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The Bell Inn Toddington

The Bell and the Sow and Pigs about 1905 [Z1130-126-32]
The Bell and the Sow and Pigs about 1905 [Z1130/126/32]

The Bell Public House, 4 Market Square, Toddington

The Bell stands at 4, Market Square on the corner of Market Square and Church Square overlooking the village green. It is a 17th century building which was listed in 1980 by the then Department of the Environment as Grade II, of special interest. It is described in the listing as being of two storeys, roughcast, with an old clay tile roof. The first floor has five leaded casements and the ground floor has three with glazing bars. There is a canted bay to the left of centre and a doorhood. A number of theories have been put forward for the name, but it is known that in the 14th and 15th centuries the Rufford family worked as bellmakers in Toddington and it may be that the Bell Inn was either on the site of or close to the bell foundry. Toddington stood on the main coaching route from London to Bedford and the Bell served as staging post for the coaches. The Bell was owned by the Aylesbury Brewery Company and later by J. W. Green Ltd.

The Bell is first mentioned in a conveyance of the Crown in 1695 [BH70-71]. The Bell adjoined the Crown on the west side and the Cock on the east side. The Bell was described as being owned by Widow Shaw.

Being an important pub in the middle of the village it is unsurprising that much of the crime in Toddington took place in and around it. A few cases will suffice: On 26th April 1834 Joseph Cook of Toddington, dealer in straw plait, one of the constables of was involved in a riot in Toddington which seems to have started at the Bell. In evidence at Quarter Sessions he said [QSR1834/342]: "On the 26th April last about half past ten o'clock at night I was called into the Bell Public House at Toddington to take away John Crawley. I went in and saw him stripped to fight. I took him out but he went in again and made more Disturbance. It was the Fair night at Toddington and there was a good deal of Disturbance - About half past twelve in the morning of the 26th [sic 27th] there was a great Row and from one to two hundred people assembled in the centre of the Town where some men were fighting - William Linger was one of the men fighting - I asked him to go home. Crawley said "He be damned don't mind him" I took hold of Linger to lead him away and I charged Crawley to assist me. He said he'd assist me and he struck me on the cheek and knocked me down. Thomas Fletcher the other constable was assisting in dispersing the crowd. James Clarke was there - He took my staff away John Pateman also was there He said he was appointed watchman - I said to him you are the proper man to assist - He said he would assist and I saw him go directly to Fletcher and strike at him. I cannot say he hit him. James Harris was there He was 'Second' to a gypsy who was fighting at the same time - He was in the ring as I was attempting to stop the fight. He shoved me out of it. They all knew I was constable, I had my staff in my hand - Harris and Clarke forced me away when I was trying to get thro' the crowd to Fletcher who I heard cry out "murder". I heard many in the Crowd say particularly Clarke and Harris "We don't want to hurt you, its Fletcher we want - Give it him. Damn him, in him". When the Crowd were after Fletcher they were very violent - from their manner I thought they would murder him if they dare – Linger, when I was trying to stop him fighting, swung me away and it was through him as well as Clarke and Harris I was forced out of the Ring."

Fletcher himself said in evidence: "I was out with Cook on the 25th April - the night of the Fair at Toddington - About half past Twelve o'Clock in the evening of the 26th I was called out again by Cook to assist in quelling the mob who were making a real Disturbance in the streets. I saw a great number upwards of 100 assembled in the centre of the town and  many fighting - I attempted to stop them I spoke them fair and tried to persuade them to disperse - John Pateman came up and said "I owe you an old Grudge and I'll serve you out" and immediately he knocked me down - Several more then came upon me I was knocked down again and kicked before I could get well up - I was afraid of being murdered by them. The mob were very violent, there was a cry that it was me they wanted "Fletcher was wanted they said they didn't want to hurt Cook" My staff and Maule were taken from me and thrown away".

This disgraceful episode saw the ringleaders – John Crawley, William Linger and John Pateman all convicted. The Bedford Gaol register [QGV10/1] tells us that John Crawley was 5 feet 7¾ inches tall, twenty years old, with sandy hair and a fresh complexion. William Linger was 5 feet 7¼ inches tall, with dark hair and a sallow complexion, he was 23 years old. John Pateman was 37, 5 feet 5¼ inches tall, with dark hair and sallow complexion. Crawley got eight months' hard labour, wit hsix months for Linger and four months for Pateman. The latter was an old lag. He had been given three months in 1817 for disobeying an order in filiation, probably not paying maintenance for an illegitimate child [QGV10/1] . He was given three months in 1821 for refusing to obey a bastardy order [QGV11/1] . He would end up being transported for fifteen years in 1838 for stealing wheat [[QGV10/2]. Clearly a lover and a fighter.

In 1842 licensee William Baker of lost a silver teaspoon. He and his wife examined their plate and found one teaspoon missing. In evidence against the thief [QSR1842/3/5/53] he stated: "He heard yesterday that Joseph Bunker had been offering a silver teaspoon for sale at the Six Bells Public House at Eversholt. He sent for Samuel Hornal the police constable. In a short time Hornal came to him with the parts of a spoon now produced, which he recognized as the one he lost". PC Hornal stated that Bunker had been offering a teaspoon "for sale to Jacob the Jew who lodges at Mr Foxley's. He went to Mr Foxley's, saw Bunker and asked him for the spoon. Bunker pulled the pieces now produced out of his pocket. Bunker claimed they belonged to his grandmother and that his children had broken it". PC Hornal took him into custody. Bunker got three months' hard labour [QGV10/2].

The Bell June 2015
The Bell June 2015

On 6th December 1854 Ann Baker a widow and keeper of the Bell Inn was approached by George Randall and William Clark who asked if she would buy some turnips. Randall said he had some to sell at sixpence a bushel. The men said they would go away and pull them. They brought the turnips back later that evening and said there were 4½ bushels. She paid 2s 3d to Randall including 4 pints of beer. Then she noticed that the turnips had been pulled some time and she was afraid something was wrong but said nothing at the time. Randall returned later and asked he to buy another two bushels. She refused but said she might tomorrow, and she then called her son and told him about her concerns about the turnips [QSR1854/1/5/13-15]. He went to the police and both randall and Clark got three weeks' hard labour [QGV10/3].

In 1861 Joseph Baker, keeper of The Bell was defrauded out of two shillings [QSR1861/2/5/1 ]. The culprit was William Deacon. He was a stranger to Baker and on 25th February he lodged at the Bell for the night. Next morning he informed Baker that he was a recruiting sergeant in the Bedfordshire Militia and asked if he could board and lodge at the house. Deacon said his kit was with a person by the name of Spring and upon faith in his representation Baker allowed him to remain at the house for ten days. He incurred the expense of thirty shillings and a penny. On 2nd March the prisoner came and asked to borrow two shillings for he had two recruits in view (the money was the proverbial Queen's Shilling given to new recruits). Baker let Deacon have the money. The following Monday Deacon wanted to borrow more but Baker refused. Another Sergeant in the Militia, John Baker, said Deacon had been a sergeant but was "disembodied", that is, no longer a member of the militia because it was not in existence at that time. Deacon was thirty years old and was given six months' hard labour [QGV12/1]. He had been convicted of embezzlement in 1853 and given six months' hard labour. He came from Leighton Buzzard and was 5 feet 6 inches tall, with light hair and grey eyes, he was "very much pock-marked in the face". He had been a shoemaker and a painter.

In 1871 Henry Reeves kept the Bell. On 2nd December George Smith was working at his house with others sinking a well. Smith left between 2 and 3 pm. Two eeeks before Reeves had lost a knife. On Sunday 3rd December Smith came to his house at 9am and brought him the knife. Smith said his master had put it in his basket the night before by mistake and when he got to Mr Welch's at Ampthill they were taking tools out of the basket and the knife turned out with them. Smith said his master told him it belonged to the Bell at Toddington and that he must bring it back first thing on Sunday morning. When Smith brought back the knife he said Mr Welch had said he was to have three pints of beer and some tobacco. Reeves gave Smith two pints of beer and a half ounce of tobacco [QSR1872/1/5/3/a]. Smith was given three months' hard labour [QGV12/2].

The countywide licensing register of 1876 states that Henry Fowler, brewer of Woburn leased the Bell from owner Thomas Goodman of Toddington, the licensee being thus, the sub-tenant. By the time of the countywide register of 1891 Mrs Smith of Bridgnorth [Shropshire] was the owner with brewers Edward Holdom and his brother as lessees.

Under the terms of the Rating and Valuation Act 1925 every piece of land and building in the country was assessed to determine the rates to be paid on them. When Toddington was assessed in 1926 the Bell Inn was owned by J. W. Green and occupied by William Ayres who paid £20 p.a. which was considered a fair tied rent. At this time the premises were divided into two semi-detached properties with the southern end of the building constituting a separate two bedroom cottage also owned by J.W. Green and occupied by the Forsters Club. Both properties were of brick, stucco and slate construction. The Bell had a good bar and parlour, a small smoke room, a kitchen and scullery downstairs, and four bedrooms upstairs. Outside were a stable and coach house, both of brick and slate, and a cart hovel and barn of timber and corrugated iron. The pub's trade amounted to 1½ barrels of beer per week and one gallon of spirits a month. The valuer described the Bell as an "attractive old fashioned place".

In 1952 J W Green Limited merged with Midlands brewers Flowers, the new firm taking the Flowers name. This firm was taken over by Whitbread in 1962. Although Whitbread sold its breweries and public houses in 2002 the Bell remains one of Toddington's public houses.

The Bell March 2016
The Bell March 2016


  • BH70-71: Conveyance of the Crown, Toddington, adjoining the Bell: 1695;
  • QSR1834/342: riot started at the Bell: 1834;
  • QSR1836/1/5/25: prisoner held at the Bell: 1836;
  • QSR1842/3/5/53: teaspoon stolen from the licensee: 1842;
  • QSR1847/3/5/10: stolen goods being offered at the Bell: 1847;
  • QSR1852/2/5/3-7: sheep stealers drinking at the Bell: 1852;
  • QSR1854/1/5/13-15: licensee refuses to buy stolen turnips: 1854;
  • QSR1856/4/5/5,6,19: drinkers accused of theft: 1856;
  • QSR1859/4/5/1a,2a: thieves drinking at the Bell: 1859;
  • SF69/4: auction sale at the Bell: 1856;
  • QSR1861/2/5/1: landlord cheated of money by false pretences: 1861;
  • RY387: auction sale at the Bell: 1868;
  • SF69/29: auction sale at the Bell: 1869;
  • SF69/50: auction sale at the Bell: 1869;
  • QSR1872/1/5/3/a: knife stolen from the licensee: 1872;
  • BML10/74/3: auction sale at the Bell: 1893;
  • DV1/C85/131: Toddington Valuation Book, 1926;
  • WB/M/4/2/1-2: Lists of properties with information about tenure, tax and trade, c.1926;
  • HN1/46/2: Ground plan with section of proposed dart room, 1933;
  • WB/Green6/4/1: Trade analysis ledger of licensed premises, 1936-1947;
  • WB/Green4/2/4: Certificates of title to properties belonging to J. W. Green Ltd, 1936-1952;
  • BML10/74/3: auction sale at the Bell: 1949;
  • WB/Green4/2/9-10: Schedules of deeds and documents for properties owned by J. W. Green, c.1949;
  • BML10/28/3: auction sale at the Bell: 1950;
  • WB/Green4/2/5: list of licensed houses of J W Green: c. 1952;
  • WB/Green4/2/16: letter regarding J W Green titles to properties: 1952;
  • WB/Green4/2/17: J W Green Limited second schedule trust deed: 1952-1972;
  • WB/Green4/2/19: Loose schedules of deeds and documents relating to various licensed premises, c.1954;
  • WB/Flow4/5/Tod/Bell1-3: Photographs of Bell Inn, 1960s

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:

1828-1830: James Fensome;
1842: William Baker;
1847-1859: Ann Baker;
1861-1869: Joseph Baker;
1871-1872: Henry Reeves;
1876-1899: Emmanuel Fletcher;
1899-1903: Harry Fletcher;
1903-1904: Edward Thorp;
1904-1905: William Copeland;
1905-1907: John Bachelor;
1907-1912: John Albert Carter;
1912-1913: Thomas James Rollings;
1913: Frederick John Wood;
1913: Thomas Briggs;
1913-1919: Henry Burridge;
1919-1921: Marion Cecilia Burridge;
1921-1924: William Walters;
1924-1949: William Bertie Ayres;
1985: Jane Quelch and Keith William Shepherd;
1987: Graham Jones and Keith Shepherd;
1989: Richard Peter Motion and Keith Shepherd;
1990: Alistair Duncan Mort and Wendy Rita Shepherd;
1991: Antony William Hawkins Mann and Wendy Rita Shepherd;
1992: Alistair James Duncan Mort and Wendy Rita Shepherd.