Custom House, Exeter
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: 17th century plasterwork ceilings
The Custom HouseIn the 18th century Exeter was one of the busiest ports in England, its commerce fuelled by the wealth of its woollen cloth industry. The flow of trade through Exeter's busy quay meant that some form of control was needed to regulate - and tax - the goods before they entered the city. The answer was the Custom House, built in 1680 beside Watergate.
It is the oldest purpose-built custom house in England, and the original 17th century office fittings make it a building of national historic importance. The combination of early use of brick, Renaissance facade, and superb plasterwork make it one of Devon's finest historic buildings.
Behind the storage area was the King's Stove, where smuggled goods could be burned. You can still see a fireplace with a cast iron door and a flue, but it isn't clear if this is a remnant of the original King's Stove.
One of the best interior features is the open-well staircase, decorated with beautifully carved vallusters and wooden panels. One of the offices in the rear of the first floor retains its original 17th century cupboards - an unusual survival.
At right angles to the Custom House is a late 17th century warehouse, in similar style.
The Waterloo CannonsIn front of the Custom House are a pair of cannon. These are traditionally said to have been used at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, but the truth is a little less dramatic but quite a bit more complicated. They were in fact, part of a set sold to Russia to serve aboard Russian warships. After Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo they were given back, and 4 were marked for use on the Wellington memorial on the Blackdown Hills in Somerset.
The Custom House has been transformed into a modern visitor centre, offering full tourism services including accommodation booking and local information. See an exhibit on the historic Quayside and explore 2,000 years of Exeter's history from Roman times to the present. Displays show how the wollen cloth trade evolved, with models and historic artefacts such as tenter hooks for stretching wet cloth on frames to dry.
Regular themed walking tours depart from in front of the Custom House. A few steps away is Quay House, where goods were unloaded and stored.
About Custom House
Address: Exeter Quay, Exeter, Devon, England, EX2 4AN
Attraction Type: Historic Building
Location: On Exeter's historic Quayside. Well signposted. Free entry.
Website: Custom House
Phone: 01392 271611
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest
Quay House - 0 miles (Museum)
Cricklepit Mill - 0.1 miles (Historic Building)
The House that Moved - 0.2 miles (Historic Building)
Tucker's Hall - 0.2 miles (Historic Building)
Exeter, St Olave's Church - 0.3 miles (Historic Church)
Exeter Old Bridge - 0.3 miles (Historic Building)
Exeter Cathedral - 0.3 miles (Cathedral)
St Nicholas Priory - 0.3 miles (Historic Building)
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