The first sign that you are entering an unusual area is the ornamental street sign.
It says, “Exeter City Corporation.” ‘Public Grounds to Pince’s Gardens’.
Next, the buildings are important. Grand Victorian villas and terraces are shared with charming 1930s homes and post-war homes.
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Then there are people. Everyone I meet along the streets near Alphington Road seems like they have been around for decades.
You will not want to leave this residential community once you have made the decision to live there.
All this, before we even consider the immaculate “Public Grounds”, the croquet players or ghostly monk.
“It is unusual, but we are unusual people,”Pat, who has been in the area for at least 50-years, says:
DevonLive visited the area around Pinces Gardens, Princes Street, to find out what it was like to live there.
Even if your home has been in Exeter for many decades, it is possible to not have moved into this autonomous part of St Thomas. The streets that run between Alphington Road on the one hand and Cowick Street, on the other, don’t lead you anywhere. Because of the street design, if you try to cut through traffic on the main routes by car, you’ll likely end up back at the beginning.
Notice the slightly different names. Pinces Gardens lies at the end Princes St South, which then leads to Prince’s St North. Pinces Road, as well two more Prince’s Streets (East or West) are added to the confusion. Princes Square is the central point of this rectangular street pattern. Oh, and Pinces Gardens is also located on this street (the one with the charming old buildings of the council).
“I was expecting a birthday card through the post,”Michelle, who lives at one of the houses, said, “but it hasn’t arrived. The postmen are always getting mixed up. We get all the post for other streets and they probably get ours.”
This story is not about unreliable mail and dead ends. But it does have everything do with the land. It was once a huge, flourishing plant. nurseryOver the centuries, that changed to housing, people, community and other activities. It is interesting that only a small portion of this horticultural history has survived, which gives the area its unique character.
The Gardens are probably the best place to begin.
According to the history books, this area of the town has always had rich soil because it is located in the floodplains of the River Exe.
William Lucombe began a plant in 1740. nursery- The first South West-based nursery to be recorded. They specialize in growing young trees for large houses throughout the county.
John Pince’s son bought the land in 1794. His family horticulture company flourished. Benjamin Pince, his brother in law, joined the business and after much enthusiastic marriage among Lucombe women, they took over the Gardens.
In its flowering pomp during the 1840s, the nurseryCovered 100 acres.
It is only a small fraction of that area that we recognize today. The 1890s saw the beginning of the modern era. nurseryIt was in difficult times and land parcels were sold to make way for housing. The council bought it in 1912. It is possible that the street sign at Waterloo Road was installed shortly after.
Pat shares her thoughts about the area with me.
“It is a good neighbourhood and we all get on,”She says. Her house overlooks the communal grassy clearing at the Gardens entrance.
“I really like to see the children playing on the grass. You don’t see it in many places these days as there are so many cars but here it is quiet.”
These houses, which date back to 1935, were among the first built by the city’s council. Pat says that new houses can only dream about her generosity. gardenThese rooms are 15ft x11ft.
Michelle, Michelle’s neighbor, stops by and makes jokes about the post.
After being persuaded to come here by an old boyfriend, she arrived more than 30 years ago. She is still here, even though he has left.
“We all look out for each other,”She says. “Once people move in they don’t move out. We have the Gardens here and then the large fields at Cowick Barton. We have the shops just around the corner within walking distance.
“There are many stories about the area. They say that the ghost of an old monk wanders through the fields. It’s a special spot.”
Fred, the old monk, is said not to have strayed from the Cowick Barton direction, which was once home to an ancient priory.
The Gardens themselves are accessible to the public. Only the allotments in the centre are out of bounds. These require a key.
Walking along the footpaths without looking at their phones will instantly reveal the many species of trees. I use an app that allows me to identify exotic looking cedars and cedars, Monkey Puzzle, pines and winding beech. The famous 45-foot-long wisteria tunnel attracts people from all over the world when it is in bloom in spring.
It’s fair that Exeter City Council keeps this little garden in good condition. A croquet and a bowling alley are side-by-side.
Mark Mcnair (71) is waiting for a shot as I interrupt an Exeter Croquet Club practice session.
He puts down the mallet and chats happily over the game.
He doesn’t actually live in the neighborhood, but he does travel every week from Chudleigh.
In 1982, the croquet moved to this spot. Previously, there were lawn tennis courts on the spot. However, they became too costly to maintain. Croquet has flourished since then.
Mark acknowledges that members tend to be older and retired, but they are always looking for new blood. He is kind enough to explain the rules and pose for a shot.
It is a pleasure for me to wander around Pinces Gardens, admire the shrubbery, and watch the croquet teams play on the manicured lawn.
But Victorian Gardens walls can’t stop the modern world from entering.
Although crime is not a major problem, it does exist. It is very rare, with the occasional outbreak of vandalism or graffiti. Some youths attempted torching the wisteria in 2019
(Image: Exeter City Council).
The main entrance to Gardens, a single-storey gatehouse, has been locked. It is fair to say it has seen better times, but the council has set aside money.
It is not a secret that drug use at night is a common occurrence in the Gardens, according to many. “It’s the same as anywhere,”People say.
Nick, a dog walker stops by for a chat. He has lived in St Thomas for all of his 57-years. The gardens are part his daily weight loss walk.
“It’s been like that for about five years,”He refers to the gatehouse.
He loves the outdoors, but is not a fan of all the changes that take place.
“This was deepest Devon when I was young and now it’s more urban,”He said. “I used to think I knew every step of Exeter but I haven’t got a clue now. You go out to Pinhoe and see all the development there and I don’t recognise a thing.
“It’s still a nice place. I would prefer to live here over most areas. I think people don’t care as deeply as they used to.
The gatehouse leads directly into Princes Street South. On one side, you will see a neat row of Victorian homes with bay windows and on the other, post-war, mostly detached, houses.
Catherine Lawrance is a chiropractor who lives in the grandest house on Main Street. Clyde House is a Victorian building made of red bricks. On one side of the large front entrance is a blue plaque that bears the name Harry Westlake (1897-1978).
Here lived Westlake, an inspiring motor engineer, between 1908-1919.
Evidently, the house has a story.
“We moved in 27 years ago,”She says.
“We came down here and worked from home. We wanted somewhere big with parking. What you notice around here is that people don’t move very often. There was a lot of excitement recently when we got three young families in.
She points to a number of neighbouring houses who owners have lived in the area for a similar amount of time as she has.
“It is important to choose the right location. Youngsters are able to walk into town. The Quay is beautiful in these days.”
She tells me Clyde House was built in 1867 and, previous to her family arriving, had been used for all sorts of musical, craft and religious gatherings.
“It was once home to distressed clergy.” she says. It was also derelict for a while before being renovated.
Catherine shows me the well-kept garden with original Victorian greenhouse and apologises for some clutter.
“We’ve been here 27 years, and we still don’t have it all sorted.”
“It’s a beautiful part of Exeter. Although there was once a crime of vandalism of cars, it was many years ago. We have never encountered any crime in the street. A neighbor had graffiti on his wall, and the council removed it the next day. This is unusual.
“Of course there is drug use in Pinces Gardens. You do occasionally smell a free spliff in the air too.”
One legacy of the public Gardens is the fact that many of these houses have impressively maintained gardens. One towers above the other in what looks like a huge plantain. gardenI will continue on, despite the wall.
Princes Square is located at the end of the street. You might expect to find a green space for public use here, similar to the one that London’s Georgian city planners love. This is not true. In fact, there was once a market gardenThis is the area where the land was once open. The 60s saw the sale of the land and the houses are now covering it.
You can still see remnants of the city’s past, as you can see in many areas of this historic area. This area was home to people who used the floodplain land, which is rich and fertile, to grow crops, produce, and sell food, as well as diary products.
Mike Coles resides at the top Princes St North. In 1988, he bought the large house and converted The Freehold Dairy into Mike Coles Worldwide Travel.
The only remaining business on the street is the travel agency.
He speaks to me about the challenges in the travel industry but tells me that his small, independent business has survived.
“One of the most important things about this area is that you don’t have to own a car,”Mike.
“You can get to any of the shops in five or ten minutes. We have Marks & Spencer and Next at Exe Bridge, The Range down the road. It’s very compact and friendly.”
His impressive house was built in 1876. It has served as a shoe shop and a dairy since then.
Mike’s friends Frank, and Julie Whale are just around the corner on Queens Road. They were once owners of a dairy, which sold milk, eggs, groceries, and other goods in the locality.
Frank, now 88 years old, tells me about some of those old characters who used live around the area. Arthur Edmonds, a man who delivered by bicycle but didn’t have a light on it, was an example of this. The old stadium hosted many rugby nights and speedway events. Although they don’t get out as much these days, the couple still recall the good times.
Shirley Taylor lives in a charming Victorian house just a few doors away. It is a house that Shirley Taylor has called home for nearly three decades.
“It is a very, very nice area. That’s why a lot of people have been here years and years.”
Add up the years Shirley, Frank, Pat, and the other residents of this tiny corner of St Thomas, and it would be over a century.
It is the unusualness of the place that draws them to it.
They are like the Gardens that have grown here over time. raisedFamilies sold and bought businesses and watched people come in and go.
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