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Artful Dodger

also known as Seamus O'Donnells and the John Bull - now closed

Page updated 2nd March 2014

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Situated opposite St David's Station in Red Cow Village, the new Artful Thomas student flats, were previously a building that was newly built in 1810. The building appears as Lot 1 of six lots in Red Cow Village. Lot 6 was the Red Cow Inn. The sale advert says:

"Lot 1. - The first and second new-built Houses on the right hand from Howell's-lane, with the gardens behind and other conveniences".

The 1830 Beer Act allowed a householder to set up a beer house for the payment of a fee of 2 guineas to Customs and Excise. The purpose was to reduce the consumption of gin and other spirits by the working class. There are several references to beer retailers from the 1870's onwards in these premises in Red Cow village.

In October 1858, the beer house became the John Bull, when its landlord John Roberts placed an advert announcing that he had opened at the premises. He offered his clientele hot and cold refreshments and well aired beds. Roberts continued to place adverts on a regular basis until June 1861. He appears in the 1861 census as an innkeeper at 5 Red Cow Village. The Red Cow Inn was listed as 1 Red Cow Village.

Being close to St David's railway station, the John Bull would have been an ideal place to stay for travelling reps and agents. An advert in 1874 from the agent John Greenslade, based at the John Bull, was for families to apply to work in the cotton mills of Lancashire. Exeter's own woollen industry had died, by this time, and the city was a good place to recruit workers.

In March 1875 four men were fined for leaving their horse and wagon outside the John Bull unattended and were fined 1s. In October of the same year, the John Bull "suffered seriously from a rush of water, which made its way down from the field above." The Cowley Bridge Road was impassable and flooding was widespread. By this time, the landlord was James Thomas Cobley. The license was transferred to Albert Edwin Cox in 1884, who retained it only until December 1884 when it was again transferred to Thomas Edward Searle.

In the 1889 Kelly's Directory, one James Searle was established as a beer retailer, and the 1895 Post Office Directory lists Searle as resident of the John Bull. By 1906, Besley's lists Mrs Mary Anne Searle as the landlady of the John Bull. The last reference to Mary Anne Searle was in the 1916 Kelly's. The 1918 Directory shows Samuel Pinnock as a beer retailer at number 24, Red Cow Village, the same address as the John Bull.

It was in 1980 that the John Bull was refurbished and reopened with the new name 'Artful Dodger'. The Grade II listed building had £150,000 spent on it, enlarging and improving the premises. The opening night was on a Dicken's theme, with customers and staff dressed in Victorian clothing based on characters from Dicken's novels.

In March 2009, Teresa Claridge, who had run the Artful Dodger since 2004, and her father Bryan Claridge, turned it into Exeter's first cider bar. The house sold seven different draught cider, including a farm cider, lager and two beers, Otter Brewery's Best and John Smith. The cider house only lasted until the end of the year.

In December 2009, the Artful Dodger was refurbished, and renamed Seamus O'Donnells, in yet another attempt to open an Irish themed pub in the city. In June 2010 a second floor flat above the pub was severely damaged by fire, giving yet another blow to one of Exeter's struggling pubs.

The fire and rename did little for the fortunes of the house, and in a time of austerity, it could not remain trading. In January 2011 it was announced that plans were in place to demolish the building and replace it with student flats. The development went ahead, and a student block named Artful Dodger now stands on the site of the old public house.

Sources: Flying Post, Express and Echo, 19th Century Census

Seamus O'Donnells The short lived Seamus O'Donnells in 2010. © Exeter MemoriesThe Artful Dodger, 2005 The Artful Dodger, 2005. © Exeter MemoriesThe John Bull, Redcow Village The John Bull, Redcow Village. © Alan H Mazonowicz

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