Magdalen Road at night

Magdalen Road at night
December 2010

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Have you noticed the shape of roofs?

The extension to The Lodge residential home was nearing completion in December.  It can be seen from outside the Mount Radford Inn, looking along College Road.  Have a look at its roof – there are vents in small gables built into the slope of the tiles.  Now compare it with the roof of your own home – what is different and why?

Although the basic concept of a roof is a simple one – to make a building weatherproof – there are a multitude of different styles in a neighbourhood such as ours.  Ask a child to draw a house, and they are fairly certain to give its roof a slope at left and right, identifying the difference between the vertical house walls and the covering.  Such a roof is hipped, but is only one of several popular designs in the neighbourhood.  Hipped (or simply hip) roofs limit the possibility for attic space compared with those where the roof only slopes on two sides (pitched and gable roofs).  Look at the older houses with the latter roof style and you will often find a window set into the angle of the two slopes, suggesting an attic or loft room. 

Then gables can be created at right angles to the ridge, over a projection in the frontage of the house, or as a decorative feature.  The strange animal above the pharmacy in the village is on such a gable, but it is a gable with a most unusual variation.  Stop and have a look (if it is safe to do so) next time you are passing.  Behind the beast, there is a gable, and behind that the roof ridge rises above that of the building, exaggerating the height of the fa├žade.  A case of architectural bragging!

From the early years of the twentieth century, skylights began to be fitted into some houses – windows replacing tiles or slates and providing illumination into the otherwise dark roof spaces.  If your first thought is to call a skylight a “Velux” you are using a commercial name (like “Hoover” and “Biro”) to describe all similar products.  Velux originated in Denmark but is now a worldwide company.  Modern roof materials can be so efficient that it is necessary to provide vents to prevent mould.

Flat roofs appear in St Leonard’s, not just in modern architecture, but in a small number of older properties – especially blocks of flats.  Developments in technology mean that they are generally more waterproof than the notorious leaking flat roof of Castle Drogo.  (Sir Edwin Lutyens, architect of Drogo, created many houses whose tiled roofs were an integral and eye-catching part of the design, rather than an afterthought.)  The ingress of water through roofs causes many problems in other types of building; Victorian builders of churches delighted in providing problems for successive clergy and congregations by concealing gutters behind brick or stone facades, creating gulleys which fill with debris – and are very difficult to reach and clean.  (Rather than use scaffolding, these days, inspectors increasingly look at church roofs with drones.)

Old Matford, in Wonford Road, supposedly the oldest inhabited private house in Exeter (cathedral houses in The Close are older) was probably once thatched; there remain a few thatched properties in the city, but none in this neighbourhood.  On one side is the Church of the Latter-Day saints, whose roof is in the saltbox style, with two sides of unequal length.  Almost opposite is the Nuffield Hospital which has a form of mansard roof, with the top floor windows surrounded by the same material used for the roof covering.  More typical mansard roofs are found associated with the two storey prefab houses erected after the Second World War in Countess Wear and Heavitree.  And, additionally, in the main block of The Lodge, in Spicer Road, which takes us back to where we started.  

Take a look around the neighbourhood; what other shapes of roof can you find?

(Printed in the January - February 2018 issue of Neighbourhood News)

Thursday, 14 December 2017

By-election for city council seat, 13th December 2017

The results of the by-election for the Exeter City Council ward of St Leonard's and Newtown on 13th December 2017.
Matthew Vizard Labour: 1,044, 54.6%
Lucille Baker Conservatives: 512, 26.8%
Vanessa Newcombe Lib Dems: 179, 9.4%
Tom Milburn Green Party: 137, 7.2%
Alison Sheridan UKIP: 40, 2.1%

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Magdalen Road Christmas Fair 2017

Magdalen Road was closed for the afternoon of Saturday 2nd December 2017 for the annual Christmas Fair.  Join me for a walk after dark, from St Leonards Road to Denmark Road and back again

The children's roundabout

Balloons on sale

Japanese food

The Bran Tub with seasonal food

Tents in the middle of the road

Amber necklaces and other good things

No home in St Leonard's is complete without a hand-made cushion

A bright red glow from the aprons of the staff at Bon Gout

Don't forget to look up at the lights

Buttons and other sewing things, ribbons and all

The Meat59 gazebo outside the restaurant

And an artistic arrival

There were stalls for charity

... and musicians

Coloured gazebos added a glow to the fair

A small Christmas tree

Stalls outside the shops
Stalls outside the flats

Time to add a light to your home?

And fresh local fruit

The Mount Radford was busy

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Coal in St Leonard’s

Strange as it may seem to young people, houses with central heating are a relatively recent phenomenon.  I grew up in a house built in the 1950s; even at such a recent date, outside the back door was a coal-shed integrated into the house, and every so often a lorry loaded with sacks of coal would arrive to deliver fuel for the open fires and anthracite for the kitchen range.  One pair of grandparents, in an older house, had a coal-cellar, reached by a flight of steps from the garden.  The other grandparents, in a more modest property, had a coal-bunker outside the back door.   By the time I left home, central heating and electric fires had replaced the dependence on coal; the coal-cellar and coal-shed had become store-rooms, the bunker had been taken away in pieces.  

Scattered around St Leonard’s there are, I am sure, similar reminders of the use of coal in our homes.  Some people still buy coal, but few need deliveries measured in hundredweights as the earlier generations did.  So the storage spaces have disappeared or found alternative uses, laundry rooms, a place for garden tools, and so on.  Such reminders of the past are on private land, we are not aware of the changes in other people’s homes.  

Of course, house chimneys are a permanent reminder of an age of open fires, and I wrote about them in an earlier issue.  But at ground level, there is one kind of public and visible reminder of how we used to use and store coal.  And that is the coal-hole cover.  If a house boasted a coal-cellar then it needed a way of filling that cellar.  The family could access their fuel from inside, but they did not want dusty tradesmen traipsing through the front door to deliver a dirty, coal-encrusted sack.  The solution was a chute, large enough for the fuel, but small enough to prevent intruders entering the property.  And the chute needed a cover, usually a heavy cast-iron circular cover, set into the pavement outside the property or into the garden paving around the house.  

There are still a few coal-hole covers in pavements to be found in the neighbourhood.  Many will have been lost over the years as houses are altered and pavements resurfaced.  I have only found a handful, in Colleton Crescent and Matford Lane, or between us and the city centre, in Southernhay.  If you are passing, take a look at the attractive designs on these utilitarian pieces of ironwork. 
Circular coal-hole cover in Matford Lane

Friends in the older parts of the neighbourhood tell me that there were examples outside their front doors, in shallow front gardens; but those front gardens are now parking spaces for cars, and the pieces of ironwork have been thrown away – though one at least has been retained for decoration and is visible in Wonford Road.   

Rectangular and circular covers in Colleton Crescent
Bloggers in London and Cheltenham (and elsewhere) have recorded the coal-hole covers in their cities, with pictures. 

Are there any other surviving coal-hole covers locally?  This is an open-ended article; I would be delighted to get further information about this topic.