It is hard to believe now, but the Otterton populace used to be quite rowdy! Three buildings in the village still today have a small alcove, covered with glass, built into the chimney. These used to have a lighted candle inside them at night to aid the passing traveller, or drunken labourer, on their way home from the pub! During smuggling activities, these were also used to warn smugglers of coastguards being about.
The village has been home to a few pubs and alehouses. Despite records showing a 15th century house on the green named The Golden Lion, and an alehouse existing in 1673, it is not until 1711 that we have proper records of alehouse activity, and of the Kings Arms predecessor, The New Inn. The inn was hit in 1776 with the Duties on Cider etc. Act by George III. In an attempt to eradicate the debt caused by the Seven Years’ War of 1756-63, the government imposed a tax of 4/- per hogshead of cider, increasing prices for the local pub. This bill was met with extreme aversion from villagers and MPs alike, who tried and failed to prevent the bill. The Excise service had to visit and investigate every apple-growing tenant and landlord to collect the taxes, and so the West Country developed a resounding dislike of these government agents who suddenly seemed to be everywhere!
Shortly after this Act, the New Inn changed its name in 1800 to The Kings Arms. By 1888 it was in a very delapidated state and was rebuilt by the Estate. It has remained fairly unchanged until the early 1980s when the expiry of the Devenish lease allowed the Estate to let the business to the Carter family of Ladram, and they reorganized and refurbished it as a free house. There was a bowls alley at the rear until the 1990s. In the 1990s the lease was taken over by Harry Blundred, a bus-driver resident of the village who had successfully bought out Devon General from the nationalised bus company and, loving the pub, decided to buy it. He developed the upstairs into a very good restaurant, chefs once coming from Cunard, but sadly business was insufficient and he closed the restaurant and converted part into letting rooms: the catering operation moved downstairs and became central to the pub’s offering. Subsequently he married and moved abroad, and the Carters once more took over the business. They expanded and improved the letting operation and the pub is now a comprehensive operation.
The site of Nos. 1 and 16 Fore Street further up the village also stand on the site of an old beer house, the Red Cow, that was knocked down in 1930. George Dyer transformed it into an inn in 1851, after the death of Thomas Brindle who ran it as another of one of the many enormous village farmhouses.
During the 1920s and 30s beer was transported from Sidmouth to Otterton by dray horse and cart. At that time Vallance Brewery in Sidmouth ran The Kings Arms, and they would send an extra horse to tackle Peak Hill carrying 6 barrels of beer and cider, equating to 240 gallons!