Article & Photographs by Mike Rego
One of Dartmoor’s most loved pubs, the Ring of Bells in North Bovey, is to reopen this month almost 2 years after the calamitous fire in January 2016 that saw it reduced to an empty shell.
The fire broke out in the roof space during the morning of January 13th and saw the main part of the Grade II listed, 13th century pub devastated by flames in just a few hours, despite the efforts of more than 75 firefighters and over 10 fire appliances from across Devon fighting to save not just the pub but also the surrounding buildings.
Fortunately the kitchen block at the rear was left largely unscathed, as was the stable bar to the side, but at times all the protective foam sprayed on to the surrounding thatch resembled a tragic Christmas card scene. The adjacent Gate House, where the underside of the thatch has been carbon-dated to just over 500 years, fortunately escaped damage with only minor scorching.
Originally a farmhouse, the Ring of Bells possibly started as a hostelry for the masons building the Parish church across the green. Cobbles and a well uncovered beneath the floor of the restaurant hint at a prior use as a shippon for cattle.
For pub landlord Richard Edlmann, before planning the rebuilding work could begin, it was essential to clear away the debris to establish the full extent of the damage and to protect the remaining structure and salvage as much of the original materials as possible. Although protective scaffolding went up shortly after the fire debris was cleared, re-building work did not start in earnest until January this year.
Richard explains that key to the re-build was to find the right conservation team, to retain the original character and make best use, rather than simply replace with new. Bramhill traditional specialist builders from Halwill were selected, many of the original timbers were salvaged and put back, and discovered items such as the bread oven in the fireplace at the restaurant end were retained, along with granite flagstones, a medieval arch into the bar, and Victorian fireplaces in the upstairs bedrooms. Thatching was finished in late September, and the scaffolding finally came down in October.
Richard says: “We have tried to maintain the character of the old building whilst improving upon it by taking advantage of modern building regulations, particularly modern fire safety regulations.
“Lighting has been the main challenge, but the end result is a successful retention of the character of a 750 year old building with all of its much loved quirkiness such as the long case clock built into a wall recess in the snug bar, but with modern plumbing, wiring and insulation to see it through the next few hundred years”.
As the pub gears up to its reopening on 10th December, a new team of staff has been hired with Avril Smerdon as the General Manager. The restaurant will be under the leadership of Christophe Ferraro, previously of the White Horse, Moretonhampstead, and assisted by Andrew Storey, who has previously worked at Bovey Castle as Head Chef.