Liq­uid as­sets

Make a new home in an old Cor­nish pub

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Front Page -

The inside of the Ad­mi­ral Ben­bow glows; its puz­zle of pan­elled booths and un­evenly shaped ma­hogany ta­bles glim­mer­ing un­der the light of old brass oil lamps con­verted with muted elec­tric bulbs.

The shelves of the 17th­cen­tury Pen­zance pub are crammed with an eclec­tic as­sort­ment of me­mora­bilia. An an­cient brass div­ing hel­met com­mands one cor­ner shelf, model ships with match­stick masts jos­tle for space on an­other, and a tam­bourine bal­ances on an oak beam. It’s so rem­i­nis­cent of the inside of an old galleon that you can al­most hear the whis­per of the sea. Owner Alan Marsh set­tles him­self be­hind a round cor­ner ta­ble. “It’s not just a pub,” he says, beck­on­ing to his wife Tr­ish, who chats to a reg­u­lar f from be­hind the bar. She passes Alan the Ben­bow’s lat­est ac­co­lade: a framed cer­tifi­cate from drinks i in­dus­try ad­vo­cacy group Camra, awarded in late 2016 “in recog­ni­tion of the out­stand­ing his­toric im­por­tance of parts of its in­te­ri­ors”.

The value of the painted ships, fig­ure heads, an­chors, div­ing gear, lifebuoys and other nau­ti­cal me­mora­bilia is hard to quan­tify. Even after 15 years, Alan keeps find­ing things he never knew ex­isted in the sprawl­ing two-storey pub.

The col­lec­tion is the legacy of Cor­nish marine salvor Roland Marsh, who ren­o­vated the pub in the Six­ties. His most fa­mous find was a col­lec­tion of Greek pot­tery lost on the HMS Colos­sus, the 74-gun Royal Navy ship wrecked on the rocks of the Scilly Isles in 1798. The pot­tery had been col­lected by Sir Wil­liam Hamil­ton (hus­band of Ad­mi­ral Nel­son’s mis­tress). The frag­ments have been re­con­structed and are now dis­played at the Bri­tish Mu­seum; a piece of the em­bossed hull of the Colos­sus hangs from the Ad­mi­ral Ben­bow’s rafters.

Less glam­orous pieces of wreck­age in­clude a tri­an­gu­lar chunk of one of the in­fa­mous Tor­rey Canyon lifeboats, and a bat­tered lifebuoy from the HMS Mul­heim, which went down in 2003, the last ship to be wrecked along this treach­er­ous stretch of At­lantic coast­line skirt­ing Land’s End.

The 17th-cen­tury pub is sit­u­ated on Chapel Street, which winds its way up from the har­bour to the cen­tre of Pen­zance. It is the fic­tional home of

Treasure Is­land’s Jim Hawkins and the not-so-fic­tional base for a band of smug­glers, the Ben­bow Brandy men. Tr­ish takes curious vis­i­tors through the pub’s kitchens to the dark en­trance of the cramped tun­nel the smug­glers used in the 18th and 19th cen­turies. It’s now blocked up less than 20 me­tres in; the dis­cov­ery of its exit to the har­bour caused quite a stir when it was dis­cov­ered in 2008.

The pub has at­tracted vis­its over the years from a pep­per­ing of fa­mous folk, from the Hairy Bik­ers who filmed inside it, to Hugh Grant, who popped in for a drink five years ago on his way to a wed­ding in the Scilly Isles, and the Rolling Stones – after all, the pub is less than a hun­dred yards from Abbey Ho­tel, bought by iconic Six­ties model Jean Shrimpton (now run by her son). The Poldark cast, how­ever, has yet to drop in for a drink. But it is not all tourists, sailors and celebri­ties; the pub is home to the Pen­zance folk club and the Cor­nish Pi­rates Rugby Club, whose flag dan­gles near the pub’s en­trance.

Alan, a for­mer po­lice­man, bought the pub be­cause of its history and hopes that there is some­one else out there with the same pas­sion who will want to buy it from him. The pub is for sale through Millers Com­mer­cial for £650,000.

It is not the only 17th-cen­tury pub with a good story for sale in the West Coun­try. The Pack o’ Cards is said to have been built from the win­nings of a card game: it sits on a 52ft by 52ft plot, has four floors, 13 rooms, 52 stairs and 52 windows.

Ren­o­vated in the early Nineties, it was bought by Deb­bie and Chris Batch­e­lor 20 years ago. “We were tired of the Lon­don rat race,” says Deb­bie, who wanted a bet­ter life­style for their chil­dren, then eight and 10. “It’s been won­der­ful, a great place to bring up a fam­ily.” They live in a huge flat over the pub, in Combe Martin, Devon, but say the sta­ble block is ripe for con­ver­sion.

This pub is a favourite among lo­cals as well as a land­mark on the tourist map; it fea­tured heav­ily in the much­pub­li­cised guide­book B------- to Al­ton Tow­ers: Un­com­monly Bri­tish Days Out. The Pack o’ Cards is for sale at £894,850 with JD Com­mer­cial. An­other 17th­cen­tury pub for sale is The Old Smithy Inn at Wel­combe, Devon, a mile from the coastal foot­path, which has a sep­a­rate owner’s house. For back­pack­ers on a bud­get it of­fers an un­usual – and even older – bil­let for the night: two sets of bunk beds in a con­verted 14th­cen­tury stone outbuilding, said to have once been a pig shed. The Old Smithy Inn is for sale with Christie and Co for £625,000.

Aye aye: the Ad­mi­ral Ben­bow, right, houses a col­lec­tion of mar­itime me­mora­bilia, left

Jack­pot: the Pack o’ Cards in Coombe, above, is said to have been built from the win­nings of a card game

A-list: its clien­tele in­cludes the Hairy Bik­ers, below, and Hughg Grant, right

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