In 1320, somewhere nearby on the shore, probably towards where the modern Blue Anchor Inn is now, stood the Chapel of ‘St. Mary By the Sea’…
… Run by the monks from Cleeve Abbey, which owned most of the land in this area, the Chapel was known to be a place of miracles and was a site of pilgrimage, making money for the Abbey. The Chapel was at the mercy of the sea and elements and was destroyed by a landslip in 1452. The monks moved their place of miracles and income inland and catered for pilgrims until shortly after the Reformation. The Abbey’s lands were sold off to the highest bidders by the Crown and parcels of land were bought or rented by Yeomen farmers, the rising wealthy class, who, over the years, built themselves new houses and farms in the ‘Great Rebuilding.’
The layout of this building suggests that it was possibly built in the Seventeenth Century and may have been a Yeoman’s house or farm. It is the vernacular type of architecture, with two cross wings either side of the central section which would have been the original communal room. It is built of brick, has three stories and a tile roof, making it a superior type of building compared to those built of rubble, cob and thatch. The bricks will have been made in the brickyard that existed here and which is now remembered by Brickyard Covert, the stand of trees at the back of the building complex and a brick kiln in the garden of a nearby house.
In 1676 the Mouth Bridge or Pill Bridge was built over the river Pill. The Pill ran straight through the field that is now the camping field for Home Farm. Inns were often established near bridges and there appears to have been an Inn in this area in the late Seventeenth Century. A History of the County of Somerset says that, “A house called the Blue Anchor, probably an Inn stood ‘on the strand’ beside the coast road from Watchet to Minehead by 1678.” This was not the modern, and now closed, Blue Anchor Inn, but more likely an Inn that stood in what is now the camping field near this building and next to the road. In the right conditions the foundations of this vanished Inn can be seen as parch marks in the grass and is shown on maps of the 1830s. Sometime after 1765 the coast road was turnpiked and although it was always a poor road, it will have led travellers to the Inn.
By the beginning of the Nineteenth Century this building was being used as a guest house and was connected to the Blue Anchor Inn in the field alongside the road. In 1800 the Reverend Warner wrote that there was “a neat little inn, a small house for lodgers and a bathing machine” on the coast road at Blue Anchor. Visits to the seaside were by this time firmly entrenched in the British way of life. People travelling along the road to and from Minehead could stop for refreshments at the Blue Anchor Inn by the road and if they needed to stay for the night and stabling for horses then they were accommodated in the guest house, this building, that was then known as Cleeve Villa. It appears in the middle distance of Turner’s 1818 painting of Dunster Castle. Then old Inn was replaced. A History of the County of Somerset says that “By 1861 the Blue Anchor Family Hotel was built near the Blue Anchor Inn and presumably took over its business.” Then, on 12 April 1864, the “lease for seven years from Michaelmas last of Cleeve Villa, the Old Blue Anchor and specified closes” was purchased. The closure of the old Inn did not stop the guest house’s trade. In 1871 the building was known as ‘The Lodging House’, and the proprietors lived in another property. In 1873 the building was known as ‘Cleeve Bay Villa’ and continued to be a guest house and Inn.
In the 1900s the building was still called ‘Cleeve Bay Villa’ and the 1920s it was known as ‘The Old House’. During World War Two, when it housed evacuees, it was called Cleeve Bay Villa once more and in the 1950s and early 1960s it was recorded as a hotel called ‘The Old House’. In 1965 it was ‘The Old House Restaurant’ and in 1972 its name changed to ‘The Smugglers Inn’, with no apostrophe…
The building has changed a great deal over time but has been looking after guests for centuries.
The Real Ghost Hunters
We were proud to host an episode of the Real Ghost Hunters here at the Smugglers Inn which will be available to view on Amazon Prime from the 14th March 2020.