From the Very Revd Jonathan Greener, Dean of Exeter

Amazing: the contractors have moved onto site. As I’ve reported a number of times recently, the work on the Chapter House is about to begin. But seeing actual builders and their machinery in the Cloister Garden makes our Cathedral Development Project feel very real at last. Just to remind you, at this stage there are two parts to the work: new underfloor heating, and the installation of a new glass porch. You’ll remember that the underfloor heating installed in the 1970s didn’t survive the decade. Technology and reliability have improved considerably since then, and we hope this system will be here for the long-term. The new porch will provide level access for all, and serve as a heat and sound barrier while the great west doors are left open. Conservation of the fantastic ceiling and the medieval painting in the niches, along with new lighting, will have to wait for a later project, though the consultation about this work remains open, and we would be grateful if you could spare time to participate in this survey if you have not already done so.

Thanks to a new grant announced earlier this week, this Chapter House work will take place alongside the replacement of the South Aisle Roof, and some major work on our stained glass in the East End. Clearly we shall be living alongside a significant building site for a busy, possibly frantic, few months, which I imagine will require patience and generosity from us all. I dare to hope it will be a rehearsal for us all in the hope that we shall be successful in our Round 2 Lottery funding.

You will remember that we have recently completed some archaeology outside the Chapter House. The purpose of this was principally to uncover the foundations of the original medieval cloister, to inform the design of our new Cloister Gallery. We now have a short video which records something of what went on during the dig, and describes our exciting plans for the future. It lasts less than 6 minutes, and is well worth a watch on our YouTube channel.

And now to the big question people have been asking recently: what’s happening about the Exeter Cathedral Christmas Market? I’m pleased to say that following lots of consultation, and plenty of hard work, we have decided this is still to take place from 21 November - 19 December. This is really positive news for our traders, for the city, and for us as a cathedral. It gives us all something to look forward to. Of course, a huge amount of planning has been necessary to ensure that we can deliver it in a safe manner. We believe that by requiring face coverings to be worn, by radically altering the layout of the market, and by controlling visitor numbers, we can minimise the risk. The pandemic is, of course, a developing situation. So alongside all the preparations, we will be continuing to monitor and reassess our safety measures in consultation with our traders, Exeter City Council, the Safety Advisory Group and Public Health England. But the build is still scheduled to start on 2 November.

From the archives…

A celebrity in our midst!

A while ago someone asked to see the Cathedral’s baptism register from 1918. They wanted to see their relative’s entry in the register and, in the process introduced the Cathedral Archives to one of their favourite singing stars of the early 20th century! In amongst all the usual doctors, soldiers, tradesmen and vicars also having their children baptised, is an entry for the son of a ‘Music Hall artist’.

Norris Smith was a black American singer and actor who was born in Missouri in 1883 and moved to England in about 1911. He and his family lived mostly in London, but toured extensively in Europe for shows.

In November 1918 he and his wife, Maye, were in Exeter, and their son Joseph was baptised in the Cathedral. Smith wrote in the Chicago Defender, as their ‘foreign theatrical representative’ (23 November 1918):

“Here’s hoping that these few lines will find you well, and the same goes for everyone else that I know in the dear old U.S.A. This leaves me in the best of health, and the same can be said for the rest of the folks back from home who are here. I am proud to tell you that my wife presented me with a fine 8 ½ pound boy last Wednesday, and that both of them are doing well. I am the happiest man in England.”

Norris Smith was a member of the Black Diamonds vocal group with Henry Make Johnson, Eugene Abbott, and Walter Dixon. In 1928 Smith recorded Ol’ man River with the Drury Lane cast of Showboat. Paul Robeson had not got his Equity card through in time for the record, so Smith performed instead. Smith also had film roles in You Can’t Take it With You (1949) and Diamond City (1950) starring David Farrant, Honor Blackman and Diana Dors.

October is Black History Month. Black History Month is a national campaign which recognises and celebrates the history, contributions and achievements that black people have made to the UK over many generations.

Exeter Cathedral Christmas Market to go ahead, with new safety measures

Exeter Cathedral has confirmed plans to hold its traditional Christmas Market this year. The decision comes following extensive discussions to ensure appropriate safety measures in the light of current coronavirus concerns.

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The false premise of meritocracy

Michael J Sandel
The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good?
We live in an age of winners and losers; entrenched inequality gives a lie to the idea that you can make it if you try hard enough. Sandel, the renowned American philosopher from Harvard, argues that meritocracy is a false premise – we underestimate the role of luck and good fortune – generating a lack of humility in the winners and harsh judgement on those left behind.

Tune into our live streaming services 

Although services are back on at the Cathedral, we are delighted to be able to continue our worship broadcasts every Sunday. Available, both live and on-demand, at our Facebook Video page.

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Fun activities for half-term holidays

Young visitors to Exeter Cathedral will enjoy some fun new activities for the half-term holidays, including a FREE Activity Trail (starting Monday) and brass rubbing kits (£2 each). See you there soon!

Don’t forget to change your clocks for our Sunday services! 

British Summer Time (BST) ends at 2am on Sunday, when clocks go back one hour for Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).

Holly berries in October!

By The Revd Canon Cate Edmonds
I was out for a walk with my husband and dogs recently at one of our particular favourite haunts on the Jurassic Coast. We were searching for sloes, but that’s another story. I was struck by the number of holly trees that were full of berries.

Keeping in touch

As we’ve moved back into the Cathedral, but still aware that many are relying on online contact, there are some changes to our ‘Keeping in Touch’ arrangements.

Exeter Cathedral on Twitter
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Exeter Cathedral website
Please think about leaving a gift in your will. A simple letter to your solicitor saying that you would like to give to the Dean and Chapter of Exeter, Exeter Cathedral Music Foundation Trust (charity no. 297365), or The Friends of Exeter Cathedral (charity no. 207096), will be enormously helpful to the Cathedral in the future. If you would like to discuss your thoughts or join our Legacy Circle, please get in touch with Jill Taylor, Director of Development at Thank you.
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Postal address:
Exeter Cathedral, 1 The Cloisters, Exeter, EX1 1HS

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