On 22 July a group of Society members was led through the rain-drenched centre of Exeter on a plaques trail based on a selection from the leaflet produced by the Society. Starting at the plaque to the Vanbrugh sisters, the actresses Violet 1867-1942 and Dame Irene 1872-1949 on the walkway between Roman Walk and Southernhay, it showed the range of issues to be faced when installing and looking after plaques. The Vanbrugh plaque shows the problem of locating a plaque when the house is no longer there, in this case following war damage. The next two plaques were not yet in place, illustrating that the Civic Society’s programme was still continuing: the folk song collector Sabine Baring-Gould 1834-1924 was born in Chichester Place, Southernhay and Elsie Knocker 1884–1978 the heroic nurse and ambulance driver in World War I was born at 1, Barnfield Crescent. Work is in progress on both of these plaques.
The group looked at the inscription commemorating the opening of Barnfield Hall which Elsie Knocker visited to give a talk on her work, and then found the plaque to the Rev. Theodore Bayley Hardy 1863-1918 on the wall of Barnfield House at the corner of Southernhay East and Barnfield Road. An army chaplain awarded the Victoria Cross, he died on 18th October 1918, just three weeks before the end of the war. Entering the Close under the iron footbridge with its inscription to Burnet Patch, mayor in 1814 and the printer of the Exeter Flying Post newspaper Richard Trewman, the group found two plaques facing each other. One is to another First World War VC, Lieutenant Richard Douglas Sanford, awarded the medal for his actions in command of HM Submarine C3 during the Zeebrugge Raid in 1918. It was unveiled by the Submariners Association in 2016, showing that it not only the Civic Society that installs blue plaques in Exeter. The same is true for the plaque to John Graves Simcoe 1752-1806, first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada which was erected with the assistance of the Ontario Heritage Foundation. The nearby statue to Richard Hooker 1554-1600, the Elizabethan writer and theologian was the only three-dimensional memorial on the trail. The statue dates from 1907, sculpted from white Pentilicon marble from Greece by Alfred Drury. Hooker faces the plaque to the Hungarian composer Franz Liszt 1811-1886, who gave two recitals in the Royal Clarence Hotel in 1840. Unveiled by Exeter Civic Society in 2013, it survived the fire of 2016. The plaque commemorating Sir Thomas Bodley 1545-1613, the founder of he Bodleian Library and Nicholas Hilliard, the Elizabethan miniaturist has been less lucky. Erected in about 1974 at the corner of Gandy Street and High Street, it has recently disappeared and its replacement has become a priority for the Society. Two other colonial administrators are commemorated further along Gandy Street: Col. David Collins 1756-1810, first Judge Advocate of New South Wales (1788-96) and first Lieut. Governor of Tasmania (1804-10), and George Prideaux Harris 1775-1810, first Deputy Surveyor General of Tasmania (1804-10). It was erected in 1999 by the Exeter Civic Society with the Royal Overseas League and the Collins Site Committee in Australia.
The tour ended by Rougemont Castle where there were several plaques: to the Devon witches, executed in 1683 and 1685, the last to receive this punishment in England, to the surgeon John Patch (1723-1787) who built Rougemont House, and to Rougemont Castle, built by William the Conqueror. These last two were erected by the Civic Society in 1977 to celebrate the Queen’s silver jubilee. Rain cut short the planned continuation to Longbrook Street (Harry Hems and William Kingdon Clifford) and Saint Sidwells (Dr Peter Hennis) but this short stroll gave participants a taster for further exploration of the more than one hundred historical inscriptions to be found in the centre of Exeter.