Sunday, 27 July 2014

Street Art Exmouth Style (Part 5)


More art on display in Exmouth and this time it's the pub sign up on the facade of The Clipper, down at the far end of The Strand.
The building that's now one of Exmouth's better known pubs used to be a tea warehouse during the eighteenth Century owned by the East India Company. In recognition of this, the painting is of a type of sailing ship called a Tea Clipper, used to transport tea from China alongside large amounts of opium from India. The opium would be grown in India then transported to China in exchange for the tea which would then be brought to England. The tea would be unloaded at Exmouth then transported by coach and horses to London where it was much sought after. This was the trade which launched what is known as the Opium Wars between Britain and China.

There's no record of it but surely if you've been ferrying opium across the oceans to trade for some tea from China, wouldn't you be inclined to bring a few sacks of opium back to England with you as well as the tea? It's a given. There wouldn't have been any need to have even smuggled it as opium was perfectly legal then. So what was happening to that opium once it was unloaded at Exmouth dock of old? Where was it going? Who was having it? London would be an obvious destination but wouldn't a quantity also have remained within the local town? Which, of course, presents us with a scenario:

Jethro, the local docker, gets his hands on a sack of pure opium and takes it down to his mates at the local tavern. "Yer!" he says "Put down thy zider and 'ave a blast o' this. S'better than any snuff, I can tell 'ee. Mix it with thy baccy, it's gurt lush.
It doesn't take very long before they're all regular users. "Prapper job," they all agree "An' no mistake."

So was opium usage rife in Exmouth at one point? And if so, for the years in which the locals were all smoking opium before the East India Company ceased trading in it, did any work get done? Did it add to the general ingrained and natural mellowness of the locals? "Field needs ploughing, cowz need milkin'. Bugger it, do it 'morrow."
What dreams did unfold during that period? What visions were grasped?

So you see, the casual observer might at first glance think the pub sign outside The Clipper is just of some old boat but it is in fact a clue, a nod and a wink to Exmouth's very secret history.

And another thing:
Almost all the bands that play in Exmouth and the surrounding area are what might be called 'pub bands', as in bands that play the local pub circuit covering songs by other more famous bands. It's surprising then, that none have had the idea to call themselves 'The Beer Garden', or simply 'Beer Garden'. The free advertising on offer to a band of that name is staggering. At The Clipper for example, emblazoned on the pub sign: 'Beer Garden At Rear'.
So, is 'Beer Garden' not the perfect name for a pub band? And just to confuse things, might it be an idea if another pub band called themselves simply 'At Rear', and they played joint gigs with Beer Garden?

Prapper job, an' no mistake
John Serpico


  1. Haha, fascinating!
    I love the idea of those bands Beer Garden and At Rear. Here we had something that worked the opposite way round... a local band decided to call themselves Topless Barmaids. It's a rural, old-fashioned kinda place, so I'm sure you can imagine the surprised reactions to the posters outside the pub advertising their regular slot every Friday night. (And as far as I'm aware the band were just a bunch of loud, hairy geezers.)

    1. A band called Anal Beard - surrealist punks from Brighton - once played in one of the pubs in Exmouth. That got some of the local punters talking and left a few disappointed, I'd wager. Another good name for a pub band is, of course, Free Beer. Though they might have a bit of trouble getting some landlords to book them.