Archive‎ > ‎2016‎ > ‎

Merry Harriers

Rise and fall of the Merry Harriers
Six reports that trace the progress of one of the UK's most successful pubs to a heap of rubble

66 years on - their wedding reception venue has gone

MARCH  2017
Victor and Ivy Stamp have a special reason to be sad about the demolition of the Merry Harriers.
They had their wedding reception here 66 years ago, in February 1951. It was bitterly cold, with snow on the ground, but inside the drink was flowing and there was a roaring fire. There was no money left for a honeymoon, and Victor was back at work two days later.
Ivy was one of the Whitrow family of 17 children, who lived in a house called Jacob’s City, at The Common, Clayhidon. Her sister Phyllis (now Phyllis Burton living in Churchinford) was a bridesmaid.
Victor and Ivy, who live Kilmington, near Axminster, were shocked to see what had happened to the old pub after two arson attacks in 2016. “Terrible,” said Victor, while Ivy called it “a great shame”.

Second arson attack destroys historic pub

Police are appealing for witnesses to an arson attack which they believe
Former owner speaks of sadness at loss of his old inn
caused the fire that destroyed the Merry Harriers on Sunday night (18 December).Investigating officer Det Sgt Darren Lipscomb said: “We believe the fire was started deliberately at around 10pm and we are treating it as arson. The building was empty so no-one was hurt, but significant damage was caused.
“As part of our investigation we’re keen to speak to anyone who witnessed anything suspicious around the time.
“Did you drive past and perhaps see a vehicle parked next to the building or see people standing nearby? If you saw or heard anything out of the ordinary then please get in touch.”
Anyone with information is asked to call 101 and provide the call handler with the reference number 5216280689. If you don't want to speak to the police you can anonymously ring the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.
Fire engines and sirens woke residents of Clayhidon as four fire crews from Wellington, Taunton and Exeter fought the fire throughout the night. Many homes lost water pressure as firemen took water from a hydrant at Bar Park to tackle the blaze, which blocked the top road.
This is the second suspected arson attack on the historic pub since it was shut suddenly last summer when the landlord left.
JULY 2016
Merry Harriers fire 'started deliberately'
JULY 2016
Police believe the fire that badly damaged the Merry Harriers, Clayhidon was started deliberately.
They say fire crews discovered that the door had been forced to gain entry and a fire had been started. Police would like to hear from anyone who was in the area at the time or who saw anything suspicious to contact them on quoting crime log CR/046969/16.”
 after its sudden closure.
Six fire crews arrived late on Sunday night 10 July, days after the pub's sudden closure, to find the entrance porch and first floor well ablaze.
As we reported a week before the fire, the pub had mysteriously
closed and the landlord had apparently left. Security fencing barred the entrance, no-one was answering the phone and various attempts to contact  Wesley Sneijder had drawn a blank. 
"Nobody knows where he has gone or why," said a regular. "It's a great mystery."
"Unforeseen health issues" were the only reason given in a notice outside, which said the pub would not reopen "for the foreseeable future". 
Wesley  (usually known as Wayne to avoid confusion with his famous footballing namesake) became landlord in 2015, when he announced he had bought the lease from Reg and Leslie Payne and said he was trying to bring the pub back to its glory days.

Football star’s Merry Harriers namesake has EX appeal

A famous footballer's namesake is bringing EX appeal to an
ancient Devon pub.
Wesley Sniejder, new landlord of the Merry Harriers, Clayhidon (pictured left), can’t match the £2m a year Dutch superstar (right) for riches or footballing genius, but he is almost certainly a better cook.
Wesley – usually known as Wayne to avoid confusion – is buying as much of his produce as possible from the EX postcode area and other parts of Devon.
Since buying  the lease from Reg and Lesley Payne, he has replaced St. Austell ales and other imports with locally brewed  Otter ales and  Bollhayes cider. His game meat comes from local farms, much of his other meat from Wallace’s, just down the road, and fish arrives daily from Brixham.
Born and bred in Kent, Wayne, now 43, started cooking when he was ten because it was the only way he could be sure of a good meal, with his Dutch  mum wheelchair-bound and his dad away working.  He started his catering business when he was 15, while still learning his cooking skills with Trusthouse Forte.
When he moved to the West Country he renamed the business On the Level, but continued to develop his skills in places like the Headland Hotel, Newquay, the Farmers Arms, West Hatch and the Bell Inn, Curry Mallet.
Since arriving at the Merry Harriers he has introduced The Great British Lunch, with traditional British dishes, and given the evening menu a more international flavour. Gluten free and vegetarian dishes have become an important part of the inn’s offer.
“We are trying to bring the pub back to its glory days,” he said, “We are listening to the customers and they are saying they want it to be more of a pub again and less of a restaurant.”
Wayne is now running On The Level as a successful weddings and events caterer from the Merry Harriers. He also has another business, which is attracting fleets of new customers in exotic vehicles. His ownership of the Brake Horsepower Club enables him to welcome vintage car rallies from all over the south of England. The newly extended car park has been filling with lovingly maintained old Jaguars, Ferraris and Saabs.
Wayne admits his love of vintage vehicles has got out of hand. He owns 14 cars – including a Lotus 503 and “an absolutely evil Escort Cosworth”. You can bet the other Wesley Sniejder doesn’t have one of those.


Gatlings sell the Merry Harriers to customers

Peter and Angela Gatling have sold the Merry Harriers, Clayhidon to two of their most frequent diners.
After eight years of running one of Britain’s most successful country pubs, the Gatlings are taking a rest and looking for a new venture.
The new owners are Reg and Lesley Payne, who live in Willand. They are employing all the Gatlings’ staff, including Jamie Cox, who has been promoted to manager.
The Gatlings had never run a pub before buying the Merry Harriers. But inexperience didn’t stop them building a reputation throughout the south west and winning a string of awards.
They won the Devon Dining Pub of the Year two years on the trot and the 2013 Good Pub Guide national award for Licensee of the Year. In their previous life Peter was managing director of an IT company after years in sales and marketing and Angela was in the CCTV business.
He said selling the pub was “a mixed blessing”. “The timing was quite good for us, and it’s very good for our three children, but we miss the atmosphere, the ambience and the company.”
They plan to continue living in Wellington and may well return to the hospitality industry.
Meanwhile Reg and Lesley Payne have enlarged the car park and plan to make a few subtle changes to the menu, including greater emphasis on high quality steaks.
They already owned seven other businesses, including property and cars, so they will be leaving Jamie to manage the pub. But it’s not their first experience in hospitality – they used to own the Hartnoll Hotel, Tiverton.
Reg, who loves the Blackdown Hills, was born in Culmstock, and said buying the Merriers was “like coming home”.


UK Licensees of the Year

Peter and Angela Gatling, who run the Merry Harriers, Clayhidon, are Britain's Licensees of the Year, according to the new edition of the Good Pub Guide, writes Keith Wheatley.
It puts the pretty ivy-clad pub in Britain’s top ten inns, with huge praise for the owners. "Peter and Angela Gatling are the absolute aristocrats of the pub world, showing extra-special commitment and care for both their pub and their customers – and it shows,” says the GPG. 
"Always deservedly busy, this is a particularly well run and friendly pub and our readers love it. The hands-on, hard-working licensees and their staff will always make you welcome – even when rushed off their feet."
Peter – he hasn’t chosen a title yet, Count of Clayhidon perhaps? – was understandably thrilled by the award. ”These are the Oscars of the pub food trade, so it’s pretty special,” he said. “Last year we were given Best Dining Pub for Devon, so we’ve moved up from regional to national level.”
Angela emphasised how much of a team effort lies behind the Merry Harriers success. “Staff continuity can be a real problem in pubs but our kitchen team have been with us five or six years and even the youngsters waiting on tables and behind the bar tend to stay with us,” she said.
In fact, husband-and-wife chefs Ben and Amy met at the Merry Harriers, became a couple and married last year. The whole place has a family-friendly feel. The Gatlings have three daughters at school in Wellington and the eldest now works occasionally at the Harriers.
According to Peter good value is the reason why the pub is so popular as a place to eat out – they often serve over 600 meals in a week.“Seven years ago when we first took over a main course had been £18,” he said. “It was special occasions only. Now nothing is more than £13. Beer is£2.60 a pint whereas it’s well over £3.00 in most pubs.
“It’s absolutely essential to get the value right. Pubs win awards, jack the prices up, and forget what made them successful in the first place.”
It’s all a far cry from their previous life in Berkshire, where Peter commuted to London for a job in corporate IT and Angela ran the home. “Peter just announced one day that he’d always wanted to run a pub,” remembered Angela. “It was a complete surprise to me, but we began planning and six months later moved into the Harriers. It was a huge change, but for the better and we love it.”
If you want to see what it was about the Merry Harriers that so impressed the GPG judges don’t forget to book – especially at weekends. Tel: 421270.
> Pictures and story reproduced by kind permission of the Around Wellington website.