November 2015 in the Archives: The Cloister Room

November 2015 in the Archives: The Cloister Room

This image of the Cloister Room (now the Cathedral Cafe) dates from the early part of the 20th century.

The area in which Exeter Cathedral Cafe is now situated was constructed in the late 19th century, though some artefacts in it date from as long ago as the Middle Ages.

This part of the Cathedral complex (including the room above the cafe, now the Education Centre, and the stone stairs that access that space) was designed by John Loughborough Pearson (1817-97), the architect responsible for Truro Cathedral and many other church buildings. It was erected in 1887 as part of a project to reconstruct the medieval cloisters, which had been destroyed in the mid-17th century, near the end of the Commonwealth period. In the event only this south-west corner was completed, apparently because funds ran out.

The busts of clergymen are 19th century and were formerly among the furnishings of the Cathedral Library, which was then housed in the Chapter House. It is the windows depicting coats of arms (on the south side of the café) that are perhaps its most striking feature. They are parts of the Great West Window of Exeter Cathedral, which was made between 1764 and 1767 by William Peckitt of York(1731-95). His West Window was replaced in 1904 on the grounds that the colour of the painted glass had faded badly (although its replacement, the fore-runner of the present West Window, was destroyed in 1942). The sections re-used here were inserted in 1922. Among the local figures whose shields are depicted are John Grandisson (former Bishop of Exeter, d. 1369) and Sir Francis Drake (d. 1596). Also shown is the coat of arms assigned to King Edward the Confessor (d. 1066) who enthroned Leofric as first Bishop of Exeter in 1050. The Cathedral’s 11th century Foundation Charter describing this event is still kept in the Library and Archive.

The present café was formerly used for meetings and at one point contained a piano. During the Second World War it was used as the firewatchers’ base. Nearly half a century later it was converted for use as café, opening for business in 1990.

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