Home to nearly 130,000 residents, dating all the way back to the Roman era and beyond, and as the capital of Devon, Exeter is well worth a wander around- if only for a few hours. Plus, with thousands of years worth of history comes a whole range of quirky architecture and unusual buildings, transforming the city into a history lover’s paradise. Such is the location of one of my favourite little spots in this friendly city, the House that Moved. And this fine example of Tudor architecture can be found in the most unexpected of places… (read: right next to the main road leading into the city!)
In search of the House that Moved, Exeter
Exeter has been inhabited since time immemorial. Traces of the ancient city can be found in the Roman walls crumbling in the middle of roundabouts, and in the lone graveyards lying in the centre of building developments.
Between the Blitz bombings of the Second World War and the mass urban development of the 20s and 30s, the Exeter of today differs greatly from that of the past, especially that of prior to the 20th-Century. However, if you look hard enough, old hidden gems are scattered throughout the city, just waiting to be discovered.
One of these secret spots is the three-storey Merchant’s House, commonly known as ‘the House that Moved’. The structure may well look as if it has been here for centuries… And in a way, I guess it has. Just not in the way that you’d suppose! For, during the 1960s, the ‘Merchant House’ of number 16 Edmund Street was scheduled for demolition. A new highway was to be built and the houses standing in the way of this ‘progress’ were to be demolished.
Among the houses set for demolition was one that caught many people’s attention. This was owing to the fact that this particular building, the Merchant House, dated all the way back to the 1400s (most probably around 1450) and was easily one of the oldest buildings in the entire city (if not the entire county of Devon). People just didn’t want to see it go. Luckily, with the support of archaeologists in the know, and the help of local residents, the council was persuaded to save the house. And so, for the princely sum of £10,000, the house was moved out of the way of the new road and just a little way down the street.
December 1961, The House Moves…
On December 13th, 1961, preparations to move the house finally started. And so began a long and arduous journey to save a house deemed too precious in history to demolish. On this day, police closed the road and members of the public were urged to remain at a distance. Over the course of the next few days, the 21-tonne building was moved along the street via iron railings. At the time, the street had a gradient of one in ten. Luckily, all passed without incident.
And when the house was finally transported to its brand new position (well away from the proposed road), it was firmly cemented down. The finished look was intended to make it appear as if the house had always been there. Today, the bottom floor of the house is a shop housing wedding dresses. While no one currently lives in the building, there is still a bedroom, kitchen and living room.
Current address | 24 West Street, Exeter, Devon, England, EX1 1BA
Nearby to the house that moved, you’ll find the winding lane of Stepcote Hill. Cobbled, cute and ancient, strolling along this streets feels aking to stepping back in time. Wander up the steps of this narrow and steep lane to find your way back to the city centre, and the modern hub of city life. Finally, strolling through these magical streets shows you just how JK Rowling got her inspiration for Harry Potter throughout Exeter…