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 on the hill above the river Exe, where a Celtic settlement already existed. The Legion had been a major part of the invasion of Britain under the […]

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 With Italy itself under attack by Goths and other Germanic tribes, the Legions were gradually withdrawn from the outlying parts of the Empire. This left Exeter and other cities vulnerable to attack by Saxons, Irish and […]

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 off her head with a scythe, and where it fell, water sprang up. This became the well of St Sidwell, revered for the miracle and […]

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. At Pinhoe they were met by the county army of Devon estimated to be around 1500 men, whom they defeated. The site of the battle is […]

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 cemetery outside the city walls. The need for a cemetery indciates that the community had already been there for some time. Thus was founded Exeter’s […]

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 moneylenders, men and women, who lived against the backdrop of turbulent european politics and growing persecution. Mediaeval Jewish Moneylenders Images from ‘The King’s Jews’ showing […]

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 by Edward I in 1290.

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 Alien Subsidy was the first of its kind, and it was collected off and on until 1487. The collection of such a tax led to […]

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 London, via Plymouth, en route to marry Prince Arthur, the eldest son of Henry VII, and brother of the future Henry VIII. Catherine was 15 […]

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 two years after his historic meeting with Francis I of France at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. The constables of each parish in the […]

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 two years after his historic meeting with Francis I of France at the Field of the Cloth of Gold.  The constables of each parish in the […]

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 found. Manillas were armlets cast from bronze and copper (red gold) and used as currency and status symbols in West Africa. They were traded by […]

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 Atlantic for sale in Hispaniola. Hawkins is sometimes credited with inventing the triangular slave trade, making a profit on each leg of the voyage. Astoundingly, he was […]

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 husband John Rolfe, their son Thomas, and 11 of her fellow Powhatans. They travelled to London, where she was presented as a Princess. In the […]

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 being it is a variant of ‘Black Moor’ denoting a dark skinned person of North African origin. The parish records of St. Mary Major Church […]

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 the parliamentary leader the Earl of Stamford of ‘resorting to the worst kind of men to fill his ranks and dredging the local gaols for […]

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 return to Exeter in 1695, Pitts live peacefully in Exeter, publishing his book in 1704. Paul Auchterlonie of Exeter university has produced the definitive edition […]

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. Exeter university’s Paul Auchterlonie has written a definitive work covering Pitts and the context, published in 2011. Cover shown here. Ghee Bowman has written a […]

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,  he claimed the English throne from the Catholic James II. An account was written at the time about his passage through Exeter. We can imagine the […]

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 and the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV in 1685. There followed an exodus of French Protestants, to neighbouring Protestant countries like […]

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, now owned by the County Council. His sons John and Francis founded Barings Bank, which collapsed in 1995 after Nick Leeson gambled and lost a fortune in […]

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 around 1745-1797.  His autobiography “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African” depicts the horrors of slavery and influenced the […]

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 the summer of 2013 to mark this occasion.  For Telling Our Stories…  ‘The Jewish Community of Exeter’  has been researched by volunteer Olivia Hall and […]

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 a son of Poltimore, his mother’s ancestry can be traced to the Codrington Sugar Barons of the Caribbean whose money and power derived from the profits of […]

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, the Bampfyldes of Poltimore House near Exeter. His rapid descent into disrepute and dissipation culminated in a total mental breakdown aged just 24. Subsequently he […]

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 the Abolition of the Slave Trade and helped achieve passing of the Slave Trade Act of 1807, which ended British trade in slaves. Described by the […]

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 those who supported the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade founded by Thomas Clarkson in 1787. Di has compiled a fascinating array of […]

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 come from and where was he going? We simply don’t know…

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. His address, ‘A Call for the British Nation to Testify Against Slavery’ was delivered at the Royal Subscription Rooms on Northernhay Place. In his speech, he addressed […]

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 St Davids station” and is almost certainly a drawing of Prince Alemayehu, son of Tewodros II of Ethiopia, who killed himself after the Battle of Magdala, […]

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, Fisk was the destination of the fictional character Louis Gaines in the 2013 film The Butler, starring Forest Whitaker. Louis Gaines, played by British actor David Oyelowo, attends Fisk […]

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 in Bengal from 1864 to 1876. He has lived in the Museum since then. In 2013, three members of Exeter’s Hindu community worked with the […]

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 1915) was a Scottish, United Presbyterian missionary who went to work in what is now known as Nigeria, in the nineteenth century, with the Calabar […]

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 came to Devon. In Exeter, they were welcomed by a committee based at 24 Southernhay West. According to recent research, Agatha Christie based her Hercule Poirot […]

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 – a team selected from the best players in the country. This was the first international match played by Brazil. The game took place in Rio […]

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 across the country selling onions. Often wearing traditional berets and striped tops, they carried their rose-pink onions on bicycles, and sold them door-to-door. They were […]

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 region in the 1930’s. Hector has compiled an informative summary of the Blackshirts in Exeter which includes a list of locations of interest in the […]

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 of the fourth company were taken prisoner. The 25th Company spent some time in Devon. Between November 1940 and May 1941 they were stationed at […]

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 the ‘Lwow Eagle Owls’, after the Polish city of Lwow. They flew Beaufighters and Mosquitoes, suitable for night flying. Community researcher Sally Ayres has written […]

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 that that had been formed between the squadron and the city in the war. Pilots of the 307 squadron flew to protect Exeter from the […]

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 presence in Exeter which included billeted troops and those based in Topsham Barracks. During this time US Army had a policy of segregating black and white […]

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 in St Thomas Exeter was home to a number of all black US Army battalions. The US military had a policy of segregating black and […]

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 Americans and the Polish airmen were out there then. And it was a lovely sight on D-day morning – it was a lovely morning, quite […]

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 White woman, and her father was a Black sea captain, probably from Jamaica. Councillor Olwen Foggin interviewed Mrs Hendy in 2000 for an exhibition on […]

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 30s and early 40s (we hope to have her story on our timeline soon). Vivien went to Bishop Blackall school from 1942 to 1948. There, she showed […]

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 an Indian restaurant. Before 1958, it would not have been possible to eat noodles or fried rice or green curry in Exeter. This photo 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 passed away in May 2013.

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 figures, hidden historical gems and individual testimonies in a way that is personal and educational. Gordon and Sasi Report FINAL In 1958 Sam Fat Law […]

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. He is the second from the left in the middle row. He was the first Exeter player to be capped for his country, when he […]

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. The full back had previously played for Wrexham. Steve later emigrated to Australia – read an interview with him. Thanks to Andy Beer and Martin […]

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 timeline (courtesy of the Express & Echo) shows the Arain family being welcomed to Newton Abbot by council chairman Frances Humpherson. One of our project […]

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 his favourite places in Exeter when he was a student here (1998-2001).

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 schools pages of this website.

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 been plantation owners on the island for generations. Rhys lived in the Devon village of Cheriton Fitzpaine, near Crediton, from 1960 until her death in […]

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 it has become an essential part of the Exeter calendar. See some of local photographer Clive Chilvers’ photos of Respect festivals across the years. More information on […]

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. Noel went on to manage the England Under 19 team.

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 unique landmark on the Exeter university campus. The IAIS Street Gallery is a dedicated exhibition space and there is a visiting speaker seminar series during […]

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 print but is available to read here. There is an accompanying trail to this booklet Starting to Trace Black History in Devon.  Lucy’s in-depth research […]

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 certificates to graduates. One graduate said “I loved my Masters graduation because of Floella, she has so much energy and is clearly passionate about wanting […]

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 used to have a house in Topsham near Exeter on the River Exe. When you get there, immediately all the cares of London life seem […]

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 2011. Read more about the history of Exeter’s mosque and the Muslim community in this paper by our volunteers Nazima Khan and Mona Abou Bakr […]

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 was opened in October 2011.

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 Festival Ruth Gidley, Rob Mackenzie and many of their colleagues at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) have provided wonderful help at many points, milestones being the research […]

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 which runs until 2015.  The Arabic word ‘Al Mustaqubal’, which means the future, wraps itself around the cube.  The cube is an interpretation of how religious belief is expressed […]

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 four thousand mile trip from Jaipur. Its presence was requested by members of the local Hindu community, who felt it would be helpful for staff […]