Page updated 5th September 2016
One of the saddest parts of Exeter, regarding redevelopment, is the large roundabout at the bottom of South Street and top of Western Way. This was an important area of Exeter in former times as it was where the road from Topsham and the road from Honiton converged just in front of the great South Gate. All that is roundabout, was once a thriving community of shops and public houses.
The corner of Holloway Street and Magdalen Street that the Valiant Soldier occupied was once the site of a Roman cemetery. Coins from the rule of three emperors have been excavated from about 73-5 AD - graved goods such as figurines and glassware have also been found. A small bronze panther is one of the figurines found on the site. The animal is galloping, mouth open and tail tucked between his legs.The legs were lost over the millennia, although the ribs of the body are visible. In addition, the archaeologists also excavated a system of trenches that were dug by the Roman army to support the timbers of at least three rectangular buildings around a courtyard.
A hostel named the Goat existed on the site, probably from medieval times, on ground belonging to the Vicars Choral. A lease of 1623 shows the name as the Golden Lion - an inn on this site would have offered a safe haven to travellers who were locked out of the city after the gates were closed at night. The Golden Lion was demolished in 1645, along with many other properties close to the city wall, to make a clear field of view for the Royalist defenders, during the Civil War.
Named to commemorate the defenders of the city during the war, the Valiant Soldier was built in 1651, at a time when Exeter was recovering from the conflict. The Valiant Soldier would have been a useful place for business passing into and from the city towards Topsham, especially as the canal at this time was proving to be unreliable. The inn had a large stable yard to cater for the passing traffic, but as the woollen trade declined at the start of the 19th century, so did the use of the yard.
In the 19th century, the growth of industrialisation created a need for the workers to band together in trade unions. In the late part of the century, the Valiant Soldier was host to the Exeter Lodge of the Operative Bricklayers' Society. The bricklayers and masons had attempted to form a union as early as 1834 in Exeter, but were prevented by the authorities after the Flying Post had stirred up the middle classes against such a union.
Interestingly, as the closest public house to the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, the Valiant Soldier was often used for inquests into deaths at the hospital. One inquest in 1861 at the Valiant Soldier, indicates the risk taken when treated at the hospital. A 33 year old American sailor named Robert Gray was administered chloroform before a surgical procedure. Unfortunately, the dosing was incorrect and the patient convulsed and then died. Large doses of chloroform can cause paralysis of the heart–the jury passed the verdict that the chloroform had caused death. Another inquest into a death from chloroform, seventeen years later, indicates that the procedure was still not safe.
The house was also popular as a venue for public auctions. One of the oddest was for the wreck of the SS Bretton Hall, on 20 June 1898.
VALIANT SOLDIER INN, MAGDALEN-STREET. EXETER.
JOHN S. LUCAS will offer for SALE by Public Auction on MONDAY. June 20th, 1896, the WRECK of the S. S. Bretton Hall, now lying in Mudstone Bay, Brixham, Devon, and a complete Set of DIVING and PUMPING APPARATUS. Auction at 4 30. For particulars and to view, apply to the Solicitors. Exeter; or to the Auctioneers, Guildhall Chambers. Exeter.
The decision to create a new bypass from the bottom of Paris Street, past the old South Gate and down to the Exe Bridge in the 1960's spelt the end for the Valiant Soldier and other properties, including the Acorn Inn between the corner and the old Exeter Eye Hospital. It was closed in March 1962 and demolished later in the same year - the resultant roundabout replaced a thriving and ancient part of the city.
Some past landlords from the trade directories:
- J Hayman
1822 - John Harrison
1844 - Edward Leach Herbert
1856 - S Horsford
1878 - Mrs Mary Horsford
1889 - Thos Haydon
1894 - Mrs Margaret Haydon
1912 - Edwin Glade
1956 - Mrs K M Harrison
1962 - William D Steele - last landlord before demolition
The name, Valiant Soldier did not die with the demolition–a new Valiant Soldier was built in the St Thomas precinct, redevelopment of the 1960's before it was renamed the Longbrook and then the General Buller.
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