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The Bell Beerhouse Kempston

The former Bell Beerhouse in October 2007
The former Bell Beerhouse in October 2007

The Bell Beerhouse: 9 Church Walk, Kempston

The part of Kempston around the High Street was known as Bell End from about the beginning of the 18th century. It seems reasonable to think that Bell End was named after the Bell, which was certainly in existence at quite an early date. The first reference in any document held by Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service is in 1796 when Thomas Burt quitclaimed his share in the Bell to his brother Robert for £10 (presumably they had been devised it jointly in a will). Unfortunately the document does not state whether the Bell was an inn, public house or beerhouse. Robert Burt died in 1811 and devised the Bell and other property he owned to his friends Levi Fowler and William Smith as trustees, the rents to go to wife Mary Burt until their youngest daughter Sarah Burt came of age at which point all the lands and properties were to be sold, the profits to be divided between his wife Mary and children Robert, Elizabeth and Sarah. This sale duly happened in 1818, just down the road at the Half Moon public house when the Kempston miller Joseph Warth purchased it.

The Bedfordshire Times for 11 Sep 1852 reported an accident to son of the licensee of the Bell: "ACCIDENT  - On Wednesday a boy named Luck, son of Mrs Luck of the Bell Inn, was sitting on the corpse of a harvest cart, returning to the field belonging to Mr Inskip, farmer, when the horse took fright, and running up a bank upset the cart and broke the boys thigh. The youth was taken to the Bedford Infirmary, where every attention was paid to him".

The Bell beerhouse was owned by Bedford brewer Joseph Allen Piggot in 1875 when his business was sold to another Bedford brewer Charles Wells. The beerhouse remained in this ownership until it closed.

In 1910 the Bell was assessed; fortunately this meant that a number was inscribed on an Ordnance Survey map of the area with details of the property entered against that number in the assessment. The valuer allotted the number 201 to the Bell enabling us to determine that it lay on the northern corner of the junction between Water Lane and Church Walk - it is the white square numbered 201 in the right centre of the photograph of the map below; this is the modern 9 Church Walk. At the 1915 Epiphany Licensing Sessions it was decided that the Bell, described as an "ante 1869 Beerhouse" was to be closed but the amount of compensation for the removal of the licence was "yet to be determined". At the Epiphany Quarter Sessions of 1916 compensation was set at £30/17/-.

1901 Ordnance Survey map annotated by the rating valuer in 1927 [DBV3/140]
1901 Ordnance Survey map annotated by the rating valuer in 1927 [DBV3/140]

What is not clear is whether 9 Church Walk was the 18th century Bell (see above). The late 19th century establishment was a beerhouse, in other words it sold only beer, not spirits and provided no lodgings. Beerhouses were often side lines for men in other trades such as carpentry, slating, building or working as a blacksmith. It seems a little odd for an end of a parish to be named after a beerhouse, one would have assumed it would have been named after something more substantial such as an inn, which would have sold beer, wines and spirits and provided lodging. The countywide licensing register of 1876 states that the Bell beerhouse only opened in 1866, but it is not entirely accurate with such dates and so cannot always be taken at face value.

19th century directories dating back to 1839 do not list a Bell in Kempston. As directories do not name beerhouses it is safe to assume that any Bell from 1839 to 1915 was a beerhouse (including that of 1852 mentioned in the newspaper report and mistakenly called an inn). Given the lack of records we cannot be sure whether the Bell sold in 1818 and the beerhouse of 1852-1915 were the same establishment, it is possible that the earlier Bell was indeed an inn and closed at some point between 1818 and 1839, with a beerhouse of the same name being established later, or even overlapping with the inn; what can be said with certainty is that the late 19th century beerhouse was 9 Church Walk.

References:

  • BC673:  Bell quitclaimed by Thomas Burt to his brother Robert Burt for £10: 1796;
  • P60/11/1a: Poor rate assessment: 1801;
  • ABP/W 1811/35: will of Robert Burt devising all estates in Kempston to trustees for sale: 1811;
  • BC693/2/4: estates of Robert Burt in Bell End sold by auction at Half Moon to Joseph Warth: 1818;
  • WL73: sale catalogue of Horne Lane Brewery and its licensed premises: 1873;
  • PSB9/1: register of licenses: 1903-1935;
  • GK131/7: redemption of Land Tax by Charles Wells on Bell: 1903.

Licensees: note that this is not a complete list. Italics indicate licensees whose beginning and/or end dates are not known:

1796: Thomas Burt;
1796: Robert Burt;
1801: Thomas Munns;
1852: Luck;
1876: Levi Gore;
1890-1891: William Pool(e);
1894-1901: Thomas Tory;
1903: Thomas Wolleson;
1903-1907: Frank Alfred Dillingham;
1907-1909: Thomas Charles Proctor;
1909-1913: Frank Locke;
1913-1915: John Thomas Campbell;
Beerhouse closed 1915