The Reverend Barrington Bennetts, 75, is the only known priest in Cornwall to own and run a pub. He makes an imposing figure with his comfortable girth and eyebrows frequently drawn together in a scowl, but inside a dour exterior lurks a twinkle that endears him to many.
“It takes time to know Barrington,” says John Jackson, 67, a regular in the pub for the last 40 years. “And knowing him isn’t easy!”
John Barrington Bennetts was born in 1932 and took over the pub when his father died in 1975. He met his wife June at school in 1936, and married in 1961.
“We married at King Charles the Martyr Church in Falmouth, on October 5th 1961,” he says. “My grandparents were married on the same date in 1898 but this wasn’t known to my parents who also married on the same date in 1928.”
Last year Barrington celebrated 55 years behind the bar of the Seven Stars, where there is no such thing as a typical working day. He can be found conducting a church service in the morning, serving behind the bar at lunchtime and visiting sick customers in the afternoon.
He clearly thrives on being with his flock, whether in church or in the pub. “It’s very simple. I enjoy meeting people,” he says. And his conscience has never troubled him over his different roles. “A publican administers to his customers, a priest to his congregation,” he says firmly. “People drink in here for a little while and can go elsewhere and drink themselves stupid if they like. Some do. I know my customers.”
The Seven Stars, reputed to have been a grainstore in the 1500s, has been in Barrington’s family since 1873. It is now a Grade II listed building and on the CAMRA National Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors. The interior is smoke stained, hasn’t been decorated since the 1950s and the bar stools are not designed for comfort, so many customers stand. Barrington is rightly proud that the Seven Stars is renowned for its excellent Bass and local Cornish beer served straight from the cask.
“It’s one of the last proper pubs,” says John Jackson. “The only reason any man leaves the Seven Stars is to go home to his wife.”
Unlike many modern pubs, mobile phones are banned in the Seven Stars, there is no music, no food apart from the odd ham roll and packet of crisps, and bad language is heavily discouraged.
“I don’t like swearing in the pub,” Barrington says firmly, “especially foul language from females”.
Anyone who misbehaves is subjected to Barrington’s famous glare before the miscreant is firmly asked to remove themselves. “You learn when a situation is likely to become difficult, but if there are local customers in, they help persuade the person to leave,” he says. “If there’s real trouble I get the police in. I’ve never told anyone that they’re drunk – that can make them aggressive. I say, ‘I think you’d better go home – come back and see us another time. You’ve obviously had a good day’.”
Barrington doesn’t drink himself because he admits he can’t take it. “I soon get tiddly. I’ve been abstemious in recent times, though not in my youth perhaps,” he adds with his twinkle. “It would be very easy to overdo it when you celebrate communion as you have to consume the wine afterwards.”
While Barrington doesn’t mind other people imbibing, he has a practical approach. “It’s part of my job and that of my staff to make sure that people don’t get drunk,” he says, although there are exceptions to that rule, such as the Falmouth Marine Band. For the last 20 years it has raised huge amounts for charities and is famous for its enthusiasm rather than any musical experience. “They’re used to having a drink now and again, and they don’t upset anyone so that’s fine,” he says stoutly. “They’re all experienced drinkers and if they weren’t when they joined the band, they are now!”
For many people now retired, the Seven Stars has been a regular meeting place, but that is now changing. “The sad thing is that a lot of people have gone and I do miss them,” Barrington says. “Many of them were characters, and they’re not being replaced.” Jimmy Morrison, now in his nineties, worked on the river Fal all his life and has often been consulted by TV programme makers, historians and other authors. “He’s the last waterfront character,” says Barrington sadly. “He has a lot of tales to tell.”
Another character was Jimmy Condy, who used to work down the docks. “I used to banter with him as I do with other customers,” Barrington says. “He always used to call me ‘e with the glasses’!”
Whereas he inherited the job of running the pub, Barrington’s involvement in the church is very different, and there is a clear line between his roles. “The church is a vocation,” he says. “My only regret is not being ordained many years before. I could have had a lifetime in the Church.”
Barrington became involved in the church when he was confirmed at the age of 50. This led to becoming a sidesman, then a server at the altar. “One day I was asked to read the Litany – I loved doing that,” he says. “That was when I became interested in going further in the church.”
After 9 ½ years, Barrington was ordained at the age of 60, and is now an Honorary Assistant Priest at the Church of King Charles the Martyr in Falmouth. “I take whatever services I’m asked to take,” he says, although he particularly enjoys weddings and christenings. “I’m lucky because I love children, and I love christenings.” He beams at the thought and adds, “My religion is both humorous and theological.”
This humour resulted in a cartoon in the Beano to celebrate Barrington’s 70th birthday, drawn by regular customer and well known cartoonist, Nick Brennan. Barrington has also been the subject of a TV documentary, and is now writing the history of the Seven Stars. “Though I doubt if it will come to fruition,” he says wryly. “I have a dyslexic computer.”
In between the pub and the church, he has little time off, but is Chaplain to Falmouth District Scouts and joined in last year’s carnival by leading the Falmouth Marine Band into action. “I also like classic car magazines,” he says, “and I read a story from People’s Friend every night in bed.”
Barrington’s secret love is perfume. “My paternal grandfather was a deputy mine captain and whenever he went down a mine he always had a perfumed handkerchief,” he says wistfully. “I don’t carry one but I absolutely love perfume. I am fond of aftershave, and that’s the same thing really. I still have the same aftershave that I had on my honeymoon.”
Although Barrington was born in London, his parents and grandparents were Cornish born and he considers himself a Cornishman. “Cornwall means pasties and cream, male voice choirs and a wonderful cathedral,” he says. “It means over 130 parish churches in the Duchy and, until recently, the wonderful Bishop Bill, who was a man of the church and of the people.”
Thankfully for those that do frequent the Seven Stars, Barrington has no plans to leave. “In five years time I hope to be doing the same thing as I’m doing now,” he says. “I have no interest in retiring. The business might retire me but I’d miss the people too much. And I hope I can continue in the church until I’m called above.”
The Seven Stars
1 The Moor
Falmouth TR11 3QA
Nick Brennan’s website www.cartoonfun.co.uk
February 2009 Cornwall Today