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Lower Knapp Farm

Devon, England

What lies beneath?

Posted by Luci Ackers on Jan 29, 2016
Exeter in South Devon
Exeter in South Devon
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Discover a whole new side to Exeter that you never knew existed!

The city of Exeter in south Devon has a long and interesting history, having once been home to the Romans, the Saxons and even, briefly, the Vikings. It was during the medieval period, however, that the city truly began to flourish. The iconic cathedral was originally founded in the 11th century and the building we see today was complete from the 1400s. With many alterations and expansions over the years it is a combination of different architectural styles; some of the earliest features date from the 13th century.

The city was an important one with protective town walls first built by the Romans and strengthened throughout the ensuing years. In 1346 it was decided that fresh water should be transported from natural springs outside the walls and straight to the heart of the city – the cathedral.

This first passageway culminated in a fountain in the cathedral's close and was to serve the city's clergy with fresh, clean water. The stonemasons working on the cathedral at the time were sent underground to line the large tunnel walls with stone. This made them easy to access for repair work.

Next a passageway was built for the townsfolk, and soon after that the wealthier merchants began to want their very own water supplies. Soon the tunnel system grew into a labyrinthine network of subterranean passageways, winding their way beneath the city.

They supplied Exeter with water right up until 1857. But with the changing times, the modernisation of the city and damage to one of the tunnels, they fell out of use. By the early 1900s they were almost forgotten. Over their eventful lifetime these passageways have withstood extensions and improvements, aided a large outbreak of cholera in 1832, and acted as an air raid shelter during WWII, when one section safely housed around 300 people!

These incredible underground passageways are the only ones of their kind in Britain and, amazingly, much of the original medieval structure is still in place today as part of the 425-metre system that remains. This is now open to the public to explore as part of a guide tour. But be warned – if you're claustrophobic, it's not for you! Though the walkways are large and standing height in areas, other parts definitely require more of a scramble!

Before heading in to this unusual attraction visitors pass through the Exeter Interpretation Centre which has interactive displays and information. It is a good idea to book your tour in advance because they can get busy. Take a look at opening times and prices here > exeter.gov.uk/passages

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Luci Ackers
Author: Luci Ackers

Luci loves getting out and about for a good cycle ride or easy-going walks in the countryside, and thoroughly enjoyed the time she previously spent working for the National Trust. Her love of writing started from a young age and on rainy days nothing beats curling up in a secret corner with a good book.


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