About the Hosts

Neil & BevAt a time when lots of pubs are feeling the strain of the "no smoking" ban, credit crunch and cheap supermarket beer, Bev Hayler and her husband Neil have fulfilled a long term ambition to buy, not just any pub, but their local pub where Bev has worked for almost 15 years.

Bev's parents Roger and Penny Davies spent a short time away from their home town of Torrington, working in London, but moved home again, when Bev was just two years old.

Bev attended Torrington Infant and Primary School and her favourite time of year was always Torrington's Mayfair. Little did young Bev know when she was weaving her way through the Maypole outside the Black Horse Inn doing the traditional Mayfair dance that she would one day have her name above the door.

When Bev was 13 years old she signed up to the Torrington majorettes learning to twirl a baton, going through her marching paces and learning a host of other manoeuvres. Her husband to be, Neil, was also in the majorettes playing the drum, and by the time they both left the troupe aged 16 and 17 they were seeing each other on a regular basis.

When they left Torrington Secondary School, Bev went to North Devon College and began a course in catering while Neil took up his first job training to be a butcher at North Devon Meat.

They married in Torrington on September 10 1988, the day before Bev's 21st birthday.

The marriage took place at St Michael's Church in Torrington and the reception in Torrington's Castle Hill Hotel, which closed down a year after their wedding.

While Bev was undertaking her catering course, she worked at Rebecca's, one of Torrington's leading restaurants at the time. She then worked at several pubs and restaurants until taking up a cooking post for Dave and Val Sawyer at the Black Horse in 1994.

Bev and Neil managed to combine their work with looking after their three young daughters, 19-year-old Becky, 17-year-old Sam and 16-year-old Lauren.

In 2001, just one week before Mayfair — their favourite time of year — North Devon Meat went up in a towering inferno and Neil heard the news while he was enjoying a cycle ride on the Tarka Trail.

He changed the direction he was going in and cycled straight to the meat plant in time to help rescue three meat trucks, which were parked at the factory. The devastation of the fire did not hit Neil until the next morning.

"When the reality of the damage hit me I was gutted, this was the only job I have ever known."

Looking back now Neil believes that the fire was probably a good thing for him: "I probably would have stayed there until retirement but the tragedy forced me to find new employment and I am now doing a job I really enjoy, working for a Danish Bacon Company in Exeter and my job takes me all around Devon working as a meat trader."

It was another tragedy which happened to make Bev and Neil think about buying the Black Horse. When Val Sawyer who was landlady at the Black Horse was diagnosed with a terminal illness she told Bev she thought Neil and she should take it on. Bev remembers saying to Val, "don't be so stupid" but Val's words had sowed a little seed, which was to germinate over the next year. When she told Neil what Val had said he too reacted in a similar way. "I swore blind I would never buy it because I was fully aware of the hard work it takes to run a good pub." Sadly, Val passed away on March 17, 2005 and Bev never thought any more about their conversation until last year when Dave told her he would be selling up and asked her to consider buying. This time when Bev broached the subject to Neil he realised that this was something Bev really wanted to do and gave her his complete backing.

When, however, they told their daughters about their plans, all three thought she was "mad".

Becky was first to come round. "Mum and Dad wanted to continue living at home and suggested I move into the pub to live; a perfect opportunity to move away from home," she laughs.

As well as studying for her A Levels, Becky works as a barmaid and does all the pub's book-keeping and spends her nights with her partner and George, the resident ghost!

The Black Horse has been well documented about its resident ghost over the years, but Becky, who has felt his presence and heard his footsteps and his banging on the walls takes it all in her stride.

"I used to worry about the ghost, but now I am convinced he is a friendly ghost and looks out for me. Quite often I can sense him behind me, but I always feel safe and never scared."

Bev, Neil and the girls have all settled into the Black Horse since they took over on November 14, and they are all working hard together to ensure its success.

Although Neil still works full time he helps out wherever he can. Sam and Lauren help in the restaurant waitressing and washing up, and Bev continues to serve up delicious home made meals at lunchtimes and evenings.

All the produce for the restaurant is sourced locally.

"Being local ourselves, we know the importance of buying locally, after all it is the locals who support us." Both Bev and Neil believe that if an "outsider" had taken on the pub they may have changed what they consider a good traditional local pub and they do not intend to change anything.

"People like it because it is a friendly pub where locals and visitors can sit and enjoy a chat or a meal without the blaring of a juke box or the clickity clack of pool cues and balls and we want to keep it that way."

This article was first published in the North Devon Journal. Author: Anne Tattersall - Picture: Rob Tibbles 0902-37-02