The parish was devastated in the English Civil War (1642 – 1646) when the Royalist defenders of Exeter cleared vast areas outside the city walls in preparation for a siege. They levelled Sidwell Street to the ground, leaving St Sidwell’s church alone in a sea of rubble in the area between the East Gate and St Anne’s chapel.
The Parliamentarians destroyed the guildhall in St Sidwell’s, during their own bout of devastation in 1643.
During the Civil War local legend has it that George Cheeke saved the bells of Allhallows church on Goldsmith Street from being smelted down for cannon balls by the parliamentarians. He went by night into the city and removed them to St Sidwell’s church, where they have remained ever since. Other sources state that St Sidwell’s bells were bought from Allhallows church in 1767. Find out more about the Cheeke Family here.
During the 16th and 17th Centuries people from all walks of life were buried at St Sidwell’s. Prisoners executed at Heavitree for such crimes as piracy, poisoning and murder were buried here as well as several Exeter residents hung for the crime of witchcraft.
Thomasine Short was the first person in the South West to be executed for witchcraft, accused of cursing the family of Richard Hewe, whose wife, daughter and son all died in 1580. She was tried and sentenced to death in 1581 and buried at St Sidwell’s.
Hugh Groves was beheaded at Exeter Castle for taking up arms against the Commonwealth during the Civil War. He was buried in the chancel and a brass plaque commemorated him in the north aisle of the church.