I learned a new word last week. Tucker. It’s actually a Devonian term for a fuller, a craftsman who pounded woollen cloth under water to clean the cloth and create a dense texture. The tucker was also responsible for hanging wet cloth on a frame called a ‘tenter’ stretched between hooks to prevent shrinkage while the cloth dried. Hence the expression ‘to be on tenterhooks.’ I tell you every day’s a school day. I only found this out when I was taken on a tour of Tuckers Hall in Exeter, last week, by the Master Ian Gardner and the Beadle Davy Johnston. Now I have lived in Exeter for 27 years and although I have been to the Guildhall for a number of functions and the magnificent Cathedral for various concerts and dinners I have never been to Tuckers Hall and yet I must have walked past it dozens of times not giving it even a cursory glance. Its set half way up Exeter’s Fore Street which is described as just the place for ‘eccentric’ shoppers and a ‘rare’ find’ for not only its architecture but its quirky shops and arcades. There’s a retro clothing emporium as well as Mansons Guitar’s whose clients have included Muse, Led Zeppelin, Arctic Monkeys, Yes, Oasis, Jethro Tull and McFly! You can get a tattoo, a beautiful Thai Meal, Steam Punk clothing and just about any other form of fancy dress that ..well that you fancy! No wonder I haven’t paid it much attention with all that lot going on. But quite honestly none of their interiors can hold a candle to what’s behind Tuckers Hall unimposing red brick façade. Step over the threshold and you are transported back to medieval England. The Guild of Weavers, Fullers and Shearmen have owned the land and the building since 1471. They regulated the woollen cloth trade in Exeter, which made the city, and Devon, not only wealthy but a centre for international trade and the third richest city in the country. Who knew? It was the upper chamber that took my breath away with its glorious dark oak panelling and decorative carving. The air thick with that earthy, dusty smell of centuries gone by. Permission granted I sat at the head of the table imagining the meetings and dinners that have been held in its candle lit magnificence. With a history of charitable giving, as well as maintaining the building and its artefacts for future generations, nowadays the guild provide support for disadvantaged young people. Quite recently they purchased a property in the centre of Exeter to be rented to Hair@the Academy set up by Mary Pugsley MBE. For many years Mary ran the academy at the Royal Academy for the Deaf supporting youngsters with complex and additional needs teaching them a trade. When the Deaf Academy closed the hair academy was without a home to continue her invaluable work. Enter Tuckers Hall.
Well its taken me 27 years to discover it and in that time I’ve been down a salt mine in Austria, walked through a graveyard stretching for miles in Guadeloupe, hung out of turrets in castles in Poland and Slovenia and Sintra, discovered the Venice synagogue at the heart of the world’s first ghetto, a ritual bath in Syracuse and rowed across Lake Bled to the Church of the Assumption but Tuckers Hall is just 10 minutes away from where I live.
So the moral of this story? Don’t ignore the historic sites under your nose and learn a new word. At the very least it might win you a pub quiz.
Next stop? Exeter’s underground passages.
See it in Western Morning News