Victorian St Sidwell’s

Rebuilding the Parish

St Sidwell’s was gradually rebuilt after the Civil War and improvements were made for the life of its parishioners. In 1673 the Dean and Chapter paid for Sidwell Street to be paved from the East Gate to St Anne’s chapel and in the 1670s a workhouse was built in St Sidwell’s parish. By the mid 18th Century houses had been rebuilt along Sidwell Street from the East Gate all the way up to, and slightly beyond, St Anne’s chapel. A one-room schoolhouse was built in the churchyard, some almshouses were established near the church.

The Wool Industry Decline and New Expansion

As the wool industry declined towards the end of the 18th Century, there were food riots in St Sidwell’s as employment tumbled. The numbers of sergemakers and woolcombers gradually declined along with their low thatched cottages, replaced by the grander houses of the wealthy middle classes. Inns catering to the needs of merchants and travellers opened around the East Gate and shops selling every kind of goods for everyday use as well as luxury and specialist products were situated along Sidwell Street.

St Sidwell’s, along with Exeter, expanded rapidly in the 19th Century with the population increasing from 2,700 in 1801 to 6,600 in 1831. The first horse-drawn trams appeared on Sidwell Street in 1882 and the first electric tram appeared on the street in 1905.

Cholera and Dr Peter Hennis

The cholera epidemic arrived in the city in 1832 and from July to October of that year hundreds died. Dr Hennis, hero of the cholera epidemic, was killed in a duel at Haldon racecourse and buried at St Sidwell’s less than a year after the epidemic ended.

Other notable characters from St Sidwell’s in the Victorian period are Harry Hems and Rev. Sabine Baring Gould