Even before the events of last week, it seemed like there weren’t many beautiful old buildings left in Exeter. The Baedeker Blitz – in which the Nazis attacked British cities of cultural and historical signiﬁcance – rapidly turned our beloved city from “the Jewel of the West” to what I can only describe as a hastily-rebuilt ode to concrete. So when I ﬁrst heard about the hotel’s destruction early on Friday morning – and the threat of the ﬁ re spreading – I was gutted. But I have to confess, the media’s response made far too much about this being “the oldest hotel in England”. A quick bit of research reveals that the owner at the time was French, and decided ‘hôtel’ was a better name than ‘inn’ – hardly groundbreaking. I like to think our constant
obsession with the ﬁrst, oldest or best shouldn’t matter, either.
I’d question how much the average person actually knew about the building before the ﬁre
The hotel was still a pretty piece of architecture at the heart of the city, and there’s now an empty gap in the facades which wrap around Cathedral Green, which is a shame however you look at it. Although the whole nation has reacted appropriately to this tragic ‘loss of history’, I’d question how much the average person actually knew about the building before the ﬁre (myself included). So I’ve had a quick look through www.exetermemories.co.uk to gather together some choice morsels of history. It’s a wonderful website, and I’d fully recommend taking a look – it’s an incredible local archive, and exactly the sort of thing we should be celebrating considering the recent events.
The site also made me realise that instead of getting too upset about the Clarence’s destruction, we should above all be thankful for the exceptional work of the ﬁ re services to protect the rest of the city: like the gorgeous, timberframed Tudor Mansion House behind the hotel, now home to Laura Ashley. Once we’ve mourned the things that we’ve lost, let’s start to celebrate the things that remain…
Admiral Nelson was awarded the freedom of the city, but he rejected the banquet which had been put on at the Guildhall, and chose instead to eat back at the hotel.
The dead body of the Duke of Kent was kept overnight at the hotel, before transportation to his funeral at Windsor
The hotel was renamed in recognition of the Duchess of Clarence (wife of future king, William IV), and the building was restyled to ﬁt an Egyptian theme.
Pianist and composer Franz Liszt performed there while travelling the country with a small ensemble.
Rumour has it that the police have no power on its premises, due to its ecclesiastical heritage – only the verger of the Cathedral can lock up drunk