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.
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.
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?