The Bell Inn

The Bell is a very traditional pub in a building dating from around the 13th century, and owned by the same family for over 250 years.

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The Bell in 1956

There are many web pages describing it. Here are just three from hundreds of links:

The following article was printed in The Reading Mercury in 1956:

Of all Berkshire inns, none may lay claim to a more romantic situation than that of The Bell at Aldworth, "Gateway of the Downs." For here, some 500ft. up, we find ourselves at a compact village known to the Saxons (and probably also to the Romans before them) right on the line of the Ridgeway - oldest of all our roads - and apparently at a junction of ancient tracks, with mysterious Grim's Ditch close at hand. Indications are that at some period, probably in the 14th century, an inn was founded on this very site by the lord of the Manor as an adjunct of the Norman-origined parish church; the present Bell, fine specimen of 16th-17th century architecture beneath the modernising veneer, bears striking resemblance to Hurst's Castle Inn, known formerly as Church House.

The Bell stands opposite a canopied well said to be the deepest in England, cut 365ft. into the solid chalk; but the inn was dependent for centuries upon its own well until in 1914 a piped supply was provided. Alongside The Bell is the village recreation ground, rented by The Bell's owners from the Aldworth Estate as was the inn itself until Mr. Ronald McQuhae purchased the property. How long this arrangement of inn controlling "Playground" (the local name) has applied may only be guessed at; probably from the time the inn was first built.

I found Mr. Ronald McQuhae not at The Bell but in the post office (he is sub-postmaster) next to the general store, which is also his. Since the first McQuhae came to Aldworth from Kirkcudbright in Scotland some five generations ago and married Miss Hunt, daughter of The Bell's landlord, the clan has flourished mightily. Mr. McQuhae, present chairman of the parish council and therefore to all intents Alworth's "Mayor," is assisted by his wife at The Bell, where they have in addition a small dairy business. "We used to do our own baking, at the rear of the shop," he added, "and years ago we owned the old smithy."

His grandmother by marriage, Mrs Sarah Hunt, was a rightliving and very independent, forthright woman. In her days it could be tough for a widow running a village inn alone, but she stood no nonsense from anybody. Every Sunday evening she read the Bible to her customers in the taproom; and whenever she thought a man or a woman had had enough to drink, Mrs Hunt made no bones about telling them so and packing them off. Once, an unfortunate fellow who slipped accidentally when entering was reprimanded and denied, she considering him drunk!

With its many-beamed low ceiling and 10ft.-wide oak-surrounded fireplace, The Bell's tap-room must be practically original, a delight to behold. Still there are the old oaken seats inside the brick fireplace, one lidded to form a receptacle, and recesses in the wall for tankards. The swivel for a spit remains, over the mantlepiece is the usual rack; at one side is seen where a mechanical roasting rack was fitted. Near, I was told, used to hang a squared board for games scores. Mr McQuhae has had removed a great curved settle and a bacon rack, but a single handed grandfather clock offers reasonable consolation. He can remember when, not so long ago, oil lamps and candles were the only illuminants in the smoke-dimmed taproom. And not so long ago, too, they discontinued the curious, age-old game of shooting out a candle with a muzzle-loading gun for which only the caps were used.

Beyond the taproom is a largish room said to have been once a shop and suggesting use as a meeting-place. The public bar arrangements have been altered round, a big fireplace with an oven having been removed in the process; unaffected is a small chamber formerly called the "Half-and-Half Room," where (some kind of club?) only folk drinking this beer mixture were admitted.

Down in the flint-walled cellar the floor is all small Tudor bricks of a delightful ruddiness. Upstairs, massive dark timbering and crazily sloping floors, with a clear-cut division between servants' quarters (reached formerly by a back staircase, now removed) and the main bedrooms testify to the slight changes that have taken place in the main structure of The Bell since Tudor times. By the way, justification for belief that an even earlier Bell was here is derived from the fact that lords of Aldworth manor in the 14th century were de Ferrars, whose escutcheon bore many bells; in this century, too, the church received much architectural attention.

Poet and novelist Richard Graves was familiar with The Bell when living at Aldworth in 1744, although, being a curate and Fellow of All Souls' College, he may not have sought its shelter to quench his thirst. He lodged at Dumworth Farm, just behind the church, and there fell in love with 16-years-old Lucy Bartholomew, the farmer's pretty but uneducated daughter. Graves married her, resigning his Fellowship to do so, and for a time suffered for love; but his writings won him distinction and he rose high within the Church. How this spicy tale of the curate and Farmer Bartholomew's girl must have caused the tongues to wag in the taproom at The Bell. Yet now all those good folk are dust, largely forgotten, while The Bell goes on, to-day serving others who in their turn will almost certainly be outlived by this grand old inn. To me, and I hope to you, that comes as a very pleasant thought.

And a local B&B

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