When did a visit last comprise three speakers, two venues and a walk ?
On Friday, 15 May, a few of us were lucky enough to see the only house in Colleton Crescent still in private family occupation. Kim showed us her wonderful ground floor dining room/morning room and upstairs a sitting room with breathtaking views over the river. She gave us a brief history of the house and its occupants, including a lady who bought a title and occupied the local and national press with her litigious nature! The Colletons were well off, having large American plantations – one can only presume it was slave money which built the Crescent.
At the Cygnet Theatre a talk from two lovely ladies, Amelia and Ros, who told us that the building, named Trinity Hall, had belonged to Holy Trinity Church in South Street (now the White Ensign Club), only a short walk away before the Western Way was built.
It was completed in 1914 and immediately taken over for the war effort – to the vicar’s extreme disgruntlement. The building was returned to Holy Trinity in 1918 and proved a popular venue for activities including roller skating, boxing and dances. In WW2 it was requisitioned again for the production of parachutes, airship fins, observation balloons etc, but afterwards the hall continued to provide activities for the young. The Band of Hope, a Mission School and the Young People’s Union all used it.
In 1977 Holy Trinity Church was amalgamated with St Leonards who used the hall for everything from boxing to discos. However, St Leonards’ own rebuild alongside its church provided excellent on-site facilities, so Trinity Hall became redundant. The Cygnet Theatre Company took it over with youth productions. They then bought the hall in 1985 to broaden their theatre school activities by enlarging it and organising regular productions, both in their theatre and on tour. This gave their students a solid grounding before proceeding to full-time acting careers.
A walk down to the Quay led us to the Custom House whose ground floor area had originally been open but subsequently enclosed to create “cellars”. A walk along a little-frequented path past weakened city walls (with partial collapse) took us to the water wheels which supported the cloth trade right up until the French wars. Finally, for the stalwarts, was a downhill walk to examine Exeter’s 14th Century river bridge and its 8 remaining arches and chapel, then to the West Gate where a Royalist attack was repulsed, but where in 1688 William of Orange, with 2,000 men, processed into the city to be welcomed by the Mayor.