-carver Harry Hems. In addition, the cemetery holds the remains of those originally interred at several Exeter churches that have long vanished.

The Friends of Higher Cemetery was established in 2011 to help promote the cemetery and to complement the services of Exeter City Council who operate the cemetery.

** Separate chapels and burial areas for Church of England and for Dissenters would have been the norm of the day. Today this would be regarded as a frivolous waste of time and money, but not then as the Church of England wouldn’t be tainted by those it regarded with contempt for not adhering to its beliefs. The practice has long been abandoned and all denominations now use the same burial areas and chapel.

Exeter City Council, 2002 – Higher Cemetery - history and lives;
Friends of Higher Cemetery, 2011 – Higher Cemetery time-line

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Livery Dole Almshouses And Chapel

The first documentary evidence of the name Livery Dole appears in a deed dated 1279. For many centuries it was the scene of executions for persons from both the City of Exeter and the County of Devon. In addition to executions by hanging, people found guilty of witchcraft, heresy and other ‘heinous’ crimes, were burnt at the stake.

This was the fate that befell Thomas Benet who was burnt at the stake on 10th January 1531, for denying the supremacy of the Pope. This was the last recorded execution at Livery Dole; in the following year executions commenced at Ringwell.

Sir Thomas Denys, Sheriff of Devon, subsequently regretted allowing Benet’s execution to take place and as an act of contrition left instructions in his will for 12 almshouses to be built on the site. These were completed in 1594, rebuilt in 1851 and extended in the 1970s.

Livery Dole almshouses

Livery Dole almshouses

Although it has often been claimed that the chapel at Livery Dole is medieval in date and was dedicated to St Clarus, this is now known to be false. In fact it was built with the almshouses adjacent to it in 1592.

The building consists of a nave, of which the chancel is a continuation. The doorway is at the western end and the windows are filled with stained glass. It is built of Heavitree Stone, one of the few in the Parish, supported by buttresses. The tracery of the eastern window is a mixture of the late Decorated and Perpendicular styles and has probably been taken from a medieval building.

It is possible that the chapel was built as the place where prayers were offered for the souls of persons executed at the nearby crossroads.

Chapel prior to 1850 and three of the original almshouses

Chapel prior to 1850 and three of the original almshouses

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Heavitree Toll Houses

Turnpike Trusts were formed in the 18th and 19th centuries to bring about an improvement in the country's roads. The Exeter Turnpike Trust was formed in 1753 and as all traffic from the east and north had to pass through Heavitree a number of toll houses and gates were built in the parish.

They were situated at: Fore Street Heavitree, Livery Dole, Heavitree Bridge, Blackboy Gate, Stoke Hill, Mary Pole Head, Sandy Gate, and Mile End on Topsham Road.

Toll House at the junction of Blackboy Road & Mount Pleasant Road pre-1884

Toll House at the junction of Blackboy Road & Mount Pleasant Road pre-1884.
The hearse is probably on its way to Higher Cemetery

Some roads such as Fore Street Heavitree and East Wonford Hill were repaired and improved by the Turnpike Trust. Others, such as Moor Lane, which now runs through the middle of Sowton Industrial Estate, were completely new roads. The fee for passing through the toll gates was determined by the type of vehicle, the number of horses, and the purpose of the journey. People from the parish, soldiers on duty and clergymen often travelled free, but there were many disputes which had to be settled in the local courts.

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Heavitree House, Church Street

Heavitree House was a small cob house, surrounded by an old cob wall, in Church Lane, Heavitree. It stood on twelve acres of land, including orchards, overlooking open countryside (now the RD&E Hospital).

The House was the home of artist and author Richard Ford (1796-1858), who in 1845 wrote the infamous "Handbook for Travellers in Spain" - the first Spanish travel guide. Ford lived at the property from 1835 until his death in 1858. During this time he set about enlarging and completely remodelling the House and gardens.

Heavitree House 1889 OS map Young Richard Ford Mature Richard Ford Richard Ford headstone
1889 OS mapYoung Richard FordOlder Richard FordRichard Ford's headstone

Ford incorporated many items salvaged from buildings in the area - the fireplace was taken from a house pulled down in Rack Street (West Quarter), and the ornate staircase, gates and carved woodwork all came from King John's Tavern on South Street (which was being rebuilt). A font in the garden was possibly taken from the 1845 rebuild of parts of Heavitree Church; this has since been returned to the Church.

An enthusiastic collector, Ford filled the House with items from his travels. The bathroom was tiled with original tiles that he had picked up off the floor of the Alhambra, Granada. Part of the bath was made from the original register-chest at Exeter Cathedral, and there were sculpted heads on a parapet, from Italy.

In the grounds of the house, Ford laid out 'Moorish' style rectangular gardens, with many pools and fountains, lined with cypress trees and featuring a Moorish tower / gazebo building, echoing the Hispano, Berber, and Islamic architecture of Morocco.

Heavitree House painting Heavitree House moorish tower Heavitree House good condition 1 Heavitree House good condition 2
1843 paintingHouse + gardens pre-1878House in good condition

Following Ford's death in 1858, Heavitree House passed to his son from his second marriage, Clare Ford. The House was let out until its sale in 1898 to Edward and Annie Shrimpton; they lived there until just before the First World War. The House then passed through several hands, before most of the grounds were sold at auction in 1938 for house building. The House itself remained and was used as a workshop during the Second World War, before falling into disrepair by 1949; it was demolished in 1960, despite being grade II listed, and replaced by further housing.

Heavitree House Estate auction map Heavitree House dilapidated Richard Ford Court poster Richard Ford plaque
1938 auction planHouse in poor conditionRichard Ford Court flyerRichard Ford memorial

All that remains today are a few red sandstones from the garden, and a small black plaque bearing Richard Ford's name on the wall of Richard Ford Court in Meadow Way.

Further information on Richard Ford can be found here.

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Nineteenth Century Heavitree

Map of Heavitree Towne 1816
Map of Heavitree Towne 1816

During the nineteenth century Heavitree changed in many ways from what had gone before. The following are a couple of extracts from popular press of the day by way of illustration of these changes.

“Always famous for the purity and salubrity of its air, its delightful situation, fine prospects and agreeable walks and rides, has, within these few years, felt extensively, the exhilarating hand of modern improvements.

A row of houses that divided the road has been taken down, the road widened, and the turnpike removed.

The vast number of genteel houses and villas recently erected here far exceed our limits of description. It presents a charming seclusion, though cheerfully situated on the great western road, contiguous, or almost adjoining to a populous and increasing city.”

Besley, Exeter Guide and Itinerary 1836

Mont Le Grand

Mont Le Grand

“Heavitree had its annual ‘revel’ on Sunday and it was attended with the usual amount of inebriety and misconduct. The writer of this paragraph witnessed a most disgraceful scene. A lot of roughs, men, women and boys, had been turned out of the public houses and commenced to fight, one across the other, neither of them apparently knowing why they were fighting and who they were fighting with.

The language was far from refined and the women outvied the men in the elegance of their expression.

Today there will be climbing for legs of mutton and women racing for gown pieces.”

Trewmans Flying Post 1871

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Heavitree Urban District Council

For many centuries the parish had been responsible for education, looking after the needy and maintaining law, but in 1896 the Urban District Council was formed and took over most of the parish’s responsibilities.

Church Street 1909 showing the location of the Heavitree UDC offices

Church Street 1909 showing the location of the Heavitree UDC offices

Among the projects it carried out before its short life was ended when it was annexed by Exeter City in 1913 are Heavitree Pleasure Ground and the widening of North Street.

Heavitree Pleasure Ground, opened 1st May 1906

Heavitree Pleasure Ground, opened 1st May 1906

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Twentieth Century Fore Street

As one of the main thoroughfares in the area, Fore Street is lined with shops and other public buildings keen to serve and to profit from both local residents and those passing through.

Retailing in Fore Street
Retailing in Fore Street

[transcribed from a booklet published by the Society in 1999 & augmented]

In the early years these would have been small, family-run affairs that often saw little change for generations. More recently, a number of the small businesses have been taken over by larger franchises seen in many towns and cities. The pace of change has also quickened meaning that shops especially often stay for a much shorter period of time.

Fore Street, Heavitree at various times throughout the twentieth century
Fore Street 1905 Fore Street 1908 Fore Street 1930s Fore Street 1973 Fore Street 1999
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Heavitree United Reformed Church

Originally known as Heavitree Congregational Church, a small mission chapel was built on the present site in 1885, and enlarged to its present size in 1903. This required the acquisition and demolition of Homefield House which once stood on the corner of what is now Homefield Road.

1889 Map of Mission Chapel prior to extension

1889 map showing the Mission Chapel prior to extension,
Prospect Villas to the left, and Homefield House to the right

During World War II the church basement was used as an air-raid shelter but was badly damaged in 1942 by enemy bombing which also destroyed the adjoining Prospect Villas that once stood in Fore Street west of the church.

Heavitree Congregational Church 1907

Heavitree Congregational Church 1907, with Prospect Villas to the left, and shops in what is now Homefield Road visible above the railings of Homefield Place on the right.

In 1971 the Congregational and Presbyterian churches merged to form the United Reformed Church.

The church is renowned for its pithy and humorous notices including one in the 1920s politely asking motorists to be as quiet as possible on Sundays.

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St. Michael's Church Of England Primary Academy

The first recorded school in Heavitree was run by the parish church in a building originally built as a parish hall in the 16th century; it stood on the site of what is now the Co-operative store in Fore Street.

Heavitree Parochial School - original building erected in 1517

Heavitree Parochial School - original building erected in 1517
(picture by permission of the University of Exeter)

On 29th September 1871 a new school, initially for boys only, was opened on the present site in South Lawn Terrace.

In 1875 a girls school was opened next to the boys school, but, as was the norm for many years in a majority of schools, the sexes were segregated.

In 1937 the two schools were modernised and remodelled into a single building and named Heavitree Mixed and Infants School.

1889 map showing the site of Heavitree School

1889 map showing the site of Heavitree School

Over the years the school has been renamed and restructured a number of times:

  • 1975: the school became Heavitree Middle School.
  • 1997: it was renamed St Michael's Church of England Middle School, marking the school's close and continuing links with Heavitree's parish church over the centuries.
  • 2006: as part of a reorganisation of the Exeter school structure, the school was further renamed St Michael's Church of England Primary School and was rebuilt to bring it up to 21st century standards.
  • 2013: the school became a self-governing academy and is now named St Michael's Church of England Primary Academy.
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Ladysmith Schools

The Origin Of The Name 'Ladysmith'

In 1812 following the siege of the Spanish city of Badajos, a young infantry captain, Harry Smith, met and married the beautiful fourteen year-old Spanish noblewoman Juana Maria de los Dolores de Leon.

After a long military career he became Sir Harry Smith, and while he was Governor of Cape Town the town of Ladysmith was named in honour of his wife, Lady Smith.

Lt. General Sir Harry Smith, 1788-1860 Juana Maria de los Dolores de Leon
Lt. General Sir Harry Smith, 1788-1860Juana Maria de los Dolores de Leon

In the winter of 1899/1900 during the Boer War, the British garrison at Ladysmith was besieged for several months by a large Boer army. When it was finally relieved the British public celebrated for several days and many places, including Heavitree, named streets after the scene of a British triumph. A few months later Pretoria was the scene of another British victory.

The Boer War, 1899-1902

The Boer War, 1899-1902

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School History

There are currently two schools in Pretoria Road, Heavitree - Ladysmith Infants and Ladysmith Junior. The original school catering for ages 5-12, built on the current Infants School site, was named Heavitree Council School. It opened in February 1908.

The school subsequently adopted the name of the road on which it stood apparently because local people had been calling it Ladysmith School for some years.

Opening ceremony of Heavitree Council Schools, 1908

Colonel Vaughan (chairman of the Heavitree Urban District Council) officiates
at the flag unfurling ceremony at Heavitree Council Schools, 1908

Due to the school leaving-age being raised in 1921 from 12 to 14, and the increase in Heavitree's population as further housing was built, it became clear that additional accommodation was required, and in 1936 the foundation stone of what is now the Junior School was laid.

This second building, on the opposite side of Pretoria road, was built to Secondary Modern standards, and was able to accommodate additional pupils when the school leaving-age was raised again in 1948 to 15.

In 1974, following further education reforms raising the leaving-age to 16, Ladysmith Secondary Modern School merged with St James School for girls, Beacon Heath, Exeter. The original Council School became Ladysmith First School and the 1936 building became the Middle School.

1936 Building Prior to Demolition 2017 Replacement of 1936 Building
1936 building2017 replacement

In 2006, as part of a reorganisation of the school structure in Exeter, the First School was renamed to an Infant School and the Middle School to a Junior School.

2017 saw the demolition of the 1936 buildings to be replaced by new buildings further to the north on the same site. The original 1908 buildings remain, supplimented by additional out-buildings added at various times.

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Brewing In Heavitree

Brewing of ale in Heavitree by local farmers, land-owners and the church had almost certainly been carried out for many centuries before commercial brewing was first recorded in 1790. This was done by John Wolland, a Heavitree farmer, land-owner and maltster. His brewery was originally on the south side of Church Street before moving to the north side, now the site of The Maltings. John Wolland’s business eventually became The Heavitree Brewery PLC, which still exists. Brewing in Heavitree itself ceased in 1970.

1889 map showing the location of Heavitree Brewery

1889 map showing the location of Heavitree Brewery

Malting was also carried out at the Horse & Jockey Inn, the Ship Inn, and another brewery in Church Street from 1832 to 1857. The Heavitree Brewery faced more serious competition from the Windsor Brewery which operated from premises at the rear of Homefield Place until it was bought out by the Heavitree Brewery in 1899.

1873 advertisement for Baker & Son, later to become The Heavitree Brewery PLC

1873 advertisement for Baker & Son,
later to become The Heavitree Brewery PLC

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Heavitree United Football Club

Founded in 1885, Heavitree United Football Club is one of the oldest amateur football clubs in Devon. It was originally a church team and in the early years matches were played on a pitch where the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, Heavitree now stands.

After World War II the club returned to a pitch in Heavitree Pleasure Ground, sometimes playing in front of a crowd of several thousand people.

In the early 1950s the club moved to its present ground at Wingfield Park.

St Michael's Church football team, 1900

St Michael's Church football team, 1900

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Wyvern Barracks

The opening of the barracks in 1804 was part of the government’s reluctant response to widespread criticism of the poor standard of soldiers’ accommodation. Even these barracks lacked accommodation for married soldiers – families being separated from other soldiers by a blanket hanging across the room.

The barracks were originally simply called Artillery Barracks to distinguish them from the Cavalry Barracks (Higher Barracks). In 1861 they were renamed Topsham Barracks, and in 1964 the present name was adopted. The wyvern is the traditional dragon of Wessex.

Royal Artillery, Topsham Barracks

Royal Artillery, Topsham Barracks

From 1804 to 1815 the barracks housed a number of different Royal Artillery companies. From 1816 to 1867 they were occupied by various cavalry regiments. Infantry units occupied the barracks from 1867 to 1871, and then Artillery regiments returned until it became a training depot in 1944.

The barracks had also been the depot of the Devonshire Regiment since before the First World War. They ceased being a base for active regiments in 1974.

Parade at Topsham Barracks

Parade at Topsham Barracks

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Heavitree In The Second World War

Air Raids on Heavitree

Exeter didn't suffer in World War II to the same degree as some of the larger cities such as London, Coventry and Liverpool.

The first bomb to cause any damage in Heavitree crashed through the roof of 48 Normandy Road on 6 September 1940, but didn't explode. However, it was still sufficient to cause the front of the house to collapse into the street. Fortunately no one was killed.

Map showing bombs dropped on Heavitree in the Second World War

Map showing bombs dropped on Heavitree in the Second World War

There were more air-raids during 1940 and 1941 but nothing as serious as the bombs and incendiaries that rained down on Heavitree on just three nights in April + May 1942. During this period Hitler's bombers tried their best to destroy 'The Jewel of the West' as part of The Baedeker Raids, a series of retaliatory raids on historic English cities following allied bombing of the German city of Lübeck in March 1942.

Over 250 people, including 50 Heavitree residents, lost their lives during these raids. Many hundreds more were injured or traumatised, and there was extensive damage to buildings.

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Street Parties

When the Germans surrendered in May 1945 finally bringing an end to the Second World War, rapturous relief and joy erupted throughout the country. Despite food shortages and rationing, impromptu street parties were held just about everywhere, with celebrations continuing long into the night.

Chard RoadHoker RoadSivell Place
Chard Road street party, May 1945 Hoker Road street party, May 1945 Sivell Place street party, May 1945

Although street parties continue to take place every so often, usually for events associated with the monarchy, there has never been such cause for celebration as in 1945.

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Famous Heavitree Residents

Richard Hooker

Richard Hooker was born in Heavitree in the Spring of 1554. Along with Sir Walter Raleigh, he is often referred to as being one of the two most influential men to have been born in Devon.

Although he is the lesser known of the two, he was instrumental in the development of Anglicanism, in ensuring that it took a middle road between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. His defence of every aspect of Anglican worship was acknowledged by Elizabeth I.

A statue of Richard can still be seen in the grounds of Exeter Cathedral, and a special prayer is said each year on the anniversary of his death.

Statue of Richard Hooker on Cathedral Green, Exeter - Dec 2013

Statue of Richard Hooker on Cathedral Green, Exeter - Dec 2013

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Dame Irene Vanbrugh

Dame Irene Vanbrugh was a famous actress and film star who was born in the vicarage at Heavitree on 2nd December 1872.

She made her debut on the West End stage whilst still in her teens, working almost continually until her death in 1949. She starred in the first run of Oscar Wilde's play The Importance of Being Ernest, also appearing many times on New York's Broadway.

Dame Irene had leading roles in a number of major films before the Second World War, sharing the billing with the likes of Douglas Fairbanks and Marlene Dietrich. She was one of the driving forces behind the formation of The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Her sister, Violet, lived in Heavitree during her early years and was also a very successful actress.

Dame Irene Vanbrugh

Dame Irene Vanbrugh

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Clifford Bastin

Clifford Bastin was born in New North Road, Exeter on 14th March 1912 and attended Heavitree Council School (now Ladysmith Infant School).

His footballing skills were recognised at an early age playing for England's schoolboys team and making his debut for Exeter when he was 16. His potential was brought to the attention of Herbert Chapman, the manager who was destined to turn Arsenal football club into one of the leading clubs in the world.

Clifford 'boy' Bastin - Exeter, Arsenal & England footballer

Clifford 'boy' Bastin - Exeter, Arsenal & England footballer

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John Sampson

John Sampson was born at South Tawton in 1836, but lived at Spreyton near Bow as a child. On leaving education, Sampson initially worked for the Great Western Railway at Churston, South Devon, before moving to Exeter and setting up in business. Over time he became an eminent businessman owning a tin mine, a brewery + The Plymouth & Stonehouse Gas Company.

Sampson built a kiln on Polsloe Road on land attached to the City Workhouse, before transferring his business in around 1870 to a recently purchased piece of land between Polsloe Road & Ladysmith Road. Part of this land was used for his brickworks, which became his chief source of income at a time when much house building was taking place in the area. He employed a large work-force of men & boys, and amassed a considerable fortune.

Sampson's brickworks
Map of Sampson's Brickworks, 1889 Aerial view of Sampson's Brickworks, 2016

Sampson acquired a good deal of property - including that in Heavitree, Wonford, Fore Street & St Thomas - reportedly becoming one of the richest men in Exeter area at the time. In 1897, he was listed as: 'John Sampson: brick & tile manufacturer, proprietor of patent vans for removing furniture, agent for London cement, glazed pipes & the Dorset Lime Company’.

Sampson lived in the Polsloe Road area of Heavitree. In 1871, he lived at ‘Floriston Villas’, South Avenue, but later moved to in a 14-room villa residence named 'Melrose House', Polsloe Road, on the corner of the lane leading to his brickworks. This lane became known as Sampson’s Lane, a name which it retains to this day; it now acts as a thoroughfare from Polsloe Road to Pretoria Road. To the north of 'Melrose House' was a plot of pasture land (used for housing in the 1960s) and four 14-room villas that Sampson sold to Mr Price, Mrs Morgan, Mr Quick and a Mr Hussan respectively.

Sampson's 14-room villa residence, 'Melrose House' (left), at the entrance to Sampson's Lane, 2016

Sampson's 14-room villa residence, 'Melrose House' (left),
at the entrance to Sampson's Lane, 2016

Sampson married twice. His first wife, Jane, died in 1893. He had 2 children by her – both sons. They died at an early age after reaching manhood. Understandably, their death was a terrible blow to Sampson. He married again in 1906; his second wife out-lived him.

Despite his wealth, Sampson had an affinity for poorer folk & filled many public offices:

  • He was on the St Thomas Board of Guardians and overseer to the poor.
  • A Heavitree parishioner from 1864, he displayed an active interest in Church matters.
  • He was a church-warden of Heavitree Parish Church between 1881 and 1904.
  • He was, for many years, a member of Heavitree Parish Council.
  • He was member of the Heavitree Urban District Council, and as an ardent Conservative was a prominent figure at Conservative Meetings, exhibiting a keen interest in the City contest
    (Exeter’s proposal for Heavitree subsummation – a propostion Heavitree residents resisted for many years).
  • He was a generous supporter of the West of England Institution for the Deaf & Dumb,
    being on the House Committee at the time of his death.
  • A regular follower of the East Devon Hounds.
  • A prominent Freemason.
Maps showing Manor Cottages off Fore StreetFrontage
Map showing Manor Cottages early 1950s Map showing Manor Cottages early 1960s Map showing no Manor Cottages early 1970s 120 Fore Street in 2016
Early 1950sEarly 1960sEarly 1970s2016

In his life-time, Sampson gave a number gifts to Heavitree:

  • A piece of ground enabling a road to be built connecting Ladysmith Road to Goldsmith Street, enabling a through-route between old and new Heavitree.
  • Land for the building of Heavitree Council School in Ladysmith Road.
  • Four houses named ‘Manor Cottages’, to be used as almshouses in Heavitree.
    [Maps show these were to the rear of the present-day 120 / 120a Fore Street. The almshouses were demolished in the 1960s, along with the original 120 Fore Street (42 Fore Street prior to re-numbering in the mid to late 1950s)].
    [The 1950s & 1960s was a period of much change in Fore Street, e.g. demolition of Ellis’ Place, Shrubbery Place & Gordon Place, and subsequent addition of car parks; relocation of toilets from under North Street to their current location next the Royal Oak; replacement of the North Street police call-box with a police sub-station next to the United Reformed Church; re-numbering of properties.]
    A block of apartments, Manor Court, has subsequently been built further to the east in Fore Street.
  • Two houses in Regent’s Square for the upkeep of the aforementioned almshouses.
Announcement of John Sampson's death 19th Jan 1910
Front page of the Express and Echo 19th Jan 1910 John Sampson's death announcement

Sampson died quite unexpectedly at 'Melrose House' aged 75 on the morning of 19th January 1910, after collapsing whilst readying himself for work. A servant called for relative and employee, Tom Shute, of ‘Discombe Villas’, 56 Polsloe Road, who in turn summoned local physician, Dr Wolfe, who ‘pronounced life extinct’. It is believed Sampson died due to a fatty degeneration of the heart.

In his will, Sampson:

  • Bequeathed £200 to the vicar and church-wardens of Heavitree Parish Church, to be used for gifts to the poor, and a further £200 for the provision of a parish nurse.
  • Left a legacy to install a stained-glass window and a clock in the tower of Heavitree Parish Church. The clock, given to the Church at Christmas 1910, can be found inside and above the west entrance of the Church. It's not known if the stained-glass window was ever installed.
John Sampson memorial plaque & clock, Heavitree Parish Church
Sampson memorial plaque in Heavitree Parish Church Clock in Heavitree Parish Church

Sampson's assets were sold by auction at The Half Moon Inn on 22nd September 1910:

  • The brickworks + associated buildings and cottages.
  • 13 acres of land for building.
  • 'Melrose House' and 3 other dwellings named ‘Polsloe Villas’.
Auction map of Sampson's property, 22nd Sep 1910

Auction map of Sampson's property, 22nd Sep 1910

There are no other records of the existence of the brickworks after its sale. The land was later utilised for the playing fields of Ladysmith Boys’ School built in the 1930s (Ladysmith Junior School following education reforms in the early 1970s).

Sampson's house, 'Melrose House' (40 Polsloe Road), still exists but is now named ‘Rockhaven’. The adjacent property, 38 Polsloe Road, was destroyed by a direct hit during enemy action of as part of the Baedeker Raids on 4th May 1942; it has since been rebuilt.

Express & Echo (19th Jan 1910), Exeter Memories, old-maps.co.uk, 1871 census, Mrs Ann Yorath

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Heavitree's Global Footprints

As Europeans explored, and in many cases took over government of, many parts of the world, it became common for explorers and new land-owners to name topographical features and places after family names or places where they had grown up. Devon place-names can be found throughout the world; even small villages such as Heavitree are found in other places. Two examples are:-

Heavitree Gap - a pass which cuts through the MacDonnell Ranges near Alice Springs in the Northern Territories, Australia - was mentioned in a letter by Surveyor William W Mills to Sir Charles Todd, the Superintendent of Telegraph, on 12th December 1872. As a boy Mills lived at Polsloe Park and went to school in Heavitree. It is also claimed that he named Alice Springs after Alice Todd, the wife of Sir Charles Todd.

Heavitree Gap, Australia

Heavitree Gap, Australia

Heavitree, Jamaica lies at an altitude of 756m (2480 feet) in a mountainous area near the middle of the island. It is in the county of Middlesex and the political constituency of North West Manchester. Its link with Heavitree, Devon is thanks to the Davy family. They lived at Mere Farm in the parish before moving to the Exe estuary in around 1765.

Maps showing location of Heavitree, Jamaica

Maps showing location of Heavitree, Jamaica

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Extracts From Old Newsletters:
'1066 and All That' (Feb 2001)

In our previous newsletter, clarification was requested for Heavitree's Domesday Book entry, in particular the reference to ploughing with a team of eight oxen.

The Domesday Book is not consistent in the manner of its recording; Heavitree's entry is very short on detail. It mentions only two carucates of land and two ploughs: one for Roger, who holds the manor, and one for the villain - the two serfs were probably ploughmen. That makes for a population of just four families in 1086: Roger's, the villain's and the two serfs' - surely there must have been more.

A carucate, like the hide elsewhere in the country, is a measure of cultivated land which a plough team could work in a year, and could be used to calculate tax. For most of the country, a carucate, or hide, would have been reckoned on 120 acres but in the southwestern counties (heavier soils?) it is more often reckoned at only 40 or 48 acres (Finn, 25).

How much bigger than its likely 96 acres of arable was the manor at this time? What about woodland (crucial for fuel and the grazing of pigs), orchards, pasture, sheep and cattle? How did this tiny manor, and its later church of St Michael, in the two centuries following Domesday Book, become the centre of such a large parish, stretching from Cowley Bridge in the north to the Clyst at Bishops Clyst in the south, including a total of ten churches and chapels (Orme, 121)?

The extent of Heavitree parish at the end of the 13th century

The extent of Heavitree parish at the end of the 13th century (Orme, 1991)

As for the plough and its oxen team, it must be remembered that ploughing had been developed over thousands of years before 1086. The plough itself was a valuable and effective tool, with all the components we see on a modern plough: a coulter to cut the turf, an iron 'share' to break the ground, and a mouldboard for turning the furrow. Ploughshares were even sought as payment for rents (Finn, 57). The oxen (castrated bulls), were small beasts about the size of the Dexter breed, and the eight would constitute two teams of four.

Finn, RW, 1973 - Domesday Book; a Guide, London;
Orme, NI, 1991 - The Medieval Chapels of Heavitree, Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society No 49, 121-129

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Extracts From Old Newsletters:
'Is Fore Street Heavitree a Roman Road?'


There has been much speculation and debate in the Society over the possibility of Fore Street Heavitree having a Roman origin but we may never be able to prove it. In reality, even if it began its life as a solidly-built Roman military road, nineteen centuries of continuous use, and its slope, would have removed all physical evidence. However, we can still investigate the possibility by association with the proven routes and the intelligent interpretation of the topography in the gaps. To this end the Society was pleased to welcome John Allan, Curator of Antiquities of the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, who has extensive knowledge of Exeter's history and archaeology of all periods, to address us on the subject of Roman roads. Indeed, such is John’s reputation as an authority on Devon's past that the audience on the evening of 20th March was swollen by many non-members eager to hear what he had to say. The following account of John Allan's talk is compiled from extensive notes taken by Hazel Harvey to whom I am much indebted.

The Military Way

Most importantly, Roman roads were constructed by the army, for the army. When the Second Augustan Legion built their fortress at Exeter in the 50s A.D., roads leading to it from the rest of Roman Britain, and in particular the contemporary Legionary fortress at Lincoln at the other end of the Foss Way, will have been laid out in predictable ways, with forts placed at intervals equivalent to a day's march. The Antonine Itinerary of the third century A.D. listed the mileage between important places such as posting stations and major towns. Included on the south coast route between Dorchester and Exeter, for example, is Moridunum, which may mean defensible place by the sea, and, although no hard evidence for a fort has yet been found, it is likely to have been close to present day Seaton. To the west of Exeter there is Nemetostatio and may be the fort known as North Tawton. Further west we have Tamaris, yet to be found, but must be a fort guarding the crossing of the river Tamar. It took until 1998 to find the Roman fort near Honiton on the Foss way; everyone knew it was there somewhere.

The Physical Evidence

With the aid of a so-called Urban Database, being compiled by John Bedford, which precisely locates and superimposes all known erotological evidence onto modern topographical maps, it is now much easier to see what was going on at any given period. The gates and many of the roads leading from the original Legionary fortress are known from excavations. An aerial photograph showing the very straight line of Topsham Road would have continued through Exeter's South Gate into the fort and out of the North Gate. Interestingly, the suspected route from the North Gate was never found during excavations in the area of the Iron Bridge. Instead, Peter Weddell and the late Chris Henderson found evidence for the road turning north and running up what is now Paul Street. An East Gate, near St Stephen's Church in the High Street, would have run in a straight line to join what is now Sidwell Street. The apparent wobble in the line of this road, from the later City Gate to Sidwell Street is thought by John Allan to be the result of recutting City defences during the Civil War. The road from the West Gate would have run to the Exe Bridge and beyond.

So far none of this helps the cause of Fore Street Heavitree except that during recent excavations in Princesshay, Roman road metalling was unexpectedly found running diagonally, due East from the Fort. This is still not quite in line with Fore Street Heavitree but does allow us to break the predictable 'dead-straight' grid mould.

Of the two Roman roads running to Exeter from the east - the Honiton-Exeter route as seen by John as an extension of the Foss Way, and the south coast road from Dorchester - John Allan agrees with Ivan Margary, still the best authority on the subject, that the best alignment for Fore Street Heavitree comes from the latter. The south coast route arrives at Clyst St Mary and the bridging of the Clyst, then follows a straight line section of the Topsham parish boundary (always a good indicator of pre-Norman land division) to Sandy Gate, then on to Quarry Lane and East Wonford Hill. The building of the railway, outer bypass and M5 motorway now make this route less obvious.

John Allan opened his talk into a discussion of the Foss Way from Honiton which is known with certainty as far as Rockbeare Straight. Margary describes a bendy route from Clyst Honiton closely following the low ground of the old A30 to join the South Coast road at Heavitree Bridge at the bottom of East Wonford Hill (Margary, 108). Fore Street Heavitree scores twice! However, if one takes a look at a modern map we see another potential route into Exeter over a ridge via Blackhorse Lane to Gipsy Hill and then Hollow Lane. From this point the line can be imagined running to join the Pinhoe Road close to Polsloe Bridge, then to Blackboy Road, Sidwell Street and Exeter's East Gate. Unfortunately no Roman road was discovered during the building of the M5 motorway.

There seems to be little doubt that Fore Street Heavitree had its origins as a Roman road and could have led to both the East Gate and the South Gate of Exeter, forking at Livery Dole, before running via both Magdalen Road and via Heavitree Road + Paris Street.

Margary, RD, 1955 - Roman Roads in Britain Vol. 1, London

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The Hoare Family

The Hoare family lived at 27 Church Terrace, Heavitree for a number of years until around the start of the Second World War. They played a significant part in the development of the Express and Echo for over 70 years.

Sam Hoare (d. 1947), was the paper's first works manager/overseer, recruited from the Bideford Gazette by Sir James Owen when the Echo was launched in 1904. He remained in this post until his retirement in 1937.

Sam’s two sons, Marcus Cecil Bradfored Hoare (known generally as Cec) and Eric George Rounsfell Hoare (born in 1911 at 27 Church Terrace), both joined the paper as 15-year-old schoolboys and gave 50 years’ service before retirement.

Cecil became editor and Eric sports editor, retiring in 1968 and 1976 respectively.

Cecil was at one time chairman of the City Rowing Club. His war service included spells in the Home Guard, and as a war correspondent while he was in a reserved occupation and still editing the paper.

Eric, Sam & Cecil Hoare

Eric, Sam & Cecil Hoare

Eric served in the 4th Devons in Gibraltar and with the King's African Rifles in Kenya.

Eric was a keen cricketer, playing pre-war for Heavitree CC, which was disbanded in September 1939, and later for St James' CC, both of which had grounds, along with Christchurch CC, at Wonford House, until the hospital expansion. St James' are now Topsham St James', whilst Christchurch folded.

Eric took over 800 wickets for Heavitree who were highly-successful in the 1930s. He combined his playing career with writing, under the pen-name ‘Willow’, for the Express and Echo.

Eric’s early sporting success came at Ladysmith School where he played football alongside Clifford Bastin. They played for Exeter and District Schools together with Ladysmith not surprisingly very successful and known as a "wonder team".

The family tradition at the Express and Echo continued when Eric's son, Philip, now living in Stamford, Lincolnshire, joined the paper in 1960. In his four years there, he covered amateur football in the city and has happy memories of watching Heavitree United's first team.

Philip’s Heavitree connections include attending Exeter School, and playing cricket for St James'. He holds Heavitree CC's last scorebook, photos and medals, as well as his father's war diaries which he has transcribed.

Philip Hoare

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Heavitree Recollected

The following section contains a collection of snippets and memories sent to the Society by individuals wishing to share aspects of Heavitree's past, and will be expanded as time goes on.

Roseland Dairy

These are 4 photos of me taken in the late 1960s outside Roseland Dairy which was at no.6 Newcombe Terrace, on the corner of Newcombe Street. The front of the house looked straight down Hamlin Lane towards Polsloe, the shop entrance itself was in Newcombe Street.

My parents ran the dairy until about 1969. My mother used to deliver bottled milk around the nearby streets using a converted pram. Incidentally, here was another Roseland Dairy in later years located in Fore Street, Heavitree, but there is no connection.

My Grandmother lived in Beacon Lane and was the cleaner in the Heavitree United Reformed Church.

Mark Sanders

Roseland Dairy, 6 Newcombe Terrace in the late 1960s (Images courtesy of Mark Sanders)
Roseland Dairy 01 Roseland Dairy 02 Roseland Dairy 03 Roseland Dairy 04
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Cross Park Terrace

I thought the attached may be of interest for the land my house was eventually built on. The auction notification was obtained from the British Newspaper Archive.

Lee Cusick

Cross Parks auction advert 6th May 1885 Cross Park Terrace 1915
Auction advert 6th May 18851915
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Memories of Rosary House School

I was there from the age of five until I was eleven. I was extremely happy there and I found the nuns very kind despite the fact that my family were not Catholics.

The large entrance hall was in a Victorian tiled pattern of shades of terracotta, blue and white. In these days at Rosary House there was a class taken by Miss Beck to the left of the entrance hall, and to the right was the BIG room where assemblies, P.E., plays and other activities took place. Behind was the kitchen where Sister Camelia was in charge; to the left of this, under the stairs were the cloakrooms, toilet and back entrance. There was a student teacher in charge, but I can't remember her name.

Up the grand staircase, to the left was what I think must have been the nuns' quarters. I know Sister Superior's room was there. Dead ahead was a large statue of the Virgin Mary. To the left of this was a row of classrooms. Sister Sebastian's was the first in the row, she took the older children. Sister St John was in the middle, took the lower juniors, and at the front of the house was Sister St Alphie's infant class.

Each doorway had a place to dip one's finger in holy water and cross oneself (strange to a non-Catholic child). The classrooms had a picture of a 'stairway to heaven' where if you brought a penny (old money 1d) your paper image could rise a step upwards until eventually your 'paper child' reached heaven.

Sister Sebastian's class c. 1949

Sister Sebastian's class c. 1949:
L-R Standing: Elaine Cruchet, Jill Hayte, Rosemary Wall, Valerie Parker, Anne Collins, Sister Superior, Beryl Reid, Sister Sebastian, Beryl O'Shea, Unknown, Mary Hodges, Unknown, Monica ?, Unknown, Alisha Ramsdon.
Kneeling: Janet ?, Heather Roxburgh, Judith Bridle, Bridget Matthews, Anne Milne, Josephine ?, Hilary ?, Hazel Smith, Geraldine Roberts, Brenda Lewis, Janet ?, Jennifer Pepperel, Cynthia Kirk.
The unnamed girls to the right in the back row were a year older than Rosemary.

On various days we went to a service in the Sacred Heart Church. I can remember being taken back to the school feeling faint from the cold and being given the old fashioned 'SOL VALATILE' by Sister Camelia in her warm kitchen. Not a lot of heating available with wartime fuel rationing.

There were various places to play at the back of the house, but in the summer we had the joys of the field to the side of the house and behind the church. This was also used for fêtes. The nuns were excellent at craft-work and made lovely things from very little, as during wartime and for some time afterwards, everything was on ration.

Occasionally we went to Palace Gate School by bus from Heavitree to Exeter Centre for 1d (one old penny) return. This was to enable us to use their 'proper gym'. The only school outing I can remember was towards the end of my time there when we were taken to Bristol Zoo - see photo of myself with Julie Kirton. This shows our school summer uniform. Blue and white checked dress, navy blazer with school badge and a straw hat with band and badge on it. In winter, I think we had a navy tunic and white blouse and tie, and probably a jumper or a navy cardigan.

I particularly enjoyed Friday afternoons, it was reading and handicraft work. The reading books were graded, and you usually had a new book for the weekend (what an incentive to get on). We learned joined-up writing with old fashioned copy books, and multiplication tables by rote. The nuns were very dedicated and helped us 'get on' in many ways. Discipline was certainly there but not in a heavy-handed way. If only that were true today!! I later became a primary school teacher and corresponded with Sister Sebastian each Christmas until her death at a convent in Hudsen, America, a region from where she originated, I believe.

Rosemary with Julie Kirton at Bristol School outing

Rosemary with Julie Kirton at Bristol School outing

I enclose a photo of Sister Sebastian's class taken about 1949 in front of the school. I have been able to name most but apologise to anyone I've missed out or mis-named. It was taken 70 years ago! The other photo is of myself and Julie Kirton at Bristol School outing.

I am not on the internet but if anyone feels inclined, I would love to hear what happened to you after leaving Rosary House. Sally Robinson would be very happy to pass on any replies.

Rosemary Baxter, née Wall

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