This article was written by Harry Mottram for the Bridgwater Mercury newspaper in 2015.
High up in the misty folds of the southern Quantocks lies the hamlet of Merridge with its farms, its farm cottages and its… well that’s it. Except for Pines Café and the Traveller’s Rest Inn of course. And it’s at the Traveller’s Rest Inn that our tale begins.
Former chairman of Spaxton Parish Council, one time farmer and occasional thespian, Bruce Porter was born in the hostelry in 1939 when his mother was the landlady. It was in the days when you’d still get change from sixpence for a pint of cider, a twist of baccie and a box of matches. However the pub wasn’t always where it is today.
“As far as I know the Traveller’s Rest was originally over at Broomfield where the kennels are,” said Mr Porter. “It was an old cider house over there and it was burnt down in the mid-1850s. And instead of rebuilding it they transferred it over to Merridge and my great grandfather was one of the first landlords of the pub.”
But intriguingly there was already a pub in the village called The Globe, but there says Bruce lies another long lost story as there was a cottage called Globe Cottage nearby.
The family have continued to this day to have links with the pub which long ago lost its title of cider house and is more of a new style pub known as much for its food as its booze. Mr Porter’s grand-daughter works there as a waitress from time to time. However the family no longer own the pub having stuck in the main to farming. But in the 1940s it was a different matter when Bruce’s dad farmed the land and his mum Evelyn served in the pub and took in paying guests and even kept a visitor’s book. During the war couples would escape the horrors of the Blitz and find refuge in the ‘the rest’ and their names would be checked by the local constabulary in case they were spies.
One of the visitors wrote this poem of unrequited love in 1945:
A party of nine on holiday bent,
From London to Somerset County went,
There was Phill, there was Pat,
There was Nick and all that,
With Elsie and Bill on a Quantock Hill,
The hilltops, the valleys, the lone farmstead,
And there by yon gate young Eric did lean,
As he gazed o’er the meadow at fair Pauline,
But Muriel alone of Ethel I can tell,
Of the wish she wished at the wishing well
Of the Yank who has gone from the Inn to…oh well.
Travellers must rest.
The poem leaves you wondering about Muriel and possibly Ethel and of course that elusive Yank who we assume was ordered back to barracks after a night of cider and romance.
Mr Porter can recall American soldiers frequenting the pub in the war but he explains his grand father was a haulier and quarryman and bought the pub a generation before that in the 19th century.
“He was described as a licenced victualler,” he said, “a beer house keeper, as there weren’t any spirits or wines served in those days. Even when father owned it in 1939 it was beer and cider. The Yanks had a camp over on the common and when they left they buried all the things they didn’t want. Farmers would dig up uniforms and tinned food and take it to the pub.
“The local copper would come in and check all the signatures. Lots of the people who stayed at the pub came from London to escape the Blitz and then in the 1950s they would come back every year. My mum turned it into a guest house as there wasn’t much business in the winter with only the passing workmen and those who worked on the road. We used to make farmhouse cider down at the farm and sell that at the pub.”
After the war the family thought about keeping the pub but moved back into farming and let the tenancy return to the local estate.
Mr Porter retired from farming in 2000 having sold off his farmhouse and moved to Spaxton in 1994. His son took over the land but makes a living from constructing agricultural buildings, but still keeps his hand in rearing livestock. His parents who had the pub in the war years have “passed on” but the Porter line continues as he and his wife Diane and he have four children who have produced Porters of their own.
“Holly, my grandaughter, works up at the pub these days as a waitress,” he said, “it’s more of an eating pub now; good meals up there on a Sunday lunchtime. But the local copper doesn’t check on the customers anymore.”
Do you have a story to tell with photos to illustrate it? Did you used to go to the Traveller’s Rest, back in the day? We’d love to hear from you. Email firstname.lastname@example.org