Exeter, in South West England, is the county-town of Devon. It is a city that people often assume has always been White Anglo-Saxon. Our team of community researchers have discovered that this is only partly true.

Since its beginning in Roman times, through Saxon and Viking invaders, Medieval Jews, ‘aliens’ (an historic word for ‘foreigner’), enslaved Africans and the twentieth century Windrush Generation, Exeter has been, and continues to be, a strongly multicultural city.

Explore the timeline below to learn more about the people and groups who have lived, worked or passed through the city during its history.

City of Exeter founded by Roman II Augusta Legion

1st January 0055

Vespasian (Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasianus Augustus), as depicted in the coin, was the Leader of the II Augusta legion that arrived in Exeter around AD55 and set up their fortified camp […]

Romans leave Exeter

1st January 0410

The year 410 is the one traditionally given for the Romans leaving Britannia. We cannot be sure, of course. With Italy itself under attack by Goths and other Germanic tribes, […]

St Sidwell martyred outside city walls

1st January 0740

Legend says that Sidwell was a Saxon Christian girl living in Exeter in the 8th century. Her stepmother wanted her killed, and hired a reaper to do the job. He cut […]

Battle of Pinhoe: Vikings and Saxons

1st January 1001

  In the summer of 1001, Vikings ravaged the coast of Devon from a base in Exmouth. Around 4000 Vikings, driven away from the city walls, attacked Topsham and Clyst St Mary. […]

Sweyn Forkbeard burns Exeter

1st January 1002

Sweyn Forkbeard (King of Norway, father of English King Canute) attacked and sacked the city, burning the Minster and most of the buildings.

Cemetery granted to Exeter’s Jews

1st January 1177

Jews started to come into England after the Norman Conquest. The first record of a Jewish presence in Exeter was in 1177, when a law was passed granting them a […]

The King’s Jews

18th December 1177

In The King’s Jews Community Researcher Myra Fonceca takes us back to the middle ages in her study of Exeter’s mediaeval Jewish community revealing individual stories of Exeter’s chirographers and […]

Expulsion of Exeter’s Jews

1st January 1290

‘The King’s Jews’ by Myra Fonceca examines the history of  Exeter’s mediaeval Jewish community first recorded in the city in 1181, and sheds light on the century preceding the expulsion […]

Henry VI taxes all foreigners living in Exeter

1st January 1440

In 1440, King Henry VI needed money for his exchequer. Feelings against foreigners in the country were strong at the time, so parliament decided to ‘soak the foreigners’. The 1440 […]

Catherine of Aragon and her African servants in Exeter

1st January 1501

Catherine of Aragon, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, whose divorce caused the foundation of the Church of England, visited Exeter in 1501. She was travelling from Spain to […]

Peter Blackmore: Exeter’s first Black resident?

1st January 1522

In 1522, Henry VIII ordered a military survey of the whole of England, to see who was ready for war, and to measure the wealth of his subjects. This was […]

Henry VIII’s Military Survey

22nd March 1522

In 1522, Henry VIII ordered a military survey of the whole of England, to see who was ready for war, and to measure the wealth of his subjects. This was […]

Foundry in Cowick Street making bronze manillas

1st January 1525

The foundry in St Thomas, Cowick Street/Albany Road, is dated from 1525-1625 and was owned by John Birdall. It closed when he died. During excavations in 1984, manilla moulds were […]

John Hawkins’ Slave Raids

1st January 1562

John Hawkins (born in Plymouth in 1532) conducted the first of his three slave raids on the coast of West Africa in 1562, capturing people and taking them across the […]

Pocahontas in Exeter?

12th June 1616

The epic story of Native American woman Pocahontas (1596-1617) has fascinated people for generations and here we find a local connection. Pocahontas landed at Plymouth on June 12th 1616, with her […]

Thomas, son of a blackmore

26th January 1632

What is meant by a ‘blackmore’ ? ‘Blackmore’ is a variant of the archaic and derogatory ‘blackamoor’ which appeared circa 1500s and was common parlance in Elizabethan England.  One interpration […]

Turkish soldiers at the siege of Exeter

1st January 1643

During the English Civil War, Exeter was besieged twice, once by the Royalists, and later by the Parliamentary forces. According to an article by Robert Hodkinson of the Sealed Knot,  royalists accused […]

Joseph Pitts from Exeter becomes the first Englishman to visit Mecca

1st January 1685

Born in Exeter in 1663, Joseph Pitts was captured by pirates and sold as a slave in Algiers. His third master took him to Mecca on the Hajj. After his […]

Joseph Pitts of Exon: the first Englishman in Mecca

18th December 1685

Exeter man Joseph Pitts (1663?-1739) was the first Englishman to perform the Hajj and visit Mecca and Medina. He published a fascinating account of his travels and observations in 1704. […]

200 Black Soldiers escort William of Orange into Exeter

5th November 1688

On November 5th 1688 William of Orange, a Protestant prince from the Netherlands, landed in Brixham in south Devon. As a grandson of Charles I, and husband of Princess Mary, […]

120 Huguenots worshipping at St Olaves

1st January 1715

“Huguenots” was the name given to French Protestants from the 16th century onwards. They were persecuted by the ruling Catholics, especially after the Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Day in 1572 […]

Father of Baring’s Bank founder moves to Exeter from Bremen

1st January 1717

In 1717, the young Johann Baring moved to Exeter from Bremen in Germany. He liked the place, was naturalised in 1723 and changed his name to John. He bought Larkbeare House, […]

Portrait of an African

1st January 1757

The enigma of this iconic painting, Portrait of an African, challenged experts for many years. It was previously thought that the sitter was prominent Nigerian abolitionist and writer, Olaudah Equiano, who lived […]

Exeter Synagogue opens

10th August 1763

Exeter Synagogue is the third oldest Synagogue in the UK, it opened on the 10th August 1763 and celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2013. Helen Fry’s Book ‘The Jews of Exeter’ was published in […]

John Codrington Bampfylde publishes a poem against slavery

1st January 1778

John Codrington Bampfylde (1754 – 1797) was born into the powerful and prominent Westcountry family the Bampfyldes of Poltimore House on the outskirts of Exeter. The poet’s name reveals he was not just […]

Poltimore Poet

22nd March 1778

Poltimore Poet, an article about poet John Codrington Bampfylde (1754-1797) by volunteer Community Researcher, Miranda Harvey.  John Bampfylde was a gifted young poet and musician born into the prominent Westcountry family, […]

Leading Abolitionist Thomas Clarkson visits Exeter

1st November 1788

Thomas Clarkson (28 March 1760 – 26 September 1846) English abolitionist and leading campaigner against the slave trade in the British Empire. He helped found in 1787 The Society for Effecting […]

Exeter’s Abolitionists

18th December 1788

Community Researcher, Di Cooper (with Chantal Kouadio), investigates the Slavery Abolition Movement in Exeter uncovering significant support from the people of Exeter, with leading Quakers, Unitarians, MPs and businessmen among […]

Mr White, a Black Beggar

1st January 1823

A drawing from a sketchbook in the Devon Record Office, by J Harris. Who was this man? Where did Harris draw him? How long was he in Exeter? Where had he […]

A local family receives vast sums when slavery is abolished

30th November 1835

While the British slave trade was abolished in 1807, it was not until 1833 that an Act to abolish slavery itself was finally passed by the British Parliament.

Frederick Douglass visits Exeter to address abolitionists

28th August 1846

On 28 August 1846, former slave and abolitionist, Frederick Douglass visited Exeter as part of a tour of the UK to generate support for the abolition of slavery in the United States. […]

Ethiopian Prince at St Davids station

1st January 1871

This drawing come from a sketchbook at Devon Record Office entitled ‘Portraits of Devonshire Characters’ by Tucker. More sketches in our gallery page. The title is “Prince of Abyssinia sketched at […]

Fisk University Jubilee Singers perform at Victoria Hall

19th August 1875

On 19th August 1875, the Fisk University Jubilee Singers gave a concert at Exeter’s Victoria Hall, situated on Queen St where Exeter College Victoria House is now. Among many other claims to fame, […]

Ganesh comes to Exeter

1st January 1879

This beautiful statue of the Hindu deity Ganesh lives in Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum. He was brought to Exeter by Sir John Budd Phear of Exmouth, who was a High Court judge […]

Mary Slessor and her adopted Nigerian daughter move to Topsham

1st January 1885

The story of Mary Slessor and adopted Nigerian daughter Atim Eso, aka Janie Annan Slessor, and their visits to Topsham, Devon, in 1885 and 1891, By Community Researcher Sally Ayres.

Mary Slessor

18th December 1885

Scottish missionary Mary Slessor and her adopted Nigerian daughter Atim Eso, aka Janie Annan Slessor, visited Topsham, Devon, in 1885 and 1891. Mary Slessor (2 December 1848 – 13 January […]

Belgian refugees in Exeter

1st January 1914

At the start of World War One, hundreds of thousands of Belgian citizens fled their homes before the advancing Germans. Over 200,000 settled in the UK, of whom around 8,000 […]

Exeter City vs. Brazil

27th July 1914

In 1914 Exeter City toured in South America, playing 8 matches in Argentina & Brazil. On July 27th (1 week before Britain entered the Great War) they played a Brazil selecao […]

Peak year for French Onion Sellers in Exeter

1st January 1929

Throughout the nineteenth century and the first half of the 20th century, young men from Britanny came across the channel from Roscoff to Plymouth and other ports, and fanned out […]

Mosley’s Blackshirts

18th December 1937

Community Researcher Hector Niel-Mee has explored the history of the British Union of Facists (BUF) presence in Exeter and how Mosley and the Blackshirts were active in the city and […]

Indian soldiers in Devon

1st May 1941

The four Mule Companies of the Royal Indian Army Service Corps were part of the British Expeditionary Force in France before Dunkirk. Three companies were evacuated at Dunkirk, the men […]

Polish Nightfighter Squadron

22nd March 1942

Between April 1941 and April 1943, Exeter was guarded by a squadron of Polish airmen, based at Exeter airport. They were the 307 squadron, known as  the ‘Night Owls’ or […]

Polish 307 Squadron RAF present flag to the city

15th November 1942

On Nov 15th 1942 the Squadron Leader of 307 Squadron presented the Polish Flag to the Mayor of Exeter in front of Exeter Cathedral in recognition of the close links […]

Black American GIs arrive in Exeter

30th September 1943

From 30 September 1943 to 30 June 1944 a number of African-American US troops units were based at the County Ground in St Thomas. They were part of the overall US military […]

Black G.I.s

18th December 1943

Community Researcher, Crystal Carter, has extensively researched the story of Exeter’s Black GIs and how Exeter was a segregated city during World War II. Between 1943 and 1944, County Ground […]

Mrs Hendy witnessing gliders on D-Day

6th June 1944

Mrs Dorothea Hendy worked for Sleeman’s at Exeter airport during the war. In an interview with Councillor Olwen Foggin, recorded in 2000, she recalled D-Day at the airport. “D-day came… the […]

Mrs Hendy of Wonford

18th December 1944

Mrs Hendy lived in Exeter for over 60 years, 52 of them in the same house in Wonford. She was born in Cornwall in 1917: her mother was a local […]

Exeter Girl stars with Sidney Poitier

1st January 1951

Vivien Clinton, who was black, was born in 1931 or 1932, possibly in Dorset. Her mother was Madame Josephine, who ran a herbalist shop in Clifton Road in the late […]

Exeter’s First Chinese Restaurant

1st January 1958

In 1958 Sam Fat Law and his partners opened the first Chinese restaurant the “Rice Bowl” in Exeter. It was located at number 13 North Street, currently the site of […]

Law Family Album

22nd March 1958

Archive photographs from the research into Exeter’s Chinese Community by volunteers Gordon Chan and Sasi Phlongplenis.  Photos by kind permission of the Law Family. This page is dedicated to Mr. Law who […]

Exeter’s Chinese Community

18th December 1958

Community Researchers, Gordon Chan and Sasiporn Phongploenpis, have researched the city’s Chinese Minority and its Contribution to Diversity in Exeter; Gordon and Sasi have worked together to collate facts and […]

Irish international Dermot Curtis signs for Exeter City

1st August 1963

Irish international Demot Curtis played for Exeter City from 1963 to 1966 and again from 1967 to 1969. He had over 150 league appearances for the Grecians, and scored 33 goals. […]

Steve Stacey: Exeter City’s first Black player

1st January 1971

              Bristol-Born Steve Stacey was Exeter’s first Black player. He played for the Grecians for two years, with 59 appearances between 1971 and 1973. […]

Ugandan Asians arrive in Devon

4th August 1972

On August 4th 1972, Idi Amin ordered all Ugandan Asians to leave the country. Over 27,000 came to the UK, where many were put in temporary camps. The photo on the […]

Opening of Heera’s – Exeter’s First Continental Supermarket

1st January 1975

Originally known as H.A Kasba, Heera’s was the first ‘Continental Supermarket’ in Exeter. You can find it on Wells Street, opposite St Sidwell school. The singer Will Young listed it as one of […]

Exeter’s first mosque

11th September 1977

Exeter’s first mosque was at 15 York Road, opened on 11th September 1977. 17 people were involved in the organising committee. For more information, look at the PowerPoint and teacher’s notes on the […]

Acclaimed novelist Jean Rhys dies in Exeter

14th May 1979

Famous twentieth century novelist Jean Rhys was born Ella Gwendoline Rees Williams in Rouseau, Dominica 1894, the daughter of a Welsh doctor and a White Creole mother, whose family had […]

Exeter’s first Respect festival

1st January 1997

Exeter’s annual Respect festival started in 1997, with the slogan ‘All different, all equal’. Originally held at the Phoenix arts centre, since 2007 it has been at Belmont Park, where […]

Noel Blake: Exeter City’s first Black manager

1st January 2000

Noel Blake, born in Kingston, Jamaica, joined Exeter as a player/assistant manager in 1995, and played 147 games for the Club. He was appointed manager of the Grecians in 2000. […]

Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies Building opens

1st January 2001

The Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies building was opened by Sheikh Sultan bin Mohamed Al-Qasimi of Sharjah in 2001. It’s distinctive architectural design evokes the region and has become a […]

Local Black History, a beginning…

1st January 2003

‘Local Black History, a beginning in Devon’ researched by Historian Lucy MacKeith was published by the Archive and Museum of Black Heritage in 2003,  the booklet is now out of […]

Floella Benjamin installed as Chancellor of Exeter University

1st January 2006

Floella Benjamin, loved by generations of children for her work on Playschool, was installed as Chancellor of Exeter University in 2006. The Role of Chancellor is a ceremonial one, that includes presenting […]

Trevor McDonald lists Topsham as his favourite place in Britain

15th August 2009

The BBC’s Trevor McDonald lived for several years in Topsham. In an interview with the Independent in 2009, he was asked about his favourite place in the British Isles. He said: “We […]

Purpose-built Mosque Opens

1st October 2011

There has been a mosque in Exeter since 1976, on York Road. The first mosque was in a Victorian house at no 15. The purpose-built mosque was opened in October […]

Exeter Mosque

17th December 2011

There has been a mosque in Exeter since 1976, on York Road. The first mosque was in a Victorian house at no 15.  The purpose-built Exeter Mosque and Islamic Centre […]

Project Partners

22nd March 2013

We are very grateful to the following individuals, schools and organisations who have helped us throughout the project: Thanks to Refugee Support Group Devon–Exeter Cathedral–Exeter Community Centre–Devon and Exeter Institution–Police Museum–Respect […]

Islamic Reformulations Futurecube at the Cathedral

7th September 2013

International street artist Mohammed Ali aka Aerosol Arabic displayed his unique FutureCube outside Exeter Cathedral during August and September 2013. The FutureCube was initially exhibited at Exeter University, part of the Islamic Reformulations project […]

Hindu Deity arrives at RD&E Hospital Chaplaincy Centre

14th October 2013

14th October 2013: A marble deity of Lord Shiva finally arrived at the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital, a journey that took over two years, many hours of craftsmanship and a […]