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Snayle Tower

Page added 12th September 2016

Back to Buildings of Exeter

The north west corner of the city wall at Bartholomew Terrace, stands high above the narrow Exe Valley and overlooks the double weirs of Blackaller and Head Weir. At this corner of the wall, still known as Snayle Tower despite the absence of such a feature, there once stood one of the largest and most important defensive towers.

The area between the tower and Bartholomew Street was known as Little Britain in the 10th Century. In 928, King Athelstan expelled the British who still lived in the area, when Exeter became a fully Saxon town. In 1226 Richard de Exonia, with seven other Franciscans arrived in the city to establish a convent, also between the tower and Bretagne Street (Bartholomew Street). Before the area became a cemetery, it was used as rackfields and a horse market.

The first reference to a tower dates from 1348, while Hogenberg's map of 1618 shows a crennellated round tower that would have served as much as a lookout than as a defensive stucture. It would have been difficult to attack, standing atop a steeply sloping bank. It was purely a defensive tower and it was never rented out as a dwelling or store.

It is not known why it was named the Snayle Tower, although its circular shape may have suggested a snail like shape or colour. The tower was demolished sometime between 1806 and 1813, after the City Chamber became concerned that children could fall from the tower, and nothing remains of its structure.

Although the tower was long gone, comment was made in 1896 when plans were being drawn up to construct Paradise School on the slope below the corner of Sayle Tower.

"And, by the bye, speaking of the national beauties of our city and its environment, what a calamity it would be were the authorities to permit that new Board School to obtrude its ugly head between the wall in the vicinity of the Snayle Tower and the glorious prospect across the valley! I cannot conceive such an act of vandalism being perpetrated in this enlightened age. Why the veriest product of the Board School system of so-called education could hardly fail to realize the enormity of robbing the city for ever of one of its choicest prospects. Surely it is a dream, a hideous nightmare! The City Fathers will never neglect their duty to the civic offspring by permitting such enormity."

The school has now gone, and the view restored from this forgotten corner of the city wall.

Source: Exeter's City Wall by Mark Stoyle, Flying Post

The 1563 Braun Hogan map

The 1563 Braun Hogan map shows the Snayle tower.


Map from 1890 showing position of the Snayle Tower.

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