Exe Island had been involved with fulling and grist mills for hundreds of years and along with the establishing of the City Brewery in 1760, the need for inns and lodging houses to serve the workers was an important requirement. The Round Tree Inn was established in Frog Street, to the north of the lower leat, and right next to the Exe Island tunnel beneath New Bridge Street from before the founding of the City Brewery. Just a few yards away was the Cuckinstool Mill, which would also be named the Round Tree in the 19th Century.
The earliest reference I have found for the inn, appeared in Brice's Weekly when an advert was placed on 21st April 1727. The next reference was in Pigots Directory of 1816, when William Morton was the landlord. His wife, Mary, took on the inn sometime between 1822 and 1839, after his death. She was still running the place in 1850. The next 50 years saw at least five landlords running the Round Tree, including Robert Yelland, who was reported as often using between 1,500 and 2,000 bushels of malt, annually, to brew his beer. The inn comprised a bar, bar parlour, tradesmens' sitting room and tap rooms, kitchen, eight bedrooms, brewhouse, cellars, covered skittle ground, yard and stabling. Mr Tucker from Nadderwater took on the licence after Yelland left for the Spirit Vault in Fore Street in 1862.
In December 1858, Mr Richard Goldsworthy, known colloquially as Lord Gooseberry, entered the tap room of the Roundtree and stood before the fire to warm himself. His trousers caught fire and he was burnt on his thigh and leg. He was taken to the hospital where he died in agony five days later. The inquest was at the Valiant Soldier, although the Round Tree was often the venue for the coroner to investigate the many other deaths in the area. Between 1859 and 1881 there were at least four inquests into the drowning of seven young children in the nearby leats. The coroner returned the verdict of 'Died by the visitation of God' on the death of a widow woman in 1855.
The house gained a bad reputation under John Gregory the landlord from 1869 and when he applied for his license to be renewed in October 1870 the Flying Post reported that "Mr. Steel reported that the house was frequented by a class of persons which rendered it necessary to closely watch it, and it was althogether very badly conducted. Only on Saturday last he had to keep two officers in the neighourhood."
Just as upmarket hotels would have permanent residents, public houses in working class areas would also be lodging houses for itinerant workers and temporary housing for poor families. The Round Tree was one that took in lodgers, and as such, gained something of a reputation during the 19th Century with the police. The house was mentioned in this report from Wednesday 18th June 1884, in the Flying Post.
"Several School Board summonses were adjudicated upon, and in the case of Henry Chambers, a cattle drover, Mr Austin reported that the man, his wife, and six children were living at the Round Tree House.–The Mayor instructed Inspector Short to report upon the Round Tree Inn as a lodging-house. Houses of this kind should be regularly and frequently reported on. It was only a short time since the Inspector of Nuisances visited the public-house in question and found it in such a state as to compel him to give certain instructions. The police had the power to visit public houses night and day.–Inspector Short promised that the Mayor's directions should be carried out."
The last landlord of the Round Tree Inn was James Frederick Berry, who married Jane, the daughter of the previous landlord, William James Taylor. The house closed in 1903 and was eventually swept away, with the rest of Frog Street, in the 1960s for Western Way.
1727 - advert on 21st April in
1816 & 1822 - William Morton - Pigots
1839 & 1850 - Mary Morton - Robsons
1856 & 1862 - reported that Robert Yelland, landlord moving to Spirit Vaults
1869 - landlord was Mr Hucker formerly of the Royal Oak, Nadderwater. - FP
1870 - John Gregory the landlord charged with opening out of hours - FP
1874 & 1881 - James Collins victualler - Whites
1881 - William Rolestone - FP
1882 - William James Taylor landlord - FP
1890 & 1903 - James Frederick Berry - Kellys
1903 - closed
Note - the dates refer to found
references to the inn
Source: Flying Post and various mentioned trade directories.
William J Taylor, the landlord of the Round Tree Inn during the 1880s, and his wife Elizabeth.
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