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The Bell Public House Cotton End

The Bell Public House in 1960 [Z53/38/10]
The Bell Public House in 1960 [Z53/38/10]

The Bell public house was listed by English Heritage in May 1984 as Grade II, of special interest. English Heritage dated the building to the 17th century, however, it may only date to the 1780s, see below. It is timber-framed with colour-washed roughcast rendering and has a thatched roof. The building has an L-shape with one storey plus attics. A 20th century single storey block lies within the angle of the L linking the main building to a thatched one storey block at the rear which was probably a barn, washhouse or similar structure.

The building has not always been a public house. In 1748 Mathew Green of Lidlington, butcher, the son of Henry Green of Cotton End who had just died, conveyed a cottage a close of two acres to Thomas Valentine of Cotton End, cutler [W1074-1075]. In 1772 Valentine conveyed the cottage, now called The Bell and occupied by William Valentine to John Nesbitt of Cotton End for £105 [W1076-1077]. Perhaps Valentine bought the cottage intending to convert it into a public house but we do not know for sure. In 1780 Nesbitt mortgaged the Bell for £60, assigning the mortgage to Samuel Whitbread and borrowing another £12 in 1784 [W1079]. The Bell was later owned by the Whitbread Estate and so it seems reasonable to assume that Nesbitt could not repay the loan and thus the property passed to Samuel Whitbread.

We are fortunate that three surveys of the parish of Cardington from the late 18th century survive. The first of these was undertaken in 1782 by James Lilburne. He was the parish schoolmaster and later agent for Samuel Whitbread, who owned large estates in the parish and also the sole Enclosure Commissioner for the parish. He produced a list of all the inhabitants of the parish arranged by house and hamlet [P38/28/1]. This was published, with extensive analysis by County Archaeologist David Baker in 1973 as Bedfordshire Historical Record Society Volume 52.

Since publication a second list has been found [P38/28/2]. It carries revisions up to the year 1789. Sadly neither of these surveys includes a map. Finally, in 1794 Lilburne produced another survey [W2/6/1-3] and this one had a map with a key showing where each house was. One can use this to plot the houses of the previous surveys and this work was carried out by John Wood of Bedfordshire County Council’s Conservation Section in October 1982 [CRT130Cardington29].

The 1782 survey [P38/28/1/2] shows the Bell in the occupation of the wonderfully named Isaac Sudwax, a 63 year old dissenter, that is, a nonconformist in terms of religion. He died on 3rd March 1784. His 60 year old wife was named Mary, she moved to another cottage in Cotton End in 1784. The new tenant was 34 year old William Barker, another dissenter, from Cople. His 34 year old wife was called Martha, née Airs and she also came from Cople. Their children were: Elizabeth, aged 10 and schooled “by Friends” as was 4 year old John. It is not clear whether this means friends of the couple or the Society of Friends, otherwise known as the Quakers. A 2 year old daughter, Mary, died on 7th December 1784 and another daughter, Abigail, was born on 1st January 1784 only to die on 4th July 1785. Elizabeth Airs, widow, presumably Martha’s mother, also lived at the premises. She died on 20th October 1784. A note reads: “This House was Pulled down and a new one Built 1786 and 1787”. This clearly throws the 17th century date given to the property by the Ddepartment of Environment into considerable question. William Barker was still in occupation in 1794 [W2/6/1-3].

Incidentally the 1782 survey and that of 1794 place a Thomas Valentine in a cottage in Bell Lane. It is difficult to make out which cottage it is but it is in the vicinity of 8 to 12 Bell Lane and is either that structure or a cottage nearby.

Tithes were, originally, a tenth of one’s household produce, usually an arable crop such as wheat or barley but possibly livestock or manufactured produce such as shoes, given to support the local priest. They were divided into great and little tithes. Great tithes consisted of grain or large animals such as cattle. Little tithes were fruit, vegetables or other small crops and smaller farm animals such as poultry. By the 19th century this archaic practice had long been replaced by monetary tithes. The Tithe Commutation Act of 1836 finally made it compulsory to replace these archaic tithes with monetary payments. The payment was calculated on the seven year average of prices for the particular commodity derived from the land in question and was worked out by the parties involved – parson, landowners or tenants if the land was not owner-occupied. The parish of Cardington, including Cotton End, was assessed for tithes in 1840 [AT9/1]. At that date The Bell was owned by the Whitbread Estate and occupied by William Preston. The public house itself stood in 2 roods, 15 poles for which he paid 1 shilling annually to the vicar and 2/6 to the improprietor (the holder of the advowson). The public house was the centre of a smallholding, the other land being:

  • Valentines – pasture – 6 acres, 3 roods, 27 poles;
  • Little Close – pasture – 1 acre, 20 poles;
  • Home Close – pasture – 4 acres, 3 roods, 30 poles;
  • Treble Close – 2 acres, 3 roods, 10 poles;
  • Cares Close – pasture – 2 acres, 1 rood, 29 poles;
  • Pastures Pightle – pasture – 3 roods, 28 poles.

The total land holding was thus 23 acres, 8 poles.

The Rating and Valuation Act 1925 specified that every building and piece of land in the country was to be assessed to determine its rateable value. Eastcotts, like most of the county, was assessed in 1927 and the valuer visiting The Bell [DV1/C286/62] found it owned by Higgins and Sons, who must have bought the place from the Whitbread Estate, and occupied by Joel Bunker who paid rent of £50 per annum for the house and 27 acres of adjoining land.

The building comprised a tap room (“Fair”), a bar-parlour (“Fair”) and a cellar (“down 8 steps”) with private accommodation being a kitchen, a scullery and three bedrooms. A brick and thatched washhouse and a brick and thatched barn stood outside.

Trade was one barrel and two dozen bottles of beer per week, about one to one and a half gallons of spirits per month, about a dozen bottles of minerals per week and a “negligible” amount of tobacco. On his visit the valuer found one barrel of beer tapped, two untapped and a further nine gallon barrel tapped and three more nine gallon barrels untapped. The valuer commented: “Nice looking but old. Good draw up”.

Higgins and Son owned the Bell by 1902 because it was one of the company’s houses transferred from owners Laurence Read Colbourne Higgins and Cecil Charles Norman Colbourne Higgins to Higgins and Sons when the firm was floated on the Stock Exchange as a limited company [GK4/4]. As it happens 1927, the year of the rating valuation, was the year in which Higgins and Son’s business was sold to Biggleswade brewers Wells and Winch, which was taken over by Suffolk brewers Greene King in 1961.

At the time of writing [2011] the Bell remains a public house. It is the last public house remaining in business in the parish of Eastcotts.

The Bell Public House March 2011
The Bell Public House March 2011


  • W1074-1075: cottage conveyed: 1748;
  • W1076-1077: the Bell conveyed: 1772;
  • W1079: mortgage and further advance: 1780-1784;
  • P38/28/1-2: lists of inhabitants of Cardington: 1782-1789;
  • W2/6/1-3: list of inhabitants of Cardington: 1794;
  • CLP13: registers of licensed premises: 1822-1828;
  • PSB1/1 pp2 and 216: transfers of licence: 1820-1834;
  • PSBB5/1: Register of Alehouse Licences - Bedford Borough Petty Sessional Division: 1890-1901;
  • W4040: Whitbread Estate improvement ledger includes mention of repairs: 1890-1895;
  • PSB9/1: register of licenses: 1903-1935;
  • Z50/24/99: photograph of Kenneth Richardson of Wilshamstead baker, delivering bread to the Bell: 1920s;
  • BTNegOB60/9: negative of the Bell with Joel Bunker, licensee: c. 1930;
  • RDBP2/629: plans: 1935;
  • PSB9/2: register of licenses: c.1955-1995;
  • Z53/38/10: photograph: 1960;
  • PSBW8/3: Register of Alehouse Licences - Biggleswade and North Bedfordshire Petty Sessional Divisions: 1976-1980;
  • PCEastcotts9/8-9: transfer of licence: 1980-1986;
  • Bedfordshire Magazine: sketch of the Bell: 1983.

Licencees: note that this is not a complete list and that dates in italics are not necessarily beginning or end dates, merely the first/last date which can be confirmed from sources such as directories and deeds: 

1772: William Valentine;
1782-1784: Isaac Sudwax;
1784-1794: William Barker;
1822-1826: John Huckle;
1826-1830: Mary Huckle;
1831-1847: William Preston;
1847-1851: Benjamin Preston
1851: William Preston
1858- 1869: Benjamin Cambers;
1876-1894: William Bunker;
1898-1913: Betsy Bunker;
1913-1931: Joel Bunker;
1931: Emily Bunker;
1940: George Howlett;
1946-1973: Oswald Leonard Lloyd;
1977-1980: William Young;
1980-1986: Jack Fenn;
1986: Geoffrey Ian Deacon and Pamela Joan Deacon.