Exeter’s Bishop’s Throne Reveals Secrets of Mediaeval Oak Carpentry

Next month will see one of the most magnificent masterpieces of mediaeval oak carpentry re-opened to the public – the 700-year-old Bishop’s Throne at Exeter Cathedral.

Currently obscured by scaffolding while restoration work takes place, this 60-foot high ornate throne has been of immense value to historians, because an incredible amount is known about its heritage and its provenance, when it was first made by master carpenters in 1313 – and this story has much to teach us about wood conservation in the present day.

Thanks to meticulous records, historians are able to pinpoint exactly which Devonshire farm supplied the oak beams used in the throne’s construction, in which pond the beams were seasoned before use and even the names of the carpenters in question.

The cathedral’s archaeologist John Allan explained that “the throne is widely regarded as the most magnificent piece of mediaeval furniture left in Northern Europe.”

“It is a complex and most unusual survival – and is remarkable because it is so richly carved. It must have required masses of work – there’s a series of very complex shapes which must have been very difficult to carve, along with elaborate panels and leaf carvings.”

He revealed that the oak beams came from Bishop’s Manor at Chudleigh, the carpenters who created it were named William Membury and William Gampton and the wood was seasoned in a mill pond in Newton St Cyres .

“The cathedral preserved the original rolls of parchment which recall all the expenses at the time – they are magnificent and generally thought to be best record of their kind.”