Redeveloping the CBD: A case study of Princesshay in Exeter

20th century history: Why was redevelopment necessary?

The story of Princesshay begins with World War 2.

Watch the short film clip (15mb) to find out what happened to Exeter during the Blitz.

ww2 blitz   cleared rubble
Eastgate devastation
Rubble cleared,
Cathedral in background
Two views of the Princesshay area during WW2. Click to enlarge

Photos© Express and Echo

After the war: Princesshay is born

Exeter City Council asked a famous town planner, Thomas Sharp to design a masterplan for reconstruction of the bomb-damaged areas of the city. Rejecting the idea of repairing and restoring damaged buildings, Sharp's plans called for urban renewal with modern buildings, wide pavements, pedestrian areas and views of the cathedral and conservation of the old Roman City Walls.
In reality, the council couldn't afford to carry out Sharp's plan, but part of the city centre was rebuilt along his guidelines, and the brand new shopping centre of Princesshay was created.

Princesshay 1959

Princesshay in 1978 (Photo courtesy of David Cornforth at Exeter Memories)

Public art was a feature of Princesshay. A sculpture of a phoenix rising from the ashes was commissioned to symbolize Exeter's post-war recovery and a historic sculpture, the Blue Boy was sited at the end of the street to mark the site of an old school.


The new Princesshay was the first pedestrian-only shopping street in the UK. A range of different shops and cafes appealed to visitors who could enjoy wide spaces and fine views of the Cathedral. Despite these attractions, Princesshay was to be short-lived; just 50 years later it was demolished to make way for another redevelopment.

Princesshay 2004

Princesshay in 2004 (Photo courtesy of David Cornforth at Exeter Memories)


The rise of the regional shopping centres, and the end for Princesshay

During the 1990's, Exeter Council felt under pressure to improve the retail core of the city centre. Rival developers were submitting plans for new shopping centres in the urban-rural fringe, and the opening of Cribbs Causeway, a major out-of-town shopping centre at Bristol, meant that Exeter's CBD was in danger of losing it's position as a major destination for shoppers in the southwest of the UK. The council felt that Princesshay was outdated, and the area was sold to the property development company Land Securities who drew up plans for a brand new shopping mall to replace it. The Council agreed to the plans for the mall, but there was an outcry from the public, and organizations such as English Heritage, who felt that the city centre would lose it's character.


Click on the photo of Princesshay in 1992. Do you think the area looks outdated?


Princesshay in 1992 Was it really so bad? ©Express and Echo (source: Land Securities)

Local people were worried about the redevelopment of Princesshay. Find out why

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