Saturday 17th November 2012
As can be gathered this pub once housed a fire engine and its horses, although that was a very long time ago. It was built in 1834 for the West of England Fire Insurance Company. A notable feature of the early nineteenth century were the arrangements home or business owners made for protecting their properties with fire insurance. It was very important in those days of many wooden buildings.
The companies would mark each property with a plaque of their company logo and only their fire engines or those that were contracted with them would attend fires at their insured properties. Earlier that day, in Topsham, I had seen such an old plaque on a building; it could have been of the same company.
However, this system was to go wrong disastrously in Exeter when, in September 1887, the newly-built Theatre Royal, just 50 yards away from the Fire House, burnt to the ground with the loss of 186 lives, the largest loss of life in a single building ever in the United Kingdom.
Things were changed very quickly when in the following year, 1888; the city took over the private fire houses and incorporated them into the Exeter Municipal Fire Brigade. The old fire house remained in use till 1931 when it was sold. It them had a chequered life for about half a century following, being variously, an Army Recruitment Office during the Second World War and then a warehouse for the Co-operative Society after that. By 1986 it was semi-derelict. It was bought, refurbished and opened as a pub the same year and has not looked back.
It was early evening when I entered through the old yard which is now a nice little beer garden. After my eyes adjusted to light, I could see quite a small bar room. The illumination is by small spotlights, fairy lights and candles. The pub is well-loved by students and this is reflected in the opening (actually closing) hours. Yet it is a much better than going to nightclubs with their fizzy beers and other concoctions.
The beer menu is extremely good and where possible it is resourced mostly from Devon. My choice on that particular night was of: Otter (Luppitt) Amber Ale (4.0%); Bay's (Paignton) Spookey Ale (4.4%); Hunter's (Newton Abbot) Royal Hunt (4.9%); Sharp's (Rock, Cornwall) AAA (5.2%); Topsham Trucklebed Alley (4.6%); Teignworthy (Newton Abbot) Pumpkin Ale (5.2%) and Goddard's (Ryde, Isle of Wight) Fuddle de Dum (4.8%).
Now, if the beer list is good the cider menu is extraordinary. For my possible delectation there were: Bridge Farm (East Chinnock, Somerset) Brown Snout Single Variety Cider (6.5%) and Sweet (6.5%); Ashridge (Staverton) Organic Vintage Cider (6.0%); Sandford Orchards (Crediton) Fanny's Bramble Blackberry Cider (4.5%); Green Valley (Topsham) Medium, Strawberry (4.5%) and Stillwood 2011 Vintage Cider (8.3%); Winkleigh Cider Company Sam's Traditional Dry (6.5%), Medium (6.5%) and Devon Autumn Scrumpy (7.4%); Hogan's (Alcester, Warwickshire) Vintage Perry (5.8%) and Thatcher's (Sandford, Somerset) Traditional Cider (6.0%).
No wonder they were awarded Best Cider Pub of the Year 2012 by the Exeter & East Devon branch of CAMRA! This is a great pub to visit at any time for both beer and cider.
The Old Fire House, 50 New Bridge Street, Exeter EX4 4EP
Open: Monday to Wednesday 12.00-02.00; Thursday to Saturday 12.00-03.00;
The pub is in the city centre of Exeter which is well served by local buses. It is also just five minutes from the platforms of Exeter Central station if you come out at the correct exit. You must walk away from the main exit to the far (East) end of the platforms to the New Bridge Road exit. This has automatic barriers so you must have a valid ticket. Turn right from here and you can't miss the pub.