Have you noticed the shutters on houses in St Leonard’s?
A few years ago, there was a minor controversy in the world of children’s dictionaries. Words about the natural world like acorn, ash, heron, kingfisher and wren were missing from these reference books, and their place was taken with computer terms. What, people asked, did this say about the vocabulary of primary-school children? It made me wonder about the theme of this article, so I checked.
Older houses in St Leonard’s may have indoor shutters, either instead of curtains, or to supplement them as covering for the windows. For those older houses, they are part of the heritage, and may be covered by the rules of conservation areas. Dictionaries for younger people don’t always include the concept of a shutter as part of a house’s furniture; more important is the word “shut” meaning to close a computer program! Another meaning of shutter, as part of a camera, is likely to disappear with smartphones taking good quality pictures.
It is actually quite hard to see whether houses have indoor shutters without intruding on people’s privacy, so I won’t go into much detail. Suffice to say that if an Exeter house was built before about 1850, then it is quite likely to have a set of shutters built into the window frames. Depending on the exact style, these will fold out from the thickness of the wall, cover the windows, and be secured by a bar on the inside. There may even be a lock on that bar, at the end, to prevent intruders using a jemmy (also not in the children’s dictionary) to raise the bar and break in. Such shutters were not especially draught-proof, but they did keep some warmth in the house and gave privacy.
Why 1850? There are two reasons. First, the coming of the railways in the middle of the 19th century brought with it the latest architectural ideas from London (and beyond) much more rapidly than had been the case a generation or more earlier. Second, mass-produced woven fabrics had become much cheaper and widely available, so that houses could be designed to have curtains instead of shutters.
So, many of the houses in the older parts of St Leonard’s, including Colleton Crescent, Friars Walk, Magdalen Road, Wonford Road, St Leonard’s Road and Lyndhurst Road have shutters and many of these homes still use them. Have a look, discreetly, next time you are walking after dark on one of these roads. There is something a little romantic about closing a shutter across the window, even though they need more maintenance than curtains.
A friend lived in Bristol when it was blitzed; she told me that after one night of bombing, her father opened the shutters and all the glass from the window cascaded in. The explosions had shattered the panes, but the shutters had protected the rooms. I imagine this happened here as well in our blitz.
In a few places you will find continental shutters on the outside of houses. These are a little superfluous in the Devon climate, since they are there to keep the glare of the sun away from the interior. Nonetheless, they make an attractive feature on the outside of the house. And because they do so, sometimes they are there simply as decoration and can’t be closed across the windows.
In the last issue of the News, I challenged you to find a street-light with a hinge; there is one in the footway between Penleonard Close and Magdalen Road, and several by the cycle track at Duck’s Marsh; did you find any others?
(Published in the May-June 2016 issue of Neighbourhood News)