Quick Guide to Pubs Past and Present
Topsham pubs have always offered a warm welcome to travellers. In the eighteenth century there were over 40 of them, reflecting the rough and ready seaport Topsham was back then. In the late 1900s, Exeter University students did the ‘Topsham Ten’ pub crawl as a rite of passage.
You can’t drink a pint in ten pubs any more, let alone forty, but you can follow a trail of buildings that were once inns and public houses. Not quite a pub crawl, but rather a family walk of discovery. Explore the byways and see where locals caroused with ale and cider while propping up the bar.
Start your walk at the Holman Way car park, turn right and follow the path into Monmouth Avenue and Monmouth Street. The Duke of Monmouth (No 9) was named after the son of Charles II. He visited Topsham in 1680 and made a speech from the upper window.
Turn left, and left again to find the 18th century King’s Head at 22 Higher Shapter Street. Back on Strand, the Honest Heart (No. 29) also dated back to before 1750.
Returning along Strand to the Quay, Nos 1-3 was the Ship in Dock. Situated near the old gaol, convicts sentenced to transportation were sometimes housed here. The Steam Packet (now Route 2 at 1 Monmouth Hill) probably dates from the 14th century. Its name recalled the paddle steamer that sailed weekly from Topsham to London.
Walking up Fore Street, take a detour into White Street to find the tiny 18th-century Malt Scoop Inn at No. 10.
Back on Fore Street, No 36 was the Ship Aground and off to the left in cobbled Church Lane (now a path), you’ll find the 17th-century Seven Stars, a former cider house.
At 34 Fore Street, The Globe Inn has been in business since the sixteenth century.
No 61 Fore Street is probably the oldest building in Topsham (see the 1385 plaque) and may have been a wayside hospice known as the Church House.
The Salutation Inn, now a Michelin Guide restaurant, was a coaching inn with a cobbled courtyard and stables at the rear. Check out the enormous wooden door, marked with signs to ward off witches.
Nos 13-14 Fore Street, now the Co-op supermarket, was the London and South Western Hotel. It was home to Tryphena Gale, the writer Thomas Hardy’s cousin and first love.
Nos 6-7 Fore Street was a 17th-century inn, variously named the Lamb, the Swan, the Commercial Inn and the Railway Inn. Almost opposite, No 90 was the Laurel Tree – a pub dating from before 1700.
Continue over the mini-roundabout to find the Lord Nelson (still a pub), the eighteenth-century Half Moon or Sun (no. 22-23) and the Exeter Inn (no. 68), or turn left into Follett Road, where nos 8-10 was the Dolphin or Crooked Fish.
Turning left again into Ferry Road, the Passage Inn opened in 1721 and is still serving. Until 1928, the publican was responsible for rowing passengers across the river at the nearby ferry. The exact location of the nearby Three Mariners is the subject of speculation.
Back at the Quay, part of the present Lighter Inn (1760) was the customs house when Topsham was an important international port.
If you’re hungry and thirsty after your walk, the Lighter Inn (on the Quay), Passage House Inn (in Ferry Road) and The Globe (Fore Street) all offer indoor and outdoor seating and varied menus; try the ancient Bridge Inn for real ale (it is said to be the only pub officially visited by the Queen); the Lord Nelson occasionally has live music and the thatched Exeter Inn has a sports bar and TV.
Discover more about the history of Topsham pubs in Topsham Inns, available from the Topsham Museum online shop.
Special thanks to The Topsham Museum for providing the content to this article.