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Photographs by Maurice Swansborough - a photo essay

Maurice Swansbourough's signature

Maurice Swansborough from Enfield in Middlesex would, as a teenager, visit his grandfather who lived in Hamlyn Lane, during the early 1930's. He was a keen, amateur photographer who used his time in Exeter to take photographs of the city. When the war started, Grandfather Swansborough moved to live with his family in Enfield, to escape the blitz, never to return to his home.

Maurice, had considered taking up photography as a career in the 1930's, and had undergone training, but he decided not to pursue it as a career, thinking teaching would be more secure. After the war, Maurice, who by now had a family of his own, decided to return to Exeter, to live in his grandfather's house and attend a teaching course at St Lukes College. Unfortunately, the house had been commandeered by the army during the war, and then used for rehousing by the Council after the war. His grandfathers possessions were lost from the house during this period, resulting in the council making a less than adequate payment in compensation. Maurice moved his family into student accommodation in Pinhoe Road, and commenced his course. It was during his time at St Lukes College that the rest of the photographs date from - he captured Exeter at that point when bomb damage was still very evident and yet rebuilding was starting to show, like the first daffodils of spring. He also produced some paintings of Exeter, four of which are added at the end. When Maurice finished his course, he had intended to stay in the city, but the loss of the house forced him to move his family away from Exeter, leaving as a memory of his time at St Luke's, a body of photographs that show the city in recovery.

Maurice passed away in 1985, leaving his prints and negatives locked away and forgotten. The original negatives were rediscovered by Maurice's grandson, Adam Bigg, who is also a photographer. Some of the images had not been seen for 40 years, and the negatives from 1933 were still stored rolled up, making them difficult to scan. This photo essay is the first publication ever, of these interesting and historically important photos. Maurice Swansborough was a photographer of some talent, and some of these images show places that were not among those photographed by others at that time. It is hoped that other photographs from Maurice's time in Exeter can be restored and given a public viewing. All photos © 2007 Adam Bigg


Cathedral - West frontThe West Front of the Cathedral
1933 A view of the Cathedral showing one of the towers surrounded by scaffolding. The church has now gone, and the whole area is grassed - oh, and there are no cars parked up now!

The Guildhall 1933The Guildhall
1933 Traffic in the High Street in 1933, was worse than it is today. It looks like a line of grid locked, black cars.

St Stephens 1933Grandfather Swansborough's house
circa 1933 The house in Hamlyn Lane that Grandfather Swansborough lived in. This photographs was not taken by Maurice Swansborough.

Mol's Coffee House 1933Cathedral Close
1933 Cars have almost always had free access to Cathedral Close, parking in any convenient place. Notice the railings around the green, which were removed in the Second War.

High Street 1933The High Street
1933 The High Street just by the junction with Queen Street. Boots the Chemist was on the corner with the Express and Echo office next door. Some of the buildings have been demolished and replaced by the C&A building (Tesco) and others are merely facades to a modern interior.

Topsham hulks 1933Topsham hulks
1933 Old, retired boats were once dumped on the opposite side of the Exe from Topsham, close to the canal. They were then broken up over a period of time. The area was also used for grazing sheep.

West Street 1947West Street
1947 Two well photographed buildings in Exe Street, were the subject of Maurice's camera in 1947. Without the car, this photo could almost have been taken recently. The buildings were refurbished during the 1930's and it was probably then, that the timber framing was exposed.

Cathedral 1947West front, Cathedral
1947 Maurice returned to photograph the Cathedral in 1947, from a similar viewpoint to his 1933 photo. What is interesting about this photo is that the West Window is still boarded up to protect it from the bombing, and also the railings around Cathedral Green have been removed. The window had been removed in 1940 for safekeeping and it had obviously not been put back when the photo was taken.

The Cathedral from Princesshay area 1949The Cathedral
1949 This photograph which has Maurice Swansborough's signature added, shows the north side of the Cathedral from what would become the centre of Princesshay. The whole area is clear of rubble, and used as a temporary car park. A similar view was available in 2005, after Princesshay had been demolished.

The Odeon 1949The Odeon, Sidwell Street
1949 A very interesting view of the Odeon in Sidwell Street, indicates very clearly, how the opposite side of the street was devastated and left open, until rebuilding. Seven years after the bombing and nature has made a start at healing the broken land. A detail view of the Odeon reveals the film showing as the Rocking Horse Winner with John Mills.

The bomb ravaged St CatherinesSt Catherines
1949 A bomb ravaged St Catherines from the rear of St Stephens Church, before the rebuilding of the Princesshay area is started.

St Michaels, Mt DinhamSt Michaels, Mount Dinham
1949 At first glance, little has changed since this photo was taken - however, closer inspection will show grave stones dotted around Lower Cemetery, since removed, and a bare hillside in front of the church, now housing that spills down the slope.

St Stephens Church 1949St Martins Church
1949 St Martins Church flanked by the Royal Clarence and Mol's Coffee House in 1949, a view that is very similar today.

St Lukes College 1949St Lukes College damage
1949 This shot of St Lukes College shows the extent of the bomb damage suffered in May 1942. Seven years later, and a start is still to be made to repair it. Also see St Lukes Training College.

St Lukes College 1949St Lukes College damage
1949 A general view of the college showing the missing tiles and timbers. Enough of old buildings remained undamaged, along with some temporary huts for students to be taught.

St Lukes College 1949St Lukes College Chapel
1949 The bell tower of the chapel stands out against the sky, amongst the burnt out ruins.

St Lukes College 1949St Lukes College damage
1949 The gardens are well kept, but the college still needs a lot of work to repair it. Notice the temporary hut.

Commings Road 1951Commins Road
1951 Taken from 80, Pinhoe Road, this view is down Commins Road towards Ladysmith Road.

Pinhoe Road in the snow 1950St Marks Church in the snow
1950 Pinhoe Road with St Marks Church, during a period of snow in December 1950. The photograph was taken from 80, Pinhoe Road, where Maurice Swansborough lived with his family.

Pinhoe Road 1951St Marks Church
1951 This view of Pinhoe Road is also from no 80, Pinhoe Road. Notice that the old tram pole, acting as a lamp post, is still in place, twenty years after they stopped running.

Pinhoe Road towards Polsloe 1950Pinhoe Road towards Polsloe
1950 A view down Pinhoe Road towards Polsloe Bridge, from near Redlands Close. The changes are subtle, such as the old fashioned telephone poles and the street light. St Marks Church can be seen in the centre distance.

Stepcote Hill 1951Stepcote Hill
1951 A rather attractive portrait of Stepcote Hill from 1951. The buildings at the top of Edmund Street in the background were demolished for Western Way in the 1960's.

High Street rebuilding 1951High Street
1951 This block is between Castle Street and Lloyds Bank Chambers, and shows how the High Street was rebuilt one section at a time. The cars are parked in Bedford Street.

Marks and Spencer 1951Marks and Spencer
1951 Marks and Spencer built their new store on the corner of the High Street and Castle Street. Here, Swansborough has captured the new building while the scaffolding is still in place. The store is now the temporary home of Next.

High Street 1951The Express and Echo Office - High Street
1951 The Express and Echo had their office and printing works in the left hand of the two central buildings. The centre right building had been J & G Ross in the first half of the 20th century. 

Cathedral 1951The East Window of the Cathedral
1951 A view that cannot normally be seen now - the East end of the Cathedral from the Bishop's Garden. 

Maurice Swansborough also painted several pictures while he was at St Lukes College. They are interesting because they show everyday events and places in the city.

Queuing at the OdeonQueuing at the Odeon
1950 Instantly recognisable as the Odeon Cinema at night, Swansborough captures that balance of the dark, with light spilling from the foyer.

An Exeter fairgoundAn Exeter fairground
1950 It is not known where this fair was held in Exeter, although it could have been Haven Banks. As the city recovered from the war, Swansborough portrays the light relief and excitement of the fair ground, amongst a city still covered in rubble.

A bomb site recoversA bomb site blooms
1950 There were many empty bomb sites, becoming covered with vegetation in towns all over Britain in the late 1940's and early 1950's. It is not known where this one was, apart from somewhere in Exeter.

The Cathedral in a mistCathedral in the mist
1950 An evocative painting of the cathedral on a misty day.

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