Memories of Taunton - With Nick Chipchase
I thought I would talk about public houses again as we are seeing so many closures locally. On average eighteen pubs a week closed in 2017 with breweries blaming higher beer duty , business rates and VAT. Really its not that simple as there has been a huge change in social conditions from the heyday of the public house in the early 1900,s. The public house then served as a respite from poor conditions in the home where there was overcrowding poor heating and light. Add to that the concern about drink and drive so village pubs are bearing the brunt of many closures. Without a good restaurant business times can be very hard.
'The Staplegrove Inn' is looking very forlorn now. It struggled on with poor parking amenities and few customers for a long while. I went there a while ago. There was only one other customer. In the image you see a vibrant and attractive local amenity long before there were radical changes to the exterior. The sign declares the licensee to be Peter Whitecross and the inn offers good stabling for weary travellers. Mr Whitecross was here in 1902.
In 1902 Staplegrove was a parish adjoining the Borough of Taunton. The Borough was extended prior to 1902 reducing the actual population of Staplegrove from 1,100 to a mere 300. The old parish extended to Frieze Hill and included Taunton School.The post office was almost adjoining the church and appeared to be a rather run down thatched cottage.Like Bishops Hull the old village is gradually being absorbed into the environs of Taunton Garden Town with vast estates planned in the area.
But let us return to the pubs.Taunton had about 90 public houses in 1902 serving a population of 21,000. Today’s pub figures are far less with the big “ gastro pubs “ taking a big share of the market. Initially they had their critics being blamed for destroying the traditional pub with its cold fare and ploughman’s lunch. Market forces decide such things as we see internet shopping gradually eroding the high street business’s. So its interesting to look around and see where the public houses used to be.”The Rumwell Inn” now empty and forlorn.”The White Lion” at Blagdon struggled on but eventually gave up. “The Crown”. Both now flats at Wellington New Road and Staplehay. The old “Somerset Inn” close to the police station with the draymans access still in the pavement. Oh what lovely brick cellars down there. In Wellington the “King’s Arms” still has Christmas decorations in the window. A sad reminder of happier days and what hope now with a huge “ gastro pub “ across the road.
Some pubs have bucked the trend and seem to have made an acceptable transition to modernity. “The Green Dragon” at Wellington and the “Maypole” at Thurloxton. Many have given up their old village names like “The Galmington Inn” now “Shepherd’s Rest”. “Bathpool Inn” now the” New Mill” though I am not sure why. Here is an oddity I came across recently “The Old New Inn at Priddy” an oxymoron designed to accommodate a website address. Yes times are indeed changing and public houses will have to embrace that change somehow or die.