This is one of those places that aren't open often...and like the Guild hall in Exeter, it depends on the fact that it's in use a lot of the time...but it is open during the winter months on thursdays between 10-30 and 12-30. And, all conditions being right, I managed to travel in recently to have a look. It was well worth it, as it's absolutely gorgeous inside. It looks interesting from the outside, but the exterior was partly rebuilt in the Victorian age, whereas inside is even more interesting because it still retains features from its much earlier history.
The original hall was a simple affair with a wagon roof and six vertical windows; the land and money having been granted to the Guild of Weavers Fullers and Shearmen in order to build a chapel for religious use and as a meeting place for the Guild in 1471.
The production of wool cloth was a major Devon industry from Mediaeval times until its gradual decline from the early 18th century onwards, when cotton and cheaper Yorkshire yarns became too competitive. However, until then Exeter was the centre for international trade. This made the city very wealthy...the third richest city in Britain...and was regulated by the Guild, which has been in existence since 1459.
When I was researching the history the obvious first call was the Tuckers Hall website itself. I was reading through when I realised that information about the guild and it's meetings was written in the present tense. Much to my delight I found that the guild is still in existence and that members now comprise Exeter business men and women, and that they still have regular meetings in the hall as well as maintaining it for future generations. Like the Exeter Guildhall, it has a long-standing history that has had continuous use up to today...which I think is fantastic.
The hall on the upper storey is absolutely gorgeous, full of beautifully carved panels, carvings upon the roof trusses, gilded bosses, a very long table surrounded by ornate chairs and many artefacts...as well as the lovely stained glass windows, each distinct with the names of various Guild Wardens and insignia.
The panelling was installed in 1630 along with most of the furniture. Below is a photo of the magnificent table and chairs. It was actually quite dark in there, even with the lights on, and I was using a temporary camera between the demise of my old faithful one and its recent replacement, therefore apologies for the lack of clarity.
Below, on one of the window sills is this case containing powder kegs.
The amazing roof, below, with gilded bosses, candelabra and crossed pikes decorating the wall.
The ground floor was used as a school between 1675 and 1841. The steward kindly allowed me a look around the ground floor during my visit and the photo below shows one of the windows with loom shuttles on the sill.
Most of this room is taken up with 'interactive' computer screens. Now, I'm going to have a bit of a rant here, because I personally feel that it's inappropriate to have this sort of thing in such an historic building. It's totally out of place in my opinion, and panders to the 'dumbing down' of society. What's the point of visiting somewhere only to look at a screen? It may be a case of trying to be user-friendly to children who are used to sitting in front of a computer, but what's wrong with taking children from their usual environment and looking at the world long before there was such a thing? Surely a leaflet with info and links for them to look at later is sufficient. One of the things I love about old places is the fact that it takes you through a door from the modern world to another, earlier time...and it's such a shame when that incredible feeling is denied to our younger generation by bringing the modern world into these buildings.
Okay...rant over! ;)
Back to the history...
Tuckers Hall became more secularised, as a meeting hall rather than for religious meetings. Even so, Elizabeth I granted the building to Anthony Kynwelmarsh in 1574. The window below is dated 1575, which may very well have been installed shortly after, although I haven't been able to ascertain the signifigance of the insignia. However, the property was sold back to the guild in 1579.
An odd little fact! Here in Britain we have a saying 'I'm on tenterhooks', meaning being in a situation of suspense where you're not sure what the outcome is going to be and waiting to find out. In the woollen cloth industry, once the cloth was cleaned it had to be dried on a frame (a tenter), and held by hooks to prevent shrinkage. It was therefore on 'tenterhooks', or suspended, with the outcome uncertain until fully dry. This was the job of the fuller...also known as a tucker...hence the name of the hall.
The plaque outside (below) shows that the Guild was incorporated, having gained a Royal Charter in 1490.
More photos can be seen in the Photo Gallery album along with these.