Topsham Past

You don’t have to spend much time in Topsham before you start to get the impression that our illustrious town has a rich history. From the beautiful architecture to the abundance of Churches and pubs (for a relatively small town) to the stunning riverside setting, it is of no surprise that Topsham has been the site of many comings and goings over the year. Here at The Passage House Inn we are proud of our characterful, ancient building. A pub, originally named The Ferry Inn, opened on the current site in 1721 and was renamed after 101 years in 1822. In a previous post we looked briefly at the ferry men who left their mark on the pub, namely TN Parker and Charles Hall. But what of the wider community around the pub? And what was happening before the 1700’s in Topsham?

A bit of research shows that Topsham has been a hub of activity for 10,000 years with evidence of Mesolithic hunting and the finding of Neolithic tools. In 1999 Archaeologists also discovered evidence of a 1st Century Roman Fort in Butts Park. According to the enthusiast at Exeter Memories, it is thought that ‘the name derives from Topp who was an Anglo Saxon landowner, while ham is a small village or settlement. There have been many variations of the name including Apsham, Apsam, Toppeshore, Toppeshant and Toppesham.’ Although it’s name may insinuate that it is a village, Topsham has evolved over the years and in 1300, was granted it’s very own town charter, giving it a degree of independence from nearby Exeter and allowing it to claim the title of ‘town’.

A little drama occurred a few hundred years later when Topsham was an important stronghold for Royalist forces during the English Civil War. A Parliamentary fleet attempted to land at Topsham in 1642 but was attacked by the Royalist defenders resulting in the capture of 2 ships and the burning of a third. However, despite their ferocious attempts to defend the town, in 1645, General Fairfax drove the Royalist forces out prior to the surrender of Exeter in April 1646.

By the 17th Century, Topsham was one of the busiest ports in England and when shipbuilding was revived from 1790, there were at least seven shipbuilding yards in the town. In addition to many civilian vessels, 27 warships were built in Topsham with the frigate Fawn, being the largest weighing in at an impressive 500 tons. One of the most prominent ship builders was master mariner, John Holman, who founded the West of England Marine Insurance Company, now one of the countries largest marine insurance companies.

Although shipbuilding may not be the centre of Topsham’s economy anymore, the river still plays an important role in defining the town. Locals and tourists alike enjoy walking down the Exe Estuary Trail to admire the view, taking to the water on boats and canoes and generally spending time in the vicinity of this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Here at The Passage House Inn we feel blessed to be situated so wonderfully close to the river and nestled in the heart of Topsham. As the summer unfolds before us, we look forward to welcoming many of you through our doors to enjoy a delicious meal with a drink or two by the River Exe in beautiful, historical Topsham.

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A beautiful painting of Topsham by local artist, Geoffrey Teece

The Humble Pancake

With Pancake Day nearly upon us, here at The Passage House Inn we thought we’d take a bit of time to pay homage to this most simple, yet delicious, of foods. As nearly everyone knows, legend has it that pancakes were invented as a way to use up leftover ingredients in the house ahead of a period of fasting. However, it has recently been proposed that those in the Stone Ages may have made some form of pancake using flour ground from ferns and cattails. Regardless of which of these is true, flour, eggs and milk are the staples of many a kitchen and their combination provides a versatile food, ready for any topping or customisation imaginable. But the humble pancake has come a long way from it’s thrifty, waste-prevention days.

These days, pancakes have become a positively luxurious food choice, found in even Michelin star establishments. From the fluffy, fat American version served with crispy bacon and maple syrup to the European delicate, almost transparent crepes, offered with tantalising combinations of sweet and savoury foods, there is a pancake to suit everyone. In France they make a wish before flipping their pancakes, in Australia they tend to be served cold with jam and cream (bit of a take on our cream tea perhaps?), in Sweden it is called Fettisdagen (Fat Tuesday) where they fill a round bun with marzipan and whipped cream and in Newfoundland (Canada) they bake objects with symbolic value into the pancakes. And here in England? It’ll come as no surprise to hear that we fully embrace this most scrumptious of days by using around 52 million eggs on Shrove Tuesday every year (an increase from 22 million on any other day)!

And here at The Passage House Inn you can be sure that we’ll be joining in tomorrow as we mix, cook and flip all day long! We’ll be offering a range of tantalising toppings for those of you that fancy a pancake or two but don’t have the resources to do it at home, or fancy pairing it with a cheeky pint! And don’t worry, if the savoury options don’t take your fancy, you can always choose what is arguably the nation’s favourite topping of lemon and sugar! So why not join us at The Passage House Inn in this centuries old tradition tomorrow as we mark the start of Lent in a most delicious way? Happy Pancake Day everyone!

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Steik!

Of all the themed nights that we have hosted here at The Passage House Inn, our Steak Night continues to be consistently our most popular. Steak and chips is one of those classic meals that is loved by so many of us. From rump, sirloin, t-bone or even tuna, with chips, new potatoes, rice or salad, with garlic mushrooms, grilled tomatoes or even mushy peas, there is a delicious variation of this beloved meal available for everyone. Such a simple concept but sometimes simplicity is the key!

One of the most unique things about steak is the recent tendency of many of us to eat it rare. According to a food history site, ‘the word “rare”, counterbalancing “done” describing the doneness of meat, descends from the word “rear”, meaning imperfectly cooked or underdone.’ An investigation into our love of rare steaks in The Independent agrees that historically, Britons thought that beef should be cooked entirely through until ‘well done’. The recent trend of rare meat has only occurred over the last 30 years and according to the founder of London steakhouse, Hawksmoor, it is due to ‘the more general shift from food as fuel to food for pleasure.’ That certainly makes sense, I think most of us would agree that a steak with some degree of pinkness running through it is much tastier than a tough bit of meat cooked until it resembles leather! Ironically though, according to legend, the word ‘steak’ is derived from a Norse or Saxon word ‘steik’ which means meat on stick and I imagine the Vikings wouldn’t have been too fussy about the colour of the meat they were consuming!

Luckily, we have long since moved on from serving our slabs of meat on sticks and now offer them with a range of delicious accompaniments. Here at The Passage House Inn in Topsham, we have recently updated our Steak Night to make it a more attractive, flexible option for everyone. Now, every Wednesday night we are offering a succulent 8oz rump steak served with chips, tomato, mushroom, peas and onion rings for an amazing £8.95! Steak upgrades are available and each week we’ll have a special offer bottle of wine for £10 to accompany your meal. Sounds irrestible right?! So why not join us next Wednesday and enjoy a delicious steak, cooked to perfection with good friends and a glass of red, down by the river in beautiful Topsham! To book a table, just give us a call on 01392 873 653!

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Exeter’s Own Wine

Here at The Passage House Inn, we are passionate about wine and regularly review and update our wine menu to reflect this. We feel strongly about supporting local businesses and using local produce where possible so it seemed only logical to add a wine made by the very local Pebblebed Wines to our list when we came to revise it this Autumn. And so it was that I found myself on a dark December evening, tucked away in their cosy cellar, talking to the owner of Pebblebed Vineyards, Geoff Bowen, so that we could find out a little bit more about this vineyard just a stones throw (or near enough!) from our front door.

I had read that Pebblebed began life as a community project almost 20 years ago in 1999 but I was curious as to the spark that started it all off. Geoff told me that one night, he was sat in a pub with friends, debating what they should do with the 8 acres of land that came with the house they had just bought when they decided (inspired by camping in France) that they should plant some vines. Initially, 10 families put in £100 each and planted just half an acre of vines resulting in their first drinkable bottle of wine in 2002. An easy going man by nature, he said they never really had a plan but from there, planted a new field every year and now have 25 acres of vines just up the road in Clyst St George.

Although not all the initial ten families are still involved in Pebblebed, it is clear that a sense of community is at the heart of everything Geoff does. He says that they have been very lucky to have the support of local farmers and people over the last 17 years. As well as borrowing land to grow the vines, every year at harvest he invites people to come and get involved with the harvesting of the grapes. This is something that people engage with very positively with over 500 people of all ages turning up this Autumn to help with the harvest. In the past, they have held festivals at the vineyard to support Hospice Care and are planning to do so again next year (on 17th September 2017) to raise some money for a very worthy cause.

The concept of people getting involved with the winemaking process was reflected in Geoff’s proposal when he successfully appeared on the very popular Dragon’s Den. Despite being given a 3 hour grilling by the Dragons, he won over Duncan Bannatyne who invested £60,000 in the Pebblebed Partner Vineyards scheme. This idea, Geoff says, was a very early crowdfunder style pitch with 30 people (20 individuals and 10 businesses) putting forward £2000 each. The idea was that they would come and help with the whole process of winemaking from planting to harvesting and would also receive £2000 worth of wine back over a 10 year period.

Pebblebed’s philosophy is to sell their wine as locally as possible with a lot of their 50,000 bottles stocked at Darts Farm, Greendale and Riverford Farm Shops and now with us here at The Passage House Inn in Topsham. Geoff’s approach of working together and maintaining a sense of community resonates strongly with us, we are so proud to be part of Topsham and the vibrant community it offers and are now proud to be supporting this local vineyard. So why not pop down to The Passage House Inn and sample a glass or two of this delicious English wine and help us to support a very worthy local business.

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Geoff, outside the Pebblebed Cellar

Beating the New Year Blues

As of today, December is upon us and the countdown to Christmas can finally begin. For many, this is the best month of the year, filled with parties, presents and a variety of delicious drinks. The festive period brings warmth and cheer to an otherwise fairly depressing season, one that would be characterised chiefly by it’s unfavourable weather. Here at The Passage House Inn, we are delighted to be fully booked for Christmas Day itself and are very much looking forward to seeing lots of groups joining us over the coming weeks for their work parties and family gatherings. It truly is a season for thanksgiving, merriment and good times with the people you love.

However, whilst we love Christmas, we are also aware of the gloom that can fall upon us in January and February, once the decorations are packed away and everyone has gone back to work. This seasonal slump is well acknowledged by many to the point where a mathematical formula has been used to calculate ‘Blue Monday: the most depressing day of the year’ (it’s the third Monday in January if you’re interested). It makes complete sense really, all the excitement of Christmas and New Year’s Eve has fizzled out, the presents have been given, there’s no reason to go out and the weather is usually at the peak of its dreariness. I don’t blame anyone for feeling a bit glum in light of all this.

However, we’ve come up with a solution to try and bounce back after Christmas and beat the New Year blues! This year, at The Passage House Inn, we’ll be giving everyone who dines with us in December, a very special Christmas present. Think coffee shop loyalty card but with a much better rate of return! Every diner will receive a festive discount card with 8 fantastic vouchers that will be redeemable when you come back to eat and drink with us again in January and February. From a free pint of Fosters, Thatchers or Tribute when you order a main meal to a free dessert when you buy a main meal, we are offering a variety of treats that we’re excited about giving out in the New Year. So now you can fully enjoy the advent period and Christmas holidays, safe in the knowledge that you’ve got something special to look forward to even after the tree is back in the attic and the mince pies are all gone! From all of us here at The Passage House Inn, we would like to wish you Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!

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Eat, Drink and Be Merry

Here at The Passage House Inn, we’ve recently finished putting together our Christmas menu and even if we do say so ourselves, it’s looking pretty delicious! During the process of doing so, we got to thinking about the history of traditional festive foods and so I thought I’d explore a few of them here today. Turkey, mince pies, brussel sprouts, chestnuts, figgy pudding…the list of foods synonymous with Christmas is endless. For some, food is the highlight of this winter holiday and with so many tasty things on offer, it’s easy to see why! But why are these foods particularly associated Christmas? What are the stories and reasons behind them?

I think it would be amiss if we didn’t start by looking at the most festive of pies, the beloved mince pie. Originally, mincemeat was a little different to that which we know today as dried fruits, sugar and spices were mixed with chopped meat, a way to use up leftovers and make meat go a little further. I don’t know about you but I’m very glad that we have them in their current state, I’m not sure the brandy cream would go so well with beef in the mix!

The other food that instantly comes to mind when I think of Christmas is roast turkey. Love it or hate it, it’s considered an unmissable staple by many. Why has this funny looking bird become a permanent feature of our Christmas table? Well it wasn’t always our first choice. Traditionally, people chose to eat geese at Christmas. They didn’t want to use their cows for beef as they provided milk throughout the year and chickens were expensive as well as producing eggs. As geese only lay eggs for part of the year, they were the obvious choice to be fattened up and eaten at Christmas.

But what are you to do if you love the end result of a festive feast but can’t face the idea of slaving away in your kitchen for hours whilst everyone else gets tipsy on eggnog and sherry? The answer is simple! Our Christmas Party menu has just been printed so why not book a table and join us for an amazing meal here at The Passage House Inn in Topsham over the festive period this year! Give us a call on 01392 873653 or pop in to reserve your table and guarantee yourself a truly fabulous festive dining experience!

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The Man Behind The Beer

For the last few weeks, here at The Passage House Inn, we’ve been very much enjoying the second season of the Small Batch Brews club. So when we had the opportunity to talk to the man behind it all, we jumped at the chance! St Austell’s head brewer, Roger Ryman, was kind enough to clear some time from his busy schedule to have a chat with us about the project and we started by asking him where the initial inspiration for the project came from. He explained that there has always been a culture of innovation at St Austell’s Brewery and that for the last 20 years they’ve had a microbrewery on their main site which they utilise for an annual beer festival in November. It was a great opportunity for them to be creative with beers and the feedback from customers was that they wanted to drink some of these beers all year round at their local pubs, not just at the festival. So they upgraded it from a 2 brewers barrel plant to a 12 barrel plant. Each ale has a different brewer behind it and each pump clip has their own name on it which helps foster a sense of pride and ownership over their creations.

Roger explained that the Small Batch Brews serve as a great cultivation ground for what they could brew on a bigger scale. Essentially they are testing the beer and the market, the brewing differs from their larger batches of beer (such as Tribute and Proper Job) only in size. He acknowledges that although St Austell are a popular and successful brand, they don’t want to sit on their laurels and are always looking for new ideas and ways to be creative. Small Batch Brews helps with the test marketing of such ideas and in fact, they’ve ear marked a few of the beers to upscale already!

The beers have been received incredibly well by the pubs hosting the series. Roger told us that they are covering a wide geographical area with a diverse range of pubs hosting from trendy craft beer establishments to quiet rural pubs off the beaten track. The pubs opt in for a 12 beer season and then are given the option to leave if they want. Out of 40, only 2 dropped out and were immediately replaced…this incredible retention rate displays the success of the project! So successful in fact that the Season 3 program is being put together as we speak with creative juices well and truly flowing.

Of particular interest to our customers were the Eden Project inspired beers so we asked about their significance. St Austell are partners with The Eden Project who are known to be full of exciting ideas so they simply engaged with this enthusiasm during the design process. In the series, 1 in 3 beers have been made in collaboration with Eden. Most beers traditionally have just 4 ingredients but on the Eden beers, they helped to design a 5th. From the African Baobab Fruit to the recent Mango IPA, there are lots of exotic wonderful plants and fruits available to work with to design some truly unique, global beers.

Asked what his favourite part of the process of designing and brewing a new ale was, Roger enthusiastically answered…drinking it! In seriousness though, he thinks it’s the creativity. The team of brewers at St Austell are all beer enthusiasts and love innovating new beers. He told us that the industry is so vibrant at the moment and they are taking inspiration from beers from around the world. He said that seeing a vision become reality is the best part of the process.

Our time was almost up but we couldn’t leave without asking which brew was his favourite so far? The answer was one of his own, Eureka, which we’ve got on draught at the moment! This American Pale IPA has been so popular that it is one of the ones they’re looking to upscale into larger production in the future. So why not pop down and have a pint yourself and see what you think. We’re very proud to be part of the Small Batch Brews club and would like to thank Roger for his time and all his incredible work in creating such a diverse range of beers. Here’s to Season 3!

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