St Sidwell - A description

James Brannan

On the 2nd May 1942 the heaviest raid of the war hit Exeter, and the parish of St Sidwell received the full force of the attack. Some 800 houses were destroyed in the parish (out of a total of 1,400 in Exeter) and the centre of the parish was devastated. The Church was completely burnt out and the tower was declared unsafe. The Rector, Rev Narracott, risked his life to rescue the church registers and silver from the vestry under the teetering masonry. The church was rebuilt in 1957-8 with a structure supporting one bell behind the east end of the church - the war-damage compensation was not enough for a tower. The rebuilding of the parish as a whole has been much criticised for replacing residential streets with other types of building: the Civic Centre, the main bus and coach station, department stores, offices, etc. St Sidwell's once had a lively parochial life but today its whole character has changed.

Today, if you walk north-east along Exeter High Street away from the city centre, you will find yourself in St Sidwell's parish without realising it. It is hard to imagine that it was once a bustling suburb in its own right, outside the city walls. Over the centuries the City of Exeter often tried to control the suburb, partly because of its rich water supply, but St Sidwell's resisted, claiming its own feudal court and Guildhall. It developed mainly in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with a population of labourers, and soon also became Exeter's poorest parish. The parish church was originally built at least 1,200 years ago! However, if you go there today you'll find that far from being so ancient, the present church is only 40 years old. Only a few old gravestones remain to bear witness to the history of the site...

Note (from David Bryant): The church was hit by a high-explosive bomb which destroyed the western part of the nave and the eastern side of the tower - the tower was split down the middle, and the western half remained standing until demolished. What remained of the church was not burned out, but was subsequently demolished.