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Daniel Defoe in Exeter - 1727

The author of Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Moll Flanders (1722), Daniel Defoe by now in his mid-sixties, embarked on a journey through Great Britain between the years 1724 and 1727. He travelled to Exeter from Honiton and described the city during the peak of its wool industry. Although not as extensive as the writings of Celia Fiennes, Defoe does comment upon the city's recovery from the civil war and the change from a mediaeval, walled town, to a city depending on commerce and trade.

"From hence we came to Exeter, a city famous for two things, which we seldom find unite in the same town, (viz.) that 'tis full of gentry, and good company, and yet full of trade and manufactures also; the serge market held here every week is very well worth a strangers seeing, and next to the Brigg-Market at Leeds in Yorkshire, is the greatest in England. The people assur'd me that at this market is generally sold from 60 to 70 to 80, and sometimes a hundred thousand pounds value in serges in a week. I think 'tis kept on Mondays.

They have the river Esk here, a very considerable River, and Principal in the whole County; and within three Miles, or thereabouts, it receives Ships of any ordinary Burthen, the Port there being call'd Topham; but now by the Application, and at the Expence of the Citizens, the Channel of the River is so widened, deepen'd, and cleans'd from the Shoal, which would otherwise interrupt the Navigation, that the Ships come now quite up to the City, and there with ease both Deliver and take in their Lading.

This city drives a very great correspondence with Holland, as also directly to Portugal, Spain and Italy; shipping off vast quantities of the woollen-manufactures, especially, to Holland, the Dutch giving very large commissions here for the buying of serges perpetuan's, and such goods; which are made not only in and about Exeter, but at Crediton, Honiton, Culliton, St. Mary Autry, Newton-Bushell, Ashburton and especially at Tiverton, Cullumbton, Bampton, and all the north east part of the county, which part of the county is, as it may be said, fully employed, the people made rich, and the poor that are properly so call'd, well subsisted, and employ'd by it.

Excester is a large rich, beautiful, populous, and was once a very strong city; but as to the last, as the castle, the walls, and all the old works are demolished, so were they standing, the way of managing seiges, and attacks of towns is such now, and so alter'd from what it was in those days, that Excester in the utmost strength it could ever boast, would not now hold out five days open trenches; nay, would hardly put an army to the trouble of opening trenches against it at all. This city was famous in the late civil unnatural war, for its loyalty to the king, and for being a sanctuary to the queen, where her majesty resid'd for sometime, and here she was delivered of a daughter, being the Princess Henrietta Maria, of whom our histories give a particular account, so I need say no more of it here.

The cathedral church of this city is an antient beauty, or as it may be said, it is beautiful for its antiquity; But it has been so fully, and often described that it would look like a mear copying from others to mention it: There is a good library kept in it, in which are some manuscripts, and particularly an old missal, or mass-book, the leaves of velum, and famous for its most exquisite writing."

Source: Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain 1727 by Daniel Defoe.

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