Exeter's Underground Passages

Romangate Passage


Useful Information

Location: In the city of Exeter.
Car parking is available in the city centre car parks or at one of the park and ride sites. Car parking for disabled drivers is available at the rear of the Royal Albert Memorial Museum.
 Location by UK Streetmap
Open: JUN to SEP, School Holidays, Mon-Sat 9:30-17:30, Sun 10:30-16.
OCT to MAY Tue-Fri 11:30-17:30, Sat 9:30-17:30, Sun 11:30-16.
Tours every half hour, on the half and full hour, last tour 30min before closing.
[2008]
Fee: Adults GBP 5, Children GBP 3.50, Concession GBP 4, Family Ticket (2+3) GBP 15.
[2008]
Classification:  Water supply
Light: electric.
Dimension: L=321m, D=20min., A=39m asl.
Guided tours: D=90min.
Photography:  
Accessibility:  
Bibliography: Anon (ND): Guide to the Underground Passages in Exeter, 8 pp illus.
Anon (1932): Exeter Excavation Committee, Report on the Underground Passages in Exeter, Proc Devon Arch Expl Soc Vol 1 No 4 191 - 200, pls, 6 maps, sections.
Oldham, Tony et al (1986): The Limestones and Caves of Devon, p 40.
Address: Exeter's Underground Passages, Exeter City Council, 2 Paris Street, Exeter, Devon EX1 1GA, Tel: +44-1392-665887 or +44-1392-265695. E-mail: contact
Last update:$Date: 2013/04/25 23:00:10 $

History

 
14th centuryfirst passages built.
1226Exeter's first piped water scheme built.
1340'snew Cathedral water system built.
1642new defensive ditches were dug because of the Civil War, passages used as shelter.
1655water scheme reactivated.
1694new water supply commissioned.
1832outbreak of cholera.
1835new waterworks were built at Pynes and Danes' Castle.
1933first opened to the public.
25-APR-2005tunnels closed due to the Princesshay development.
20-SEP-2007tunnels reopened.

Description

The underground passages were built from the 14th Century to house the pipes that were laid to bring fresh drinking water into Exeter from the many natural springs that lie outside the city in the parish of St Sidwell's, and to make repairs to the pipes easier to carry out. However such a mundane use has not prevented stories of buried treasure, ghosts, and secret escape routes.

Exeter's first piped water scheme was organised by the Dean and Chapter of Exeter Cathedral, as early as 1226, to supply the clergy with a ready supply of clean water from a fountain that was situated on the Cathedral Green. A new Cathedral water system was begun in the 1340's to provide the Cathedral, St Nicholas Priory and the City, each to have an one third share of the supply. The passages constructed at this time form some of the passages that can be visited today.

When the Civil War broke out in 1642, Exeter began preparations in case of siege and new defensive ditches were dug to protect the city from the army of King Charles I, as Exeter backed Cromwell and Parliament. Some of the passages were blocked to prevent an underground invasion and pipework was melted down to make lead shot. No water flowed through the system until 1655.

A new water supply was commissioned for the growing population of Exeter and work began in 1694 to draw water from the River Exe and pump it to a reservoir at the rear of the Guildhall, which continued until 1835. Change was brought about by an outbreak of cholera in 1832, which was spread by polluted drinking water and largely affected the poorer areas of the city. New waterworks were built at Pynes and Danes' Castle.

The underground passages are not suitable for disabled visitors, children under five and anybody who suffers from claustrophobia. The floors are uneven, the ceilings low and the tunnels are narrow.


Text by Tony Oldham (2002). With kind permission.

The underworld of Exeter was some time ago called Romangate Passage, as the entrance was located at the Romangate shopping passage. It was originaly listed under this name on showcaves.com. Due to the Princesshay development, a mayor reconstruction project in the city center, the tunnels were temporarly closed. The entrance moved to the Underground Passages Visitor Centre on Paris Street within the Princesshay Quarter and the site has been renamed Exeter's Underground Passages. Like before there is no car park for the tunnels, because of its location in the city centre. Please use any of the city centre car parks and walk to the Visitor Center. Find a Parking and Shopping Map of Exeter on the official website of the city.

The visitors first pass through an exhibition and a video presentation at the Visitors Center, before they enter the passages on a guided tour. There are so-called hands-on activities, which are popular especially with kids. New is also a sort of virtual tour through the tunnels, a replica cross-section of Exeter, and an exhibition of archaeological remains found in the passages. And finally there is also a new, real size copy of the passages, a sort of replica. The new visitor center gives people in wheelchairs or suffering from claustrophobia, who are not able to visit the passages first hand, at least a good impression of them.

The Medieval water system with its underground passages is the only such structure in Great Britain open to the public. It was an innovative system when it was constructed. It was opened for the public as early as 1933, but at that time the tunnels were not developed. Public tours were sort of spelunking tours, the visitors equipped only with handheld lamps. Even hard hats were uncommon. Today the tunnels are developed, with save paths and electric light, and visitors are provided with hard hats for the underground tour.


See also


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