British Towns and Cities: Exeter

W.G. Hoskins pays an historical visit to Exeter.

When Professor Freeman—with the Rev. William Hunt—initiated the Historic Towns series, those claret-coloured little books of which one sees so many in the second-hand bookshops today at a modest price, he chose to write the volume on Exeter himself. It is not a good book, or rather, not what we have learnt to expect from a local history, for it took no account of the magnificent collection of civic records at Exeter, still largely unexplored, and it wrote the history of the city too much from the standpoint of national history. There is, in fact, no satisfactory history of Exeter even yet, a deficiency shared by the city with nearly every other historic English town. One is tempted to say that the writing of our urban history, town by town, is the greatest single need in English historical writing today. And it is a task for trained local historians, primarily interested in the uniqueness of their subject, in spite of the obvious dangers of such an approach.

Freeman knew Exeter and clearly liked writing about it. In a passage that has often been quoted, he says:

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