Exeter Cathedral, Devon Family History Guide

Exeter Cathedral is the seat of the Diocese of Exeter in the county of Devon.

Alternative names:  St Peter's Exeter, Exeter St Peter's

Parish church:

Parish registers begin:

  • Parish registers: 1593
  • Bishop’s Transcripts: 1813

Nonconformists include:

Parishes adjacent to Exeter Cathedral

Historical Descriptions

The Imperial Gazetteer of England & Wales 1870

The Cathedral.—A Benedictine monastery was founded, on the site of the cathedral, in 932, by Athelstan. Either that edifice enlarged, or a new edifice to supplant it, was the cathedral at the translation of the see from Crediton to Exeter in 1049; and is thought, by Sir Henry Englefield, to have been not more than 60 feet in length. A new cathedral was built by Bishop Warlewast, in 1112; was pillaged and burnt by Stephen, at his capture of the city; and was restored and enlarged at various times till 1206. Two towers of that structure still stand, and are the towers of the present pile; they are believed to have occupied a different relation to the original pile from what they occupy to the present; and they are of Norman architecture, corresponding to each other in size and form, but dissimilar in details. The present cathedral, with the exception of the towers, part of the Lady chapel, and two of the oratories, was founded by Bishop Quivil in 1288, and was not completed till 1478. It consists of a nave, with aisles, a transept, terminating in the towers, a choir, with aisles, a Lady chapel, ten oratories, and a chapter-house. The nave is 180 feet long, 60 wide, and 68 high; the transept is 140 feet long, 32 wide, and 68 high; the choir is 132 feet long, 54 wide, and 68 high; the Lady chapel is 65 feet long, 35 wide, and 40 high; the chapter-house is 55 feet long, 28 wide, and 50 high; the towers are 28 feet each way, and 145 high; and the entire pile is 387 feet long. The Lady chapel was built, in 1224-44, by Bishop Bruere; and completed, in 1281-91, by Bishop Quivil. The oratories of Gabriel and St. Mary Magdalene were built, in 1257. 80, by Bishop Bromescombe. The first four eastern arches of the choir were completed in 1310, by Bishop Stapleton. The nave was built, in 1293-1307, by Bishop Bytton. The choir was completed, the nave vaulted, and the west front built, in 1327-90, by Bishop Grandison. Additions were made to the west front, the cloisters were built, and the east window of the choir was constructed in 1370 95, by Bishop Brentingham. The chapter-house was built in 1420 58, by Bishop Lacy; and completed, in 1478, by Bishop Booth. The prevailing style is the early decorated; and it is maintained, from the early parts to the latest, with a persistency which has rarely been exemplified in similar structures, and which produces an appearance as if the entire pile had been constructed as a single work and by one designer. "A singular felicity," remarks Sir H. Englefield, "attended the erection of this cathedral. During the long period of 500 years, no tasteless or vain prelate interfered with the regular and elegant plan of -the founder. Though the taste in architecture was continually changing, so scrupulous was the adherence to the original design, that the church seems rather to have been erected at once in its perfect state, than to have slowly grown to its consummate beauty. Even Grandison, who, if we may judge from his screen, had a taste florid in the extreme in architecture, chastised his ideas within the church, and felt the simple grace of Quivil's design."

The exterior of the cathedral has a venerable appearance, but loses effect from want of height, and from the unusual position of the towers. The clerestory is supported by very elegant flying buttresses; and the ridge of the roof has a fleur-de-lis ornament, -a feature which exists in no other English cathedral. The west front was restored, in 1817, by Kendall; presents an elaborate screen, covered with canopied imagery work; and has a great window, 32 feet by 27, of nine lights. The interior, from the uniform style of the architecture, the fresh appearance of the stone, the numerousness of the oratories and screens, and the splendid stone vaulting of nave and choir, is highly effective. The nave has clustered piers, with shafts of Purbeck marble; the triforium consists of arcades of four trifoliated arches in each bay, with a gallery of open stonework; and the organ-screen, separating the nave from the choir, has three arches, is mostly as old as the time of Edward III., but includes panelled additions of 1819. The choir was about to be restored in 1869, at an estimated cost of more than £12, 000. The stalls are of good design; three sedilia have rich open-work canopies; and the bishop's throne is of black oak, tastefully carved, and forming a light pyramid 52 feet high. The organ was built by Loosemore in 166 4, at a cost of £2, 000; rebuilt by H. Lincoln, in 1819; and improved by Byfield and Gray. A curious astronomical clock, of the time of Edward III., based on the ancient ideas of astronomy, is in the north transept. A great bell, weighing 12, 500 lbs., or 2, 500 more than "Tom of Lincoln, " is in the north tower; and a peal of eleven bells, the tenor weighing 7, 552 lbs., is in the south tower. The chapter-house stands on the south side of the south tower; is partly early English, partly perpendicular; has an oblong form, with richly panelled and pointed roof; and contains a library of about 8, 000 volumes. The cloisters were destroyed by the Puritans. The Episcopal palace stands adjacent on the south; and is not a building of any note; but has an early English chapel.

Many persons are commemorated in the cathedral by effigies, tombs, or other monuments. The chief are Bishop Bronscombe, screen and canopy, of the 15th century; Bishop Stafford, screen, altar-tomb, and canopied effigies; Bishop Wolton, altar-tomb; Bishop Chichester, Purbeck slab; Sir Arthur Chichester, effigies; Bishop Marshall, Purbeck tomb with imagery; William Park-house, a cadaver; Judge Doddridge, effigies; Sir Peter Carew, effigies; H. de Bohun, Earl of Hereford, effigies: Sir Peter Courtenay, a brass; Hugh Courtenay, Earl of Devon, effigies; Bishop Stapleton, canopied effigies; Bishop Carey, in parliamentary robes; Bishop Cotton, effigies with canonical cap; Bishop Grandison, chantry; Bishop Bartholomew, effigies; Bishop Simon de Apulia, Purbeck effigies; Bishop Quivil, floriated cross; Bishop Oldham, effigies; Sir John Speke, effigies; Sir Richard Stapleton, effigies; Bishop Leofric, canopy of the time of Henry V., with imagery; Sir J. Gilbert, effigies; J. Northcote, marble-statue by Chantrey; General Simcoe, marble statue by Flaxman; officers and soldiers who died in the Indian service, a slab-monument about 20 feet long and 5 feet high by Marochetti; and officers and soldiers who fell at Lucknow and Cawnpore, a wall monument by Richardson.

Source: The Imperial Gazetteer of England & Wales [Wilson, John M]. A. Fullarton & Co. N. d. c. [1870-72].

Parish Registers

The Registers of Exeter Cathedral - UK Genealogy Archives

Parish Records


England, Devon Bishop's Transcripts, 1558-1887

England, Devon and Cornwall Marriages, 1660-1912

England, Devon, Parish Registers, 1538-1912

England, Devon, Plymouth Prison Records, 1821-1919

Exeter Marriage Licenses 1523-1631

Exeter Burial Records

Devon Cemetery Photos

South Hams Memorial Inscriptions

Appledore Burials 1844-1970

Devon Calendars of Prisoners

Devon Convicts Transported to Australia 1782-1821

Records for England

Births and Baptism Records

England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975

Great Britain, Births and Baptisms, 1571-1977

England and Wales Birth Registration Index, 1837-2008

United Kingdom, Maritime Births, Marriages, and Deaths, 1787-1933

Marriage Records

England Marriages, 1538–1973

Great Britain Marriages, 1797-1988

England and Wales Marriage Registration Index, 1837-2005

United Kingdom, Maritime Births, Marriages, and Deaths, 1787-1933

Death Records

England Death Records, 1998-2015

England Deaths and Burials, 1538-1991

Great Britain Deaths and Burials, 1778-1988

England and Wales Death Registration Index 1837-2007

United Kingdom, Maritime Births, Marriages, and Deaths, 1787-1933

England and Wales, National Index of Wills and Administrations, 1858-1957

England and Wales, Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills, 1640-1660

Non-Conformist Records

England and Wales Non-Conformist Record Indexes (RG4-8), 1588-1977


England and Wales Census, 1841

England and Wales Census, 1851

England and Wales Census, 1861

England and Wales Census, 1871

England and Wales Census, 1881

England and Wales Census, 1891

England and Wales Census, 1901

England and Wales Census, 1911


United Kingdom, Merchant Navy Seamen Records, 1835-1941

War and Conflict

Great Britain, War Office Registers, 1772-1935

United Kingdom, Chelsea Pensioners' Service Records, 1760-1913

United Kingdom, Royal Hospital Chelsea: Discharge Documents of Pensioners 1760-1887 (WO 122)

United Kingdom, Maritime Births, Marriages, and Deaths, 1787-1933

United Kingdom, Militia Service Records, 1806-1915

United Kingdom, World War I Service Records, 1914-1920

United Kingdom, World War I Women's Army Auxiliary Corps Records, 1917-1920

Newspaper Archives

British Newspaper Archive, Family Notices

British Newspaper Archives, Obituaries

Family History Links

FamilySearch Historical Records


Vision of Britain historical maps


  • County: Devon
  • Civil Registration District: Exeter
  • Probate Court: Court of the Dean and Chapter of Exeter, Court of the Peculiars of the Dean and Chapter of Exeter, This cathedral has associated courts not listed.
  • Diocese: Exeter
  • Rural Deanery: Christianity (Exeter)
  • Poor Law Union: Not Applicable
  • Hundred: Exeter City
  • Province: Canterbury