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The Rusty Bike

formerly the Eagle Tavern

Last update 30 April 2014

Back to Pubs of Exeter
Also see Running the Eagle Tavern

Rusty Bike signThis public house, recently reopened after three years closure, and renamed the Rusty Bike, by its new owner Mr Hamish Lothian. The Rusty Bike is not Mr Lothian's only public house in the city, for in February 2008 he purchased and refurbished the old Coachmakers Arms in Smythen Street, renaming it the Fat Pig. It took ten weeks to refurbish the old Eagle Tavern, and the use of a rusty bike as a pub sign signalled the opening of the new pub in September 2009. 

The history

Howell Road was originally known as Red Lane because of the, rich, red Devon soil. It became Barrack Road at the end of the 18th Century, when the Higher Barracks were built in 1792 at the time of a feared French invasion under Napoleon.

A pub was first listed on this site in 1815, named The Marquis of Wellington. However, Wellington was first made a Duke in May 1814, which suggests that it opened and was named before that date. It could have opened as early as 1808, when Arthur Wellesley was promoted to Lieutenant-General and more importantly, came to the public's notice with two victories against the French in the Peninsula War.

Pigot's 1832/3 edition had caught up with Wellington's title promotion and the pub was named the Duke of Wellington, with Richard Tapper as the innkeeper. It changed its name again by 1833 when it became known as the Spread Eagle, as shown in this advert from Trewman's Exeter Flying Post.


To be LET, for a Term of Years, with immediate possession, all that well-accustomed PUBLIC HOUSE, called the SPREAD EAGLE, situate close to the Cavalry Barracks, in the Parish of Saint David, and possessing every convenience for carrying on an extensive trade.
For viewing, and other particulars, application may be made to Mr Simon Hore, St Thomas: or to Mr SAMUEL KINGDON, solicitor, Bedford-street
Exeter, 18th October, 1833

The Spread Eagle

The innkeeper, probably just before the above advert in 1833, was B. Richards. Sid Rowsell, a former landlord of the Eagle believes that the name, Spread Eagle, derives from the Spread Eagle Standard carried by Napoleon's troops at Waterloo. Sergeant Ewart of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards is credited with capturing a Standard from the French, which is held to this day by the regiment. It became known as the Eagle Tavern in 1844 with William Crabb as landlord, and in December 1846, the tavern was for sale by auction as the owner, Mr Salter was leaving the public-house trade.

In the 1850 White's Devonshire Directory, John Martin was listed as landlord and was running a quadrille band which he hosted to its annual supper; the band had been formed two years before and was engaged to play at the Cullompton Ball in 1850. It would appear from census records that John Martin went on to run the Kings Arms in St Sidwells. The license was transferred from Mr Martin to William Pinney in October 1855, and by 1859, it was known as Pinney's Spread Eagle.

After an epidemic of Asiatic Cholera in 1866, the City Corporation discussed using the premises as an isolation hospital for new cholera cases, but the plans were never put into action. Between 1860 and 1880 the Eagle Tavern, along with many other public houses at the time, issued tokens to its customers to increase sales, made by Charles Dipple of Birmingham. In December 1865 there was a sale of household goods, brewing utensils, stock in trade, and skittle alley at the Eagle Tavern, the effects of Mr Clarke. The changes of licensees continued in 1869 when Mr Abbot took over from Mr Knight. Samuel Reed was in charge of the Eagle Tavern in 1871, and in June 1873 E Langford announced his occupancy, and his improvements to the pleasure and recreation grounds attached to the house, as well as the stocking of Burton Ales.

Samuel Reed was in charge of the Eagle Tavern in 1871, and in June 1873 E Langford announced his occupancy, and his improvements to the pleasure and recreation grounds attached to the house, as well as the stocking of Burton Ales.

The world record walk

It was under the landlord, Richard Lethaby that a long forgotten feat of endurance, and world record attempt was made in the Eagle Tavern’s pleasure garden. On 19 June 1877, twenty year old Mademoiselle Price (aka Eda Anderson) started her 1,000 mile walk in 1,000 hours. By the 12 July, she had reached 554 miles, completing the walk on 31 July. She walked a mile in about 15 minutes, and then rested for the rest of the hour. Engaged to do the marathon by Mr Martin, who ran the Northernhay Skating Rink, Price slept in a tent in the grounds, while a bedroom at the Eagle Tavern was occupied by her assistant.

The event ended in acrimony, when one evening Mrs Lethaby presented Price with a bill for the use of the tavern’s facilities. Lethaby went on to tell Price that unless she paid, she was to stop walking, and end the attempt. Price said “You can take the things, but you won’t have any money”, just as Mrs Lethaby picked up a tray of cups and saucers. Price then struck the tray, breaking the crockery, and then threw some in Mrs Lethaby’s face. Mr Lethaby appeared and called a policeman–in the meantime, Price is said to have used a horse-whip to thrash Mr Lethaby. The magistrate found Price to be guilty of both assaults, and fined her for both, with additional costs for the damage. Whether Mademoiselle Price broke her own walking record is not reported.

The Heavitree Brewery took the inn over in 1892. In 1897, Kelly's Directory listed Edward Ernest Hill as the publican while in 1923, the landlady was a Mrs Emily Hill, possibly the previous incumbents wife.

The Twentieth-Century

It was in 1928 that Sonny (Charlie) and Rose Stone ran the public house eventually moving on in 1945. Then Richard Green and his wife Minnie, daughter of Sonny and Rose took over - in later years they were increasingly helped by Sid Rowsell and his wife Joan, Minnie's daughter, taking over in 1973. Joan Rowsell's father was her mother's first husband, George Shelton who ran the Bull with Minnie, in Goldsmith Street. George was a retired Exeter City footballer who died at the early age of 32. The Rowsells stepped down and Harry Peprell took over in 1975.

There was a flurry of indignation from the publican and regulars in September 1981, when the Co-op announced plans to use the garage next door as a mortuary. The landlord used the Express & Echo to great effect, to stop the plan. Later, in the 1980's, the  former Exeter City star striker Tony Kellow was landlord. He was the highest scoring Exeter City footballer ever, with 129 goals. The Eagle Tavern has lost trade in the last few years and has closed for brief periods. It closed on 6 June 2006, only to reopen in 2009 as the Rusty Bike.

Source: Express and Echo, and Additional material courtesy Steve Coombes. Kelly's, Besleys, Whites and other county directories. © 2005 David Cornforth - not to be used without permission

The Rusty Bike
The Rusty Bike.
The Eagle Tavern
The Eagle Tavern.
Last orders at the Eagle
The landlord rings last orders for definitely the last time.The Eagle Tavern closes
The blackboard on the last night of the Eagle tavern before final closure.

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