St Catherine's Chapel & Almshouses
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: 13th century fireplaces in Canon's House
The most obvious remains belong to the almshouse, built in 1458 by Canon John Stevens of Exeter Cathedral. Canon Stevens intended his almshouses to provide accommodation for 13 men 'of good character' and he gave an annuity of 17s 4d to maintain the property. Preference was given to men with a connection to the Cathedral or one of its canons. In the 17th and 18th century the almshouse regulations were relaxed to permit married couples, then tightened again to allow only widows or single women.
A chapel was built beside the almshouses, and you will often hear the site referred to as St Catherine's Chapel. The chapel is the most striking part of the ruins, and still stands to its full height, though with no roof or windows. The chapel was once divided into 2 floors, linked by an internal stair, but there is no evidence of the upper floor now. The chapel eventually fell out of use and was used as a carpenter's shop.
In the process of making the site safe the council tore down much of the almshouse walls, leaving the chapel as the best-preserved part of the site.
Excavations have revealed that the almshouse stands beside part of the 1st century Roman fort established to house the II Augusta Legion in AD50. A pair of granite posts within the almshouse ruins mark the location of a timber watchtower on the eastern rampart of the fort.
The southern half of the site holds the remains of a 13th century dwelling built for a canon of Exeter Cathedral. The house stood just within the cathedral precinct wall. It is perhaps hard to imagine when you see the site today, dominated by the chapel, that the canon's house was 3 to 4 times larger than the almshouses. The Canon's House still has a pair of medieval fireplaces, part of a lage kitchen chamber.
The lowest levels display Roman finds, and as you rise further up the glass the finds become more modern. Some obvious artefacts include a medieval pot and a glass bottle twisted by the heat of the 1942 bomb blast. Another innovative feature is that quotes from the almshouse records have been carved into the flagstones. It is fascinating to read the accounts, such as:
"Saturday the Twelfth Day of September 1772
They ordered That the Hatch belonging to the Dog Whipper's Room in St Catherines Alms House, be repaired."
St Catherines is an open site, located on Egypt Lane, off Catherine Street.
About St Catherine's Chapel & Almshouses
Address: Catherine Street, Exeter, Devon, England
Attraction Type: Historic Building
Location: Off St Catherine's Street in the Princesshay district, open access
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest
Exeter, St Martin's Church - 0.1 miles (Historic Church)
Exeter's Underground Passages - 0.1 miles (Historic Building)
Exeter Cathedral - 0.1 miles (Cathedral)
Exeter, St Pancras Church - 0.2 miles (Historic Church)
Exeter Guildhall - 0.2 miles (Historic Building)
Exeter, St Olave's Church - 0.3 miles (Historic Church)
St Nicholas Priory - 0.3 miles (Historic Building)
Quay House - 0.4 miles (Museum)
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