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The Royal Oak - Okehampton Street

Page updated 3 July 2009

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The plaque on the barrelThis pub is not only the only remaining pub in Okehampton Street, but it is the only remaining building on the river side of the street between Exe Bridge and the railway bridge by Flowerpot Fields. Up until the Exeter blitz, there was Howard's Commercial Hotel and the Seven Star Inn adjacent to the Exe Bridge, along with the Okehampton Inn, Sun and Stars and Union Inn in the short 400 m of street.

The first mention in a trade directory of the Royal Oak is in Besley's of 1856 when M C Tuckett was the resident innkeeper. He was followed by:

1878 - Charles W Wright - White's
1893 - up to - George Yelland 
1897 - James Kerswell
1923 - Charles S Lane - Kelly's
1956 - T Lane - Kelly's

The 1960s floods

The whole area has often suffered from flooding - in 1726 it was noted that Okehampton Street "...to be ruinous and in decay, by reason whereof ye River Ex did overflow the Highway". The Royal Oak suffered particularly badly in the St Thomas floods of 1960 when the torrent carried anything that would float down the estuary and out to sea. 

The Express and Echo reported at length on the October floods and included an interview with Charles Lane the licensee when he said he spent "a terrifying night...It got so bad at lunchtime yesterday that a friend of mine, Mr. Ken Tallbay used a boat to take my wife down the street so she could go to her sisters. Mr Tallboy was coming back again to stay with me, but the current was too strong for him to get through... I waded waist deep through the downstairs to rescue cigarettes and as much equipment as I could, and then I stayed the night upstairs... I could hear the water roaring past on both sides and there were crashes and bangs as tables and barrels were washed against the walls. I discovered this morning that I had lost between 18 and 20 barrels, some of them full of beer. They went washing down the river when the wall at the back broke. I reckon the damage has cost me about £200, and in a place like this you just can't get insurance for it."

A water mark on an internal wall was 22.5cm above a painted mark for the last big flood in 1896. One of the barrels of beer from the Royal Oak  was picked up by HMS Highburton on 8th December 1960, seven miles off Portland. The selfless courage of the crew in saving the barrel was well repaid by the brewery and it was turned into a seat complete with explanatory brass plaque, and placed in the public bar.

There have been a total of five Royal Oak's in Exeter. Apart from this one, there was one in Alphington Street that was demolished in the 1970's for a road widening scheme, one in Fore Street/Milk Street, another in Guinea Street and one still trading in Heavitree.

The Royal Oak, Okehampton Street
The Royal Oak in the 1960s
The Royal Oak left, and an old tenement building right that has since been demolished - circa 1960.Royal Oak barrel
The lost barrel at the royal Oak.

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