Bell Inn

Berkshire - Aldworth

A historic pub interior of national importance

Listed Status: II

Bell Lane

OS ref: SU555796

Tel: (01635) 578272


Real Ale: Yes

Real Cider: Yes

Lunchtime Meals: Yes

View on: Whatpub

This wonderful village pub has been in the hands of the Hunt/McQuhae family since the eighteenth century. It has two rooms of markedly different character. Left of the central corridor is the venerable tap room with its vast inglenook fireplace, panelling, wall seating round three sides, scrubbed tables and benches, quarry-tiled floor and one-handed clock. The screen at the rear was installed about 1880 and was glazed at the top so the licensee could keep an eye on proceedings when descending the stairs. The Victorian furnishings were made at the village blacksmith’s/carpentry shop (run by the same family as the pub). At the heart of the Bell is a glazed-in servery with sliding windows, one of only a handful of such in the country. It is said to date from the 1930s. The ebony hand-pumps bear the date 1902. The second room wraps round the servery in an L-shape and took this form in 1974 with the removal of a partition between its two parts: evidence for their former separate nature is the brass figure 3 on a beam (numbers 1, 2 and 4 can be seen elsewhere). As for the gents’ loo, this is outside and known for obvious reasons after a few beers on a dark evening as the 'Planetarium'! It was added in 1933 when mains water was installed. The Bell has won many CAMRA awards including, most recently, Pub of the Year 2019.

A great classic rural pub and a winner of many CAMRA awards. It has been in the same family since the 18th century (five generations – Hunt/MacQuhae/Macauley family names) and its building history goes back much further. It started as a cruck-framed hall (a cruck can be seen outside on the left in the gents' - of which more anon!), has been much changed over the centuries and now presents an unassuming red-brick face to the world. The approach is via a sun-trap veranda with red quarry-tiled floor and seating either side. There are two public rooms, located either side of a red quarry-tiled passage from the front door.

The tap room on the left, the reason for inclusion on the National Inventory, has a figure ‘4’ over the doorway, a red quarry-tiled floor, a gigantic inglenook fireplace with a fine fire-back dated 1650 (not original to the pub), three scrubbed top tables, brown-painted panelling, fixed benches round three sides, assorted basic benches, a one-handed clock and, at the rear, a timber and glass partition to the corridor leading to the living quarters. Note the shove ha’penny, ready to play. Most of the tables and benches date from the nineteenth century and were made in the village blacksmith's/carpenter's shop which was in the hands as the same family as the pub: they are said to have been installed by the present landlady's great-grandmother: she also installed the screen to the long corridor. Prior to the servery being installed, pot boys used to fetch the beer from the cellar in jugs and serve it in the left-hand room.

Right of the corridor and extending into the right-hand room is the servery which has sliding glass partitioning, on two sides and hatches for service – one of only a handful of such serving arrangements left in the UK. It is said to have been put in the 1930s but may be earlier. The bar shelving dates from c.1930. Note the figure ‘1’ over doorway to the public bar and ‘2’ over the door to the servery. The set of ebony handpumps bear the date of 1902. Note the ancient till and one of the remaining bowls for coins.

A doorway leads into the right-hand bar, now an L-shaped room, which was formed in 1974, when the present licensees took over, taking out a partition beneath the beam: this bears the number '3' which clearly shows the back part of the room was separate, although was barely used. At this time on the right-hand side the couple of recesses - formerly ovens - were opened-up. The front section has lino floor, hatch to the servery, ancient panelling with bench seating. The rear section of the room has its own hatch which is still raised daily and locked into place by bolts. There is a considerable amount of old panelling (full height on one wall), a wall-mounted corner cupboard and a brick fireplace with log burner. Look for the hinges on the window cill on the right-hand side of the rear section – this was used for off-sales! – now secured down.

And, oh yes, the gents' loo - outside on the left, and known, for obvious reasons after a few beers on a dark evening, as the 'Planetarium'! It was added in 1933, when mains water was installed (?).

On 19 September 1978 one hundred regulars from the Bell made aviation history by chartering a British Airways Concorde to take them on their annual pub outing. Concorde flew from London Heathrow over the bay of Biscay down to Spain and back – see the flight details on a certificate on the wall of the pub, and the special Bell Inn ‘Concord Charter Flight’ envelope. Closed on Mondays.

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