Interconnected Exeter

Exeter’s history is threaded through with interconnections, from local to international.

The oldest part of the city is situated on a dry ridge of land that overlooks a navigable stretch of the Exe river, at what historically was the lowest crossing point. The Exe connected Devon through Exeter with the world, and trading was an important source of the source of the city’s growth and prosperity. Coins found in the city dating from the Hellenistic period are evidence of the existence of a settlement that was trading with the Mediterranean region as early as 250BC.

In about AD50, the Romans founded the city of Isca Dumnoniorum (“Isca of the Dumnones or Devonians”), where there was already an important town. The Fosse Way marked the western frontier of Roman rule in Iron Age Britain, and its southwestern end was at Isca. So Exeter continued to be a trading centre and to grow in prosperity until the mid-fourth century. After the Romans left Britain, it disappeared from record, until about 680, when St Boniface is recorded as having attended Exeter Abbey. Boniface later became missionary to the Frankish Empire, and is now the patron saint of Germany.

Unfortunately, Exeter’s national and international connections have not always had positive results, and it has a bit of history of being on the losing side. In 876, the neurontin online usa Danes attacked and briefly captured what was then known as Escanceaster, until Alfred the Great drove them out. In 1002, Exeter was given to Emma of Normandy as part of her dowry on her marriage to Æthelred the Unready. The following year, her French reeve let the Danes in to plunder the city. In 1067, Exeter rebelled against William the Conqueror, who marched west and laid siege, and after the city surrendered, built Rougemont Castle. In 1136, early in the Anarchy, Rougemont was held against King Stephen, and again besieged and forced to surrender. During the Civil War, Exeter was one of the last Royalist cities to fall into Parliamentary hands. On the other hand, it did contribute ships to help defeat the Spanish Armada in 1588.

Devon is criss-crossed by green lanes, often ancient packhorse and drovers’ tracks, which have left a legacy of hidden routes running between tall hedge banks often with overhanging trees. There are a few around Exeter, such as Hambeer Lane on a western ridge with views over the city. The city held a weekly market from at least 1213, trading locally available agricultural products, and there are also records of seven annual fairs until at least the early 16th century. By then it was a centre of the wool and cloth industry in Devon, and exporting to the West Indies, Spain, France and Italy.

Extensive canal redevelopments further expanded Exeter’s trading economy. But in the 19th century, steam power replaced water power, and Exeter was too far from sources of coal or iron to participate fully in the industrial revolution, and declined in relative importance.

The first railway to arrive in 1844 was the Bristol and Exeter Railway. Modern Exeter is the regional rail hub, connected to London, Bristol, Birmingham and beyond. It is at the southwest end of the motorway network, and is connected to the rest of the world via its International Airport. It hosts world-class organisations, such as the University of Exeter and the Met Office, and is twinned with Rennes in France, Bad Homburg in Germany, Yaroslavl in Russia, and Terracina in Italy. The Brazil national football team played its first ever game against Exeter City in 1914, and the Exeter Chiefs are now playing European rugby.

Growing together, closer to home

As promised, my fourth post in this series on sharing stuff and working together is about some great community growing projects in and around Exeter. All of these groups would love to hear from you if you want to get involved.

I mentioned the Harvest Project and its Garden Match scheme in my last post. The Harvest people also encourage new growers or those with limited space to start Incredible Edible MiniGardens, with support from volunteer Growing Champions. They help people get together to turn unused land in Exeter into community growing space, and to share the fruit harvest across the city. [2014 update – the Harvest Project has now closed.]

Then there is community agriculture…

Exeter Community Agriculture is a co-operative farming 4 acres of organic land in Shillingford near Exeter. The members aim to reconnect local people with the land, by involving them in the production of their own locally grown food. They also strive to create learning opportunities relating to sustainable land use and especially food production. Now known as Exeter Growers Co-operative.

Broadclyst Community Farm is a working farm leased from the National Trust and run by volunteers. They want the farm to be a form of sustenance for our community; providing affordable food and hands-on educational opportunities. They wish to revive interest in agriculture, particularly among young people, and want to understand and value the environment, our farming heritage and one another.

The Exeter Community Garden is a long-term initiative established by members of the Students’ Guild, the University of Exeter and members of the community. Its aim is to further the causes of sustainability and biodiversity in Exeter.

And finally, if you’re thinking of setting up a local food project, there’s HogCO (Home Grown – Community Owned), which works with rural communities across Devon to help groups join together, to develop skills and seek opportunities to grow their own food. Note that because it’s run by the Community Council of Devon, it cannot support projects in Exeter, Plymouth or Torbay.

Growing together

It’s the weekend, and spring is on the way, so what better subject for the third post in my series on sharing stuff and working together than growing food?

Growing our own food helps us appreciate where the rest of the food we buy comes from, and connects us again with the earth and with our bodies – especially after an afternoon of digging or weeding! It also makes financial sense. Not everyone has a garden, and allotments are so popular that waiting lists can be years long. But there are other people who have a garden or some land, which they might not be able to manage. Landshare connects people who want to grow food with people who have land to share. It’s for people who:

  • want to grow their own fruit and veg but don’t have anywhere to do it;
  • have a spare bit of land they’re prepared to share;
  • can help in some way – from sharing knowledge and lending tools to helping out on the plot itself;
  • support the idea of freeing up more land for growing;
  • are already growing and want to join in the community. 

The website has a good map of Land offered, Growers and Helpers. Organisations can have their own area on the site, or you can get together with other members to form groups.

Did you know that there are over 700 people on the waiting list for allotments in Exeter? So, closer to home, the fabulous ECI Harvest Project is running its own Exeter Garden Match. The Harvest team will set up initial introductions and provide ongoing support to growers and owners as needed. It’s Landshare plus the personal touch, giving an extra dimension of connection and trust. [2014 update – the Harvest Project and Garden Match scheme have now closed.]

In my next post, some more great community growing projects in and around Exeter…

LETS do it!

Two months to go until TEDxExeter! My second post about how to simplify your lifestyle, while connecting with your neighbours and local community, is about LETS.

Local Exchange Trading Schemes have been around for a long time. They are local networks in which people exchange all kinds of goods and services with one another, without the need for money. LETS use a system of community credits, so that direct exchanges do not have to be made. People earn LETS credits by providing a service, and can then spend the credits on whatever is offered by others on the scheme: for example childcare, transport, food, home repairs or the hire of tools and equipment. And the service is usually valued by time, so for example an hour of childcare will ‘cost’ the same as an hour of website development.

Contact details for LETS in the South West

Exeter LETS

Sharing stuff and working together

On the themes of interconnectedness and sustainability, I’m going to write a series of posts about how to simplify your lifestyle, and reach out to your neighbours and local community.

Maybe you want to learn a new skill, or your drill has broken and you don’t want to splash out on a new one, or you have a drill gathering dust in the cupboard. Or you want to do something new, but it’s hard work to make things happen by yourself, and you would like the assurance that others share your vision or have the skills and willingness to help.

More and more websites are being developed that are enabling people to connect with each other. And the best are bringing people together in real life too.

“I’ve got all this stuff I want to get rid of, but I don’t want it just to go into landfill”

The first website I want to mention is Freecycle, which many people already know about, but it’s nearly the weekend and it’s time for a bit of a spring clean and a clear-out. Freecycle groups match people who have things they want to get rid of with people who can use them. You can either offer something, or post a ‘wanted’ message. They say: “Our goal is to keep usable items out of landfills… Another benefit of using Freecycle is that it encourages us to get rid of junk that we no longer need and promote community involvement in the process.”

I’m turning my back garden over to veg, but it would have been sad to compost some of the healthy ornamental plants. So I offered them on Freecycle. Over the next few days, several people got in contact, and did the work digging the plants out for me!

Freecycle groups in the South West