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Turner’s drawing appears incoherent at first sight, but it reflects the dilapidated state of his subject. Water Gate, located at the corner of Exeter’s city walls on Quay Hill immediately behind the Custom House (visible in the drawing on folio 31 verso; D08844) was demolished soon afterwards, in 1815. It spanned an opening up the slope between the ramshackle house on the left and the roughly chamfered city wall, with further ancient buildings visible to the north-west beyond. The houses are also gone but the surviving city wall correlates closely with the details on the right of Turner’s sketch.
The arch, surmounted by a carved coat of arms, is shown from the same angle in an engraved View of the Watergate, Taken Down in 1815 after Turner’s fellow Royal Academician, Joseph Farington, for Daniel and Samuel Lysons’s Devonshire (London 1822), volume VI of their Magna Britannia. Farington seems to have drawn the structure more than once on his own West Country tour in Autumn 1810, calling it ‘Quay-gate’ in a summary day-by-day list of sketches.1 He visited many of the same sites as Turner – see the entry for folio 30 verso (D08842), where Turner’s other views of Exeter are mentioned.
This page was recorded by Finberg as if it were a recto (without the ‘a’ suffix by which he usually indicates a verso), but the drawing he describes is bound as the verso of the sheet and stamped on the blank ‘recto’. When Tate accession numbers were allocated to the book the verso (i.e. the present drawing) was originally designated as D08847, but the number was cancelled as redundant.
Kathryn Cave (ed.), The Diary of Joseph Farington, vol.X, New Haven and London 1982, p.3817; see also ibid., vol.XVI, 1984, p.5699.