Page updated 6th February 2013
This little street, was formerly called Small Lane. There is some disagreement as to how it acquired its present name. One story suggests that it was renamed after the Civil War, as a comment that the Commonwealth had too much Parliament. Another story claims it was renamed when Parliament was derided by the City Chamber for passing the 1832 Reform Bill. The street itself dates from the 14th century. It is certainly a very narrow thoroughfare, very dark with high buildings on each side. The total length is about 50 metres.
In 1740 the City Chamber ordered that doors be fixed at each end of the street. Local householders had been in the habit of emptying their chamber pots into the street, causing a public nuisance - the gates would stop that little practice. And later, in 1836, the locals in Waterbeer Street petitioned the council to have Parliament Street widened, raising £130 towards the work, which in the event, was never undertaken. One objector, to the scheme, claimed that he would have to have his property revalued for the Improvement Commission to raise the money to pay the estimated £1,150 to purchase part of the building on one side, and for it to be demolished and rebuilt. Another case of a ratepayer objecting to a hike in his taxes.
One particular story, about Parliament Street, involved a bet between an individual, who was allegedly to be the biggest man in Exeter, and a more athletic local man. The giant challenger claimed that he could beat a young local man In a street race, if he were given 20 yards start. The wager was accepted, and the race commenced. The large man lumbered down Parliament Street, hotly pursued by the more athletic young man. Because of the narrowness of the street, there was no way that the young man could get past his adversary. The winner, of course, was the Exeter giant!
The alternative newspaper, the Exeter Flying Post had their offices in Parliament Street when they started publishing in February 1976. The address was the 3rd floor, 195 High Street, with the entrance in Parliament Street. If you look carefully, there is a door on the right in the photograph.
A brass plaque on the right of the entrance to Parliament Street reads:
Parliament Street - believed to be the narrowest street in the world. Width 25" increasing to 45".
Sources: Western Times (1903), Exeter Flying Post (1976) and various public domain sources.
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