Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Mols Coffee House - Exeter

This month, I am looking at a interesting building in the heart of Exeter, Devon called "Mol's" (below).


The four storey building sits overlooking Exeter Cathedral in the centre of the city and has a rich history. Visually stunning, it was built in the 16th century by the Cathedral authority, and throughout it's history has been used for a variety of purposes. First to house priests for the cathedral, and later as a customs house. The Royal Coat of Arms on the front was put there in 1596 to show it's official status as a customs house for the Crown. The Dutch-style gable was added very late on in 1879. Each floor has different style windows, which should make the building look strange, but somehow the building pulls it off, and still manages to look amazing.

It was reputed that Sir Francis Drake discussed battle plans for defeating the Spanish Armada in Mol's, and his family crest is displayed on the oak panelling on the second floor. However, recent research has shown that this was probably not true, and made up by one the Victorian era tenants who used the building as a gallery and wanted to get more people into the building.

However, it is believed that in 1588, Mol's was used as a place where Exeter city men discussed their contribution to the fleet that destroyed the Armada.

Drake Family Crest

Mol's is most remarkable for the fact that for over a hundred years it was a coffee house and all the proprietors were women:

1726 - 1752 Mary Wildy 
1752 - 1787 Margaret Wildier
1787 - 1789 Mrs Vinnicombe. 
1789 - 1792 Mary Murch. 
1793 - 1817 Miss Sarah Hurd (Heard)
1820 - 1832 Mrs Mary Commins - moved business to 253 High Street

Victorian postcard image of the second floor interior of Mol's

Some have said the building was named after an Italian man called Mol, but the name "Mol" being a short version of Mary is now known to be the reason why the building became known as "Mol's". 

Coffee houses were popular throughout this period as places where gentlemen could relax, read the newspapers and catch up on gossip. Though women were often coffee shop owners, it is unusual for six in a row. Mol's was very popular during this time, and often acted as a ticket agent for the Royal Clarence hotel next door. 

Since the coffee shop closed, Mol's has also been used as an apothecary shop, a shoe shop, stationers, jewellers, printers, gallery and map dealers. 

Cathedral Close, Exeter. Mol's is on the right,

These days the building is a gift shop for exclusive gifts and remains one of the most photographed buildings in Exeter.

Jenna Dawlish


  1. A very beautiful building and an interesting history! Thank you for sharing.

  2. I love to think of the 6 women proprietors, the Mary's (and Margaret), who ran the coffee house. Excellent article, Jenna!

  3. Hi Farida and Lauren, Glad you liked the article. There are a few other very interesting buildings in Exeter I will post about in the coming months. Lauren - I agree, I love to think of the 6 women too! Jenna x

  4. That's very interesting! I like the idea of women proprietors of coffee shops. It really looks beautiful too.


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