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An expression of disdain

NLPG NSG Exemplar Award Winner – Most Interesting Anecdote, Address or Street Name 2009: Devon County Council.

The 1832 Reform Bill granted seats in the House of Commons to large cities that had sprung up during the Industrial Revolution, and took away seats from the “rotten boroughs” – those with very small populations. The Bill also increased the number of individuals entitled to vote, increasing the size of the electorate by 50–80%, and allowing a total of one out of six adult males to vote, in a population of some 14 million.

As an expression of disdain for the passing of the Reform Act of 1832, Exeter City Council renamed a city centre thoroughfare. Formerly called Small Lane, the newly christened Parliament Street links the High Street to Waterbeer Street, and is thought to date from the 14th Century. At 50 metres (160 ft) long, 0.64 metres (25 inches) at its narrowest point, expanding to approximately 1.22 metres (48 inches) at it widest, it is, according to some sources, the world’s narrowest street.

With barely room for one person to pass, let alone two, Parliament Street is a foreboding passage with high buildings on either side. In 1740, the City Chamber had ordered that doors be fixed at either end, in an attempt to stop local householders emptying chamber pots into the street. In 1836, residents of Waterbeer Street petitioned the Council to widen Parliament Street, raising £130 towards the work which, as modern visitors to Exeter will note, was never actually undertaken.

Exeter’s alternative newspaper, the Flying Post, had their offices in Parliament Street when they first started publishing in February 1976. The address was recorded as the 3rd floor, 195 High Street, with the entrance in Parliament Street.

A brass plaque on the right of the entrance to Parliament Street from the High Street reads: Parliament Street – believed to be the narrowest street in the world: width 25” increasing to 45”.

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