Venue Type & Location


Site Name: Guildhall
Location: Exeter
County: Exeter (city-county) in Devon
Location Type: Town - in town at determined location

Performance Spaces


A guildhall has stood on the same site on Exeter's High Street since at least the 2nd half of the 12th c. The present building is largely a late 15th c. reconstruction set back from the street with a proud late Elizabethan portico. Some earlier fabric may be incorporated.

The guildhall was originally open at street level with shops or market stalls on all sides. There have been service rooms at the N end of the hall from its origins.

Performance History

As the seat of civic government and centre for festive occasions, Exeter's guildhall was probably the venue for most performances by touring entertainers before the mayor and city officials before 1620. After that date such performances were actively discouraged by civic officials.

Current Status

The guildhall remains in use as a civic building. Open to the public at specified times.

History of the Venue

1180s The first guildhall was functioning as a place of business.

ca. 1330 Some new building may have been undertaken (Parry, Exeter Guildhall 2). The main hall had glazed windows and either double doors or doors set at each end of a passage. The facade had a porch entrance. A council chamber lay next to the hall at the front of the building, with a solar on the floor above.

by later 14th c. A prison in the cellar existed with shops above.

ca. 1468 Rebuilding of the medieval guildhall with stone benches on 4 sides of the hall as before.

1483--4 New buildings erected in front of the guildhall, including an upper floor guild chapel of St George and St John the Baptist, with accommodation for a priest and a council chamber. The lobby was approached by a staircase at the low end of the hall. Stalls replaced the shops clustered at the entrance to the guildhall.

1521 New prison for women built at the N end of the guildhall.

1547 Chapel dismantled at the dissolution of religious guilds.

1557 New prison built in the back court.

1564--5 A gallery was constructed in the hall, presumably for jury (location unclear).

1592--4 Decayed front block rebuilt in Beer stone with classical decorative features and a 3-arched portico with 4 granite columns. The ground floor was open for market shops and the first floor included a council chamber (as before). The 2nd floor (now dismantled) originally allowed for storage, offices and a platform for public ceremonial purposes. Panelling added to the hall with the arms of trade guilds and notable citizens featured.

1718 2nd floor removed from decaying portico and replaced by a timber balustrade in 1721.

late 18th/early 19th c. Window tracery replaced in the N window of the hall.

1852 Gas lighting introduced.

1863--4 Alterations at the S end of the hall, including the reopening of the gallery, previously partitioned to create a magistrates' room. Floor replaced by diamond-shaped pacing slabs. New painted glass inserted in N window.

1887--8 Earlier fittings and side galleries removed from the hall, oak panelling restored as wainscot, old hearth revealed in the W wall, municipal arms restored.

1900 Extensive repairs under the direction of William Weir.

1986--9 Extensive repairs and restoration of the portico.

Record Source

REED Devon 70--190

Bibliographic Sources

  • Allan, J.P. Exeter Guildhall. Exeter: Department of Leisure & Tourism, Exeter City Council, 1991.
  • Blaylock, S.R. 'Exeter Guildhall.' Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society 48 (1990): 123–78.
  • Blaylock, Stuart. 'The [Exeter] Guildhall.' The Exeter Area: Archaeological Journal 147 (1990) supplement: 39–41.
  • Cherry, Bridget, and Nikolaus Pevsner. Devon. The Buildings of England. London: Penguin Books, 1989.
  • Hooker, John. Isca Damnoniorum ... Latine Exonia, Anglice Exeancestre vel Exestre at nunc vulgo Exeter.... London: npub, 1587.
  • Hoskins, W.G. Devon. A New Survey of England. Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1973.
  • Nares, Gordon. '800 Years of Exeter Guildhall.' Country Life 116 (9 Sept. 1954): 822–4.
  • Oliver, George. The History of the City of Exeter. Exeter: William Roberts, 1861.
  • Parry, H. Lloyd. The History of the Exeter Guildhall and the Life Within. Exeter: Exeter City Council, 1936.
  • Tittler, Robert. Architecture and Power: The Town Hall and the English Urban Community c. 1500–1640. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1991.