Exeter is awarded UNESCO City of Literature status

Exeter has been awarded prestigious UNESCO City of Literature status – making it the only place in the UK to get the honour this time around.

The capital of Devon now joins 65 other cities across the world who have become part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Exeter’s bid for the honour was a collaboration of people and organisations across the city, including Exeter Culture, and centred around 1,000 years of unbroken history around reading and writing.

It recognised the Exeter Book at Exeter Cathedral – one of the oldest and best-preserved collections of old English verse in the world – but also about what reading and writing means to residents.

Councillor Phil Bialyk, leader of Exeter City Council, said: “This is fantastic news for Exeter. Once again this is international recognition for the city and its cultural offer.

“Exeter spends more on culture than most other cities in the country.

“Many of the 66 cities that have become part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network across the world are much bigger cities with larger populations, demonstrating that Exeter is once again punching above its weight.”

Cllr Rachel Sutton, lead for climate and culture, said: “I am absolutely thrilled with the news – it is a huge honour for Exeter that will unlock exciting new opportunities for everyone in the city to engage in culture.”

Dom Jinks, director of Exeter Culture, said: “This is so positive for Exeter.

“The bid made much of the city’s wide variety of historical assets.

“But it is actually much more about culture supporting the well-being of everyone in the city today, including those who may not currently see themselves engaging with culture.

“The partnership behind the bid in Exeter was very strong, and this success is down to the strength of that partnership.”

The University of Exeter also hosts the archives of works connected to famous writers such as William Golding, Ted Hughes, Agatha Christie, Daphne DuMaurier and Sir John Betjeman.

Sarah Campbell, associate director for arts and culture at the University of Exeter said: “It is absolutely wonderful that Exeter has been recognised in this way for its rich heritage of culture.

“The UNESCO City of Literature status celebrates not only the rich variety of cultural and creative activities  that are crafted and cultivated in Exeter, but also the close collaboration between so many people and organisations to ensure Exeter strengthens its flourishing arts and culture reputation not just in the UK, but across the world.”

The Exeter Book is a 10th century anthology of poetry and  is one of the four major Anglo Saxon literature codices, along with the Vercelli Book, Nowell Codex and the Cædmon manuscript.

The book was donated to the library of Exeter Cathedral by Leofric, the first Bishop of Exeter, in 1072.

The Exeter Book is the largest-known collection of Old English literature still in existence.

Those involved in the successful bid were: Exeter City Council, Exeter Culture; The University of Exeter; Devon County Council; Libraries Unlimited; Literature Works; Exeter Cathedral and Exeter Canal and Quay Trust.

Literature Works, the literature development agency for South West England, wrote the bid on behalf of the steering group.

Exeter’s bid focussed on ‘cultural wellbeing’ – the power that words can have in all types of setting.

It also ties in with Exeter’s Sport England Delivery pilot work on improving life for all.

This is a four year programme and the next step is to apply to the Arts Council for funding.

From Harry Potter and the Lord’s Prayer to Dracula and Dickens – Exeter’s famous literary connections:

JK Rowling

JK Rowling is best-known for the Harry Potter phenomenon, which has won multiple awards and sold more than 500million copies, becoming the best-selling book series in history.

The author studied at the University of Exeter and graduated in 1986 after earning a BA in French and classics.

It had long been rumoured – and had even become folklore – that Gandy Street was the inspiration for the cramped streets of Diagon Alley and the Old Fire House was the pub which was the inspiration for The Leaky Cauldron.

However, last year, Rowling shot down the rumour to her 14million Twitter followers around the world when she revealed that she had never even been to the pub.

Charles Dickens

Dickens created some of the world’s best-known fictional characters and is regarded by many as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era.

His works enjoyed unprecedented popularity during his lifetime and, by the 20th century, critics and scholars had recognised him as a literary genius.

Although not born in Exeter, the Turks Head pub famously hosted the author, who would sit in an area since dubbed ‘Dickens Corner.’

A character from Pickwick Papers is linked to a person he observed during his time sipping a drink.

Bram Stoker

Exeter’s links to Bram Stoker’s Dracula are strong as it inspired the writer’s spooky tale and even appeared prominently in it.

It has long been known that Stoker used the city’s Cathedral Close for part of his original Dracula story.

In the world-famous chiller, it is the place from where the young solicitor Jonathan Harker leaves to go to Transylvania and, later in the story, Harker receives correspondence from the city.

Writer and horror expert Andy Struthers said many people, including Stoker’s descendants, have visited Exeter to try to find any connection as to why the Irish author chose the city.

He said: “The Book of Werewolves and The Vampire Tale provided Stoker with elements of his story, and virtually everything he needed for the creation of his vampire Count, possibly including the voice of his vampire, which was female.

“Both books, were written by the same man, Sabine Baring-Gould, who also wrote the famous hymn Onward Christian Soldiers in 1865.

“Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924), was a famous Anglican priest, who just happened to come from the Sidwell Street area of Exeter.

“Exeter was included in the novel as a way of saying thank you to Baring-Gould, and the masses of material that he had provided the Irish author with.”

Richard Hooker

Richard Hooker – the father of Anglicanism – did work during the Reformation that helped shape England and make it what it is today.

Born in Heavitree in 1554, he was educated at the Grammar School in High Street before going to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, at the age of 15.

He was an English priest in the Church of England and was one of the most important English theologians of the 16th century.

His defence of the role of redeemed reason informed the theology of the 17th century writer Caroline Divines and later provided many members of the Church of England with a theological method which combined the claims of revelation, reason and tradition.

His works included a ‘Learned Discourse of Justification’ and ‘Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie’.

WG Hoskins

William George Hoskins, born in Exeter in 1908, founded the first university department of English Local History.

His great contribution to the study of history was in the field of landscape history.

Hoskins demonstrated the profound impact of human activity on the evolution of the English landscape in a pioneering book, The Making of the English Landscape.

His work has had lasting influence in the fields of local and landscape history and historical and environmental conservation.

His book Devon, a volume that included a gazetteer of all 430 parishes of the county, along with chapters covering the history of the county and its towns, was published in 1954.

Some consider it to be the finest modern county history; several of the photos for Devon where taken by FL Attenborough, vice-chancellor of Leicester, and father of David and Richard.

His book Two Thousand Years in Exeter is the most comprehensive study of his native city available, and was republished in 2006, with an update by local author Hazel Harvey.

Robert Stone

Born in 1516 in Alphington, Robert Stone only ever put together one composition – but it was to possibly the most famous text ever written.

Around 1550, he put together the first setting of the Lord’s Prayer.

It was first printed by John Day in Certaine Notes (1565) and its free rhythmic structure resembles the French vers mesuré.

The Lord’s Prayer, also called the Our Father, is a venerated Christian prayer which, according to the New Testament, Jesus taught as the way to pray.

Henry Chadwick

Born in Exeter in 1824, Henry Chadwick became a sportswriter, historian, and baseball statistician, and is known as the ‘Father of Baseball’ for his early reporting on and contributions to the development of the game.

He edited the first baseball guide that was sold to the public.

Chadwick is credited with creating box scores, as well as creating the abbreviation ‘K’ that designates a strikeout.

He is said to have created the statistics of batting average and earned run average (ERA).

For his contributions to the game of baseball, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1938.

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