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The Bell Public House Hockliffe

The Bell, Hockliffe by George Arnald [Z693/1]
The Bell, Hockliffe by George Arnald [Z693/1]

The first known mention of the Bell public house dates from 1772 [HER6644]. It stood on the eastern  side of Watling Street at the very southerly end of the village on the site occupied in the early 21st century by a McDonald's drive-thru restaurant. This was part of the area originally in the parish of Chalgrave which was transferred to Hockliffe in 1929. When revisiting the scenes of his youth the artist George Arnald painted a sepia watercolour of the Bell in Hockliffe which he describes in an accompanying poem as the Blue Bell. Whether he is referring to this Bell or another public house with a similar name is impossible to establish from the picture as no other pictures of the Bell are known to exist.

In 1843 the Bell at Hockliffe was one of 43 inns, public houses and beer shops pub up for sale with the Dunstable Brewery. At this time it consisted of a bar, a parlour (part divided off as a butcher's shop), a tap room, a washhouse, a cellar, six bedrooms; a tenement of two rooms forming part of the public house was sub-let by the tenant; there was a yard in front with a brick and slate four stall stable, another five stall stable, a loose box, a wood barn, a yard and and a water pump. There was also a garden, a drying ground and meadow land containing together 1 acre, 2 roods. The Bell was in the occupation of Charles Inwards at an annual rent of £15[BH409]

Bryants Map of 1826 showing The Bell
Bryant's Map of 1826 showing The Bell

During the nineteenth century the Bell was frequently mentioned in cases heard at the Bedford Quarter Sessions. Its location on Watling Street must have made it convenient for passing thieves, who either stole items from the Bell's staff and customers, sold stolen goods to its clientele, or happened to be at the pub when the forces of law and order caught up with them. The Bell's customers and in one case even its landlord were also charged with criminal actions. In December 1834 a great coat was stolen from John Sudbury who was taking it to Samuel Wright of Luton on behalf of Mrs Davis of the Bell [QSR1835/1/5/17]. In 1836 two men were arrested at the Bell; one for stealing a parrot and clothing from a lodgings of a Scottish sailor at the Black Horse public house in Dunstable [QSR1836/1/5/34], the other for taking pewter from his landlady at Luton [QSR1836/3/5/26]. The following year a silver watch was stolen from William Hutchins, an ostler at the Bell [QSR1837/3/5/1].

In 1847 the landlord Charles Inwards testified that John Dearman, John Inns and Alfred Cook, jointly charged with stealing two fowls from a Tilsworth farm no more than 100 yards from the Bell, had been drinking in the public house before the theft. Cook was discharged and Dearman and Inns were found not guilty despite duck feathers, down and blood being found on their clothes. In November 1850 Inwards again suspected Alfred Cook of theft, this time of a second hand hearth rug stolen from the van of Benjamin Tapsell, a travelling hawker, while it was parked outside the pub. Inwards testified that Cook had stayed at the Bell suspiciously late and when he had gone with the police sergeant to search Cook's mother's house they found the rug in a barn. [QSR1851/1/5/27]  Despite apparently being caught red handed Cook was found not guilty. In 1856 Inwards gave evidence in another case, confirming that Samuel Nash, a Hockliffe builder, had bought two trowels while in the Bell on 12th November 1855; these, it transpired, had been stolen a couple of days earlier in Dunstable. In this case the thief, William Murdock Stimpson, was sentenced to four years' penal servitude. [QSR1856/1/5/4] In 1862 William Martin was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment for stealing a parcel containing 4lbs of candles from a cart parked outside the Bell [QSR1862/1/5/12]. In December 1869 the landlord of the Bell, Henry North, was himself charged of receiving stolen goods, specifically a quantity of split beans taken from a Luton corn merchant by a certain William Perry. North's 14 year old son Albert gave evidence in the case, in which his father was found not guilty [QSR1869/1/5/23-24].

In 1881 the Bell Inn was one of 26 tied houses sold with James Fowler's Woburn Brewery. The description given in the sale particulars is as follows: "The House contains Entrance Lobby, Bar, Parlor and Tap Room; Cellar and Four Bed Rooms. Wash House and Store with Rooms over. Ground in front and Yard in the rear, with side Entrance; detched Stabling for three Horses, with Loft above and Cart Lodge. Garden and Meadow beyond. Let to Mr. G. Hudson at a Rent of £18 per Annum". [WL1000/10/1/1].

Licensee Herbert North was an old soldier who had fought in the Boer War. He returned to the colours, in his mid forties, in the First World War. He served at Kempston Barracks in the depot battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment, training new volunteers and later conscripts. He died on 5th August 1917 and is buried in Tilsworth churchyard with a Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone. his wife Lizzie took over the pub and ran it for tweny more years.

 McDonald's on the site of The Bell November 2014
McDonald's on the site of The Bell November 2014

The Rating and Valuation Act 1925 ordered every piece of land and building in the country to be assessed to determine the rates to be paid on it. Chalgrave was assessed in 1926 at which time the Bell public house was owned by G. C. Bunker and occupied by Mrs Lizzie North. The rent was then £30 for a half-yearly tenure, having increased from a pre-war rent of £20; this was described as a "fair tied rent" and included four acres of land which was sub-let. The property consisted of a bar parlour, a bar, a private reception room, a kitchen, a cellar and four bedrooms. Outside were a wash house, brick and tile stalls for three, a brick and tile double coach house, a brick built public urinal, a brick and tile public urinal, and two W brick and tile hen houses. Weekly sales averaged 1½ barrels and 2 dozen ½ pints of Benskins beer, 2 to 3 dozen bottles of minerals, and a gallon of spirits. Mrs North did not keep any account of her gross takings and refused to tell the valuer the price she paid for beer. The house enjoyed good "draw up".The Bell closed in the 1990s. It was subsequently demolished and by 1997 had been replaced by a McDonald's Drive-Thru restaurant.


  • BH409: Sale particulars of Dunstable Brewery, 1843;
  • QSR1835/1/5/17: Depositions in the case of William Betts: 1835;
  • QSR1836/1/5/34: Depositions in the case of John Wood: 1836;
  • QSR1836/3/5/26: Depositions in the case of Alexander Atkins: 1836;
  • QSR1837/3/5/1: Depositions in the case of Thomas King: 1837;
  • QSR1847/3/5/39-40: Depositions in the case of John Dearman, John Inns and Alfred Cook: 1847;
  • QSR1851/1/5/27: Depositions in the case of Alfred Cook: 1851;
  • QSR1856/1/5/4: Depositions in the case of William Murdock Stimpson: 1856
  • QSR1862/1/5/12: Depositions in the case of William Martin: 1862
  • QSR1869/1/5/39-40: Depositions in the case of William Perry and Henry North: 1869;
  • WL1000/10/1/1: Sale particulars of Woburn Brewery, 1881.

List of Licensees: note that this is not a complete list; entries in italics refer to licensees where either beginning or end, or both, dates are not known:

1822: Joseph Holmes;
1828: Sarah Holmes;
1843-1856: Charles Inwards;
1862: Robert Olney;
1869-1878: Henry North;
1878-1879: Joseph Bichnow;
1879-1883: George Hudson;
1883-1885: Joseph Rogers;
1885-1886: Edward Scarlett;
1886: Jesse Denham;
1886-1888: William Tibbett;
1888-1890: John Rowlett;
1890: Robert Johnstone;
1890-1892: William M.Hampton;
1892-1897: Simon Cartwright;
1897-1899: Frederick French;
1899-1903: Edwin Ryder Middlewick;
1903-1905: James Pridmore;
1905-1906: George Albert Allen;
1906-1910: Henry Daubeney;
1910-1911: Henry Griffin;
1911-1912: Peter Mayne;
1912-1913: Joseph Cooke;
1913-1917: Herbert Henry North;
1917-1937: Lizzie North;
1937-1946: Albert Edgar King;
1946-1964: Freda King;
1964-1967: Frederick Davis;
1967-1967: John Arthur Abbey;
1972-1974: Samuel Robert Symons;
1974-1988: Edward Joseph Leftley;
1988-1989: Marjorie Leftley;
1989: A. A. Jones and M. F. Hutchins.