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Exeter City Wall

In the civil parish of Exeter.
In the historic county of Devonshire.
Modern Authority of Devon.
1974 county of Devon.
Medieval County of Devon.

OS Map Grid Reference: SX919925
Latitude 50.72247° Longitude -3.52767°

Exeter City Wall has been described as a certain Urban Defence.

There are major building remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


The city walls of Exeter have been proved to originate in Roman times (see SX 99 SW 12). The medieval and later walls (as shown on OS maps for the full circuit of the city) were essentially the Roman walls extensively rebuilt and repaired at various times (and there were many occasions of threat when it would have been prudent for Exeter to look to its defences, from sub-Roman times right up to the Civil War, when the city was twice besieged, and even later).
The Roman ditch, becoming the Town ditch, seems to have been similarly maintained, and survived up to the 18th or 19th century (though its extent does not seem to have been fully ascertained, and it may never have existed on the SW and NW sides of the city, where there were respectively the Exe and the slopes of the Longbrook valley). The four main city gates, which were demolished in the 18th
and 19th centuries, almost certainly occupied the sites of the Roman gates, although this has only been proved at the South Gate. The origin of the various wall turrets and bastions is uncertain. The only one excavated proved to be 17th century on a 13th century base, but others were possibly roman or Dark Ages in the firstplace. The tradition that the walls, with turrets, were built by Athelstan derives from William of Malmesbury, but can only mean that the walls were of remote antiquity (and therefore Roman) when he wrote in about 1130. There could, however, have been extensive Saxon repairwork which came to be regarded as the original construction. (PastScape)

The city of Exeter has been strategically important since its foundation in the Roman Period when the original walled defences were constructed. Exeter was also an Anglo Saxon burh so continued to be a highly influential central place, one of only four in the whole of Devon. Following its capitulation to William the Conqueror, it became a Royal town and was briefly the residence of King John. It was a key military objective during the first English civil war between King Stephen and the Empress Maud and later in the Civil War between the Royalists and Parliamentarians. As a result, its city walls have reflected the need for adequate and significant defence throughout turbulent times and still survive well. The important archaeological end environmental evidence which they will contain is extremely significant.
This monument, which falls into nine separate areas, includes Roman, Anglo Saxon and medieval city walls which define the original extent of the city of Exeter. The walls survive as a roughly rectangular circuit approximately 2.35km in length of which 72% (1705m) is still visible as upstanding fabric. The city walls originated in around 200 AD and some sections still survive up to 2.5m high. The city originally had four gateways, also of Roman origin, as proven by excavations of the South Gate, but were generally dismantled in the 18th to 19th centuries. The Roman walls were repaired and rebuilt throughout the Anglo Saxon, medieval and Civil War periods since the city was besieged at least twice. There are also a number of wall turrets and bastions which may date to the Roman, Anglo Saxon or medieval periods. Traditionally they were constructed by Athelstan, this being derived from writings by William of Malmesbury in around 1130, although their Roman origin cannot be dismissed. During the Anglo Saxon period the walls underwent significant repair and strengthening. The same is true for the medieval period when such works continued as it was prudent to do so. As a result the surviving walls contain a complex palimpsest of successive works dating throughout different periods. Through much of the circuit the walls, turrets and bastions still attain a significant height. Part of the city wall around Rougemont Castle is the subject of a separate scheduling. (Scheduling Report)

About 70% of the one and a third mile circuit remains although all four main gates were demolished in C18 and C19. Regular murage for repairs and upkeep were granted from 1224 until late C14.
Links to archaeological and architectural databases, mapping and other online resources

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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:53

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