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Map found in attic shows how Exeter looked in 18th century

The map depicts the city when it had a thriving woollen cloth industry and was produced by William Birchynshaw.

Exeter Cathedral (David Davies/AP)
Exeter Cathedral (David Davies/AP)

A rare map found in an attic gives an extraordinary glimpse into 18th century life in Exeter before radical changes to the landscape and industry transformed the city.

The mysterious engraving was not known about by experts or archivists until now and it incredibly unusual for new maps of English towns and cities produced hundreds of years ago to be discovered.

Historians think the map is a one-off and never used as another, produced in a more modern, fashionable style, was made by someone else soon after.

The engraving shows life in 18th century Exeter in incredible detail at the time at the height of the dominance in the woollen cloth industry.

It was produced by William Birchynshaw and is entitled A Platform Of The City Of Exon.

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The historic map of Exeter (Todd Gray/University of Exeter/PA)

Birchynshaw illustrates how the city’s landscape was dominated by cloth drying racks in what is now Colleton Crescent and along the river Exe above the Quay.

It is thought this is the last depiction of this industry by a cartographer, as soon after the cloth industry in the area died, and soon after many of the Georgian streets and crescents were built.

The map, produced in 1743, also contains one of the few images of the former friary and later mansion Bedford House, birthplace of King Charles I’s daughter Princess Henrietta, which was later knocked down in 1773 to make room for Bedford Circus.

The Georgian terrace was destroyed by the Blitz and was replaced with the Princesshay shopping area.

University of Exeter historian Dr Todd Gray, who now owns the map, said: “It’s really rare to discover a map of new Exeter produced hundreds of years ago.

“In this case it’s possible the map was a one-off, we haven’t been able to source any other copies, despite checking many archives.

“The fact it depicts areas by the way they look, with pictures, rather than including street names, may have made it look old fashioned, and we know a more up-to-date map was produced the year after.

“But you can still use the map to orient yourself, and it’s special to see a map of this Elizabethan-looking style, before they became more clinical-looking.”

The map was discovered in the attic of an old lady who had died and was sold at auction to Dr Gray.

It will be displayed at St Nicholas Priory, off Fore Street, on June 15.

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