Visit to St Luke’s College

14 September 2017


The Teacher Training College dates back to 1839 when it opened in Cathedral Close and was dedicated to St Luke by the then Bishop of Exeter.  At the start it had 19 students, all men, training as school masters for work in church-run schools within the cathedral’s influence.    A small “practice school” was also built in Heavitree, for the college students to improve their teaching skills.

After 15 years, in 1854 the school moved to a new site on Heavitree Road, built at a cost of £7,000, a lot of money in those days of course!  It was expanded to accommodate 40 students, just over double the original number. The students were still all “men only” and still all “school teachers to be”, with a strong religious bias in their curriculum.

We saw a map of the school showing the City Union Workhouse almost opposite the college, roughly where the Police Station is today.   Also, it shows that the school is right next to the Baring family’s villa.  


During the Second World War, along with much of Exeter, the site was heavily bombed and the whole complex was gutted by fire.  The college was rebuilt, as far as possible to match the original buildings (unusually for the time) and it continued with the training of male teachers for the ministry until 1978 when it closed and the whole complex was sold to Exeter University. 


The university re-opened  the college as a general Teacher Training Centre for both male and female students and with a broader range of subjects.  Many more buildings were added to suit a wider range of subjects to be taught for teaching and research, including Sports Science and Medicine.  


Today the college continues as Exeter University’s Teacher Training Department, but with a greatly extended range of subjects and, of course, additional buildings.  These include an indoor swimming pool and an impressive library with an excellent range of books, old and new, which it is believed can still be accessed by the general public, on request of course!

There is also a remarkable range of individual gardens, tucked away in odd corners and we went on a walk to view these. One of our members had actually worked there but was not aware of the number of individual areas that there are, tucked away behind some of the buildings.

We started our walk outside the coffee bar and first examined an extraordinarily large Copper Beech Tree (above)


This was next to the entrance to a walled garden containing a delightful pond and further along was the first of the hidden garden areas, highlighted by a mosaic wall plaque at the rear of Baring Court (below).  

The layout includes the long straight wall that follows the very old map showing the site of the original Baring family garden across which we were now walking.  Next came the “Stone Garden” with its very large boulders leading to the walk with the first of several “insect hotels”. A short walk brought us to the Medical School and passing through this we came out onto their courtyard garden with its very different planting of Kerrias, Tree Peonies and Camellias.

A further turn brought us behind the medical school with a sheltered area containing a very large bug and insect “hotel”, one of the biggest most of us had ever seen!  It was bounded by one of the largest green lawns within the campus, which was in the process of a late season mowing!


From there a narrow, concealed pathway alongside another major structure known as the Richards Building brought us to another courtyard garden area with trees and shrubs including old friends (for those who had been on the earlier University Walk).  These were the Azara trees. Very rare, part of the national Plant Heritage Collection, and confirming Malcolm’s pointing these out on the earlier University walk down the valley between the two ponds!  Here they were joined by Eucalyptus and New Zealand Flax trees amongst a number of others too. Coming out of this area we came back to the main Quad area at the centre of the site.  

All along the path beside various buildings including the Library, the slightly acid soil allows camellias, rhododendrons and…..yes, you’ve guessed it…..more of the elusive Azaras!!!  The library wall also creates another micro-climate where even plants from Asia and the Himalayas grow happily!


Finally we had a quick peep at the inside of the Chapel, although unfortunately it was in use so we were unable to see it at length.  Here the walk finally ended with some of us having a coffee stop at the café before going our various ways home.






All talks are now on the second Thursday of alternate months (February, April, June, August, October & December).                                          All meetings start at 7 pm and are held at JURYS INN, Western Way, Exeter EX1 2DB.                                                                  Free parking is available from 6pm in the Triangle Car Park at the rear of Jurys.                                                                                Walks/visits are usually on the second Wednesday of alternate months (January, March, May, July, September November). 

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