Time Was Never Called

The Valiant Soldier -- the pub where time was never called.

In 1965, the land­lord and land­la­dy of the Valiant Sol­dier in Buck­fastleigh, Devon, shut the doors and retired to the flat above the pub. They left ash­trays full and unfin­ished pints on the bar, and nev­er went back. Thir­ty years lat­er, when the land­la­dy died, the pub was redis­cov­ered – a per­fect, dusty time cap­sule of post-war drink­ing cul­ture.

We vis­it­ed on Fri­day after­noon. It was rain­ing – thun­der­ing, in fact – and we had the place to our­selves. Walk­ing across the bare, creak­ing flooboards of the bar with the archive sounds of the Light Pro­gramme drift­ing in from anoth­er room, we felt the hairs on our necks stand up. It was as if, at any moment, a long dead land­lord was going to appear behind the bar and take our order.

We were remind­ed of the Shin­ing or this episode of Sap­phire and Steel.

The walls are cov­ered with vin­tage adver­tise­ments for the Exeter City Brew­ery. The board over the fire place list­ed prices for bit­ter, best bit­ter, BB, HB, PA, XXX, mild, pale, brown and impe­r­i­al ales. Two beers – Tun and Watney’s Red Bar­rel – were adver­tised as com­ing from a ‘con­tain­er’. On the tables, half-fin­ished games of domi­noes and cards, cig­a­rette pack­ets and tick­et stubs.

Interior of the Valiant Soldier pub.

That was the bar, of course; the lounge, with its flow­ery wall­pa­per and cush­ioned chairs, was alto­geth­er more gen­teel. The ladies seemed to have stepped out­side, just for a moment…

In fact, the pub isn’t quite as it was found in 1996: it was emp­tied, cleaned and put back togeth­er, and there are some anachro­nisms where things found in the attic or cup­boards were too good not to have on dis­play.

Sad­ly, thanks to a vin­tage restric­tive covenant imposed by Whit­bread, no booze can be served on the premis­es. It would have been love­ly to enjoy a cou­ple of pints of mild in that bar.

The muse­um is open Mon­day to Fri­day from April onwards. There are bus­es to Buck­fastleigh from Exeter but, for the full expe­ri­ence, why not get a steam train from Totnes?

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