Saturday 17th November 2012
The first mention of this pub was around 1849, suggesting it was built shortly before. The pub is on the north side of the North Bridge, known locally as the "Iron Bridge". It was opened in 1836 and cut across the rather steep sides of the Longbrook Valley which was quite an obstacle for horse drawn vehicles entering the City.
The original route down and up North Street is still there alongside the bridge. This was the location of the St Anne's Well Brewery; the buildings of which are still visible from the walkway of the bridge, see photograph. Nowadays they are mostly up-market flats but there is pub on the lowest floor. Some might remember it as the Firkin & Fizzgigg, a 1990s brew pub. A very long time ago in the middle 1960s I can remember seeing the insignia of St Anne's Well Brewery on pubs.
I'm not sure whether the pub and the brewery are connected although a lot of the pubs in Exeter came under the administration of Whitbread & Co at one time or another. The brewery closed in 1966 when it was under the control of the Starkey, Knight & Ford of Tiverton who themselves were within the Whitbread umbrella. They had also merged with the City Brewery of Exeter in 1956.
Was the North Bridge Inn a St Anne's Well Brewery pub? The two shield-shaped signs outside are reminiscent of Ushers Brewery of Trowbridge, Wiltshire, who had pubs in this area. I don't know, maybe someone can tell us?
However, nowadays the North Bridge Inn or NBI as it is described on its signage, is a Free House and is well known for its commitment to cask beer. This pleasant situation began around three years ago when landlady Sarah Taylor took over. Before that it was a popular pub with live music but there were many issues with acts playing loud and late. So many complaints from residents were received by the City Council that it was a case of change or close; this was when she took over. However, it is still a live music venue, albeit in a more controlled environment.
Inside, the pub has a modern look with many paintings in "Pop-Art or Comic-Art" style. It doesn't sound too great at first and they are not by Andy Warhol but, nevertheless, it does work. The pub is bright, clean and has a nice atmosphere. It was in the late afternoon when I visited and quite quiet, but I was assured it would liven up later.
It is policy to continually vary the cask beers and this is done within a concept of resourcing locally. Most of the beers come from Devon with occasional forays into Dorset and Somerset. I was assured that the offerings available on my visit were typical. They were: O'Hanlon's (Whimple) Stormstay Premium Ale (5.0%); Teignworthy (Newton Abbot) Gun Dog (4.3%); Gargoyles (Dawlish) Holcombe Gold (4.5%) and Branscombe Vale (Branscombe) Summa' That Pale Ale (5.0%).
Being in Devon there is, of course, cider of the natural kind, and this was from Sandford Orchards of Crediton. Food seems to be limited to bar snacks and there is also "Lazy Sunday lunch". The NBI is an interesting pub with a beer garden at the back. It's well worth the small detour from the city centre.
The North Bridge Inn (NBI), 11 St David's Hill, Exeter, Devon EX4 3RG. Tel: 01392 200253
Open: Monday to Saturday 14.00-23.00; Sunday 14.00-21.00
The pub is close to the city centre of Exeter which is well served by local buses.
It is less than ten minutes from Exeter Central station and around ten minutes walk
to St. David's station with connections by train to most of the country.