The Quay

(Image Credit: Beth Baker)

The Quay

Quay House

Built in 1680, the Quay House was formerly used for storing cloth and other goods. Today, the history and development of the Quayside is told through colourful displays and a fascinating collection of artefacts.


Until the 16th century, small 8-10 ton sail barges called Lighters used the canal to transport low value cargoes such as coal and limestone. After the extension of the canal in 1820s, sea-going ships were able to use it.
Today, although the canal is one of the oldest shipping canals in Britain, it is no longer used for trade. Boats, canoes and pedalos can be seen floating. Lending out pedalos and canoes is one of the main businesses on the Quayside.


There were seven cellars which were used as a storage for wool and cloth during the peak of the cloth industry,before the Industrial Revolution. In the 19th century, the cellars were used by local businesses that continued to use the canal to transport goods such as wine, oil and grain.
In the 20th century, the cellars were converted into offices, shops, coffee shops and restaurants. Although there are craftsmen still working there today, they claim that the industrial nature of the Quay is now in the past.

"Floating bridge"

The usage of the hand-operated cable ferry that crosses the River Exe dates back to at least 1641, which means that when Turner created his famous painting of Exeter Quay, the ferry must have been there. However, locals working on the Quay point out that the ferry has been in use for more than a thousand years.
Today, the Butts Ferry, named after Mr George Butts who fought to keep the ferry open when the City Council attempted to close, is one of only five floating bridges in the country.

Custom House

The Custom House was built in 1680 with the increase in trade and thus an increase in the number of taxes that needed to ne collected. It is one of the oldest surviving brick buildings in the South West . The officials working there were in charge of listing every ship and its cargo. What is more, they used the massive chimney in the Custom House to burn tobacco , alcohol and other goods that smugglers tried to trade.
Nowadays, the Custom House provides a backdrop to beautiful textiles, handmade jewellery, rugs and furniture.

Wharfinger house

Wharfingers house was built in 1778 for the wharfinger, who were the officials in charge of collecting wharfage fees.
Today, the house is converted into a small boutique hair salon, providing an evidence for the transition of the Quay from an industrial center of the city to a place for leisure.


(Image credits: Beth Baker)