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Turks Head - High Street

Page updated 3 July 2009

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Turks Head JeevesThere has been a tavern on this site for more than 700 years. In 1289, the City Authorities granted to the owners of the land the right to lean a beam against the wall of the Guildhall for the sum of one penny per year. By the time of Charles II, inflation meant that a penny was not sufficient and the rent was increased to two pennies per year, which is the amount payable today.

In 1569, the Turks Head Tavern was put up for sale and sold for four score pounds (£80) while the yearly rental for the site was assessed at £4 10 shillings with a further sum of 10 shillings to be paid to Her Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth. Documents confirming the above are held by the museum. The inn has a very narrow frontage (13 ft) but is 130 ft deep and five stories high. When it was refurbished in the 20th century, five medieval fireplaces were found.

There are several possibilities to the origin of the name. It is said that the name of the Turks Head refers to a Turkish prisoner who was held here when the inn was used as a prison. He met his end with the executioners axe. Wonder if he was called with the refrain 'time gentlemen please.... '. An alternative origin was suggested by Richard Pring of the City Brewery who wrote that there was a jousting ground at the rear of the establishment where a Saracens Head was used as a target, hence the name.

Elsewhere, the name probably goes back as far as the Crusades. It originally referred to members of the Tartars who settled in Turkey. Turks Head is also used to refer to a particular knot which is similar in shape to a turban, again indicating its link with the Crusades. The scourge of the 16th and 17th centuries, the Pirates of Algiers are said to have kidnapped into slavery people along the coast of Cornwall and were also connected with Turks Heads.

A Dicken's of a place

Charles Dickens used to sit in what is known as Dicken's Corner. He observed the character who became Fat Boy in Pickwick Papers. Dickens was a frequent visitor to Exeter and he rented Mile End Cottage in Alphington for his parents.

Manager, Turks HeadSome landlords listed in the trade directories are:

1816 - W Richards
1871 - William Kellaway
1878 - Rowland Chown
1897 - William Henry Morton
1919 - John S Davey
1923 - Richard Blunden
1956 - G W Abell and N Hall

The gent outside the Turk's Head, is probably in the 1920s. He may be the landlord, but it is not certain, and he is not called Jeeves!

Turks Head, High Street
The Turks Head is right next to the Guildhall.
Turks Head, High Street
The Turks Head.

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