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Wharfinger's Office - Quay

44 The Quay

Page added 11th December 2013

Back to Buildings of Exeter

Exeter Quay was first used for landing goods by the Romans, who would bring their ships right up to a sand stone platform below the steep Quay Hill. The wharfinger, who controlled the port of Exeter was first granted to the city by Edward III (1312-1377) – the wharfingers duties on behalf of the corporation included collecting certain customs and town dues for goods landed at Exeter and charging harbour dues. The wharfinger was paid a percentage of the amount collected, or at other times a salary. They wore a badge of office called the 'silver cross' and could summon a jury and act as a coroner in certain circumstances. Appointed for life unless they resigned, died or were removed for misconduct, only one, a Mr Campion who was appointed in 1824, was removed in March 1846.

The first wharfinger's office was at the eastern end of the Custom House. In 1711-12, the city enlarged the office by adding new fireplaces, and extending outwards, the front wall.

A purpose built buildng

A new, purpose built Wharfinger's Office with cellars and loft space for the storage of goods was constructed in 1778 for the wharfinger and harbour master. The city coat of arms is fixed to the front of the Dutch style gable. It would be to this office that captains of vessels would report that they intended to sail, or would request services for their vessel while it lay at the quay. The wharfinger had the power to detain goods for the payment of dues. A city merchant who was expecting goods by sea from London would go to the office to enquire about the arrival of a ship and be told "not sailed yet, wind wrong way," or, "we do not know where she is."

When the North Gate was demolished in 1769, the weather vane in the shape of a Wyvern was removed and placed over the façade of the Wharfinger's Office. It was taken down and returned to a pole at the site of the North Gate in 1975 by the Civic Society. The building had a starring part in 1976 when the BBC filmed the Onedin Line at the quay. It was dressed as a tea dealer and dried fruit importer, with a wheel barrow and baskets placed in the front to make it appear busy. The building was the office for Devon Age Concern and from 1981 it housed the Exeter Quay and Canal Trust, the owners, who are tasked with developing the Quay and Canal area. Since 2001, the building has housed an up market hairdressers called Mr Harry. It is Grade 1 listed.

Some past wharfingers and harbour masters

1820 - Richard Barber
1824 - Mr Campion
1850 - Richard Cumming Banfill
1897 - Alfred Clements
1916 - Arthur W Batt
1935 - Charles W Lamprey
1959 - Mr A H Watts.

Source: Reminiscences of Exeter by James G Cossin, the Flying Post and research for other pages on Exeter Memories.

Wharfingers Office dressed for the Onedin Line The Wharfingers Office dressed to appear in the Onedin Line, 1976. Photo Alan H Mazonowicz.

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