Exeter had long been famous for its ancient and historic buildings. However, the slum clearance of the 1920’s and 30’s around Exe Island and the West Quarter, followed by the bombing of May 1942 saw many historic buildings disappear. When the new road system from the Exe Bridge, bypassing the town centre was planned, a new inner bypass was to be constructed, with the loss of more historic buildings.
Number 16 Edmund Street, or Merchant House, was in the way of the new road and was scheduled for demolition. It dated from about 1500, although some thought it may be 14th century. It was certainly one of the oldest surviving houses in Exeter. In a poor state of repair, it didn’t seem that important a loss. However, with pressure from archaeologists, it was listed just in time, as an important building of architectural and historic significance, and the demolition was halted. Exeter City Council, with help from the government decided to spend £10,000 to have the house moved out of the way of the new road.
A London company headed by Mr Fordham Pryke was contracted to move the house about 70m up from its site on the corner of Edmund Street and Frog Street to a new position by the old West Gate, at the bottom of West Street. It took several weeks to prepare the house for the move – the timber framework of the house was criss-crossed with strengthening timbers and iron wheels placed at each corner attached to hydraulic jacks. No iron bolts, screws or supports were used against the original timbers, to prevent damage.