City and administrative headquarters of Devon, England, on the River Exe; population (2001) 106,800. Principal industries are brewing, iron and brass founding, light engineering, printing, financial services, and tourism. Other industries include the manufacture of agricultural machinery, textiles, and leather goods. Exeter was founded by the Romans as Isca Dumnoniorum and has medieval, Georgian, and Regency architecture. Exeter Cathedral was built largely between 1280 and 1369. Exeter University was established in 1955.
A cathedral was first established at Exeter in 1050, and the Normans rebuilt it between 1107 and 1137. The present cathedral is mainly in the Decorated style, but includes two Norman towers; it has a 14th-century west front with many sculptured figures, and its fine ceiling is the longest stretch of Gothic vaulting in the world. The Cathedral Library contains the Exeter Book, a collection of Anglo-Saxon poetry. It also includes the Exeter Domesday Book, the episcopal and chapter archives, and many city archives.
Cathedral Close has buildings dating from medieval to Georgian times, including the Elizabethan Mol's Coffee House. The Guildhall (1330) is one of the oldest surviving civic buildings in England; it has a portico dating from about 1595, and its hall has a fine 15th-century roof. Sections of the Roman and medieval walls survive, and there are some remains of Rougemont Castle. Other features include part of the Benedictine Priory of St Nicholas, the Custom House (1681), and the Maritime Museum at the Quay. The Royal Albert Memorial Museum includes collections illustrating zoology and local archaeology.
Evidence suggests that a town may have existed here in the 3rd century BC. The Roman settlement of ‘Isca of the Dumnoniorum’ was well established by AD 55. It later became the Anglo-Saxon settlement Escancestre. The city was attacked by the Danes in 876. In 928 Athelstan, King of the Mercians and West Saxons, met the Witan (council of the Anglo-Saxon kings) here. In 1003 Exeter was sacked by Sweyn, King of Denmark. In 1067 the town initially resisted William the Conqueror, but submitted after an 18-day siege. William the Conqueror built the strong motte-and-bailey castle of Rougemont - so named from its red masonry and earth - in 1068. The town was a centre for the wool trade in the Tudor period. Royalist forces had their western headquarters here during the English Civil War, until in 1646 the town surrendered to Thomas Fairfax, commander-in-chief of the Parliamentary forces. The city suffered severe damage during World War II air raids.
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