Nos. 73 & 74 is worth writing about for two reasons. Firstly, it was a handsome building in its own right. It was rarely photographed but is worth remembering here for its aesthetic qualities alone. Secondly, and not unrelated, the building which replaced it after World War Two provides an object lesson in how poor planning and inferior design can impact negatively on an important urban location.
The image above is a composite photograph showing a postcard from c1910 merged with a photograph of the same area from September 2010. Nos. 73 & 74 are highlighted in red and shows No. 73 after the alteration to its facade in 1905. The 17th century Chevalier Inn in Fore Street on the far right. The entrance into South Street is between No. 74 and the Eastmans building, the street being much narrower than it is today.
The site is one of the most historically significant in the city: the ancient Carfoix. It has been the junction of Exeter's four most important streets i.e. the High Street, North Street, South Street and Fore Street since at least the Middle Ages. This was the location of the huge late-medieval water conduit, known as the Great Conduit, which stood near the centre of the junction until its removal in 1770.
Dating to c1845 Nos. 73 & 74 were two properties constructed as one building. It stood on the corner of the High Street with South Street and had elevations on both, its corner built as an elegant curve, similar to the almost contemporary building on the corner of the High Street with Queen Street above right which was demolished in 1971. A sketch in the Westcountry Studies Library dated c1827 shows the two buildings which had previously stood on the site and which were demolished c1845. They were both four-storeys high and timber-framed with steep gabled roofs, not dissimilar to the still-standing No. 72. One of these old properties, No. 73 in fact, was known as Elyot's House. It was named after Thomas Elyot, the customs collector at Exeter and Dartmouth during the reign of Henry VII and who lived in the house during the closing years of the 15th century.
The mid-19th century rebuild of Nos. 73 & 74 consisted of four-storeys. The ground floor contained shop fronts and the first floor had rusticated blocks with arched windows. All of the second floor windows had attractive pointed pediments and above the plainer third floor windows was a modillion cornice, the roof hidden from street view. The elevation on the High Street was originally three bays wide, as shown left c1900.
When the road-widening project around St Petrock's church occurred between 1903 and 1905 the High Street facade was reduced from three bays to just one bay and a new street frontage was built on the site of No. 73. (The newly-built facade of No. 73 is visible in the photograph at the top of this post, four-storeys high with a gabled end and with two big stone bay windows on the first and second floors. Although the facade was rebuilt the building work from c1845 remained at the rear, stretching back to the Globe in the Cathedral Yard.) Probably constructed of brick and dressed stone with a stucco exterior, No. 74 was destroyed during the air-raid of 04 May 1942, although No. 73 survived unscathed and continued in use throughout the 1950s as a branch of the Fifty Shilling Tailors (more recently known as the retail chain 'Burtons').
Predictably, the post-war treatment of the site hasn't been successful. Having survived the Blitz, No. 73 was subsequently demolished in the late 1950s as part of the project to widen South Street and to create a new entrance into the Cathedral Yard at the point where the old Globe inn once stood. The building which took the place of both No. 73 and the blitzed No. 74 is remarkable only for its insignificance as architecture. The city council's 2002 conservation report for the centre of Exeter describes the replacement building as "a rather bland, 1950s three-storey building". The report continues: "The siting, scale, fenestration and horizontal emphasis of this corner building, and its poor relationship with No. 72 High Street is arguably one of the least successful examples of urban design in the city". The replacement structure is shown below, adjacent to the white-fronted gable end of No. 72. It forms a dismal entrance into what was, historically, the most important street in Exeter.