About the beginning of February, a decision was made to fit new carpet throughout the main areas of the Bridge. The previous one had given sterling service for many years, but the constant trodden-in pasty crumbs, spilt beer, and hoovering had taken their toll. Any of you who are familiar with the establishment will know that this was a major step, and after much wringing of hands, a fine new red carpet was purchased and laid.
Much jollity ensued, with accusations of the expectation of Royalty visiting being well to the fore.
Meanwhile preparations were well in hand for celebrating the 101st anniversary of great-grandfather moving into the premises, and a special ale had been commissioned from the Branscombe Vale brewery. Commemorative labels had been designed and were being printed. Bottles and barrels were being prepared for the big event. Bridge Hill was preparing for a small local celebration.
Unknown to all, one of the longer serving locals, a certain John Rice, had contacted a local newspaper about the forthcoming event. They despatched reporter and photographer to cover the story, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Caroline Cheffers-Heard received a VERY confidential phone call from Buckingham Palace, and initially treated it as a joke on account of all the ragging about the new red carpet. It soon became apparent that this was not the case, and very shortly, all manner of folks with shiny shoes and clipboards descended on sleepy Topsham. Quiet chaos ensued.
The last couple of weeks before the visit were fraught. The city council suddenly decided to come at 7am one morning and patch the road. (The hole had been there for ages). The pub sign was painted for the first time in 20 years. The beer production was brought forward to produce some bottles of "101" to present to Her Majesty. The cobbles were scrubbed (twice). The guests received instruction on how to behave when presented to The Queen. Suits and frocks were cleaned, and let out where necessary. Large policemen visited incognito (the Range Rover Discovery with eight aerials is a bit of a giveaway, lads). Urgent chaos spread.
And then the world's Press got to hear about it. "Queen visits pub shock." Total chaos.
On the day of The Visit, everyone was up around 6am on account of not being able to sleep. All you could hear was the sound of birds singing and crush barriers being erected. The first enthusiasts arrived around 10am, and by noon, 15 mins before the appointed hour, Bridge Hill resembled The Mall for the Trooping of the Colours. The E&E had distributed large numbers of Union flags, just to guarantee an appropriately Monarchist feel to the proceedings. A phalanx of police outriders arrived to a desultory cheer, like a signal that NOW is the time to wave your flag. The motorcade swept to a halt outside the Bridge, and there she was! It was at this moment that you realised that this was for real, and not some strange dream. The Queen was actually going to visit a pub, and our pub at that!
Her Majesty was wearing a cornflower blue ensemble, and was accompanied by the Lord Lieutenant in a navy blue and red ensemble finished off with a wicked looking sword. Inside the pub, she was introduced to various members of the Cheffers family, friends and staff, and shown around the building.
John F Sculpher
She was particularly interested in flags which were originally flown at the pub for her father's Coronation, and was presented with a case of "101" ale from Branscombe Vale, and commented that Prince Philip would enjoy it at The Palace.
And then all too soon, it was over, and she was into her limo and sweeping off to her next appointment down the road. The Press descended en masse and wanted to know what she said and what she drank. (For the record, she drank nothing.) Everyone breathed a sigh of relief, ties were loosened, pots of tea brewed, and it was as if we had all been part of a film. Out in the car park the 16th century charm of the building was dwarfed by the 20th Century reality of satellite TV links.
And now? The 101 is gone, and people come from all over to see this quaint little place. Lost relatives have turned up, friends have phoned from the far corners of the world to say they saw us on TV, and we know what its like to have our 15 minutes of fame.
How to find us
Cheffers Index page