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The Steam Packet - Topsham Quay

Page updated 26 January 2009

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Situated just behind the Lighter Inn, the Steam Packet has a rather attractive sign painted on the side wall. The pub is Topsham's second oldest hostelry and was originally called the Red Lion. Indeed, Amity Court, which lies behind the building was called Red Lion Court. At one time, this pub was also a brewery and boasted two skittle alleys.

It was renamed the Steam Packet after the Steam Packets that sailed every Saturday from Topsham, for a three day journey to London, calling at Cowes and Portsmouth, with the return trip sailing on the Wednesday, at a cost of 10 shillings on deck and a Guinea in a cabin.

Creosote in the beer

In January 1878, the former landlord Mr Henry Pearce took the London and South Western Railway to court for allowing a well belonging to the Steam Packet to be polluted. Pearce had received complaints from customers about the taste of his beer, soon after the LSWR had deposited a large number of barrels of creosote for treating railway sleepers close to his premises. They had allowed the creosote to leak and gather in pools on the ground close to the inn. Water from the well was tested and found to contain tar, thus Pearce was seeking substantial damages for having to obtain pure water from another source. "George Wannell, who had lived at Topsham "all the days of his life," said the beer in the Steam Packet used to be the best in Topsham but for the last eighteen or twenty months it had been "mortal bad"" Even with such evidence, further samples of water were found to contain sewage or even to be very good, but not to be polluted with creosote. The LSWR won the verdict and the costs were awarded to them.

A later 19th-century owner but not innkeeper of the Steam Packet was Charlie Gale, who ran the London and South Western, now Drakes. His wife was Tryphena Sparks, who was a cousin and close friend of Thomas Hardy.

The Steam Packet closed on the weekend of the 8th November 2008 when the landlord, Barry Stock retired. The Steam Packet was purchased for £500,000 by the Globe Hotel from Heavitree Breweries who had owned it for the previous hundred years. It was refurbished at a cost of £100,000 for re-opening as a licensed "surfy" cafe bar with bicycle hire and repairs.

Some trade directory entries for the Steam Packet:

1844 - Steam Packet, John Ellis, Fore st - Pigot's
1850 - Steam Packet, John Ellis, Quay - White's
1879/9 - Square-, victualler, Steam Packet, Quay - White's
1889 - Potter Samuel George, Steam Packet inn, Strand hill - Kelly's
1893 - Steam Packet inn, William Patten, quay, Topsham, Exeter - Kelly's
1898 - Steam Packet, John Bagwell, Topsham - Kelly's
1902 - Wannell Elias, Steam Packet inn, Quay - Kelly's
1910 - Bolt John, Steam Packet inn, Monmouth hill - Kelly's
1919 - Steam Packet inn, John Bolt, Monmouth hill, Topsham - Kelly's
1914 - Steam Packet inn, T.W.Tooley, Monmouth hill, Topsham - Kelly's
1923 - Steam Packet inn, Albert Pym, Monmouth hl. Topsham - Post Office.
2008 - Steam Packet Inn, Barry Stock retired and the inn closed.
2009 - Steam Packet - to reopen as a surf bar and cycle hire.

Steam Packet, Topsham Quay
The Steam Packet near Topsham Quay.
Steam Packet Sign , Topsham Quay
The sign painted on the wall.

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