Exeter Custard House

What are we to do with the Custom House?

Councillor Connel Boyle thinks it should be a casino. Hazel Harvey of the Civic Society thinks it should be a museum of smuggling. A celebration of rip-off merchants in both cases, I suppose.

Cunningly, Councillor Boyle has suggested that the staff of his proposed Las-Vegas-by-the-Water be put into period costume. He does not say which period, but you can bet your bottom euro that he is thinking tricorn hats, white leggings, brass buttons, and anything else that would look like a convention of town criers.

In his dreams, he sees an Onedin line of punters in tailored togs, lining up to fleece you of your last farthing, doubloon or groat.

What games of chance will these Poldarks be playing? Is his vision that they will empty their wallets for eighteenth century Scrabble, with Johnson's dictionary at hand to check the answers?

Is he thinking of roulette wheels, spinning crankily round while periwigged croupiers rake in the takings, and call to buxom lasses in low-cut costumes to refill the wooden tankards?

Perhaps there will be red-faced, well-whiskered gents in ruffs and pantaloons, eating pasties and drinking vintage port, while they roar on the roosters in a cockpit. This is of course illegal, but in this virtual age, who's to say that we couldn't get a few hologrammed hens to have a scrap, while onlookers dug in their waistcoat pockets for a spare guinea?

Poker, perhaps? Would there be card schools run by rum-soaked hearties?

Or is his idea crap?

Of course, if we really wanted to have a sniff of history, we could populate the quayside with pick-pockets, some suitably starving beggars, and the corpses of cholera victims.

We could turn the Custom House into a workhouse-cum-orphanage, and let a few beadles loose on the quay (possibly to be known as "jeremies"). Small children would pad forward, barefoot, and announce, "Please, sir, I want some moor," at which point they would be ushered out in the general direction of Chagford.

Or there's Hazel Harvey's suggestion. The Custom House Museum of Smuggling.

I'm not quite sure what message this would send to the local population, apart from the moral superiority of piracy. I fear that local schoolchildren (probably in a crocodile, if they were going to meet up with Captain Hook lookalikes) might get the message that there was something to be said for seventeenth century tax evasion, and that popping a bottle of hooch up your jerkin was the next best thing to parting hearties from their goods with a punch.

There again, perhaps it is a local Custom, and we should encourage it. We would be able to see for ourselves the positive merits of hoisting a skull and crossbones. We would thrill to the grizzled visages of the Captain I-Kidd-You-Nots of this (or rather, that) world. It would be important to have a gibbet on the quay, so that under-tens were taught the difference between right and wrong. Tourists would be given a map, perhaps, with buried treasure to be found somewhere beneath the polished cobbles.

No; look at this how you will, it would be a rum do.

Of course, there are lots of other ideas which spring readily to mind, and nothing to do with either one-armed bandits, or one-legged bandits with second-hand parrots on their shoulders.

For instance. We all know that language changes its meaning, that words come to mean different things over a period of time. The word "custom" for instance, might well be derived from a word that originally had a very different sense.

"Custom" might well have the same root, say, as "Custard".

In which case, it would be very easy indeed to start thinking about something more original down on the quay. You have probably already caught my drift on this one. Yes, I am proposing that we re-open this magnificent listed building as a Custard House.

In tourism, it is important to lead the field. There are other cities and towns in the country which have casinos; there are surely other museums which celebrate smugglers.

But there are none, it's a fair bet, which celebrate Custard.

The Exeter Custard House could be the first in the country to celebrate that peculiar yellow gloop which is often poured, splattered, or frankly dumped over a pudding.

Eggy, scrumptious, rough or smooth, rich or sickly, hot or cold, out of a pot, a packet or a carton, custard is something quintessentially English, something which stirs the hearts and stomachs of our island's many folk.

And yet, for too long, Custard has been associated with cowardice, with snivelling types like gamblers and smugglers, with school dinners instead of magnificent trifles. It has been the casual victim of stereotyping.

The Exeter Custard House would stand four-square for the redeeming power of this ancient remedy. It would re-claim for Exeter a proud custard history. We would become, as it were, custard's custodians.

And there's much more to Custard than meets the eye (as it tends to do when it takes the form of a custard pie, and it would be jolly round the clock to see custard pie fights on the Quay, I dare you to disagree).

You can have custard slices. You can have custard tarts. You can have frozen custard. You can have custard with rhubarb (and indeed, Roobarb). You can have fish custard, and honey carrot custard. You can have custard caramels. There are custard apples.

In short, there is much more mileage in having a Custard House (complete with Custard Cannons) than in having a Custom House, and if it has taken fourteen years since the Custom House was closed to business to get round to opening it again, then I think I have made my point fairly and squarely.

Custard is biodegradable.

Custard is non-violent.

Custard is popular.

A lot of people would flock to the Quay to sample the international variations on this ever-faithful addition to the festive table. We are talking millions of custard jugs, custard pots, custard brooches, custard mustard, custard cakes, custard creams, custard bowls, custard puppies and custard canal-boats - enough quickly to win back the quarter of a million quid lashed out on the building in the last two years by English Heritage.

Exeter - The Home Of Custard!

With The Exeter Custard House!

From Express and Echo