Exeter. We have a mission: to follow the route of an old 1940s board game around Great Britain, sticking to the instructions as closely as we possibly can. Along the way we will look at the history of the places we visit, with a particular focus on how things have changed since the tour was created around 70 years ago.
The 13th square on the board is Exeter, the first of two locations in the county of Devon. We have two specific instructions here: to visit the Cathedral and also the Guildhall.
Exeter Cathedral was founded in 1050 and completed in around 1400, and boasts the longest uninterrupted medieval stone vaulted ceiling in the world, plus an astronomical clock that a helpful guide explained to me was the likely source of the nursery rhyme “Hickery Dickery Dock”. She told me that the ropes inside used to be lubricated with animal fat, and that attracted rodents, so cathedral cats were employed to hunt them. At the time of our visit the country was emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic, an uneasy mix of lifted restrictions with the hallmarks of social distancing often still in place. The Cathedral cafe was closed for building conservation works, but a mobile cafe was stationed in front of the cathedral, so we could get coffee and sit on the cathedral green, enjoying the magnificent view. Something that caught my eye particularly inside is an ongoing project to build a large model of the Cathedral from lego. I have often seen scale models inside cathedrals, but never one made from lego, and this should be very impressive when completed. While my wife and children were in the shop, I stopped to read some prayer tree hopes, some written by children, which often expressed the poignant wishes of a covid world, such as the little girl who just wanted to see a friend she hadn’t seen for a long time.
Obviously, not much has changed to the building itself in the intervening time since the game board was made and our visit, although a bomb fell on the Chapel of St James during the war, so a visitor during the late 1940s would have seen that area of the Cathedral under repair. My helpful guide told me that the very ornate medieval wooden screen opposite the chapel was smashed to pieces during the bombing, and was painstakingly reconstructed from the surviving fragments, like an enormous jigsaw puzzle.
Our second location, the Guildhall, was not far away, and at the time of our visit it was closed, so we had to content ourselves with photographing the outside, taking care to position ourselves so that a homeless man lying in his sleeping bag behind the pillars would not be too prominent a feature in our photo. The Guildhall was constructed between 1468 and 1470, and has been the centre of local government for over six centuries. The Italianate frontage was added in the 1590s, and was protected by a brick wall during the war. Obviously the appearance of this building has not really changed since a contemporary visitor would have seen it at the time of our game board, but the surroundings are somewhat different. The Guildhall is now an oddly incongruous sight amongst a bustling street of modern shops.
Our next location on our Board Game Tour will take us right across to the other side of Devon, when we visit Plymouth.
To read previous articles in this series please follow the links below.
The photos that accompany this post were taken during our visit. Please do not reuse them without permission. RP