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Travel across the South Hams and you will find that there are a fair few Church House Inns, but each has its own unique history and character, none more than the Church House Inn at Churchstow. Speaking to owner Suzi about its past and present, we found out there’s more to this postcard perfect pub and restaurant than meets the eye…
It’s a 13th century village pub that was once allegedly home to Benedictine monks while they were building the village church. When we first arrived we had a lot of strange goings on and in the end I got a medium in. Looking back on it we were having issues before we even arrived. One minute payments would come in and then there was a problem for no obvious reason, floods in the toilets within 10 minutes of opening with no obvious cause, and I was pushed off a bench by seemingly no one. When that happened I thought ‘I get it, someone doesn’t want us to be here’ and a friend, renowed medium Paula Wratten came to help.
Paula said that because it had always been a public place, even though it wasn’t always a pub, it was full of people. At the time of the monks only the church was allowed to brew alcohol and sell it, so the monks lived downstairs and upstairs it was like a town hall. She said it was like walking into a disco where everyone was dancing to a different song/time period. Most of the ‘guests’ were fine, but one or two didn’t want us here.
There was Francis who was from the 18th century and had been a drunk at the bar. Weirdly, where he sat we had several incidents of customers being aggressive to the staff.
At night when I would lock up I would often feel like there was someone trying to intimidate me. As I walked I would feel this oppressive person and every night I would turn around purposefully to look at where the feeling came from. When Paula visited I had to ask him to leave, and as I served him his last drink I felt my throat being squeezed which was very odd.
There was also Margaret who was a puritan who had lived in the building. Several members of staff told me they had see this lady in a black cloak clutching a book around the pub. She didn’t like that we were serving alcohol - apparently she was the one who pushed me off the bench. Paula said that Margaret apologised for that. She was stuck here because she wanted to save everybody.
There were various others but those were the ones causing the issues. There were plenty of nicer characters too and it’s all a lot calmer here now!
Church house inns are unique to Devon but there’s quite a few of them, so that can get quite confusing, but we’re often in touch with the closest ones when bookings get confused. I think this one is one of the most unspoiled Church House Inns. It’s not been ‘Farrow-and-Balled’ - not because that’s a bad thing, but it’s not us. So we’re still quite unique to the area. We get a huge range of people coming in and when younger people come they love that it’s so old and has so much history.
My husband and I run it and we’ve been here for nearly three years. Before we had an event catering business. My husband is from Bristol, I’m from Kent and London and we lived in Oxfordshire, but we always had a connection here. My husband’s step father and my mother in law live in Aveton Gifford, so we knew the area very well. In the summer we have up to 15 members of the team, many of whom are part time or people who have a second job. We have a full time head chef and we’re looking for a second chef at the moment as well.
The menu is quite varied as we’re quite big with seating for up to 80 people in pub and up to a further 30 in the conservatory. We like to appeal to all budgets and tastes so we have classics like fish and chips as well as a more sophisticated bouillabaisse and our most popular dish, Aloo Gobi with Bombay potatoes. We make everything with fresh produce here and the only thing we don’t make on site is the mayonnaise and ketchup. We always buy fish that’s been caught locally. For example, Cornish monkfish hasn’t been available sometimes recently and we were offered a New Zealand alternative but we would prefer to keep to local produce. We also do handmade pizzas which are popular. So whether you want a light bite or something more special - you’ll find it here.
How unspoilt & large the pub is inside. The place is quite hidden, even though it’s on the main road people say they’ve driven past it for years and hadn’t even noticed it. We also have a well in the rear entrance which allegedly has a tunnel running to the Church across the road.
We do a monthly curry club, which is suspended for August but will be back on Thursday 12th September. You get three different curries (some of each) with rice, popadoms and all the trimmings for £14. We’re also preparing to do a gin masterclass where we pair a taster menu with the gin, which was really popular last year so we’re doing it again!
FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE CHURCH HOUSE INN AT CHURCHSTOW
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