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Victorian Exeter

In the first half of the 19th century Exeter declined in national importance

Victorian architecture - St Michael's Church, Heavitree Victorian architecture - St Michael's Church, Heavitree

In 1800 Exeter had dropped to fourteenth in size amongst provincial towns; by 1860 it was fortieth. However, during the 19th century the population of the city increased from about 20,000 to 50,000.

Exeter developed engineering, iron founding, brewing, papermaking and printing industries. The Canal was extended in 1825 and a new basin was opened in 1830, but the canal trade suffered when the railways reached Exeter in the 1840s.

The first train of the Great Western Railway steamed into St David's Station from Paddington on 1st May 1844. When the railway, designed by the famous Isambard Kingdom Brunel, was extended to Newton Abbot a second station was built in the large suburb of St Thomas. The London and South Western Railway from Waterloo reached Exeter in 1861, and this led immediately to the construction of a branch line to Exmouth. Lines were laid to Barnstaple in 1854, and along the Exe Valley in 1885, followed by the Teign Valley in 1903; the latter two were closed in the 1960s as a result of the Beeching cuts.

The Victorians widened a number of streets and imposed a new street, Queen Street, on the medieval plan of the city. Begun in 1835, it was named after Queen Victoria and contains a group of imposing early Victorian buildings, including the Higher Market and the ornate Royal Albert Memorial Museum. The Museum was one of the most important cultural developments in Exeter's history. Founded as a memorial to Prince Albert in 1868 it originally housed (in addition to the Museum) the School of Art, School of Science, and the Lending Library; from these have grown the College of Art and Design, the University of Exeter and the City Library.

However, other improvements were slower. A sewerage system was built in the 1840s but notorious slums of the West Quarter remained until the 1930s.


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