From monastery to coffee shop for Sidmouth inn

WITH the news last week that the Old Ship Inn, in Sidmouth’s Old Fore Street, was being sold and is set to become a coffee shop, franchised under the Costa name, Nostalgia offers no apology for returning to the subject of the inn two years after revealing its long history with the town.

Reputed to have been built in 1350, it may have once been a monastery – the original Dove Inn was built by monks at Otterton Priory.

Poorer folk enjoyed ale and cider which could be brewed at home.

In 1953, Anna Sutton wrote in A Story of Sidmouth: “It is a substantial building with cob walls nearly three feet thick and was said to be once a monastery.

“It then became an inn, and, as Simouth was one of the chief centres of smuggling in East Devon, the premises were a rendezvous for smugglers.

“A passage at the back led into Church Path, which in turn leads to the parish church, and from this may be deduced the close connection between church and contraband in the past.”

It is understood that from this connection, the church, magistrates and other high ranking people, all received their share of the contraband and there was a ‘sleeping partnership’ with the smugglers because of the heavy duty payable on tobacco and brandy.

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“There is said to be an underground passage reaching to Blackmore Hall,” writes Anna Sutton.

“The extensive stables at the side and rear of the building, part of which are now a shop, show that farmers riding into Sidmouth market used the inn as a meeting place many years ago.”

The old passage to Church Path was blocked up when licensing laws came in and at one time the inn became a notorious doss-house.

“In one room on the ground floor vagrants used to cook their own meals, and a large room on the first floor was their dormitory.”

According to one ‘Dappy Pinn’ the property changed hands for 20 guineas, the money being handed across the bar in a quick deal during a “typical rowdy scene”.

Over the years the Old Ship Inn has evolved and today we see its future as it will soon be transformed from a popular hostelry into a 21st century coffee shop.

While not popular with some, the alternative could be an empty, boarded-up building and that is something no-one wants to see.