Page added 13th September 2011
Exhibition Fields and Eastern Fields at Whipton have been associated with the Devon County Show where it became permanently based in 1955. Only a small part of Eastern Fields was used for the show, although it has been a recreational area since 1951.
Exhibition Fields, as it is now known, belonged to Whipton Barton Farm owned by Mr Henry Rew during the 19th Century. The Flying Post indicates that Henry Rew was farming in Heavitree from as early as 1845. Interestingly, it was reported in September 1850 that Mr Rew was compensated £70 for the use of his fields during the trial of implements on the ground by the Royal Agricultural Association – it is quite possible that they used Exhibition Fields.
In 1911, the 'Great' Daily Mail Air Race used Exhibition Fields as the staging post for the Bristol to Exeter section of the event. Whipton Halt, which was near the railway bridge over Summer Lane was the stopping point for special trains that left Exeter as early as 2.30am to take the crowds to see the competitors land in the field. It is estimated that more than 2,000 people travelled on the early train. The crowd of people completely surrounded the landing ground, stretching from the Halt to Pinhoe Church in the north east.
In 1913, Exeter extended its boundaries and incorporated Heavitree into the city. Although Eastern Fields was formerly in Heavitree, it was transferred to Pinhoe which was part of the St Thomas Rural District Council, while Exhibition Fields remained as part of Exeter.
Mr Albert George Alford owned Whipton Barton Farm from about 1906, and then by his son Mr John Alford through to the 1940s—the farm was demolished in 1963. Soon after the war, the land was sold to Exeter City Council, when it became Whipton Playing Fields, and home of the Whipton Cricket Club. The cricket square was on land that was used every three years for the show-jumping events for the Devon County Show. In 1955, the land became the permanent home of the County Show, until 1989, when it moved to Westpoint. Since then Exhibition Fields has seen the Exeter Arena Athletics Stadium developed under the management of Parkwood Leisure, and is the home of the Exeter Harriers, Exeter University AC and South West Road Runners. The track, which is designated the South West's regional athletics stadium, was opened on 24th May 1992 and originally had a Spurtan BS synthetic surface. The north-west of Exhibition Fields has been developed into the Arena Park residential estate.
As a footnote to Exhibition Fields – there was a second Exhibition Fields in Exeter, used by the Devon Agricultural Association for its annual show. In 1909, and in other years, land bounded by Pinhoe Road, Hamlin Lane and the Higher Cemetery was occupied by the annual show and referred to as Exhibition Fields. This land is now the site of housing for Wykes Road, Pamela Road, Herbert Road, Fulford Road and Tarbet Avenue.
Eastern Fields were part of Heath Barton Farm, being a part of Lord Poltimores estate. The 1845 tithe map shows the farm let to W Saunders, while in 1858 one G Turner occupied the tenancy followed by William Turner from sometime before 1878 to after 1902.
After the First World War, in common with many other estates across the country, Lord Poltimore sold off much of his land around Exeter. Eastern Fields were sold as part of Heath Barton Farm to William Turner, the conveyance dated 25th March 1920. Turner's son, William Mortimore Turner continued to work the farm after his father's death until after the Second War. Although the land was registered, under the Town and Country Planning Act 1947, as agricultural land and orchard, on 5th January 1948, Turner sold the Eastern Fields to the Dawlish Land Company Ltd, who must have been confident of gaining planning permission. St Thomas Rural District Council granted planning for the development of 138 houses on 22nd April 1949.
On the 25th April 1950, Exeter City Council's Estates Committee recommended that Eastern Fields, containing 21 acres should be purchased to provide 'Land for Playing Fields – Whipton'. By January 1951, the Planning Committee assessed the value of the land at £4,000 plus fees. The purchase price was borrowed and on 2nd February 1951 the land was sold by the Dawlish Land Company to the city.
In November 2007, Exeter City Football Club published a paper considering building a new stadium away from the city centre – one such site was Eastern Fields, where they would have constructed a £16 million stadium with seating for 10,000. The conclusion was that the club could probably not afford such a move. Eastern Fields is again under threat from a new link road, and the Campaign to Save Eastern Fields group has been set up during 2011, to prevent such a route from being constructed.
Source: I am indebted to Julia Neville who researched the history and purchase of Eastern Fields by the City Council. Other sources include the Flying Post, Express and Echo, Exeter City Council website and Discovering Whipton by the Whipton Community Association.
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