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Visiting Exeter School, Exeter, Devon, England: founded in 1633, its Butterfield Buildings date from 1880

Updated on February 26, 2016
Flag of England
Flag of England | Source
Exeter School
Exeter School | Source
Exeter School; Butterfield's late 19C buildings
Exeter School; Butterfield's late 19C buildings | Source
Portrait drawing, by Jane Fortescue Seymour, of William Butterfield, architect
Portrait drawing, by Jane Fortescue Seymour, of William Butterfield, architect | Source
Memorial to John Graves Simcoe in Exeter Cathedral
Memorial to John Graves Simcoe in Exeter Cathedral | Source

John Graves Simcoe, first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, an alumnus

If Exeter School looks like Keble College, Oxofrd — and indeed it does very much — it is because the same architect designed both of these complexes. William Butterfield (1814-1900) was known for buildings which evoked a word which seems to arise in not a few of these of my hubpages, but whether or not deserved in describing other buildings about which I have written, 'monumentality' certainly represents the impression given by both Keble College and Exeter School (1).

On of Architect Butterfield's preferred materials was red brick, and thus both Exeter School and Keble College exhibit an execution in this material, together with some elements of blue brick, stone dressing and slate roofing. The principal edifice is an L-shaped block, evidencing neo-Gothic style, part of which rises to 5 storeys.

The School was founded in 1633; the principal Butterfield building, around which the present site developed, was completed in 1880; in 1980, the School thus commemorated the Centenary of the Butterfield buildings with a thanksgiving service at Exeter Cathedral.

The School's Chapel, dating from 1885, has an excellent musical tradition; and I myself remember a superb performance of Mendelssohn's 'Oh for the wings of a dove', based on Psalm 55, by the Chapel choir a number of decades ago.

Prior to the move to the Victoria Park Road site on which the Butterfield buildings are situated, the school was housed in Exeter High Street at buildings known as St John's Hospital, dating from the 12th century. The current Victoria Park Road site extends to 10 hectares (25 acres).

The School has maintained close links with Oxford and Cambridge; for many years a scholarship arrangement existed with Peterhouse, the oldest (founded 1284) of the Cambridge Colleges.

Cricket is very much part of the sporting scene during the summer months at the School (and I myself recall spilling blood and repairing to the dispensary high in the Butterfield buildings, when a bowler's delivery succeeded in targeting my skull during my meagre defence of my wicket).

Exeter School has traditionally maintained strong military links, with not a few Old Exonians having subsequently led distinguished military careers (2). Its Combined Cadet Force encompasses hundreds of the School's students who attend training exercises in Snowdonia, Wales or the Lake District, in northern England, and who regularly follow courses sponsored by the British Ministry of Defence.

Canadians will note that well-known Old Exonians include John Graves Simcoe (1752-1806), first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, during whose tenure of office from 1792 to 1796 he was instrumental in the passing of an Act Against Slavery, 1793, and the introduction of English common law, courts and trial by jury to Upper Canada; he was the founder of York (now Toronto). Exeter Cathedral contains a memorial to Simcoe (I have supplied a photo, above)(3).

Other alumni of Exeter School include: Commander Harry Pennell (1882-1916), Antarctic explorer; General Sir Anthony Farrar-Hockley (1924-2006), NATO's Commander-in-Chief Allied Forces Northern Europe; the latter's son Major-General Dair Farrar-Hockley (1946-) is also an Old Exonian; Sir Roland Hatton (1886-1965), horticulturist; Georgia King (1986-), actress; and many others.

February 26, 2016


(1) Architect Butterfield regarded himself as a conservative Anglican and his monumental style in architecture blended with his beliefs in immutable faith norms, widely held in the Victorian age. As well as his famous creation at Keble College, Oxford, he was responsible for buildings at Rugby School.

(2) I recall that one of the Masters who taught at the School himself held the Military Cross; the same decoration was held by alumni of the School.

(3) John Graves Simcoe's grave, at Wolford Chapel, Honiton, Devon (distance from Exeter: 28.6 kilometres) is maintained by the John Graves Simcoe Memorial Foundation; the Chapel is owned by the Ontario Heritage Trust.

Map location of Exeter, England
Map location of Exeter, England | Source

Also worth seeing

In Exeter itself, various, other visitor attractions include the city's ancient Cathedral (see also above) and its Guildhall. The city is a good base for excursions to Dartmoor, which traditionally draws very large numbers of visitors.


How to get there: Flybe flies from Manchester Airport (England) , with worldwide connections, to Exeter Airport, where car rental is available. Some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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