Expect The Unexpected

Some of the stories that inspired this autumn's events

The Exeter Canal and the River Exe have a long and entwined history The first section of canal was opened 450 years ago, making it the oldest remaining canal in the country. Celebration of this anniversary was the jumping off point for the development of this year's 'Unexpected' events.

The river had been blocked by a weir, allowing boats to use Topsham as a port for international trade, but effectively cutting off Exeter. In 1566 a short canal was completed that allowed ships to pass through to Exeter, where the water height had been raised by the building of a pound lock through which boats passed - the first ever built in the country. A good place to find out more about the history of the canal is at Exeter Memories

In future years the canal was deepened and lengthened, the Quayside was extended and the Customs House was built. Exeter's trading partners were now worldwide, and the development of woollen materials made from the wool of the sheep in the vast hinterland of Devon and beyond meant that the whole area was taken over by the production of woolsey, and later the speciality 'serge' material - later used to make army uniforms.

Key phrases that we use today, such as being 'on tenterhooks', come from their use in this trade. You can find out more about this and much more about this prosperous era in Exeter's history by visiting Tuckers Hall, the original guild building of the Weavers, Fullers and Shearmen.

Meanwhile the river continued to flow and fish such as salmon continue to pass over the weirs to breed. But did you know that the rare European sturgeon has occasionally been seen in the river Exe?

The sturgeon is a fish of prehistoric origin, in existence 150 million years ago. The fish was so prized that in 1324 the sturgeon was declared a Royal Fish, and any caught automatically belonged to Kind Edward II. In 1669 a sturgeon was caught in the River Exe. 8 feet long with a girth of 6 feet, it is not recorded whether it was sent to the Royal Court for consumption.

In fact, the sturgeon can reach 6 metres (20 ft) in length and 400 kg (880 lb) in weight. Although almost extinct, one was seen in the Bristol Channel as recently as 2004, so they do occasionally re-appear...

If you would like to find out more about the area and its ecology and history, the following sites might also be of interest:

Exeter Canal and Quay Trust

Canal and River Trust

Environment Agency

Devon Wildlife Trust

River Exe RETA project

Performances will be directed and led by Oceanallover

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