A Celtic tribe called the Dumnonii were the first people to settle here, and although there doesn’t appear to be any hard evidence, it seems likely that they were trading at the Quayside before the Romans arrived. You might have expected the Romans to be trading here themselves, and although they probably did, their main port was at Topsham, some 4 miles downstream.
Even so, by the Middle Ages, trade was flourishing on the Quayside – or at least it was until Countess Isabella de Fortibus built a weir across the river above Topsham to run her mills. To bypass the problem a canal was built from the opposite side of the river down to a point just below Topsham. Exeter’s influence was restored, and by the mid-18th century trade reached its peak when woollen cloth became the chief export. This cloth was stored in warehouses along with imported olive oil, wine and salt cod.