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Elephant Inn - 93 North Street

Page updated 7th October 2012

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The Elephant Inn was a part of the life of North Street for at least 250 years. It was situated about half way down on the right hand side, underneath what would become Woolworth's in the Golden Heart redevelopment of the 1970s.

Robert Dymond in his essay on the pubs of Exeter written in1880 stated "The Elephant, in North Street, another old inn presenting the characteristic feature of a covered way, is mentioned at least as early as the beginning of the last century." The earliest reference I have found was in Brice's Weekly which ran an advert to let the inn during 1728.

The landlady Mrs Penny was reported as having died in 1792, and in 1800 Mrs Sowdon, wife of the late landlord died – William Beer, master of the inn died in 1802. One wonders what it was about the inn that made it so fatal.

In January 1808, Mr W Nevett took over the Elephant from Mr John Straw when he promised that "The Elephant Inn is eligibly situated for gentlemen travellers, being but a short distance from the principal trading parts of Exeter."

During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the inn was a popular place for bankrupts to surrender themselves or meet their creditors. Similarly, several inquests into accidental or unexplained deaths were held at the inn.

A notice of sale by auction in 1819 states "This Inn has been established for considerably more than Half a Century.... There is attached to the house a yard and 4 stables, one unstalled and the others containing stalls for 14 horses..... apply to Mr Pitt, the tenant".  In June, of the same year, the St John's Chapter of the Masons held a meeting at the Elephant to form a lodge. The Exeter Oddfellows formed a second lodge in 1833 at the Elephant Inn.

Elizabeth Stokes ran the house in 1839, according to Robson's Directory of Devon. In the mid nineteenth-century, the Elephant Inn ran a daily carrier service to Crediton, just one of the inns in Exeter that supported a carrier to the country villages and towns around Devon.

Whites Directory of 1850 lists Philip Rattenbury, as the landlord. Twenty years later, in May 1870, the license was transferred from his wife, Elizabeth Rattenbury, to Robert Born. By 1876 the landlord was Robert Phillips who was charged with allowing card-playing on the premises, for which he was fined 50s.

The Eagle Brewery was based at the Elephant Inn from about 1850. The landlord in July 1878 was Mr G Lee, but it is listed as G and C Finch brewery. The inn had a covered way from North Street to a rear yard which provided stabling in the age of the horse.

About 1946, a murder occurred in a guest bedroom at the Elephant. One local remembered when eating out took off in the late 1950s, one of the most popular places to eat was Wattys in North Street (now Star Amusements). Because of the strangle hold applied by Licensed Victuallers, Wattys had no licence to sell drinks. They employed a wine waitress who took your order at the table and then ran across to the Elephant in all weathers to get your required beverage.

Source: Flying Post, Geoffrey Prings history of Exeter breweries

The Elephant Inn
A part view of the Elephant Inn that was situated in North Street. Photo by Alan H Mazonowicz.
Venue for Free Masonry
The Free Masons advertise a meeting at the Elephant Inn during 1819.

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