Updated: Jan 16
Yes, I was a Smiths fan when younger. Well, I guess I still am but I digress. For this quaint piece of moorland folklore has nothing to do with the iconic Mancunian band and everything to do with an iconic Dartmoor pub. One found on the Postbridge road to Moretonhampstead.
I'm talking about the Warren House Inn, which stands in splendid isolation amongst some of the bleakest countryside seen in Southern England. Nowadays it relies on day-trippers and tourists, and serves a delicious rabbit pie, but once upon a time it was the haunt of tinners from nearby mines.
It must've been a rough old place in those days, yet still an improvement on the inn that used to stand almost opposite, on the other side of the road. That place, known as the New House Inn, saw a man killed in a drunken fight. The landlord testifying in court that his killer was provoked beyond tolerance, the guilty party was sentenced to just three weeks in prison.
A lenient punishment these days but, given how the death penalty for theft had only just been abolished a few years before, incredibly so during the mid-19th century.
In 1845, the New House Inn burnt down and embers from its fire were carried across the road to light the fire of the pub you see now. According to legend, that fire has burnt ever since.
Until recently, it was peat from nearby blanket bogs fuelling the fire. Each night, the remains were buried in hot ashes, which were then uncovered the following morning and stoked back to life with a little kindling and charcoal. Nowadays, the same is said to be done, only with wood from local conifer plantations.
So, the fire has been burning continuously since 1845? Quite a claim and of course utter nonsense!!
For as a local builder said to me, when we spoke at the bar of the Royal Standard, he was pleased the fire wasn't burning during the days he spent repointing its chimney!!
There is another story about the Warren House Inn and it involves a ghost. A friend from Twitter told me that it's haunted by the spirit of a landlord who killed himself during the early twentieth century. I didn't sense anything unusual when visiting last Saturday. Quite the opposite, for the welcome was just warm as the legendary fire. Anyway, I did a little research and found the following tale.
Stephens is a common name locally, and one William Stephens was landlord during the 1920's. At the end of the decade, he took his shotgun into the bar and used it on himself. A verdict of 'suicide during temporary insanity' was returned by the coroner.
But while William's wife Mary moved away shortly afterwards, the tragic landlord has never left the Warren House Inn. Instead, it's claimed his ghost is sometimes seen even now in the bar where he ended his life!