Originating as a Roman fort, built at the start point of the ancient Fosse Way (a major Roman road running north to Lincoln), Exeter has now grown to become a strategically placed cathedral city. The Romans built a wall around the town in AD 200, since which the, Saxons, Danes and Normans have occupied it, each adding to the fortifications. In fact William the Conqueror laid siege to the town, during the winter of 1068; the only remaining stronghold in England following his victory at Hastings two years earlier. The remains of the original Roman wall are still visible today, most prominently around Southernhay. A 12th-c tower still stands at the northernmost corner of the wall, at Rougemont. Near to which is the original gatehouse of the castle built by William the Conqueror.
Exeter's Cathedral Yard is a delightful area to visit at the heart of the busy city, with old Elizabethan houses, shops and restaurants, overlooking the spacious lawns around the magnificent Norman Cathedral. The Guildhall, the centre of Exeter's civic life for over 800 years, claims to be the oldest municipal building in the country. Its roof, restored in 1469 during the Wars of the Roses, displays the Bear and Ragged Staff badge of Warwick the Kingmaker.
Many of the city centre's ancient buildings were destroyed during air raids in WWII. One that survived is St Mary Steps Church, on Stepcote Hill, which has a clock on its wall in which the hours are struck by three figures, known locally as Matthew the Miller and his two sons.
Much of Exeter's prosperity in medieval times came from the trade that passed through its quay on the river. In 1290, the port was cut-off by the construction of a weir across the Exe, 3 miles south of the city, by Lady Isabel the Countess of Devon. In 1564, Exeter commissioned England's first ship canal, which eventually brought some trade back to the city.
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