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Lion's Holt

Page updated 24 October 2008

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This name first appeared on maps in 1795 and is named after the field owned by E P Lyon. Land belonging to Joseph Sparkes the Exeter banker, who built Pennsylvania Crescent, was used to burn the bedding and clothing of cholera victims during the 1832 outbreak. It was also the site of the traditional spring that fed Exeter water through the Underground Passage for six hundred years.

The Tannery

There was a tannery established at Lion's Holt from at least the late 18th-century, run by Joseph Sparkes Dymond, when it was described as "...one of the oldest businesses in the County of Devon..." The tannery thrived during the years of war against France and in 1803 an advert appeared for workers. After the death of Dymond in 1810, his widow continued running the business advertising her continuance and sale of Buenos Ayres hides. In 1815 she leased the tannery.

From 1830 the yard was run by Messrs. Rew and Sons. They imported bark for the process by ship through the quay, and in 1847, the crew of a ship carrying bark for their tannery were arrested for smuggling tobacco. In 1861 James Rew lived alone with two servants and two of his cottages were occupied by tannery employees. James Rew died in 1868 at the age of 86, and his youngest son, also James decided not to continue as within months the yard was up for sale. The property, which probably occupied part of the St James Park, now the home of Exeter City FC, consisted of a dwelling house, garden, tanyard, land and six cottages. It is possible that the damage to the Lion's Holt water spring when the railway was built in 1860 disrupted the tannery and was a factor in it closing eight years later.

Cut in two

After the Bristol and Exeter Railway arrived at St David's in 1844, attention turned to a second rail route into the city. In 1845, twenty four houses, some with gardens, standing in a quarter acre of land came up for sale at Lion's Holt, yielding £140 per year rent. A unique selling point was the proximity to the route of the proposed Exeter and South Western Junction Railway. A few years later and the owner of the houses was heavily criticised for their filthy state by the Sanitary Commission.

That particular scheme did not go ahead, but work on the cutting, for the London and South Western Railway, commenced in December 1857. The line went over the spring that supplied part of the city's water through the underground passage cutting off the supply; it was reinstated when the works were completed two years later. Victorian railway building exacted a high price in life and limb and in October 1858, a worker on the line was killed when he slipped and a wheel from a tram waggon laden with spoil, went over his neck.

Despite the railway cutting slicing through Lion's Holt, the locals received no benefit from the line once construction was completed. In 1873, a memorial was sent to the Council for a station to be constructed for Lion's Holt. Nineteen years later and they tried again for a station on the line, but to no avail. It wasn't until 26 January 1906 that a station named Lion's Holt was opened. It had its name changed to St James Park, to associate it with the Exeter City footbal ground, on 7 October 1946.

Just six months before work started on the railway, lightning from a fierce storm in April 1857 hit a boy "The lightning struck a boy named William Bowden, about ten years of age, who was employed in wheeling a barrow in the yard of Mr Rew, tanner, of Lion's Holt. the electric fluid paralyzed the upper lid of the boy's eye, and he has lost the power of raising it, but the eye itself is uninjured."

In January 1861, a year after the railway opened, Lord Poltimore's Foxhounds chased a fox from Stoke Wood to Stoke Hill, down to Hillscourt, crossed over the railway "into garden's near Lion's Holt and out into a field near the St Sidwell's Schools, where he was run down." A second fox was captured at Bury Meadow. The Flying Post commented as though it were a normal occurrence, in what is now a very urban area. How times change....

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