The Lower Bell, Upper Bell and Bell Inns, Aspley Guise
There have been two inns by the name of Bell (differentiated by the description of Upper and Lower) trading at the same time in the same village. One existed until quite recently, but the whereabouts of the other is currently unknown.
It would appear that the Upper Bell survived and became known as just the Bell, and is now known as the Blue Orchid Thai restaurant. The existence of both can be traced through their adverts and sales held there, as recorded in local newspapers from the online British Newspapers Archives. This shows the Lower Bell was run by Mr William Chapman for the period 1786-1820 and the Upper Bell by Mr Richard Randall for 1782-1807.
Other information here comes from local trade directories, parish registers and the excellent Bedfordshire Archives & Records Service (BARS) Community Pages.
The Lower Bell
This house is first named in an advert in the Northampton Mercury of 28th October, 1786, when it had obtained the valuable trade of being a local auction sale location. Auctioneer Mr T. Shaw attended “at Mr Chapman’s the Bell Inn, in Aspley”, selling a freehold estate at Ridgmont and a neat dwelling house with tenants. You can imagine the wealthy land buyers having a drink while the sale took place, good business for the landlord.
In 1788, Chapman was trying to find good (and quite specific!) staff. From the Northants Mercury, 20th September: “WANTED to Hire now, for St Michael next, A WOMAN SERVANT, about forty Years of Age, as Housekeeper in a Farm or Dairy Place – one that can make good Butter and manage a small Dairy to the most Advantage, and take care of Linen. For Particulars, apply to Mr. William Chapman, at the Lower Bell, Aspley-Guise, Bedfordshire. N.B. There are no children in the family. – Only two servants kept in the above Place. No person need apply who cannot bring a good Character.”
From January 1792, Chapman ran adverts in the Northants Mercury for his trees for sale: “TO BE SOLD, by WILLIAM CHAPMAN, at the Lower Bell, in Aspley, near Woburn, Beds., A large Quantity of Three and Four-years old SCOTCH and SPRUCE FIRS, transplanted at a proper Distance out of the Seedling Bed.”. There was also a baptism in Aspley Guise of a William Chapman, the son of William and Mary, in May that year. The Northants Mercury of 29th March 1794 carries the only press reference found to Mrs Chapman, when some pasture land was offered for sale at “Mrs Chapman’s, the Bell Inn, Aspley.” unless this was just a typo?
The Chapman’s had a daughter baptised on 22nd April 1795, Mary Ann. There were trees for sale, “at William Chapman’s, Lower Bell, at Aspley.” offered in the Northants Mercury on 31st October 1795 and another on the 21st November, for Scotch and Spruce Firs being sold by William Chapman at the Lower Bell, Aspley, happened to be immediately below an advert for trees for sale by “Mr Richard Randall, Upper-Bell Inn, Aspley”!
Adverts for trees for sale at the Lower Bell continued through 1799-1800. The 21st May 1803 Northants Mercury had an advert for “An Ass and Foal for sale, enquire at Mr William Chapman, Bell, Aspley, near Woburn, Beds.”. Then adverts for trees for sale again continued through 1806-1808. The 18th January 1817 Northants Mercury had another auction sale at “The Sign of the Lower Bell, Aspley Guise”.
William Chapman eventually sold up and left in 1820. From the Northants Mercury, 18th March: “To be SOLD by AUCTION By ANDREW GARDNER, on Tuesday, the 21st Day of March, 1820. THE USEFUL HOUSEHOLD FURNITURE, CHINA, GLASS, EARTHENWARE, and other EFFECTS, on the Premises of Mr. WM. CHAPMAN, at the Sign of the Lower Bell Public House, ASPLEY GUISE, Beds, (who is leaving the above house); consisting of the whole tester, tent, and press bedsteads, with cheek and stuff Furnitures, Mattresses; feather Beds, Blankets, Quilts, &c; oak Chests of Drawers, ditto Coffers, Chairs, Tables, dressing glasses, oak dining Tables, pillar and claw ditto, beer and liquor pewter measures, plated Tankards and Pints, copper and brass Pots and Kettles, salting Lead, garden Tools, wood Rakes and Forks, sundry Pieces of oak and fir Timber, Poles, Quantity of manure, ditto of old iron, China, Glass and Earthenware, and various other effects. Sale to begin precisely at Eleven o’Clock in the Morning.”
Andrew Gardner was still conducting auction sales advertised at the “Lower Bell” in a May 1820 Northants Mercury, but no landlord’s name was given, nor was one used as late as March 1826 when Gardner was there selling local estate again. That was the last use of the “Lower Bell” name that I can find in the papers currently digitised online.
The Upper Bell
This house is first mentioned in a Northampton Mercury advert on 4th March 1782, when the unnamed landlord was advertising his trees and plants for sale: “FIRS, for Spring Planting, 1782. TO be SOLD, very reasonable, All Sorts of SCOTCH, SPRUCE, WEYMOUTH PINE, and LARCH FIR PLANTS, from one to ten Feet high. Any Quantity, not less than One Thousand, and not more than three feet high will be delivered, Carriage free, within the Distance of 25 Miles from Woburn, Bedfordshire. Most of the plants are very beautiful, being transplanted from the Nursery beds, and now growing at the Distance of Four feet asunder. Enquire at the Upper Bell, at Aspley Guise, Near Woburn, Bedfordshire.”
A similar advert was run on 23rd November 1782 in the Oxford Journal, saying trees “may be seen by enquiring at the Bell, at Aspley, near Wooburn [sic], Bedfordshire.”
The next year, the adverts in the Northants Mercury (10th February 1783) adds the landlord’s name “Mr R. Randall, Bell Inn, Aspley.”, and the next year (11th October 1784), a first name was added, “Mr Richard Randall, Bell Inn, Aspley.” He was also appealing to buy more land, so business must have been good. Particulars of a house and 27 acres for sale at Aspley could be had from “Mr Randall, Bell Inn, Aspley” (July 1785 – Northants Mercury). In September, Richard & Mary Randall baptised their son James at Aspley Guise.
When Thomas Wright’s Boarding School at Aspley was sold, the same sale also offered two enclosed fields near the church, of 14 and 1 acre respectively, valued at £12 12s, “apply to Mr Randall, Bell Inn, Aspley.” (30th June 1787 – Northants Mercury)
The Northants Mercury carried adverts for trees for sale sporadically between March 1782 and November 1795, at the “Upper Bell Inn, Aspley, near Woburn.”
The new century saw Andrew Gardner conducting auction sales of meadow & upland hay, asking buyers to meet him at “the Sign of the Upper Bell, Aspley”. (6th April 1805 – Northants Mercury)
On 3rd October 1807, the Northants Mercury ran an advert for the sale of effects of Mr Randall, who was now leaving the Bell, apparently in some debt…
“For the Benefit of Creditors, To Be SOLD by AUCTION, by ANDREW GARDNER, on Monday, October 12th, 1807, on the Premises the sign of the UPPER-BELL, ASPLEY GUISE, Beds. THE genteel and useful HOUSEHOLD-FURNITURE, BREWING UTENSILS, and other effects, of Mr RANDALL; consisting of Four-post and Stump Bedsteads, with Stuff Furnitures; Feather-Beds, Blankets, and Quilts; Dining; Dressing, and Pillar and Claw Tables; Buffet, Bureau, and Thirty-hour Clock and Case; Quantity of Earthenware and Glass; Copper Pottage-Pots and Saucepans; 80-Gallon Copper and Grate, Washing ditto, 18-Bushel Mash Vat, oval Underbacks, square Deal cooler, Tubs, &c; seven Iron-bound Pipes and Hogsheads; a Quantity of Coal, with various other useful Articles. Sale to begin at Eleven O’Clock in the Morning.”
This is the last reference to an Upper Bell I can find in the newspapers currently digitised online. BARS believes that it was Richard Randall’s Upper Bell which became the Bell in the Square. I wonder if the Lower Bell was along Bedford Road near the Mount Pleasant turn? There are very few places ‘lower’ than the Square.
So… two Aspley Guise Bell’s, both operating for decades since 1780’s and both under businessmen who also dealt in trees! Despite there being adverts for auction sales at the Lower Bell is late as 1826, in May 1821 Andrew Gardner conducted an auction of cottages at Hogsty-End, “at the Bell Inn, Aspley Guise”, and in August it was the turn of Samuel Goodman to sell local cottages “at the Bell Inn.” (both Northants Mercury) In July 1824 Goodman was back again, selling the house and workshop of George Greenwood, carpenter, to be held at The Bell Inn, Aspley. BARS records John Assbee as the landlord in 1822, but he died in 1823, and it appears to have transferred to his sister.
The Bell gets a mention in an interesting article in the Bucks Gazette of 1st October 1836, about a murder that had happened in 1809. Apparently, idle gossips at the Bell had spread the rumour that a local man, Kingston, had admitted to the murders of James Crick and his housekeeper Rachel Read at Lidlington while on his deathbed. The paper went to great lengths to disprove that Kingston could have been the culprit, instead suggesting a man called Bollard, who had been transported for life for sheep-stealing in 1812. They reported that someone had found a knife hidden in the floor of Bollard’s kitchen after he was transported.
Two years later, in July 1838, a personal name is finally used again when the freehold property of Sarah Sibthorp, grocer, was sold by Samuel Goodman at “Mrs Addison’s The Bell Inn, Aspley Guise.” (Northants Mercury) The 1839 Kelly’s trade directory of Woburn (which also covers some Aspley Guise businesses) lists that her first name was Mary.
In 1841, the Bell was part of the will of Richard Ambrose Reddall, who also owned the Swan in Husborne Crawley and the Bell, Royal Oak and Sun in Woburn. The Bell is described as including a brewhouse, outbuildings and garden. The 1841 census details for Aspley Guise are so feint, it is almost impossible to read. Even the online family history firms have it down as the Bull Inn! Mary Allison is there, aged 58, along with another family, but their surname is illegible.
In May 1842, The Bell was the headquarters for the (3rd?) annual feast of the local Benefit Society’s Club. A band came over from Fenny Stratford, and paraded the village at various times of the day. (Northants Mercury)
Mrs Addison gets a mention at the same event five years later (Northants Mercury 29th May 1847): “Bedfordshire. On Tuesday last, the members of the Aspley Benefit Society met to celebrate their eighth anniversary, when a plain and most substantial dinner was provided for them by Mrs Addison, the worthy hostess of the Bell Inn, after which they presented their Secretary, Mr John Smith, a handsome Alberta plate coffee pot, with an appropriate inscription engraved thereon, raised by their own voluntary subscriptions, as a token of respect towards him for his gratuitous services to the society from its commencement.”
From here, the local press reports of events hosted at the Bell increase. The Bell hosted the fourth anniversary of local branch Ancient Order of Foresters, who dined on “fish, flesh and fowl, and indeed every delicacy in season. The style in which Mrs Addison, the worthy hostess manages affairs of this description is first rate.” There was singing and dancing till midnight, with archery and cricket in the afternoon. (4th August 1849 – Beds Mercury)
The death was recorded in the Northants Mercury 31st August 1850, of Ann, only daughter of Mr John Assbee, of the Bell Inn, aged nine years. This connection to the Assbee family is explained in the 1851 census. Widow Addison is still there, described as Publican, and she lived with her nephew, John Thomas Assbee, described as a Servant, 37 and his family, wife Elizabeth, 44 and son John, 11. There is also a servant Eliza Millard, 17 and a char woman Sushanna Jenkins 60 in the household The Bell was the scene of the first anniversary meeting of the Aspley Guise Cricket Club in January 1851, when “worthy hostess” Mrs Addison again served up her very substantial repast. Dr Williams was president of this club; he wrote a book on the healthy climate of Aspley Guise for tuberculosis sufferers which attracted many wealthy people to the area.
Mary Addison died in 1853, and the 1853 Musson & Craven trade directory gives an entry of “John Thomas Assbee, victualler, “Bell”.”, so the inn had passed to her nephew. BARS has him down as running it 1850-1853, so perhaps Mary was ill for some time before her death. Assbee passed away himself in 1854, at the relatively young age of 40. The Craven trade directory for 1863 also gives J. T. Assbee, but BARS has James Burton for the period 1854-1864, and indeed it is Burton who appears on the 1861 census, aged 44, as an Innkeeper, running the unnamed inn with his wife Charlotte, 42.
He left in 1864, and Swaffield & Son, auctioneers and estate agents, of Ampthill were engaged to hold a sale at the “Bell Inn, Aspley Guise, by direction of Mr James Burton, who is leaving. Sale of household furniture and effects, beer engine, pewter measures and utensils of trade, Berkshire sow and 9 pigs, manure, seed potatoes, etc.” (BARS SF2/12)
BARS also holds a diary by Joseph Procter of Leighton Buzzard, brewer; the precis consists of six sheets of typescript detailing business matters such as purchase and prospective purchase of public houses, lease of the brewery and brewery equipment, in which the Bell is mentioned, but I have not yet examined it. (BARS Z1185/1)
The local timber dealers the Goodall family took out an advertisement to sell 21 cows, 7 horses, 6 ewes and 55 fat pigs in November 1865, which was described as the surplus stock of John Goodall, and in the same sale, 70 lots of household furniture which George Goodall no longer needed “now that he had taken the stock and furniture of the Bell Inn”. The sale would be at the Swan, Woburn Sands. Yet when the license came to be transferred at the Petty Sessions in mid-December, John Goodall did not come forward to claim it, and therefore the notices were dropped and fresh ones would have to be issued. “Meanwhile the house is without a license and cannot sell, and this state of things must continue till the next Petty Sessions.” I have never seen such an event in all my local pub research, yet there is no follow-up story the next month to settle what had happened. Goodall must have sorted out the administrative problems and re-opened the Bell, as it was certainly open in February 1866, when it hosted a meeting about the bankruptcy of Miss Mary Eggbeer of Husborne Crawley, to divide her assets between her creditors.
A Ball was held at the Bell on 26th January 1868 for the tradesmen of local villages, numbering about 60. Wilshaw’s Quadrille Band played. Sadly, the hosts were not named, but they were thanked for the excellence of the arrangements and quality of the refreshments. It appears it was now in the hands of Charles Konow, as he was involved in a dispute the next month. The Leighton Buzzard Observer 11th February 1868 reported that Thomas Giles arrived at the Bell and fixed a hole in a hedge, which cost him 12s. in materials, carting and time. When he approached Konow for payment, Konow (a German) responded he had not employed him, and the bill should be sent to the previous tenant, George Goodhall. Goodall had charged Konow £100 for the inn “in good and proper repair”, but it was mentioned that the inn actually belonged to Messrs. Terry, brewers of Leighton Buzzard. Konow said Goodhall had told Terry that he would have the outstanding work done. The Judge said if the property should have been in good & proper repair, then someone should be paying for it, but as Goodall was not present, he adjourned the case until he could be summoned. So the next month they were back before the magistrates. “Plaintiff (Giles) swore positively that Konow gave him the order to do the work, and the latter (Konow) affirmed as positively that he did not do so, but merely conveyed a message from Goodall that Giles should get on with the work as soon as possible. he had only asked Goodall to get someone to do the work that was owing.” Konow won the case, with costs. Whether Goodall ever paid Giles is doubtful; he had a reputation as a difficult customer locally.
In January 1869, the AG & WS Gas & Coke Company Ltd celebrated the first lighting up of the villages of Aspley Guise and Woburn Sands with a dinner at the Bell. More than 30 Directors, shareholders and their friends “dined in the long room and partook of the repast, which reflected the highest credit upon Mr & Mrs Konow”. (Leighton Buzzard Observer)
Konow had a theft from his premises in April 1869: “John Kitely, of Woburn Sands, labourer, was brought up in custody charged with stealing one pig’s cheek, value 2s 6d., from the taproom of the Bell Inn at Aspley Guise on the 29th ult, the property of Mr Charles Konow, innkeeper. The case was clearly proved, and the prisoner, consenting that the case should be tried by the magistrates present, was committed for one month’s hard labour.” (Leighton Buzzard Observer)
Konow moved on in October 1869: “Licence transferred from Charles Konow to Charles Fletcher Woods, late of Woburn.” (Beds Times.) Konow took the Cross Keys in Northampton, later moving to the Fleece Inn, on Bridge Street. He was involved in many local Committees and Boards there.
Woods stayed for only a year, then transferred licence to Samuel Collis, late of Dunstable. (12th November 1870 – Beds Times) but before Woods went, there was a grand sale of much of the furniture of the inn again: “BEDFORDSHIRE. BELL INN, ASPLEY GUISE. Messrs. READER & SON ARE INSTRUCTED TO SELL BY AUCTION, On MONDAY next, the 15th day of AUGUST 1870, Commencing at 10 for 11 o’Clock, on account of the number of Lots, on the Premises above. THE whole of the capital HOUSEHOLD FURNITURE, comprising every requisite for the well furnishing and fitting up of six bedrooms, three sitting rooms, bar, and taproom; including a billiard table, with shifting cushions, forming a dining table; a small stock of choice wines and spirits, an excellent Double Brougham, a Waggonette, with hood, forming a close carnage; sets of double and single harness, a superior bay gelding (a capital carriage horse,) and numerous effects. Catalogues of which are prepared, and may be had on the Premises, or of the Auctioneers, Temple Street, Aylesbury”. (Bucks Herald – 13th August 1870)
Collis had previously run the Borough Arms at Dunstable, and he was summoned back to Court in Dunstable for not paying a local Board rate there. He contended that as the rate had been set but not asked for before he left business there, so the new landlord should pay! Collis was also having trouble in his new pub, as a large fracas in January 1871 ended up with four men suing John Goodall (once the landlord?) for assaulting and beating them, but him suing them for the same! Goodall was convicted on one count, and two of the others convicted of assaulting him.
Brewers often took a very dim view of landlords who allowed such trouble in their premises and swiftly moved them on. By April that year, in the census, a Mr John Youens had taken over. He was only 25, with wife Bessie, 24, son John, 2 and daughter Bessie 3 months. There were also John Wiggins, 21, a groom and Eliza Bodsworth, 18, housemaid living at the Bell. He organised a Grand Fete in Mr Goodall’s meadow, Aspley Guise in June 1871, starring Henry Youens, a famous hot-air balloonist (and presumably a relative), engaged to make an ascent in his 60-foot-tall “War Balloon – La Eagle”. (George Goodall had bagged himself a trip in it, for the use of his meadow I expect!) Henry was the first balloonist to ascend from the grounds of the Crystal Palace at Sydenham, in 1859.
The event was the largest show ever staged at Aspley Guise, with cheap train travel arranged from London for visitors. Sadly, the weather did not permit the balloon to rise, and there were doubts the local gas works could supply enough gas to be used anyway, which must have been a great disappointment to the 1000 or so visitors and villagers who had gathered to watch, but they still had well-known comics-singers Stead, Hellier, Barnum and Ryley, Cook and East to enjoy, as well as Curtis and George Zamouza, the gymnast and trapeze artists. The band of the Royal Artillery from Woolwich came to play, alongside the Luton Volunteer Band and the Aspley Brass Band entertaining the crowd. Yet the Leighton Buzzard Observer were less than impressed with the acrobatic Zamouza family, “It was very unnatural – not to say unseemly – that big boy walking and climbing all over his mother, standing upon her shoulders, and so on. He could have but very scant respect for her as his mother. Acrobatism is all very well, but, for goodness sake, do not let women become athletes…” The event was also marred by rain during the day, which kept the public away, and was probably a financial disaster for Youens, as entrance tickets were a shilling. Afterwards, he was sued by a Leighton glass and crockery business for not returning £1 17s 1d worth of items he had rented. The dealer had heard Youens might not be around much longer. He was right, as in October 1871, Youens was on his way again (by balloon perhaps…?) and the licence transferred to a J. J. Dennis.
Dennis transferred it again less than a year later in June 1872 to Samuel Biscoe, who came from the Bedford Arms at Woburn. Biscoe invested some money in the inn, and did the very first advertising for the inn itself, rather than for sales or events held there. Beds Times 6th August 1872: “THE BELL INN, ASPLEY GUISE. SAMUEL BISCOE, Proprietor. THIS pleasant and favourite Village Inn has lately been renovated and refurbished throughout and is now replete with every convenience, united with the comforts and privacy of home. S.B. respectfully invites families visiting this charming neighbourhood to avail themselves of the accommodation and very reasonable charges hereby offered. Excellent sitting and bedrooms, garden, and open and close pony carriages. Special arrangements can be made by the week, or month, with advantage to Visitors.”
The Bell was used for the inquest into the suicide of a retired army Captain in December 1872. Captain Webster had served in India, where he suffered from heat stroke. He had made attempts on his own life before, but this time succeeded by tying some string around the trigger of his breach loading gun. The verdict was temporary insanity.
Biscoe was married in June 1873, to a Miss Lavinia Hill, late of Woburn Abbey. The ceremony took place at St Luke’s Chelsea, where the bride was living. He was advertising the Bell again a month later, and this was the first instance of the name being Bell Hotel, rather than Inn. “ASPLEY GUISE (One Mile from Woburn Sands Station). THE BELL HOTEL, S. Biscoe, Proprietor. Recreation. Comfort. Health. Replete with every domestic comfort and convenience. Private and Sitting Rooms. First Class Cuisine. Famous Kitchen Garden. Horses, Carriages and Pony Carriage. Attendance charged at per day or per week; really moderate tariff. Families by the week or month. Visitors are respectfully requested to inspect the arrangements. Woburn Park Abbey and Aspley Woods all within easy walking distance.” (Beds Times)
He continued at the Bell for another two years, transferring the licence in 1875 to Thomas Taylor when he left to take the White Hart Hotel in Ampthill. Taylor could not have lasted long, as BARS notes that William Handscomb took the Bell in 1877. He was a local nurseryman, but being a landlord didn’t grow on him, as the next auction sale held at the Bell was for its own furniture again, in November 1879, when Handscomb was leaving the inn and had instructed George Wigley to sell all his furniture and effects.
When an inn was sold, it was up to the outgoing landlord to negotiate with the incoming new one to sell them all the contents not covered by the lease with the brewery. If the incoming landlord did not want or require the contents, if they already had their own to bring, a hasty sale had to be organised. This sale comprised of “Mahogany tables, Oak Dining Tables, Chiffonier Chairs, Kidderminster carpets, Chimney Glasses, Kitchen Requisites, the contents of five bedrooms, feather Beds, Mattresses, Iron French Bedsteads, Chest of Drawers, Swing Glasses, carpets a pony phaeton, gig, narrow wheel cart on Iron Arms, Bean mill and Turnip Cutter.” (Bucks Advertiser)
The new landlord was William Hayes. His very short sojourn at the Bell was highlighted only by a press report of him being kicked in the face very badly by a horse he was trying to dock. He moved on in 1880. (Beds Mercury) to be replaced by William Geary who was also there less than a year. He might have found the vacant inn due to an advertisement run in the January 17th Croydon’s Weekly Standard (the forerunner to the Bucks Standard, based in Newport Pagnell, not Croydon!): “THE BELL”, ASPLEY GUISE, TO BE LET, the above Family Hotel, with Field, Garden, Lock-up Coach Houses, and Stabling. Immediate possession may be had. – Apply Mr. F. D. Bull, the Brewery, Cosgrove, Stony Stratford.”
Comparatively, the next decade was quite quiet in the press. There were a few odd drunkards and the local estate auction sales.
The 1881 census for the Bell Hotel gives us the next landlord, William Mcdowell. He was 32, a Hotel Keeper, born Brighton, Sussex; his wife Nelly, 32, from Worcester; his sister Emily, 29, who had “No Occupation” listed, from Hastings and Ernest and Walter Stanley, 15 and 13, both Scholars. McDowall was charged with selling watered-down whisky in July 1881. He said he had bought it a proof-strength, but added too much water by accident. Fined £1 & 14s costs. An enormous storm in October 1881 caused a large tree to come down on the Bell’s roof. In November, Mcdowell was named in the case against two men having a drunken argument in his smoke-room. He said he called the police to his Hotel, but the police said they heard the disturbance from outside and came in to see what was happening. Both men were fined, and in the very same Petty Sessions report, it was noted the licence had been transferred from McDowall to a Thomas P. Stevens.
There are no news stories about Stevens; the next is a report of a society ball held in January 1885 at the Bell Assembly Rooms, catered for by William Lilley, his wife and daughters, according to the Leighton Buzzard Observer, but the landlord’s name was actually William Dilly.
The auction sales and inquests continued in the large room at the Bell. One of the more notable inquests was in August 1887, that of Albert Crute, aged just 14. He had gone into a field to fetch in a horse, but he walked behind it and hit it with his hat. The horse kicked out and caught him on the head, killing him.
When he died in November 1888, William Dilly had already taken over the Swan on Woburn Sands. Henry Greenwood, who had taken over the Bell in 1886, does not get a mention in the newspapers at all. The next landlord was a landlady, Jane Revel Simons. She advertised the hotel again, in the January 1889 Bedford Record: “JANE R. SIMONS, BELL HOTEL, ASPLEY GUISE, BEDS. WINES AND SPIRITS OF THE FINEST QUALITY. GOOD ACCOMMODATION FOR COMMERCIALS AND CYCLISTS. TARIFF MODERATE.” Despite this, in March 1889, she was already bankrupt. A report in the Leighton Buzzard Observer says she had liabilities of £606 18 7d. She had paid £300 to take the Bell on a year and ten months before, and been losing money ever since. The Official Receiver ordered a sale, which was carried out by Cumberland and Hopkins, of: “…the whole of the superior and useful HOUSEHOLD FURNITURE, TRADE UTENSIL, STOCK-IN-TRADE, and EFFECTS, CONSISTING of mahogany, oak, and other tables; drawing-room suite, in cretonne; easy and arm chairs, Windsor and cane ditto; sofa; harmonium, in walnut case, by H. Christophe; Brussels and other carpets; fenders, fireirons, chimney glasses, in black and gilt frames; weather glasses, clocks; the appointments of six bed-rooms, including brass and iron bedsteads, feather beds and bedding, marble-top and other wash-stands; chest of drawers; toilet tables and glasses; the kitchen requisites; dinner and tea services; scales and weights; a new garden engine, wheelbarrow, corn bin, etc. The TRADE UTENSILS comprise a four-pull beer engine, in good order; two sets of lettered spirit jars, about 200 glasses (various), decanters, pewter and earthenware measures. and other useful items. The STOCK-IN-TRADE consists of a quantity of sherry, champagne, claret, bottled beer, and mineral waters; also the fixtures and trade fittings….” Simons must have paid for her adverts for the Hotel in advance, as they were still running the week after the sale!
Her replacement was George Waite. The Bell Hotel was now being run by Phipps & Co., brewers of Northampton. Having found a new tenant, they must have been very dismayed to hear he died very suddenly, after just 10 days in charge, aged 39. He had an epileptic fit from which he never recovered. A Phipps & Co. representative had to attend the Petty Sessions and explain they had not been able to find anyone to take it on again at such short notice. Mrs Simons’ creditors still wanted their money, and another sale was arranged at The Bell, this time of her “teapot, six hot-water plates, six plate covers, cruet set, stand, fish knife and fork, toast rack, gravy and table spoons and ladles.” I can’t imagine such items reduced her debt by very much!
By August 1889, another replacement had been found and Francis Scannell was in charge when the Cottage Garden Society had their annual dinner at the Bell. He stayed for five years and oversaw many football and cricket team annual meetings, as well as the local Bell-ringers get-togethers. He was there for the next census in 1891. He was then 47 and his Irish wife Kate was 36. His nephew Stephen Walker was also staying with them.
After quite a few years as Bell Hotel, the name Bell Inn seems to have crept back in again occasionally. Scannell moved on to the Hare at Stewkley in January 1894 and the next landlord of the Bell was Henry Joseph Burgess. There are no stories about him, and he moved on again swiftly, as the next report in October 1896 was of the licence changing once again, from James Harris to Charles Bishop. He came from Upchurch near Sittingbourne. The merry-go-round of landlords now stopped for a while, as Bishop would be in charge for 15 years. An advert was run in the Beds Times in October 1896: “SUPERIOR FURNISHED APARTMENTS, with or without board; use of pianoforte. Every home comfort. Delightful and healthy situation. Terms very moderate – Charles Bishop, Proprietor (late Certified Master), Bell Hotel, Aspley Guise, Beds.” He was there in February 1897 when an invitation supper was held “by Host Bishop, the popular landlord”. He represented 13 or 14 local pubs in Aspley Guise, Aspley Heath, Woburn and Salford who wanted a two-hour extension at Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1897, but the Bench thought “it would not be for the benefit of the community” and refused it!
Bishop’s son was knocked down and run over on his way to school by the station bus in February 1898, with the wheel passing over his lower body. Amazingly, he was “making every progress towards recovery” at home. By March 1898, the local cycling club (formed at the Bell in May 1896) was large enough to have a special dinner at the Bell for which Bishop applied for an hour’s extension.
The first news into the new century was the census again. Bishop was 54, and described as “Hotel Proprietor and Organist”, his wife Martha Jane, 48 and children Florence Ellen and Reginald were 17, 15 and 11. Bishop was granted an occasional licence in October 1902 to sell wines, beer and spirits at Aspley Guise School, but this wasn’t for the pupils, it was for when the school was used by the cricket club for their suppers. He also regularly operated bars at the Parish Hall and in marquees for the annual Garden Show. In August 1904, his daughters Florence and Nellie both gained certificates in pianoforte from the London College of Music, and Bishop had an advert in the Gregory’s Guide Book to Woburn Sands and District: “The “Bell” Hotel, Aspley Guise. Situated in the centre of the village, near the Church. Excellent Stabling, ‘Bus to all Trains. Tennis Lawn, Photographic Dark Room. Board, Residence and Attendance from 5/- per day. Near to all walks in the Celebrated Pine Woods. Moderate for Cycle Parties. Proprietor Chas. Bishop. Late certified Master and Organist.” We learn more about him from the Ampthill News in March 1911 when he passed away. He was staying with his in-laws in Olney, having not been well. He was 62 years of age, with two daughters and a son. He had been noted for his musical ability and had acted as organist at Husborne Crawley Church. Therefore, he missed being the only Bell landlord to appear on two censuses by a matter of weeks, so it was only his widow and two daughters who were there the night of 2nd April 1911.
Mrs Bishop was left to organise another leaving sale from the Bell the following September: “THE “BELL” HOTEL, ASPLEY GUISE, FOLL & BAWDEN Have received instructions from Mrs. Bishop (who is leaving) to sell by auction upon the Premises on WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 27th, 1911, at 2 o’clock prompt, a Quantity of Household furniture, including 3ft. 6in. Mahogany extending Dining Table with 2 Loose Leaves. Oak Pembroke Table, Deal Tables, Windsor and Cane Seated Chairs. Pier Glass, 4ft. Antique Oak Chest, 6ft. Mahogany Sideboard with Plate Mirror bock. Drawers, Cupboards, and Cellorette. Marble-topped Dressing Tables, Iron and Half-Tester Bedsteads, Wire and Wool Mattresses, Chests of Drawers, Chair Bedstead and Cushions, Swing Glass. 3ft. 6in. Wardrobe, Hip Bath, Tea Urn, Oak Bar Table, 2 long Trestle Tables, 6 Forms, Butler’s Tray and Stand LARGE MARQUEE AND POLES, Lawn Mower, Tennis Net and Standards, Croquet Set, Bowls, Ladder, Salting Lead, Meat Safe, Carpenters Bench. GREENHOUSE and HEATING APPARATUS.”
The next landlord change is noted as being from Henry Charles Hislop Sanders to Walter Carter in January 1912 and then Walter Carter to Claude McKenzie in July 1913, the very same month as plans were passed by the Rural District Council of “additions to the Bell Hotel, Aspley Guise”. Sadly there is no description of what these additions were. In April 1914, McKenzie was being sued by Messrs Pedley & Son Ltd., of Birmingham for a debt of £1 3s 9d., which I think was for motorcycle tyres. An order was issued for payment in 28 days.
Walter George Robinson took the licence in September 1915, having just got married in Northampton, but BARS says the Bell was transferred over to his wife’s name, Sarah Ellen Robinson, the same year. He had moved to Aspley for health reasons, but he passed away from a haemorrhage at the end of October 1918. (Beds Times – 1st November 1918) His widow Sarah carried on at the Bell herself. Dinners and club meetings continued, including the newly formed Aspley Guise Fire Brigade and Aspley Guise Slate Club.
BARS holds the records of the local Rating Valuation of 1927, where every piece of land and property was inspected to determine the rates to be paid on it. The valuer found that the Bell consisted of a tap room, bar, smoke room, lounge, kitchen and scullery downstairs, with a cellar under; upstairs were six bedrooms (two being for letting), a bathroom and WC. Outside were a barn, garage, two bay barn and a brick and slate tea room. Mains water and gas were laid on. The pub sold around two barrels of beer per week and one bottle of spirits per month (though the valuer thought that two per month was more likely!). Eight dozen bottle of beer and stout were also sold per week. The place was obviously doing well as the rent was £25 per annum, up from £13 in 1914.
In December 1931, the Bell hosted the Diamond Jubilee of the Aspley Guise Cricket Club. In about 1920, Mrs Robinson’s father had come to live with her at the Bell, and he died in 1932 aged 74. I’m not sure if this was before or after Mrs Robinson was remarried, to Robert Walter Sims. In December 1932, Mr Sid Watson, of the Bell Hotel garage staff, was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident. The Beds Times says that news from the County Hospital had been very grave at first, but there were now hopes of a recovery.
In March 1943, the Beds Times reported the death of Mrs Florence Brettell of the nearby Anchor Inn. It notes she had taken the licence when Mr R. Sims had transferred to the Bell 12 years before.
In 1939 a register of all citizens was taken to assist in issuing ID cards before the war. At the Bell, there were Robert W. Sims, 62, publican, Sarah E. Simms, 57, unpaid domestic duties, Edward Ruston, 56, pharmaceutical chemist and John Malcolm, 67, a retired railway clerk.
After the war, there was a Battle of Britain demonstration event at RAF Manston, Kent, in September 1948, at which a de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito crashed whilst doing an air display. Both occupants of the plane were killed, and 10 people on the ground. The Northampton Mercury says one of those was Frederick Edward Rustin, 67, “of The Bell Inn, Aspley Guise”. He died after suffering severe burns when the car he was travelling in was caught up in the accident. He was well known in Bletchley where he had owned a chemist’s shop. He was a member of Aspley Guise Golf Club, and was on holiday in Kent at the time.
A death was reported in the Northampton Chronicle, December 1950 of Nellie Sims, who died suddenly at the Bell Hotel, “the dear sister of Min and Jack, Kitty and Chris, much loved auntie of Sis and Billie, Glenis and Jack.” Nellie must have been a nickname, as this was Sarah Ellen Sims. Robert Sims was still alive, as he did probate for his wife, but he left the Bell soon after, it having been 35 years in the same family’s hands.
The new landlords were advertising in the Beds Times in July 1951: “The Bell Hotel, Aspley Guise, under new management; now open to residents and for luncheon, teas etc. Parties catered for. Fully licensed. Props Mr and Mrs Harry Gill”, but they only stayed until 1953 when Percy George Beavis took over.
In January 1961, the inn was given Grade II Listed status. The entry reads: “The Bell Public House ASPLEY GUISE BEDFORD ROAD. Public house. Early C19, extended late C19. Red and yellow chequered brick, later parts in red brick. Slate roofs. 2-storeyed block bordering road, with later addition to RH continuing along Woburn Lane. Ground floor has 4 sashes with glazing bars, 3 of them tripartite. First floor has 4 2-light casements with glazing bars and one tripartite sash with glazing bars. All windows are under gauged brick flat arches. Doorway has part-glazed door surmounted by rectangular fanlight. Engaged slender elliptical columns support cornice hood. Square-headed carriage arch to LH with C20 lintel. Included for group value.” The same year, a Mr & Mrs Hunt had a small advert for the Bell Hotel & Restaurant in a local guide and map.
Ten years on, in February 1971, news of the transfer of the Bell from Harry & Hilda Sandell to Andrew & Josie Ramsey, a Scottish couple, was mentioned in the Beds & Bucks Reporter. The Sandell’s were moving on to The Halfway House at Wendover, while the Ramsey’s had come from The Cock at Heath and Reach.
The latter days of the pub are much harder to find out about, as local newspaper articles dry up. In 1973, the Bell Hotel was advertised in a Woburn Sands Guide book, under Keith & Audrey Farmer. From 1974-1986 it was run by Alan Pink, whose son I went to school with. After him came Maria Dunn and Tony Hall. Maria did some singing, and Tony was often away playing saxophone with touring bands, such as Chas and Dave. It was Tony & Maria who were running it when I got a moped and was able to walk in with a crash helmet under my arm and asked for a pint in a deep voice. They had a good jukebox and a pool table and a slightly relaxed attitude to licencing hours! I became a regular and more than a year later in 1989, I completely forgot myself and offered to buy my friends there a drink as it was my birthday. “How old are you now then?” asked Tony. “Eighteen!” I said brightly. Tony’s reply was unrepeatable…
Sometime in the late 1990’s, the Bell finally closed up as a pub/hotel. Maria Dunn took over the Social Club in Woburn Sands. From 2002, the building was an Italian restaurant called “Aspley’s” for a while, before becoming the Blue Orchid Thai Restaurant before 2007, which it remains today.
1786-1820: William Chapman
1782-1807: Richard Randall
1822-1823: John Asbee
1823-1853: Mary Addison (sister of above?)
1853-1854: John Thomas Assbee (nephew of above)
1854-1864: James Burton
1865-1868: John Goodall
1868-1869: Charles Konow
1869-1870: Charles Fletcher Woods
1870-1871: Samuel Collis
1871: John Youens
1872: J. J. Dennis
1872-1875: Samuel Biscoe
1875: Thomas Taylor
1877-1879: William Handscomb
1879-1880: William Hayes
1880: William Geary
1880-1881: William Macdowell
1881-1884: Thomas Parton Stevens
1884-1886: William Dilly
1886-1887: Henry Greenwood
1887-1889: Jane Revel Simons
1889: George Waite
1889-1894: Francis Scannell
1894: Henry Joseph Burgess
1896: James Harris
1896-1911: Charles Bishop
1911: Martha Jane Bishop (Wife of above)
1911: Henry Charles Hislop Sanders
1912-1913: Walter Carter
1913-1915: Claude Mackenzie
1915-1915: Walter George Robinson
1915-1951: Sarah Ellen Robinson [Wife of above. Sims from 27th Apr 1932]
1951: Robert Walter Sims (Husband of above)
1951-1953: Harry Clement Gill
1953: Percy George Beavis
1961 Mr & Mrs J. Hunt
1974: Keith & Audrey Farmer
1974-1986: Alan Pink
c.1985-c.1997: Maria Dunn & Tony Hall
c.2000: Italian Restaurant?
c.2007: Blue Orchid Thai Restaurant
The early Lower & Upper Bell’s probably brewed their own beer. The brewery for the Bell is much harder to trace as there are very few mentions of what brewer it has been tied to, and brewers tended to let and sub-let their houses.
Francis Moore originally owned the Bell according to the Story of Aspley Guise book.
1868: Messrs. Terry, brewers of Leighton Buzzard mentioned in a news story
1874: Thomas Mills of Berkhamsted appears in the Voters List, with the Bell as his reason of eligibility.
1880: The Brewery, Cosgrove were trying to find tenants.
1889: Phipps. They started off in Towcester before moving to Northampton.
1897: The Bell appears in a list of pubs bought by Benskins from Ashdown Bros., of Leighton Buzzard.
1973: An advert in a Woburn Sands Guide book shows an Ind Coope sign on the Bell wall to Woburn Lane. Ind Coope had bought out Benskins in 1957.
Page last updated Feb 2021.