Page updated 26th September 2016
An interesting public house, just opposite Brunel's handsome St David's Station, the Jolly Porter is a grade II listed building dating from the 19th Century. Originally called the Elmfield Hotel, it was ideally placed to provide refreshment for travellers coming to and from the station by coach and horse omnibus from the city centre. From 1882 to 1905, it was on a handy, horse drawn tram line, and later the electric tram to the city centre.
It is believed by one source that there is evidence to show that the site was originally a water mill, driven by the Taddyforde Brook. If it was a water mill, it was most likely to be a grist or corn mill rather than a fulling mill, although the site does not seem right, to my eyes.
A sale advert for Elmfield House, now the Imperial Hotel, in May 1843 states "... There is also a spacious yard with brewhouse, stabling for seven horses, and three carriage houses, with men's room over, and hay loft." which sounds remarkably like the smaller, portion of the present Jolly Porter, on the right hand side.
Edwin Banfield is responsible for much of the early history of the Elmfield Hotel. He was listed in 1861 living with his wife and five children in Elmfield Cottage in New North Road. He wasn't a young man, 48 years old and employed as an agricultural labourer.
Two years later, and he had opened a hotel, as this advert in a June 1863 Flying Post states:
BANFIELD'S ELM-FIELD INN, COMMERCIAL AND FAMILY HOTEL , opposite the Railway Station, St. David's, Exeter, is now opened, and the Proprietor trusts that his establishment will deserve the patronage of all classes. By moderate charges, he hopes to command a liberal share of support".
Banfield applied for a wine and spirit license in the following September, supported by testimonials from influential locals, and documentation showing that he paid £1,500 to replace four dilapidated cottages with the hotel and refreshment house. The application was turned down, partly due to objections from the station refreshment room.
In September 1864, Edwin Banfield applied for a second time for for a licence. This time The application gives some interesting information about how Banfield had funded the enterprise. His brother paid £800 to improve the premises and £300 of furniture had been supplied by Brock and Co. He was offering ten guest beds, which the refreshment room did not provide; the application was approved.
The Elmfield Hotel would become the first of at least three establishments that Banfield and later his son Douglas were associated with. By 1871 he was listed in the census as a licensed victualler at the Red Cow Inn while Douglas was listed running the Museum Hotel, Queen Street in 1889.
Edwin Banfield was fined 10s, in 1868, for trading out of hours, an offence that was proven by PC Abraham. In 1879, the hotel hosted the annual Railway Employees' Supper of the Great Western Railway. The supper for 50 persons ended with a discussion on the low wages of the average railway worker. The hotel also hosted in 1882, a special meeting of the Loyal Samaritan Lodge 540 of the Ancient Order of Druids, when the Mayor was initiated as an honoury member.
The 1881 census still lists Banfield as a hotel keeper, with his wife and a gaggle of boarders and servants. His son Douglas, who had taken over the Elmfield by 1897 was, in 1881 an engine fitter. Douglas Banfield died in January 1901, aged 50.
An intriguing exercise in hiding one's age is shown by the 1871 to 1901 census records for Sarah Summer, who was the hotel manager between 1881 and 1906, and niece of Edward Banfield. Her age is given as 42 in 1871, 30 in 1881, 60 in 1891 and 73 in 1901. The hotel issued cheques as early as 1869.
The hotel was put up for sale in 1907, bringing to an end the ownership of the Banfields'. It was a competitive auction with the asking price rising from £1,200 to the winning bid of £2,345. James Middleton of the Devonshire Arms in Holloway Street was the purchaser.
The Elmfield was renamed the Jolly Porter in 1957. The Exeter Folk Club opened at the Jolly Porter in 1962, with the first song performed by Cyril Tawney. In 1965, after he had recorded Wednesday Morning 3AM with Art Garfunkel, Paul Simon toured England and is said to have performed at the Exeter Folk Club hosted by the Jolly Porter.
In 1988, it was briefly named George's Drink and Food Factory after the Hofmeister Bear used in TV adverts at that time. During the 1980s, the Jolly Porter played host to many bands and groups. One such band, was the Bootleg Beatles who filled the place with pure nostalgia. During 2006, the Jolly Porter was closed for a refurbishment, but it did not thrive.
The Jolly Porter became a Thai restaurant and pub in December 2008. It has since closed and was sold in 2014.
1878 - Elmfield
Hotel, Edwin Banfield - White's
1881 - Edwin Banfield, his wife and one son according to the census.
1895 - Elmfield Hotel, Banfield D.(ouglas) St Davids - Besley's
1897 - Elmfield Commercial, Edwin Banfield, St. David's Hill, Exeter - Kelly's
1906 - Elmfield Hotel, Sumner, Miss S., Red Cow Village - Besley's
1909 - Elmfield hotel, Jas. Middleton, St. David's hill, Exeter - Kelly's
1923 - Elmfield hotel, Jas. Middleton, St. David's hill, Exeter - Post Office
1936 - Elmfield, Middleton, J., Red Cow Village Besley's
1948 - Elmfield, L. H. Trim, Red Cow Village - Besley's 1956 - Elmfield (Douglas Conaway, propr.), St David's Hill - Kelly's
1957 - Jolly Porter, St. David's hill - Kelly's
1967 - Jolly Porter, St. David's hill - Kelly's
Source: Trade directories, census returns, the Express and Echo, Trewman's Exeter Flying Post, and Hazel Harvey. © 2016 David Cornforth
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