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The Welcome Inn

Page updated 17 May 2009

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This is a very interesting hostelry, situated on the canal bank, near the gasworks and just outside of the canal basin. Originally named the Haven Banks Inn, it dates from just after the canal basin was opened in 1830.

The first reference can be found in the 6 June 1833 issue of the Exeter Flying Post when notice was given for the newly erected inn to be sold.

"...Also a newly erected FREEHOLD DWELLING HOUSE situated on the Haven Banks, and known as the HAVEN BANKS INN with a slip of land adjoining to..."

In 1832, the Exeter Pocket Journal listed William Ellory as a brush maker in West Street. By the 1833 edition, he was the innkeeper of the Haven Banks Inn, making him the first landlord of the newly built inn.

Another notice for sale dated 23 December 1836, also in the Flying Post, confirms the position of the Haven Banks Inn, as adjacent to the new gasworks.

"Lot 1.-Consists of a most excellent House, admirably adapted for an Inn, Cow-sheds, Stable and Linhay, and a large Spot of Ground adjoining, containing nearly 300 feet in length. The whole of the Premises front towards the Canal, and are contiguous thereto, but to the new Basin and Gas Works, and also to the termination of the Bristol and Exeter Railroad, the works of which will be immediately commenced, the levels having been taken, and the erection of Warehouses, and other, Buildings."


The 1839 tithe map for St Thomas definitely confirms the Haven Banks Inn as the present Welcome Inn. The owner in 1839 was Joseph Green Bidwell, and the tenant Robert Powlesland, who occupied what was described as 'houses & c.' The tithe map shows the main building, along with some outbuildings. Apart from the new gasworks, there are no other buildings in the area, which suggests it was originally built as a house and its use changed to take advantage of trade from the Canal Basin and later, the gasworks.

The Welcome Inn

Robert Powlesland became the owner of the Haven Banks Inn, along with the five cottages next to the inn and other property in the same area. The last reference to the Haven Banks Inn and the first to the Welcome Inn was in 1854. Strangely, the name Haven Banks Inn appears twice more in the 1860s, the second entry being the inquest in 1869 of the drowning of, 12 year old, Edward Thomas Melhuish. This is despite adverts, changes of licensee and inquests, all naming the Welcome Inn between 1854 and that date. There does not appear to be an error of identification, for Robert Powlesland is noted as owning both the Haven Banks Inn and Welcome Inn, and their descriptions indicate they are the same establishment.

In 1857, Foster's Welcome Inn hosted a couple of wrestling matches, but it didn't improve the trade for the landlord William Foster who was insolvent in 1858, along with Thomas and Robert Foster.

The earliest reference to the Welcome Inn in a trade directory is in Trewman's Journal of 1859 when it is listed with the landlord as Robert Bailey. The inn appears to have closed when Powlesland put the Welcome Inn up for sale in April 1861 as "a large house formerly the Welcome Inn". The inn was reopened in September 1862, when a new license was issued to John Harris, a former whitesmith from Topsham, but he was soon summoned for out of hours drinking and fined 50s or a month in prison. His youngest son, John James Bishop Harris, became the manager of the gasworks behind the Welcome Inn.

Exeter was the first city in England to have its streets lit by gas, when in 1815 the Exeter Gas Light and Coke Company was opened on Exe Island. The Welcome Inn was supplied with free gas from the Exeter Commercial Gas Light and Coke Company. This rival to the Exe Island based gas company opened on Haven Banks, right next to the inn, in 1836. The Welcome Inn is still lit by gas - it has regular folk music and retains much of its early 20th century atmosphere.

Inquests, murder or accident?

Because of its proximity to the canal and river, the Welcome Inn was the venue for more than a dozen inquests between 1855 and 1900. There were at least five suicides, four drownings through boating accidents, two of which were a courting couple whose boat went over Trews Weir, and several victims who fell into the unfenced canal at night.

There was a lengthy inquest into the death of 71 year old Mr William Wreford, in December 1852. Wreford was found drowned, possibly the victim of foul play. He had previously met a young woman named Slee at the Lower Market, after Wreford passed a note to her mother to arrange a meeting. He walked to the Haven Banks Inn, while the young woman followed at a discreet distance; when he reached the canal there was a scream and locals who attended the scene found his body floating in the canal and his pockets emptied of money. At first, the girl was distraught, claiming he was her uncle. She was allowed to leave the scene after a time. The next day she was arrested and held under suspicion of murder, but it was unproven; she was charged with taking £80 from him.

The Welcome Inn may have benefited from the proximity of the gas works, but it did not enjoy such a favourable connection to the sewerage system. In May 1904, the City Council discovered that the Welcome Inn along with Tizzas and Exe View Cottages were discharging their sewage directly into the canal, as their toilet facilities were fairly basic; they were described as a 'pail system'. Surveyors were engaged to plan a sewage system, but for some reason nothing happened. In December of the same year, the Council abandoned the plan. I believe that as late as the 1990's, nothing had been done to connect the properties to the main drains. Anyone swum in the canal?

The landlords of the Haven Banks Inn or Welcome Inn appear in various trade directories. Some can be listed as:

1833 - Ellory. Wm., haven banks inn, haven banks - Pocket Journal. Also 'Haven Banks Inn' - Flying Post sale notice.
1836 - 'most excellent house' - Flying Post sale notice.
1839 - 'house &c,' shown on tithe map, first mention Robert Powlesland.
1844 - Haven Bank Tavern, Robert Powlesland, Haven bank - Pigot's
1850 - Haven Banks Tavern, Robert Powlesland, Haven bank - White's. He is also listed as a coach builder and harness maker, Frog S.
1851 - Haven Banks inn, Robert Powlesland - Besley's
1852 - Haven Banks Tavern, Robert Powlesland - Slater's
1853 - Haven Banks Inn, Powlesland R, haven-b - Besley's. In 1854 he is listed as a wheelwright, Frog St.
1857 - Welcome Inn, William Foster - Flying Post.
1859 - Welcome Inn, Robert Bailey - Trewman's
1862 - John Harris - Flying Post
1878 - Welcome Inn, William Long - White's
1882 - landlord - William Preston - Flying Post
1893 - Welcome Inn, William Gater - Post Office
1897 - Welcome Inn, John Vanstone - Kelly's
1902/06 - Welcome Inn, Chas. Osborn - Besley's
1914/23 - Welcome Inn, Mrs Ellen Osborn - Post Office
1934 - Welcome, Froud, Lily Ellen, Haven Banks - Besley's
1948 - Welcome Inn, R. F. W. Cox, Haven Banks - Kelly's
1956 - Welcome Inn, Archibald W Young - Kelly's

Source: Various sources including the Flying Post, Besley's, Trewman's, and Kelly's Directories.


The Welcome Inn
The Welcome Inn, sandwiched between the canal and the gasworks.The Welcome Inn
The gasworks when it still produced coal gas, with the Welcome Inn in front.
The Welcome Inn wrestling
An advert from 1857 for a wrestling match at the Welcome Inn.

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