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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Celebrating Topsham

I know you might think us something of a broken record but we can’t help but love and shout about what an amazing community exists in our humble town of Topsham. All year long there are events for the residents to get involved in; carol concerts, the Ferryman’s swim, beautiful gardens opened to the public, musical nights galore and much more. And whilst we sadly saw the final Topsham Carnival last year, this summer we have something new and very exciting for the whole community to get involved with. On the 27th August we will be celebrating Topsham’s inaugral Town Charter Day! Dreamt up in the wake of the carnival, the folk on the town committee recognised the need and desire of residents to still be able to celebrate Topsham once a year. And thus, they decided to start an annual community gathering to celebrate the awarding of our town charter.

Topsham was granted its town charter on 22nd August 1300 by King Edward I. Now I don’t know about you, but I didn’t know much about what this signified for the town at the time. A little bit of research though tells me that it was a pretty big deal. In medieval England, there weren’t that many towns in existence. In fact in the Domesday Book of 1087 only six towns were included. Most people lived in villages and just travelled to towns for trade. Having a charter though, ‘gave people in a town certain rights that were clearly stated in the charter that town had.’ (1) Common rights granted included the right to collect their own taxes and the establishment of their own law courts. So Topsham being awarded its own town charter would have been very important at the time, especially given its relatively modest size.

So why not come down and mark the occasion on the 27th August with us all? It looks set to be a brilliant day with a peal of bells, the Honourable Lord Mayor of Exeter in attendance, hawk displays, storytellers, jugglers, medieval stocks and much more. The day will culminate with a celidh before a firework display at 9pm. The first annual Town Charter Day certainly seems like it’s going to go with a bang! Here at The Passage House Inn, we’ll be open as usual, serving ice cold drinks and delicious homecooked food, offering a refuge for those needing a quick sit down and a breather before heading out again to experience the best that medieval Topsham has to offer! 

Location, location, location

I think it is fair to say that when it comes to the hospitality industry, location really is everything. No one wants to go for a meal or a drink in an establishment overlooking a motorway, with a view of a landfill or just in a dreary dull street with no redeeming features. Ambience and location really are an important part of the dining experience. And here at The Passage House Inn, we think we’ve hit the jackpot! Not only are we in the much loved harbour town that is Topsham with it’s beautiful buildings and village like atmosphere, but, we are situated right by the water with gorgeous views across the River Exe and smack bang in the middle of the Exe Estuary Trail. We’ve recently put up boards in our beer garden with birds you might spot on the estuary and a map of the trail itself for those walking or cycling their way around.

Since 2001, Devon County Council have been developing the trail as part of the National Cycle Network Route 2. Once completed it will be almost 26 miles in length although you can obviously pick and choose individual sections to complete, especially if you utilise some of the ferry services available (such as the one just metres from our door!) Devon County Council are rightly very proud of this route, not only does it provide “an exciting opportunity for people to experience cycling or walking around the entire Exe Estuary, appreciating the wildlife and passing through some beautiful riverside towns and villages steeped in maritime history” but the different habitats on the Estuary are so diverse that it has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a Special Protection Area, a Ramsar Site (internationally important area for birdlife) and is a candidate for a Special Area of Conservation.

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The Passage House Inn is in a very unique and beautiful area of the world and we still can’t believe our good fortune at being nestled amongst it all. No matter what time of year, no matter what the weather, we are always afforded a changing view of wildlife on the estuary that provides extra interest and variety to those coming to visit us at the Passage House Inn. So whether you’re just ambling along the Topsham to Lympstone stretch or ambitiously cycling along the whole trail, make sure you visit us for a coffee before you go, a refreshing drink mid walk or a meal to refuel once you’ve completed your day of discovery along our very own Exe Estuary Trail. There’s really no place we’d rather be.

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Gin, gin…is a wonderful thing

One of the great things about writing this blog is the opportunity to learn about a topic I didn’t know much about before, whether that be the history of the ferry, just yards from our front door or the vineyards of Devon. This post however, is dedicated to the wonderful drink that is gin. Here at the Passage House Inn, we think you just can’t beat a good gin and tonic on a sunny summer’s day and so much do we love it that we’ve now got an entire menu dedicated to this most tasty of liquors. So I thought I’d do a bit of digging on the origins and development of gin to see if I could discover any interesting facts to share with you all.

For some unfathomable reason, I’d assumed that gin was a British invention but alas, I was mistaken. Early records show that the first confirmed date of production was in Holland in the early 17th Century where ‘it was produced as a medicine and sold in chemist shops to treat stomach complaints, gout and gallstones. To make it more palatable, the Dutch started to flavour it with juniper, which had medicinal properties of its own.’ In fact, the phrase ‘dutch courage’ comes from soldiers in the Thirty Years’ War who were given gin in the damp weather for it’s warming properties. Eventually, they started to bring it home with them and so it arrived in England. Gin was then fully embraced by William of Orange who dropped tax on spirit production ‘for the health of the nation’ when he came to the throne in 1689. In 1731 gin was paired with gingerbread, a partnership that lasted for over 150 years before fizzling out. Not quite sure what I make of that myself…

And finally, finally, in 1850, the drink that we all know and love was born; gin and tonic. It was actually created as an anti-malarial for British troops in India but was such a tasty combination that it caught on and became a favourite drink of many. And whether you have it in this infamous cocktail or on it’s own, we wanted to be able to offer you a selection of some of the finest gins on offer. From the well known Gordon’s and Plymouth Gin to the lesser known but equally tasty Fever Tree Tonic (spot the reference?!) and most recently launched Pinkster, we really do have an incredible selection (if we do say so ourselves!) So why not come down and join us for a tasting session, try a few out and decide which is your favourite. The only question is, how will you have it? With tonic, in a martini or neat? The choice is yours… There’s a gin for everyone here at the Passage House Inn.