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Cowley Bridge Inn

Page updated 17 August 2009

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The Cowley Bridge Inn started its life as the farmhouse to Cowley Place which was on the other side of the river. It was mentioned in 1756 when named the New Inn. It appeared in a property sale advert in the Flying Post during 1796 with William Humphreys as landlord. Humphreys died in 1830.

The earliest directory listing as the Cowley Bridge Inn was in the 1830 Pigots, although there are still references to the New Inn after that date in the Flying Post. The cottages on the opposite side of the road were built for the farm labourers. Originally a cider house, the potent brew was sold from a hatch in the wall. It was completely rebuilt in the 19th-century, with only the stables and a summer house remaining un-touched. The stables, despite having 2 foot thick walls, fell down during the 1980's! Messrs G and C Finch purchased the inn in 1879.

The Cowley was, and still is, susceptible to flooding. There was some particularly bad flooding in 1866 which the Illustrated London News reported, along with a picture showing the inn next to the railway line. During the floods of 1960 some diehard customers stood on the benches around the bar, still drinking, as the water flowed through!

Some 19th-century reports from the Flying Post of the Cowley Bridge Inn:

May 1851 - The Corporation of Exeter made their annual perambulation of the city boundary, breakfasting at the inn.
September 1852 - Charles Henry Basset was apprehended by Superintendent Steele and Sergeant Fulford at the inn and charged him with embezzling £1000 from a bank in London - his real name was Charles Daws.
July 1853 - license transferred from William Davy to William Reed.
November 1860 - George Pearcey, landlord charged William Skinner with stealing a duck from the yard of the inn.
October 1865 - John Beer the landlords son was summoned for fathering Maria Andrews son - he was ordered to pay £2 and 1s 6d per week.
October 1867 - PC Thomas Densham was patrolling the beat out to the Cowley Bridge Inn. PC Short was also on patrol in the area when he called in on Nathaniel Beer, landlord of the Cowley Bridge Inn where he found PC Densham inside playing cards, when he should have been on his beat. Beer was summoned for harbouring the policeman while PC Densham failed to appear for the case, leaving Beer to pay 10s fine and expenses.
January 1873 - An inquest into the death of John Wreford of Barton-place farm was held at the inn. Wreford had killed himself with a double barrelled shotgun.
April 1890 - Mrs Beer had her late husbands license transferred to her.
April 1891 - The Eagle Brewery invited tenders for alterations, repairs and additions to the Cowley Bridge Inn.

The Cowley Bridge Inn was closed as a public house by the Heavitree Brewery in 2008 and sold to David Jim, owner of the Magic Wok Chinese Restaurant, and Tong Fong Wholesale of Marsh Barton. Heavitree Brewery originally asked £450,000 for the Cowley Bridge, but the sum paid by Jim was not revealed. It has reopened as the Thai Shanghai Restaurant, albeit still selling real ale, a trend that seems to be quickening among some of our older pubs.

Source: Flying Post and Nigel Bush

The Cowley Bridge Inn during the 1866 floods.The Cowley Bridge Inn on the right, during the 1866 floods.The Cowley Bridge Inn 1900The Cowley Bridge Inn at the end of the nineteenth century before it was rebuilt.The Cowley Bridge Inn at nightThe inn at night, probably in the 1950s. Both photos courtesy of Nigel Bush.

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