Archive for February, 2017

Devon Coast from Beer to Exmouth

Saturday, February 25th, 2017

2011-ex-08-1The Devon Coast as shown above, from Beer in the east to Exmouth and downriver from Exeter, is important in Plague of a Green Man, the second book of my West Country Mysteries.  A quarry at the village of Beer has been used since Roman times and provided stone for the building of Exeter Cathedral, as did stone from Salcombe Regis further west along the coast.  A character in my story, Adam Braund, lived in the Littleham Parish of Exmouth and made his living by transporting stone from these quarries to the Exe Estuary, then upriver to Exeter.  In 1380, Exeter Cathedral still needed stone to complete the top register of carvings on the image screen of its west front, only finished in the 15th century.

There were other uses for the quarry at Beer which also entered my story.  A gang of smugglers on this piece of coastline used the Beer quarry to store their loot until they could distribute it.  The gang of smugglers was based on the reality of medieval gangs which often served noblemen who enabled and protected them.  The aristocrats who ran the smuggling operation in my story lived nearby.

In modern times, the stretch of coastline from Exmouth to Beer is a part of the South West Coastal Path from Minehead in Somerset on the Bristol Channel, along the north Devon coast, around the north and south coasts of Cornwall, along the south coast of Devon facing the English Channel, and on to Poole Harbour in Dorset.  The Coastal Path is 630 miles in length and continually rises from sea level where a river or stream flows into the ocean up to headlands atop cliffs only to fall back to sea level again at the mouth of the next river or stream.  Hiking all the rises along the Coastal Path adds up to four ascents of Mount Everest.

My husband and I enjoyed hiking the Coastal Path at various points in Somerset, Cornwall, Devon, and Dorset, but we especially liked to walk various parts of it between Exmouth and Beer during the four years we lived in Exeter.  We could use public transportation to access stretches between Exmouth and Budleigh Salterton or from Budleigh to Sidmouth.  We hiked from Sidmouth to Salcombe Regis and back or from Beer to Branscombe and back.  The views are beautiful and unspoiled, inspiring me to use this portion of the coast in my story.2013-PP-01-2

From Exmouth to Beer, the coast line is the western end of the 96-mile-long Jurassic Coast Heritage Site which extends well into the neighbouring shire of Dorset.  The Jurassic Coast displays 185 million years of geological history from the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods where erosion has exposed rock from each of these different periods.

For more on the Beer quarry caves, click on
For more on the South West Coast Path, click on
For more on the Jurassic Coast, click on

Exeter’s Bowhill House

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

1995-ab-03-2Bowhill Manor is a house in the Saint Thomas Parish of Exeter which inspired a house I described in Plague of a Green Man, the second novel in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries.  The actual house was started in 1422, some 42 years after the time of my novel, but visiting this house gave me ideas for Reliant Cottage, the house of Phyllis of Bath in my story.

Saint Thomas Parish was across the River Exe from the walled medieval city of Exeter in 1380, the year of my novel.  In the story, Lady Apollonia wished to visit Phyllis in her home and stopped at the parish church on the way to visit Phyllis.  The church was a chapel on the far end of the bridge over the Exe in 1380.  Four years later, that version of the parish church was washed away in a flood.  Afterwards, it was rebuilt away from the river and remains there to the present.

Bowhill Manor is located on Dunsford Hill along the main road heading west south-west from the medieval bridge in the general direction of Dartmoor.  The house has largely been in private hands over the centuries, but was restored in the 20th century by English Heritage.  To get a current assessment of the building, click on .

Bowhill is built around a courtyard.  Perhaps its most striking feature is its great hall with its barrel-vaulted roof, meaning the vault at the top of the roof forms a half cylinder.  A picture of the barrel-vaulted roof is shown above.  On one end of the great hall is storage space on two levels with the upper level being not as high as the great hall.  A wooden screen is on the other end of the great hall, separating it from the parlour which has with a solar above it.  These are the kinds of spaces visited by my heroine, the Lady Apollonia, in Reliant Cottage.2013-PP-01-2

In Bowhill, itself, the buttery is next as one moves clockwise around the house.  Then comes a storage room, a passage to the courtyard, the south-range kitchen, and finally the main kitchen.

Exeter’s Stepcote Hill & Medieval Bridge

Friday, February 17th, 2017

1988-i-6-2Stepcote Hill and the medieval bridge in Exeter both appear in Plague of a Green Man, the second novel in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries.  Stepcote Hill is one of the oldest streets in Exeter.  It gets its name, not from the steps on either side of the street but from its steep descent from the city centre down to the West Gate.  This is the path which two of my villains followed in leaving the city.  Beyond the West Gate, the medieval bridge was erected in 1238 as the first stone bridge spanning part of Exe Island and the River Exe.  It was the third stone bridge in all of England and consisted of 18 arches with a chapel at each end.

Stepcote Hill had served since Roman times as the major route into Exeter for strings of pack horses and weary travellers coming from the west.  It continued to be used centuries after my story.  William of Orange rode up the hill into Exeter with a large force.  They were on their way from Brixham, where they landed, to London to take the crown from King James II.

Saint Mary Steps Church stands at the base of the hill on one side, across from it are a couple of 15th century buildings, a bit late for my story.  Yet, as you stand by the church and look up the hill, it maintains the feel of a narrow medieval street.  The picture above is taken near the bottom of the hill showing Saint Mary Steps Church on the right and ruins of the medieval wall near the West Gate beyond.  Interestingly, the ancient jettied house beyond the church was moved to its present location in the 20th century, but it contributes to the historical charm of the location.

The chapel at the west end of the bridge housed the church for Saint Thomas Parish in 1380.  My heroine, Lady Apollonia, visited this church, in my story, on her way to visit Phyllis of Bath who lived in that parish.  In real life, the chapel was destroyed in a flood in 1384, and thereafter the parish church was built in another location on solid ground.2013-PP-01-2

In the 18th century, the western half of the medieval bridge crossing the main channel of the River Exe was demolished and replaced by a new bridge, but the other half of the medieval bridge stands as a ruin on Exe Island with remnants of Saint Edmunds Church still at its eastern end.  The 18th century replacement was a little upstream and more in line with Fore Street than with the West Gate.  The 20th century brought three new bridges, now using steel in their construction.  The 1905 bridge which replaced the Georgian bridge was demolished in the 1960’s to make way for two one-way bridges which are part of a huge traffic circle.

For more on Stepcote Hill or the Exeter’s medieval bridge, click on and search for these subjects.

Exeter’s Medieval Woollen Trade

Monday, February 13th, 2017

millsmapExeter, the setting for Plague of a Green Man, the second of my Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries, had a thriving woollen trade for centuries before and after 1380, the time of my book.  It is the success of the city’s woollen production that drew Lady Apollonia and her second husband, the franklin Edward Aust, to Exeter.  By the 14th century there were guilds in Exeter, made up of free man in the various trades related to the woollen business.

One location in Exeter that was important to the production of woollen cloth was Exe Island, located just outside the city wall near the West Gate and the medieval bridge over the River Exe as shown above.  The marshy and sandy banks between the river and the city were first drained in the 10th century to reclaim the marshy land for industry and commerce.  Higher Leat created Exe Island, which was a separate manor belonging to the Courtenays, Earls of Devon.  Land along the leats or water channels was used for various activities including mills for grinding grain as well as for the fulling of woollen cloth.  Exe Island also became the quarter of Exeter for dye houses and other cloth industries.

The fulling of wool cloth is mentioned in my story.  Urine was used in this process going back to Roman times, to cleanse the wool from oil and dirt.  Eventually other substances came into use, but urine was still used in the time of my novel.  The wool was beaten in various ways which became more automated with the water available to provide power in fulling mills.  Eventually the cloths were hung on racks to dry. Workers who did such jobs were called fullers or tuckers or simply walkers.

The guilds of weavers, fullers, and shearmen joined together in the 15th century to build Tuckers Hall which stands today on Fore Street in Exeter.  In 1380, before the construction of Tucker’s Hall, these workers met at a pub on Exe Island called the Bishop Blaize which also can be visited today.  Some events in Plague of a Green Man happen there.  It is named after an Armenian, Bishop Blaize, who was the patron saint of clothmakers.  The symbol of his martyrdom is a woolcomb.2013-PP-01-2

An aulnage was an official of the king who oversaw the inspection of cloth to guarantee that it was manufactured to fixed standards of size and quality. When satisfied, he would then fix his seal upon it. Aulnagers were first appointed by Edward I. Moreton Molton, the aulnage in Exeter in 1380, plays an important role in my story.

For more on fulling, click on .

For more on Exe Island, click on .

Exeter’s Medieval Monasteries

Thursday, February 9th, 2017

1988-i-7-2Monasteries play a role in all the books in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries.  In this posting, I would like to discuss several medieval monasteries in Exeter, site of my second book, Plague of a Green Man, set in 1380.  Two priories and a friary occur in the story: Polsloe Priory, Saint Nicholas Priory, and the Exeter Greyfriars.  The two priories have some remnants in modern Exeter, although those of Polsloe Priory are quite limited.

Polsloe Priory, sometimes known as Saint Katherines, was a Benedictine nunnery which I used in a chapter of my book describing a visit that Lady Apollonia makes with its prioress, who is modelled upon the Prioresse in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.  I used this visit to help the reader understand something of the character of the Lady Apollonia through her interchange with the prioress.  Today, just one building remains of the medieval priory which is used as a community centre.

Saint Nicholas Priory, shown above, was a Benedictine house founded in 1087. It enters my story as a place where Brandon Landow, the pardoner, found accommodation in Exeter after his return from the North of England.  Earlier in the book, Landow had stayed at the Exeter Greyfriars but felt that he would not be welcome there again after an incident in which his foul play had been exposed.  Today I know of no trace of the Greyfriars which had been founded by the Franciscan Order around 1300.  The church and chapter house of Saint Nicholas Priory are also gone, but parts of the south and west ranges of the domestic buildings survive.  The south range is now a museum owned by the city.

The Priory of Saint James and the Exeter Blackfriars existed at the time of my story but were not mentioned in it.  The priory was founded in the 12th century by the Cluniac Order.  The Blackfriars was a 13th century foundation of the Dominican Order.  All the monasteries of Exeter were dissolved in the 1530’s by King Henry VIII, not to reform them but to take their wealth, so little of their facilities survive in modern times.2013-PP-01-2

There were a couple of Saxon monasteries in Exeter, one of them connected with Exeter Cathedral but they had been dissolved by the middle of the 11th century, before the Norman Conquest and centuries before the Lady Apollonia’s time.

For more on Saint Nicholas Priory, click on,_Exeter

Exeter’s Medieval Parish Churches

Sunday, February 5th, 2017

st_pancras_mapThe present Parish of Central Exeter, shown in the map on the left, is served by six medieval parish churches: St Martins, St Mary Arches, St Olaves, St Pancras, St Petrock, and St Stephens, all of which were active at the time of Plague of a Green Man, the second novel in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries:

St Martins and St Petrock, on the Exeter Cathedral Close are discussed in my posting of December 19, 2016.  Saint Mary Arches was popular as a place of worship with the Mayor of Exeter and many merchants from the 14th to the 16th centuries.  Saint Olaves was founded in the 11th century and dedicated to Saint Olaf, a Viking king who converted to Christianity.  It was rebuilt in the late 14th century.  Saint Pancras, now in the heart of the modern Guildhall Shopping Centre, is largely 13th century Gothic construction with an 11th century baptismal font.  This church is the oldest Christian site in Exeter.  Saint Stephen’s Church was mentioned in the Domesday Book in the 11th century and is built on top of a crypt dating back to Saxon times.2013-PP-01-2

Three other parish churches of medieval Exeter must also be mentioned.  Saint Mary Major, begun in the 7th century, was located next to the west front of the cathedral as a minster, meaning a large or important church.  It was converted to a parish church around 1220 when the Norman cathedral was built.  That parish church was demolished in 1970 and an archaeological dig beneath it at that time revealed that it had been built over the site of a large Roman bathhouse.  Saint Mary Steps is located at the foot of Stepcote Hill and was originally built in the 11th century though rebuilt in the 15th.  It was once known as Saint Mary Minor in contrast with Saint Mary Major next to the cathedral.  Finally, Saint Edmunds was just outside the West Gate of the City and may have gone back to Saxon times.  Its 13th century version was single celled and located on the east end of the medieval bridge across the River Exe.  Its remains are a ruin today at the end of those arches of the medieval bridge that survive.

For more on Exeter’s medieval churches, click on or and search for individual churches.

Exeter’s Castle & Walls

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

2017-mp-02-2Plague of a Green Man, the second novel in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries, is set in the Devonshire town of Exeter in 1380.  At that time, Exeter Castle and the medieval walls surrounding the city centre were impressive, ancient landmarks of the city in addition to its fourteenth century Cathedral, about which I have written in recent postings.  In our modern day, we only see surviving evidence of what these constructions might have been in the Lady Apollonia’s day, for the city gates are gone, only ruins of the castle gate survive, and the cathedral’s medieval colour has been tampered with through succeeding generations.  Much of the ancient wall remains, and the medieval castle ruins can be visited on the highest point in the old city.  In the drawing shown above on the left from the 16th century, you can see the entire wall and the castle in the upper left-hand corner of the city.

The castle is called Rougemont because of the red colour of the local Heavitree sandstone used in its construction.  The Norman gatehouse is nearly all that survives.  It was probably erected by Saxon workman who included double triangular topped windows above the main arch, typically found in Saxon buildings.  The other surviving ruin of the castle is Athelstan’s tower along the medieval wall.

Other castle buildings were swept away in the 18th century to make way for the construction of court buildings which were used from 1770 to 2004 when Exeter built newer facilities for its courts.  Today much of the area around the castle consists of public gardens and there are some remains of a curtain wall which surrounded that part of the castle not bordered by the city wall.

The city walls of Exeter were first constructed by the Romans and extensively repaired in the Saxon period.  Exeter retreated behind its city walls to resist William the Conqueror, but he eventually overcame the city’s defences and erected the eleventh century castle next to the wall as a statement of Norman power.2013-PP-01-2

The city walls are a mixture of grey volcanic stone and red Heavitree sandstone which encircle nearly a mile and a half of the ancient city.  About 72% of the medieval wall survives.  The locations of many of the former Roman gates correspond to where streets now pass through gaps in the wall:  North Street, South Street, High Street (East Gate), and Stepcote Hill (West Gate).

For more on Exeter Castle, click on

For more on Exeter’s medieval walls, click on