Page updated 4 July 2009
Designed for Harry Hems, the church sculptor and woodcarver, this building was the employment place for 100 workers, producing carvings and furniture, stained glass and memorials. It was completed in 1882 on a plot of two acres.
The architect was Robert Medley Fulford (1845-1910)
who produced a
building of three storeys that also served to show off the best of Hems
work, with stained glass, decorative leadwork and gothic detailing, all
in the Hems style..
The new workshop employed 70 in the 1880s and 100 by 1895. Hems collected medieval bench ends, misericords, roof bosses and other pieces and displayed them in rows, within the workshop, for his workers to use for inspiration and pattern. He ensured his workers used tried and tested methods of construction, and in 1882 wrote a letter to the Flying Post where he claimed the firm never used iron nails, but used oak pins in its church furniture.
Harry Hems was apprenticed to a Sheffield sculptor and went on to produce work for the Foreign Office and the Langham Hotel. He then travelled through Italy gaining further experience. When Hems arrived pennyless in Exeter railway station, during 1866, he found a horseshoe in the road and took this as a token of luck. The Royal Albert Memorial Museum was being constructed at this time and Hems gained employment producing carvings. He kept the horseshoe and had it mounted above the central pink granite column at the front of 84 Longbrook Street.
By the time he commissioned his new workshop in Longbrook Street, Harry Hems had worked on 400 churches and 100 public buildings. There are many examples of his work around Exeter - one such is the Livery Dole Martyrs memorial in Denmark Road. Harry Hems moved into Fairpark, a large, end house with a turret, next door to his workshop and died on 5th January 1916. His grave is in the Higher Cemetery.
After Harry Hems' son retired in 1938 the building was used by Henry Quick and Company, boot, shoe and leather merchants. Later it became a wine merchants and is now Harry's Restaurant, complete with the original horseshoe over the entrance. Will Young, the Pop Idol winner worked at Harry's when he was a student. When he won Pop Idol the staff at Harry's were kept informed of his win and had a celebration.
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