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Phillpott’s Taverns

Taverns and Inns have for centuries been part of Dartmoor’s heritage, some located in towns and villages and others in remote spots of the moor. Each one very much individual in its character and its regular customers, all with a tale to tell. Eden Phillpotts wrote many of his stories at various locations on Dartmoor and many of them included the local inn and it’s varied clientele. 

Brewers may think they have a monopoly of “tied houses.” They are mistaken. The novelist often overrides brewers’ ownership. There is the case of Eden Phillpotts, for example. He is a “tied house” proprietor on a large scale. All over Dartmoor and far and wide in Devon and elsewhere he has laid the magic spell of his imagination upon public-house, inn, tavern etc., and made each a Phillpotts hostelry… The novelist has written of these inns in a delightful manner. While admitting there that there is a “generous collection” of public houses in his novels, he hastens to add that “few hard drinkers are to be found in them,” and to make the reflection that his various characters “find the amenities of the inn a welcome and pleasant addition to life. They use their privileges with good sense, and are the better, happier, wiser for them.”Some twenty of these Phillpotts’ inns are mentioned by name, and of them all the novelist writes: “A joy to stumble upon out of the mist, or enter half-drowned from torrential rains. They beckon from the waste, blessed as lighthouses to the storm driven ship, a very present help to all good road men in a time of drought or other hardship.” – The Devon and Exeter Gazette, June 1st 1921. This article was followed up with a more in-depth piece two days later by another local newspaper…

My houses of refreshment all exist, some tucked into hamlets and villages, some standing alone on the high moor; and with the passage of events, and the march of progress they, too, have often moved, enlarged their premises’, added storeys to their stature and increased their capabilities of refreshment, entertainment and comfort. A few change not. They are just as I knew them when as a boy, Dartmoor was my playground fifty years ago, and I repaired to it on every possible occasion, not guessing that it would be my workshop in the time to come.
How, as I review it it awakens memories of adventure and incident, visions of men long since vanished, recollections of old words, old worthies, old songs, old customs now obsolete, or wholly forgotten. The sanded floors and low roofs were a feature of those vanished inns and a landlord here and there preserved a doubtful, yet honourable, habit of hanging his beef and mutton in the bar, that all customers might see the qualities of the solid fare he furnished. Now and again one’s host would take the head of his own table but that, too, is an agreeable fashion I do not see in practice any longer. They were good men who kept the old inns, and they carried on a tradition of hospitality that still persists; but the change is apparent in increased convenience and comfort, more light, more air, more facilities of every description – all I fear, purchased at a tariff that the solitary fly-fisher, or weekend sportsman, of the past would not twice have tolerated…
Of such is Two Bridges Hotel, the best hostelry on the Dart. Once it was a mere snug corner for the fisherman or snipe shooter, now it has become one of the largest and most attractive houses in the Forest. The ‘Duchy,’ too – that famous centre of social life in Princetown – was old fashioned in my childhood and limited to a small, but always delightful place of refreshment; now it is the finest hotel in Dartmoor. I remember the ‘Fox and Hounds’ at Bridestowe in the days of my book, ‘The Whirlwind’  but that wayside inn has long vanished and an exceedingly dainty and perfect house stands in its place.
Good liquor, good cheer, and a kindly welcome are the features of the Dartmoor inns as long as I can remember them. Unpretentious they are, frank, friendly, reflecting the sort of men who kept them – men to whom a name often won answering enthusiasm from strangers at the other end of the earth. Henry Trinaman, of Two Bridges – what a friend was he!  What a genial, big-hearted Englishman – how humorous, how kindly, how well loved. Aaron Rowe, of Princetown! I see him now on his white horse riding to hounds – an enthusiast of the Moor, who knew it as never another, who loved nothing better than to give his time, conduct his guests into the heart of the wonderland, and expatiate upon its magic.
But my inns? Well, if you want them, tramp every road on Dartmoor and visit every village round about it; read every swinging sign; penetrate every low portal, over which it is written that tobacco, snuff and beer may there be purchased. Do this and you won’t be likely to find one that I have not found, or enter one I have not entered. They range from the substantial, renowned houses of market towns – Okehampton, Ashburton, Bovey, Tavistock, Moreton, Chagford – to the more modest places at Brent and Lydford, Gidleigh, Belstone, Postbridge, Holne, Harford, Sheepstor, Meavy Mary Tavy, Horrabridge, Widecombe, Dousland Barn, Buckland, Shaugh, and a score more lying asleep in my memory…” – The Torquay Times, June 3rd 1921.

Here is a very small selection of Phillpott’s Dartmoor inns most of which can be visited today although in the case of the ‘Jolly Huntsman’ under the different name of the Dartmoor Inn at Merrivale. In many cases Phillpotts does not go into detail about the inns but in every case they are central to events of the various story lines. As can be seen from the map below a literary tour of the ‘Phillinns‘ also makes for a good tour of Dartmoor.

Castle Inn (Lydford) – The Whirlwind.
The little public-house stood almost under the castle walls; and beyond it rose a bower of ancient trees, through which appeared the crocketed turrets of St. Petrock’s”. 1907. p.33.
Church House Inn (Holne – no website) – Demeter’s’ Daughter.
Hard by stood the Church House Inn, with deep, welcoming porch, to shield from sun and shower… I got down to the ‘ Church House,’ and there chanced to be a good few neighbours in and out, along of the drouthy weather. So what with talking and giving a bit of advice here and there, as my custom is, and news that we be in for war with they Boers, and Arthur Waycott dropping over from Ashburton an old native as haven’t been up to Holne for five year, and one thing and another, the time slipped by until I got a skinful.” – 1919. pp. 29 & 34.
Jolly Huntsman – (Merrivale – Dartmoor Inn – no website) – The Mother. 
Low, grey and black, with whitewashed faces and tar pitched roofs, Merivale stood and faced the south. No special feature marked this uneven row of habitations threaded up the hill, save where, in the midst, from a square building of two storys, a signboard hung and swung backwards and forwards at the thrust of the wind. Newly painted upon it appeared a red-faced trio of gentlemen in scarlet coats and shiny black hats. They smiled at the world with an air of invincible good nature and high spirits ; but they were hopelessly out of drawing and the crude colour of their coats stared like a wound against the far-flung, silver-grey sobriety of the time and place. Above them shone a legend in gold : The Jolly Huntsmen; beneath them, in black letters, it was proclaimed that the brothers Toop were licensed to sell tobacco, snuff and spirits.” 1909 pp. 26 -27.
Old Inn – (Widecombe) – Widecombe Fair.
In the midst of the central square a yew-tree stood, perched on a triple row of granite steps, while westerly appeared the smithy behind a formidable frieze of ploughs and harrows, and
the ‘Old Inn,’ a comfortable and ancient house, whose entrance was sunk beneath the level of the road. Here Arthur Pierce was licensed to sell beer and spirits, tobacco and snuff.” 1913. p. 7.
Oxenham Arms (South Zeal) – The Beacon.
“Mr. Startup explained other objects of interest as he drove slowly down through the village to where stood the Oxenham Arms, the stateliest and most ancient abode of the hamlet… He drew up where an old sixteenth-century building stood with deep porch and oriel windows. A tar-pitched slate roof, that undulated like running waves, crowned the ancient place ; a great archway opened to the stables at one end, and before the entrance was a granite porch of fine proportions, where winter weather or summer sun might be escaped.” 1911 pp. 19- 21.
Plume of Feathers – (Princetown) – Told at the Plume.
Ring of Bells (Two Bridges Hotel) – The River.
Where now stands the best hostelry on Dartmoor, at Two Bridges, nigh Princetown, there existed in the past a little tavern known as the ” Ring o’ Bells.” It scarcely deserved the name of inn, and was indeed no more than a drinking-house for the moor-men and a place where horses might be baited upon their way.” 1902. p.29.
Royal Oak Inn (Bridestowe – now a B&B) – The Portreeve.
In the central spaces extended a sort of rialto, or resort, before the door of the “Royal Oak”;  and over against this rallying-point, separated by a low wall from the stir and tumult of existence, there lay the sleeping-places of the dead…. The churchyard lies, like a green jewel, In shining setting of sun-baked house-roofs ; and tower and trees spring together therefrom. But their dead do not dominate those who dwell here, and the folk take no thought for these camps and lodges of the silent people. Empty pewters and loud laughter ring at the inn door on one side of the boundaries ; upon the other, church bells chime, and jackdaws make music. There is no discord, for all are sounds proper to Bridgetstowe’s life ; and not one disturbs the green dormitory in the midst.” 1910 pp. 4 – 5.
Rugglestone Inn – (Widecombe) – Widecombe Fair.
Nearly thirty men crammed the tap-room of the ‘ Rugglestone Inn,’ and through a tobacco cloud, gilded by lamp-light, one might have marked familiar visages amid the throng—now clear, now dim, in the fog of the smoke.” 1913. p.345.
Seven Stars Inn (South Tawton – now B&B) – The Beacon.
Beyond the blacksmith’s shop and the inn of the ‘ Seven Stars ‘ there stands at South Tawton a great elm. Beside its foot are bedded a drinking fountain and a pillar-box; behind it rise steps to the lich-gate of St. Andrew’s, a fine old perpendicular fane with tower embattled and pinnacled, and a heavy, south-facing porch. 1911. p.28.”
Warren House Inn – (Postbridge) – The Thief of Virtue.
The ‘Warren House’ occupied high ground at the limit of the Eastern Quarter of the Forest, and formed a good centre for the manifold industries of Gregory. But he had few friends, and his bar-parlour was not frequented. Upon the roadside custom he principally depended, because local men went only for drink, and not for company, to the ‘Warren HouseBefore the ‘Warren House’ there stretched wide spaces of former activity, where once tin miners had worked; and more than this dreary, broken region of rotting mounds, dry watercourses, and deserted machinery could not be seen, for the air was full of a shouting storm-wind and of driving clouds that shut out all things save the water-logged foreground. 1910. pp.93. – 235.
Whitethorn Inn (Shaugh Prior – no website) – The Three Brothers.
Mr. Nathan’s centre of activity and nidus, from which his enterprises and undertakings took shape and separate being, was ‘ The White Thorn ‘ public-house. Here, at the centre of the little web of Shaugh Prior, he pursued his busy and prosperous life”. 1909. p.12.

I will leave the final words to Mr. Phillpotts – “Great Scott!” I hear you say. “This man has lived all his life in pubs! His books are a pretence, a humbug, an excuse for unlimited elbow lifting, for loafing, yarning, wasting his time. His days have obviously been a mere pilgrimage from bar to bar. He’s a doubtful character, no right man of letters, an object of well-deserved derision, a shocking example, an enemy in our midst. “But no; I have not lived all my life in the jolly atmosphere of English inns, though many of my most fruitful, useful hours I have spent amongst them, and shall continue to do so while old friends will make me welcome and new friends offer a greeting.” – The Torquay Times, June 3rd 1921.


About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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