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2000 years of visitors to Exeter

Updated 16th January 2019

Exeter Visitor Year Nature of the Visit

pop group


The Beatles played three concerts at the ABC Cinema during this time. They stayed at the Rougemont Hotel.

David Bowie
 pop singer


David Bowie performed at Tiffany's in Commercial Road on 17th October. This was part of a national tour promoting the 'David Bowie' (Space Oddity) album, released in the same year. Tiffany's and its sister Quay Club are now the Warehouse, Boogies and Boxes.

Honor Blackman


Honor Blackman visited the Falcons Speedway track at the County Ground in 1953 - the young actress, who later starred as Pussy Galore in Goldfinger (1964), presented the Coronation Pairs trophy to Exeter's Goog Hoskin and Don Hardy at the track. This was a national competition with rounds staged at various circuits around the country. It was sponsored by Corvette after shave! See 1950s for a photo.

King Charles I


Charles I stopped in Exeter on 26 July 1644, in pursuit of the forces of Lord Essex. He saw, for the first time, his infant daughter Princess Henrietta. He caught up with Essex and beat him at Lostwithiel, to return to Exeter on 17 September where he stayed for a week.

Prince Charles


In April 2004, Carol Griffith, the inspiration behind the restoration of 21 The Mint, had the pleasure of escorting the Prince of Wales around the building - he stayed for an hour and a half and insisted in seeing those places that even a well known beer couldn't reach. Prince Charles has also taken an interest in the Cathedral, and visited it on several occasions as the President of the Cathedral Preservation Trust.

Duchess of Clarence


The Duchess of Clarence (Queen Adelaide), wife of the future William IV stayed at the Royal Clarence Hotel in July. The hotel was renamed the Clarence Hotel in her honour. It was later that Royal was added to the name.

Gary Cooper
 film actor


Cooper, an established Hollywood actor stayed at the Royal Clarence Hotel while entertaining the troops before D-Day. He tried to join the airforce in 1942, but was turned down on medical grounds.

Oliver Cromwell
 Army commander


General Fairfax had masterminded the seige of Exeter during 1645/6. When the surrender terms were signed on 9 April, 1646, the defending Royalist forces marched out of the city, drums beating. Soon after, Oliver Cromwell rode at the head of the Parliamentary Army into the city to take possession. A few days later, Cromwell and Fairfax were invited to supper by the new Puritan Mayor 'where they were entertained with much respect.'

Daniel Defoe


At the age of 63 years, Defoe visited Exeter while touring. He wrote of Exeter "tis full of gentry and good company, and yet full of trade and manufacturing also". Defoe is remembered for writing Moll Flanders and Robinson Crusoe.

Princess Diana


Diana, the Princess of Wales opened the Riverside Leisure Centre, and associated Sainsbury's Store and St Thomas Library on 2nd July. She went on to the Guildhall for lunch before watching a pageant of 150 years of policing in Exeter. The Princess then proceeded on a walkabout in the High Street, chatting to many in the crowd, as they sang Happy Birthday for her. See Video of Visit. Princess Diana visited Exeter on several other occasions.

Charles Dickens


Charles Dickens visited Exeter several times, the first to attend the hustings for the Exeter City Council elections. See Charles Dickens

Diana Dors
 film star


In 1955, Diana Dors presented the newly renovated Fountain Inn, renamed the Prospect Inn, down on Exeter quay, as a prize in a Daily Sketch readers competition.

Edward I


The murder of Walter Lechlade in the Cathedral precincts in 1283 resulted in a request to Edward I to intervene and preside over the trial of the accused. At Christmas 1285, he visited Exeter for the trial, and the Mayor was found guilty of murder and executed. At the same time, Edward gave permission to the Cathedral authorities to erect a wall around the Cathedral Yard and build seven gates.

Edward VIII


King Edward VIII drove through the city without stopping on the way to Cornwall on 3rd June 1936 - nice of him to spare the time! He did unveil the Devon War Memoriel in Cathedral Yard in 1921 as the Prince of Wales.

Edward the Confessor


Edward attended the enthronement of Leofric as Bishop of Exeter, at the abbey, in what would become Cathedral Close. Leofric was accompanied on the right by the King and on the left by Queen Editha to the episcopal chair.

Jimmy Edwards


'Professor' Jimmy Edwards, a stalwart of 1950's and 60' British films and TV visited the Prospect Inn, on the Quay, to push over a tower of pennies that had been collected for the Vranch House School. Edwards made a name for himself as the 'Professor' in Whacko which ran between 1956 and 1960, and the radio show, the Glums.

George Eliot
(Mary Anne Evans)


While journeying to Ilfracombe with her long-term companion, George Henry Lewes, Eliot stopped at Exeter Station and obtained overnight accommodation at the Railway Hotel. They walked past Bury Meadow to visit the Cathedral and "a very old bit of building, apparently Saxon, which appeared to be used as a Police Station" - the Guildhall.

Elizabeth II


As Princess Elizabeth, the Queen unveiled the Princesshay Commemorative feature on 21st October. This marked the beginning of the building of Princesshay, which at the time was a cleared bombsite. The Queen has visited Exeter on many other occasions since.

Celia Fiennes


At the age of 36, Celia Fiennes embarked on a journey round England by horseback. She arrived in Exeter from Cullompton and stayed long enough to witness the woollen industry when it was entering a golden age. She wrote a journal of her adventures, and the short section covering Exeter gives a fascinating account of the city. See Celia Fiennes visit for the full text.

George Fox
 Early Quaker


It is documented that George Fox, an early Quaker, preached at the Seven Stars Inn at St Thomas. He wrote: "We then travelled on till we came to Exeter; and at the sign of the Seven Stars, an inn at the bridge foot, had a general meeting of Friends out of Cornwall and Devonshire".

Clark Gable
 film actor


Gable stayed at the Royal Clarence while stationed with the US Airforce. Gable enlisted and served in five high-profile combat missions. He was honorably discharged as Captain Clark Gable after D-Day and awarded the Air Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Uri Geller
 spoon bender


The erstwhile spoonbender, Uri Geller became joint chairman of Exeter City. To help support the club, he arranged for his friend Michael Jackson to visit St James Park on 14th June for a charity appearance. The visit was watched by 7,000 ticket holders, who were entertained to live music and some card tricks by the illusionist, David Blaine. Geller claimed to have increased the football teams goal scoring, by using his special powers. See Michael Jackson.

George V
& Queen Mary


King George V and Queen Mary visited Exeter in September to inspect the two military hospitals in the city. He was the first monarch to travel into the city by car - four vehicles belonging to prominent citizens, including the Bishop of Exeter, were used for the occasion.

George VI
& Queen Elizabeth


After the bombing raid of 4th May 1942, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Exeter on 8th May, to inspect the damage and improve morale. The King was shown a piece of shrapnel from a bomb that fell on the Cathedral. He said "Send it for scrap" and the Queen remarked "That's right, let us send it back to the Germans".

Gilbert & Sullivan
librettist & composer


Arthur Sullivan, of the operatic fame, first performed the music of The Mikado to W S Gilbert on the piano at the Half Moon Hotel in the High Street.

General Gordon
 of Khartoum


Charles George Gordon the Victorian hero of Khartoum had family connections with Exeter. His grand-parents at one time lived in Lower Bowhill House, which later became the St Thomas Lunatic Asylum. It is often quoted that, on 11th January 1884, General Gordon visited St Thomas Church to see the memorial to his grand-parents (this part is correct), when he was informed that he was to proceed with haste to London because of a crisis in the Sudan. This story is not quite true – Gordon in fact went on to Sandford Orleigh to visit his friend, the explorer, Sir Samuel White Baker. The next day he travelled by train to Southampton where he received the fateful telegram, recalling him to London. On the 26th January 1885 was killed at the siege of Khartoum. See Livery Dole. Thanks to John Waite for unravelling the true story.

W G Grace

circa 1900

The legendary cricketer, W G Grace played at the Devon Cricket Ground off the Prince of Wales Road in the twilight of his playing career. The Devon County Cricket Club was formed in November 1899, and joined the Minor Counties Championship in 1901.

Thomas Hardy


Thomas Hardy, with his second wife Florence, stayed at the Royal Clarence Hotel while visiting a friend in Torquay on 10 June 1915. During his stay, he visited the Royal Albert Memorial Museum where he saw a plaster-cast of the fossil proto-bird archaeopteryx which had been discovered in Germany. Hardy was inspired to penn his poem 'In a Museum' - see RAMM for the poem.  He also cycled to Topsham with his brother in the early 1890's to visit the grave of Tryphena Gale, an old girl friend. See Drakes - Hardy in Topsham

King Henry VII


Henry VII passed in triumph through the East Gate after the rebel Perkin Warbeck had surrendered to him at Taunton. He presided at the trial of Warbeck and his supporters. To thank Exeter for their support during the rebellion, he presented the city with his sword and 'hatt of mayntenunce' to be carried before the Mayor and his successors. They are both kept in the Guildhall.

Michael Jackson


Exeter does not seem a likely venue for Michael Jackson to visit, but on 14th June 2002, the controversial late pop superstar arrived by train from Paddington to attend a charity event at Exeter City FC, St James Park. The crowd of 7,000 paid to see live music and entertainment, followed by an appearance by Jackson. He said "I would like to say I am very happy to be here, in Exeter, and with all these great supporters of Exeter City....this evening is all about supporting children with AIDS, and helping people across Africa". He was accompanied by Uri Geller the spoon bender, and David Blaine, the illusionist. See Uri Geller.

David James


England and Portsmouth goalkeeper, David James lives in Chagford, on Dartmoor. Consequently, he is often seen in Exeter, going about his business. In December 2006, he was invited to the city to meet City Councillor Ian Martin, to promote Fair Trade products. The meeting was held, with the local press in attendance, in the Plant Cafe in Cathedral Yard, where they each pair sampled a cup of Fair Trade coffee. The meeting also promoted the Fair Trade footballs made in Malawi, that Councillor Martin, coincidentally a football referee, used in a penalty shoot out competition between children from Exeter and Weymouth on Boxing Day 2006 at St James' Park.

Edmund Kean


The great actor of tragedy, Edmund Kean appeared on stage at the New Theatre in Bedford Circus in December 1811. He returned in 1813 to appear another 40 times.

Franz List

August 1840

Franz Liszt gave a piano recital at the Clarence while touring England with a small group. He later wrote to his mistress that English cathedrals were not so crowded with shops and houses as those in France and therefore were more impressive.

Joe Louis


The World Heavyweight Champion boxer, Joe Louis joined the US Army during the Second World War and was posted to England. He visited Exeter, and staged an exhibition boxing match at the Topsham Barracks. Black GIs were confined to St Thomas at this time, but due to his fame, Joe Louis was allowed to travel around the city, quite freely, and would drink in local pubs. He also visited the Exeter Golf and Country Club, when it was taken over by the US Navy Supply Depot, and Streatham Hall when the Glenn Miller Band was playing. He was generally welcomed by the locals, but at least one publican refused to serve him because of his colour.

Monty Pythons Flying Circus


In September 1974, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Graham Chapman, Michael Palin and Terry Jones stayed at the White Hart Hotel while they filmed series four. See Monty Python in Exeter

Morecambe & Wise


In October 1971, Morecambe and Wise appeared at the ABC Cinema for two nights. They had first appeared in Exeter at the Theatre Royal, but by the 1960's, with its closure, only the ABC was left for their type of act. See 1970's for a poster from the show.

Admiral Nelson


Admiral Nelson received the Freedom of Exeter in 1801, after the Battle of the Nile. A sword was presented to Nelson at the Guildhall, where he was to be entertained with dinner. However, Nelson insisted in returning to the Clarence, where he was staying, to address the gathered newspaper correspondents, before dining at the hotel.

Beatrix Potter


Beatrix Potter turned away from the door of the New London Inn'with the wisdom of bitter experience, examined the ground before unloading, and bowed out with profuse apologies' after deciding at the last moment to stay at the Royal Clarence. She went on to write "I am very fond of Exeter. Even on a great railway like the Great Western, it retains its primitive self-contained air of importance".

Richard III


Richard travelled to Exeter to crush a rebellion by Sir Edward Courtenay and the Bishop of Exeter. They fled to France before Richard arrived. Richard asked the name of the castle of the Mayor, who replied"Rougemont", at which Richard paled. Richard, in Shakespeare's play recounted "Richmond - when last I was in Exeter, The Mayor in courtesy showed me the castle, And called it - Rougemont: at which name I started, Because a Bard of Ireland told me once, That I should not live long after I saw Richmond."

Cliff Richard
 pop singer


Cliff Richard and the Shadows played at the ABC Cinema on 18th November 1964. The show show was supported by the Johnny Hawkings Orchestra.

Sarah Siddons


The Georgian Queen of Tragedy, Sarah Siddons appeared for a season at the New Theatre in Bedford Circus in Shakespeare's 'As You Like It' and Otway's 'Venice Preserved'. She was at the height of her fame and this was a considerable achievement for a provincial theatre. The proceeds from her last performance went to the Devon and Exeter Hospital. Siddons returned to the Exeter stage for one appearance on the 2nd August 1797.

Paul Simon updated
 pop singer


In 1965 Paul Simon spent 13 months touring England, playing in Exeter when he passed through on his tour. Because he was considered 'too modern' in style he did not play at the Exeter Folk Club at the Jolly Porter, but was instead invited to play at an alternative venue that normally met in the basement of Head Weir House – however, it was considered too small a venue for this up and coming American, so his appearance was moved to the loft in the barn of Newhayes House in Cowick Lane. Chris Runciman, who was one of the organisers, remembers the opening act was the short-lived Dalliance Minstrels of Tom Mason, Sue Turner, Chris Runciman and Chris Roach who sang bawdy 17th century songs. Simon was paid £5 for his performance.

In a BBC Radio 2 programme entitled Mr. Simon’s Big Trip, broadcast on 5th June 2007, Bob Harris played an hitherto unheard song by Paul Simon, The Northern Line which was recorded in the barn during this gig. This is the recording made in the barn, on a Grundig reel-to-reel recorder - Northern Line

Joss Stone
 soul singer


Joss was born in Dover and was brought up in Cullompton, so she is considered by many to be an Exeter girl. On November 14th she gave a concert at the University Great Hall for all her local fans. The sell out performance, with her band, lasted an hour. She performed songs from Mind, Body and Soul and her debut release The Soul Sessions. Joss returned to Exeter for her 18th birthday party in April 2005 at the Timepiece, off Little Castle Street.

Rolling Stones
 pop group


The Rolling Stones played at the Odeon Cinema, Sidwell Street on 26th August 1964 (2 shows) and 2nd October 1964 (2 shows). The Odeon had just spent £6,000 on new dressing rooms and enlarging the stage, and the Stones were the first act to use the new facilities.

Robert Louis Stevenson


Robert Louis Stevenson stayed at the New London Inn for several weeks suffering from a haemorrhage and wrote in the visitors book: "I cannot go without recording my obligations to everyone in the house; if it is your fate to fall sick at an inn, pray heaven it may be the New London".

Anthony Trollope


Trollope often visited Mrs Fanny Bird, a friend of his mother, at her house in Cathedral Close. His character, Miss Jemima Stanbury in He Knew He Was Right was based on Mrs Bird.


circa 49AD

Commanded the Roman 2nd Legion when they occupied the settlement of Isca Dumnoniorum and established a military fort here.

Queen Victoria


In 1833, the young Princess Victoria made her first of two fleeting visits to Exeter (the second as Queen) when in August 1833 she stood in her carriage outside the New London Inn "and bowed in the most amiable and condescending manner to the assembled multitude".

Perkin Warbeck
 rebel leader


Perkin Warbeck claimed to be the younger of the Princes in the Tower, and the rightful heir to the throne. A rebellion in September to install the 'rightful heir' culminated in Warbeck storming the East Gate of Exeter - after a fierce fight in the High Street by the defenders, the Courtenays, Warbeck withdrew to Taunton. He surrendered to Henry VII and was returned in October to Exeter as a prisoner where the King sent him to the Tower of London and the other leaders executed. See Henry VII.

Duke of Wellington
  Waterloo General


At 4 pm on the 30 September 1819, the Duke of Wellington visited Plymouth to be presented the Freedom of the Town. The Mayor of Exeter visited the Duke at Plymouth, and invited the Duke to visit the city where he would be bestowed the Freedom of Exeter. He declined due to other engagements, but with a promise to visit the city later in the year. However, he passed through Exeter on his return journey and stopped by the New London Inn before continuing to London. The population descended on the square and a large number of ladies 'wished to be honoured by an interview." The Duke duly obliged, alighted from his carriage and waved to the crowd for about fifteen minutes before continuing his journey. (Flying Post)

John Wesley


A 40 year old Wesley preached in St Mary Arches Church on the Sunday morning of 24th November. The rector prevented him preaching in the afternoon on the grounds that it 'might lead people into enthusiasm or despair'. Hoskins believed that Wesley 'virtually founded Methodism' in Exeter.

William I
(The Conqueror)


Exeter hung out against Norman rule for two years after the Battle of Hastings. William travelled to Exeter and laid siege to the East Gate. After 18 days, negotiations were held and the citizens surrended. He ordered Rougemont Castle to be built to control the citizens in the future. See William the Conqueror besieges Exeter

William of Orange
 William III


William of Orange (William III) was invited to take the throne jointly with his wife Mary (II), from James II who went into exile. He landed at Brixham and marched to Exeter, enroute for London. He rode up Stepcote Hill with a large force of "200 Blacks from the Plantations of the Netherlands in America...200 Finlanders...all in bright armour". He stayed at the Deanery until he heard it was safe to continue to London. They ruled jointly until Mary's death in 1694, when William continued as king until his own death in 1702.

Exeter Visitor Year Nature of the Visit

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