Did you know that just off Fore Street, where Exeter’s independent traders have their colourful and eclectic shops and cafes, you can walk down Mint Lane and find Exeter’s oldest building, St Nicholas Priory? Built in 1087 as one of many priories in Exeter, it was turned into a Tudor town house after the dissolution. This is probably how most people nowadays remember it – as a rich merchant’s house with a beautifully panelled parlour and a multitude of fascinating replica tools in the old kitchens.
But there is also the unspoilt Norman undercroft, the medieval Great Hall, the bedchamber, and – across Mint Lane in what used to be the North Wing of the original building – the well-preserved arch-braced roof in the upper chamber.
The gardens, and the courtyard where the cloisters used to be, have Quince trees and magnolias, and in the sun the rosemary and lavender make it easy to imagine a peaceful community of monks or a Tudor cook busy in the herb garden. The Wisteria arch is something to behold when in bloom, and one quickly forgets the hustle and bustle of the high street, only a short, five-minute walk away.
This hidden gem in the West Quarter of Exeter’s historic city centre is looked after by Exeter Historic Buildings Trust, a local charity run by volunteers and a small team of dedicated experts ensuring the continuation of the building as an integral part of the city’s history. A heritage site cum community hub to be proud of, our neighbours would agree.
Opening to the public from 23rd May, visitors will step into the past and explore over 900 years of Exeter’s history. With reenactors and reenactment events, entry to the building and gardens will be free of charge to all, and welcoming stewards will be happy to share their knowledge of and passion for the building. Keep an eye on our website www.nicholaspriory.com or social media @nixpriory for family activities, workshops, shows and concerts, as well as talks and lectures, and drop us a line to say Hello.
With the weather playing ball, our gardens are coming into their own, and we can finally embark on our new garden project: a modern, medicinal herb garden. Interested? We’ll be back again soon with more news.
As always, be in touch and stay safe, Judith
Dr J Morgane, manager (St Nicholas Priory, Exeter)