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The Bell Hotel Luton

The Bell Commercial Hotel with the hanging lamp about 1910 [Z1130/75]
The Bell Commercial Hotel with the hanging lamp about 1910 [Z1130/75]

The Bell Commercial Hotel: 36 George Street, Luton

Luton had two establishments named The Bell, both in George Street and at least one of which is first mentioned at a very early date. One, later called The Old Bell, lay on the west side of George Street, at the junction with Chapel Street, the other on the east side.

Fortunately the service has the deeds to one of these inns, held as part of the Whitbread Archive [WB/B4/1/Lu/Bell], indicating that this is the later of the two properties, in other words the one on the east side of the street. This packet of deeds begins in 1641 [WB/B4/1/Lu/Bell1] when Richard Peter the elder conveyed a building to his son, Richard Peter the younger. The building was described as a capital messuage, meaning that it was large and of high status. It was described as "abutting the street from The George to the Market Place" and abutted by property of Nathan Marsom one side and . Twenty years later Peter the younger conveyed the house to John Whitley of Dunstable, draper, for £130 [WB/B4/1/Lu/Bell2]. Whitley's widow Mary and their son John conveyed the property to Francis Hopkins of Luton, tallow chandler, in 1704 for £150 [WB/B4/1/Lu/Bell3-4]. The property is described as bounded by property of Nathan Marsom one side and Jonas Briggs, in the occupation of James Crawley, on the other.

Francis Hopkins, in his will of 1726 [WB/B4/1/Lu/Bell5], devised a property in Luton described as "the house John Young lives in" to his wife Frances "to dispose of to whom she will if it is to either of my children, expecting 40 shillings a year, which shall be yearly paid out thereof to my sister Hannah Gilbert so long as she lives". It is not clear if this is the former capital messuage as Hopkins or, perhaps, built on the site of that property. In 1742 Frances conveyed the property to her daughter Elizabeth and her husband John Coles [WB/B4/1/Lu/Bell6-7]. The property was then described as a messuage in the North End of Luton, in the occupation of John Young, bounded by a messuage late of Nathan Marsom, now John Cooper on the south side and of James Crawley, now the heirs of Thomas Crawley, on the north side. It also describes a property of Sir John Napier, occupied by Richard Olney, butcher, which the building fronts on the west of south-west side.

This last reference is confusing as George Street lies south-west of the Bell. Indeed, such a description would better suit the Old Bell which does have property to the south-west of it. All other evidence, however, points to the fact that the property forming the subject of these deeds is not the Old Bell which has a completely different ownership history

The clue, perhaps, lies in the use of the word "front", the property is described as "fronting" onto the property to the south-west. The word front would usually be used when that side of the property adjoins the street, so perhaps the meaning is that the property fronted south-west onto Olney's butcher's shop which lay on the other side of the street. More likely is that the building stood some way back from the street and that the butcher's shop, which fronted onto George Street, lay on the other side of a yard. By the date of the first 25 inches to the mile Ordnance Survey map of 1882 the Bell directly fronted onto George Street. Surviving photographs of this building show a property which looks as if it was built around the middle of the 19th century and presumably at that time the building was extended forwards onto the road following the purchase of the former butcher's shop. The likeliest date for this new building was between 1861 and 1864. Directories up to 1861 refer to the Bell Inn, those from 1864 described it as the Bell Commercial Hotel. The property was purchased by Thomas Sworder in 1860 which probably prompted this change.

Elizabeth Coles made her will in 1774 and left a property in Luton to her youngest son John [WB/B4/1/Lu/Bell10]. The will describes this property as a messuage in Luton in the occupation of William Smith, glover. John Coles was a grocer, tallow chandler and dealer in spirits and in 1788 he was in serious financial difficulty and conveyed his properties in Luton to trustees for his creditors, who included his brother Matthew [WB/B4/1/Lu/Bell12]. It is in this deed that the property is first called the Bell. The full description is: a messuage, now called the Bell, at the North End of Luton, formerly in the occupation of John Young, now Alexander Munro bounding a messuage formerly of Nathan Marsom, then John Cooper, now Philip Fowler to the south; a messuage formerly of James Crawley, then John Hay to the north; and a messuage formerly of Sir John Napier, now the Earl of Bute, formerly in the occupation of  John Mecham, then Richard Olney, then William Olney to the south or south-west.

Four months later the property had been sold by the trustees at auction and was conveyed to Saint Albans [Hertfordshire] brewers Thomas and William Kinder for £215 [WB/B4/1/Lu/Bell15]. In 1808 the Bell was conveyed to Luton brewers William and Jonathan Burr [WB/B4/1/Lu/Bell21].

By 1811 William Burr was in sole ownership of the brewery in Luton. He was succeeded by Solomon, Frederick and Charles. Frederick was the last survivor, dying in 1856. His executors sold his business to another Luton brewer, Thomas Sworder, in 1860 after protracted negotiations [Z660/D/1/6]. This purchase, together with unwise speculation nearly bankrupted Sworder and his business would lack firm financial foundations for most of the rest of its history. In 1897 he sold his brewery and its licensed houses to Luton rival John William Green [WB/Green4/1/VP1] who immediately incorporated his company as J. W. Green Limited.

Plan of The Bell in 1897 [X95/312]
Plan of The Bell in 1897 [X95/312]

At the time of the sale the Bell was described thus [X95/313]:

THE FULLY-LICENSED PREMISES

Known as

"THE BELL COMMERCIAL HOTEL"

36 GEORGE STREET, LUTON,

Occupying a good situation in this important thoroughfare to which it has a frontage of about 45 feet.

It is brick-built and slated and contains -

ON THE SECOND FLOOR. - Six Bed Rooms.
ON THE FIRST FLOOR. - Five Bed Rooms, Coffee Room with marble mantel, Bath Room, and 3 w. c.'s well-lighted BILLIARD ROOM.
ON THE GROUND FLOOR. - Entrance Hall with inner doors and tiled floor, Bar with 2 entrances, Commercial Room and Smoking Room, with stove, mantels and tiled hearths, Sitting Room, Kitchen with range and cupboard, Larder, Entrance to Yard.
IN THE BASEMENT. - Good Cellar with cask entrance, Wine Cellar, paved Larder, China Pantry. 

Yard covered with corrugated iron with lofty carriage gate, w. c., urinal. Brick-built Stabling, comprising 2 Loose Boxes, 5-stall Stable, Harness Room, Loft, Luggage Room and Coal House.

There is a right of way from the adjoining premises over the yard. 

Tenant, Mr. C. H. Freestone. Rent £80 per annum, to be increased to £92 per annum at Michaelmas next on completion of the new Stabling. Land Tax, £1 6s. 3d.

The former Bell Hotel June 2010
The former Bell Hotel June 2010

The property occupying George Street today is clearly not the same as that shown in photographs at the end of the 19th century. For one thing, it appears wider, as if some of the property to one side had been acquired. However, it was clearly built as the Bell since the name still occupies a stone pediment at the top of the frontage. The style of building seems to suit the beginning of the 20th century and so, as Sworder built a new Bell shortly after buying it in 1860 so Green may have done the same after his purchase of 1897. The new building did not function as a hotel for very long. It is listed in Kelly's Directory for Bedfordshire of 1928 but by the time of the next Kelly's for the county, in 1931 the Bell is no longer listed, implying that it closed between these two dates. This is confirmed by the fact that Kelly's for 1931 lists G. & A. Pryce Limited, costumiers, at 36 George Street. By the time of the Luton News Directory of 1939 the premises was divided between Meakers Limited, outfitters, at 36 and Pryce at 36a.

Other directories for Luton show the following changes of use: by 1950 Meakers are still at 36 and Pryce at 36a but there is now a 36b, occupied by Brown & Green Limited (Social & Athletic Club). By 1960 Meakers occupy 36 and "Paige, gowns" are at 36a. By 1972 Willerby Tailoring has replaced Meakers and, at the date of the last Kelly's for Luton held by Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service, 1975, Willerby remains at 36 and Paige at 36a.

The only remaining indication of the existence of the Bell Hotel June 2010
The only remaining indication of the existence of the Bell Hotel June 2010

Sources:

  • WB/B4/1/Lu/Bell12: Bell release of the Bell: 1788;
  • WB/B4/1/Lu/Bell15: release: 1788;
  • WB/B4/1/Lu/Bell18-19: abstracts of title of Thomas Kinder to The Bell: 1808;
  • WB/B4/1/Lu/Bell21: release:1808
  • WB/B4/1/Lu/Bell17: released by William Kinder to Thomas Kinder junior: 1824;
  • X776/59: conveyances of land adjoining the Bell: 1829-1872;
  • P85/11/5: Rules of the Clock and Watch Club which met at the Bell: 1831;
  • WB/B4/2/1 and X95/303: list of public houses to be sold to Thomas Sworder: 1859;
  • Z660/D/1/6: conveyance of Frederick Burr's brewery by Edward Burr and Richard Hatley Crabb: 1860;
  • X95/283: account of rents of Thomas Sworder's public houses: 1867;
  • X95/304: rent of various Thomas Sworder public houses: 1867;
  • Z660/D/1/6: conveyance of Frederick Burr's brewery by Edward Burr and Richard Hatley Crabb: 1878;
  • X95/304: mortgage from Thomas Sworder to Edward Burr and Richard Hatley Crabb: 1878;
  • WB/Green5/5/1: register of successive tenants: 1887-1926;
  • X95/287: proposed arrangement of loans for Thomas Sworder & Company: 1889;
  • X95/296: schedule of deeds of mortgaged properties held by William Anstee: 1889;
  • X95/309: abstract of title to The Bell: 1889;
  • X95/322/20: draft mortgage of licensed premises from Thomas Sworder to Charles Elton Longmore: 1889;
  • X95/357/16 and 35: reference in letters to stabling at the Bell to be finished: 1897;
  • X95/298: schedule of deeds of Thomas Sworder's licensed premises: 1897;
  • X95/332a-b: abstracts of title of Thomas Sworder to licensed premises: 1897;
  • X95/313-314, Z210/84 and WB/S4/1/1/5: sale catalogues of Thomas Sworder's brewery and licensed premises: 1897;
  • X95/312: file of plans of Thomas Sworder public houses: 1897
  • X95/322/33 and WB/Green4/1/VP1: draft conveyances of licensed premises from Thomas Sworder to J. W. Green Limited: 1897;
  • WB/Green1/1/1: record of J. W. Green Limited properties: 1897-1936;
  • WB/Green4/2/10: schedule of J. W. Green Limited deeds: c. 1949;
  • WB/Green4/2/11: schedule of J. W. Green Limited deeds: c. 1949;
  • WB/Green4/2/12: schedule of J. W. Green Limited deeds: c. 1949;
  • WB/Green4/2/19: J. W. Green Limited schedules of deeds: c. 1954;
  • WB/Green7/7/1: LutonTown centre Historic Pubs and Breweries Trail pamphlet: 1990s;
  • WB/Green7/7/2: Leaflet on 1937-1997 Luton Heritage Open Days: 1897.

Licensees: Note that this is not a complete list; italics indicate licensees whose beginning and/or end dates are not known

1788: Alexander Munro;
1808-1828: William Townrow;
1828-1830: William Townrow junior;
1839: Richard Townrow;
1847-1854: Peter Wilson;
1861: Thomas Puddephatt;
1864: Frederick Puddephatt;
1869-1876: Sarah Ann Puddephatt;
1885-1887: Frederick John Aske;
1887-1889: Mrs. Faulkner;
1889-1890: John Clementson Scroggs;
1894: Georgina Scroggs;
1895-1912: Charles H. Freestone;
1912-1923: William Daniel Millward;
1923-1928: Grace Millward.
Hotel closed between 1928 and 1931.