The Old Bell - refurbished June 2014

Photographs donated to the Society

The origins of the Old Bell as a pub are unclear. Branch Johnson in his 1963 book on Hertfordshire Inns, Part Two, West Herts, records that “In 1735 Robert Juffs paid a poor rate on the Old Bell Ground”, but did the name of the land denote an inn? The entry continues: “In 1835 Matthew Tomalin had a vote in respect of the Old Bell and land belonging to it. Later owned by Bennett, of Dunstable, brewer. Mann.” According to the information board in the pub, in 1835 it was recorded as a beer house but it wasn’t until the 1869 Wine and Beerhouse Act that The Old Bell became a fully licensed public house.

The Old Bell, c 1920s. Credit: LHS archives – LHS 13478a

In the 1878 Hertfordshire Directory (precursor to Kelly’s Directories) Benjamin Bennett was listed as ‘brewer and maltster at Harpenden Brewery”, but there is no mention of The Old Bell in the list of public houses which included the Cock, Cross Keys, Red Lion, Railway Hotel, Marquis of Granby, George Inn and the Rose and Crown. At that time there were some twenty beerhouses.

From the first Kelly’s Directory in 1901, The Old Bell Public House is regularly listed. Harry Smith was landlord from then until at least 1913-1914, when there was a long gap in publication. By 1922, there was a new landlord, Amos Smith, and from then on a garage and other workshops were listed between The Old Bell and Roundwood Lane (which was called New Farm Lane at least until 1907) – until the garage and filling station gave way to a housing development around 2005.

John Mayling took over as landlord in 1927/28; Alfred Beckett was there in 1930 and Mrs Elsie E L Kelly in 1932, but from 1934 until 1960 John Fensom was landlord. After 1962, until Kelly’s Directories ceased publishing in 1974, The Old Bell is listed, but the landlord is not named.

The pub has used the sign of an Old Bell during its various refurbishments, but without any explanation of what the Bell signified.

Bennett’s Fine Ales and Stouts were on sale at the time of the earliest photo in our archives, probably from the 1920s.

The Old Bell, c.2000. Credit: LHS archives – LHS 13478b

The Old Bell, 2009. Credit: LHS archives – LHS 10997, Les Casey


During a recent refurbishment by Chef & Brewer, the Society was offered the gift of a selection of old photographs of Harpenden, formerly on display in the pub. We are delighted to have received a number of photos which complement our archive collection – some of which are shown below.

Pickford Mill – Almagam Rubber Mill, 1938. See our page about Mills on the river Lea – http://www.harpenden-history.org.uk/page_id__69_path__0p2p54p.aspx. Credit: ex The Old Bell

A Hertfordshire shepherd. See our page on Shepherd Arnold, who lived in one of the Batford Mill cottages. Credit: ex The Old Bell

The post office, 107 Station Road, c.1900 run by Mr Bingham, and later by Bentleys – see http://www.harpenden-history.org.uk/page_id__513_path__0p3p55p.aspx. The cottages with dormer windows were rebuilt, possibly in the 1930s. Credit: ex The Old Bell

Comments about this page

  • Jack and Phyllis Fensome were landlords of the Old Bell during WW2. It was a regular meeting place for ARP Wardens of the W2 Wardens Post, based at ‘Woodlands’ Roundwood Lane, many of whom would play darts in the evening before going home or on duty. 

    There were three bars: the Saloon Bar on the right hand side (north) side, where beer was an extra penny a pint and you could play darts or bar billiards, the Private Bar which is now the segment near the present entrance, and the Public Bar or Tap Room which was a much smaller area within what is now the restaurant section.  You could choose where you drank in accordance with where you felt you belonged within Harpenden society.

    By John Wyborn (06/11/2014)
  • A few more snippets of information re: The Old Bell, garnered by Geoff Woodward.  In 1931/32 new windows were installed in the pub by Glasscraft of London; at the same time a shelter was erected in the garden. In 1935 brewers Mann Crossman & Paulin took over the Old Bell from former landlord B Bennett, leading to alterations being made to the bar, a new fence being erected round the property and, no doubt in recognition of the changing nature of the clientele, a ladies’ toilet was provided for the first time.

    By Alan Bunting (26/10/2014)
  • Vivian Summers writes:

    Tommy Hodgson (landlord late 60s/early70s?), was also the chairman of Luton Town FC.  My mother and father were close friends of his brother Freddie Hodgson, who lived close to us at Lea Valley.  

    Seeing that at the renovation of the pub, your Society were given some pictures, the one that really interested me was the one of ‘The Almagam‘.  I worked there, in the laboratory, during the late 60s, with some varying memories, especially being a young lad, trying to evade the verbal comments and physical ‘threats’ of the women in the moulding department, when I had to go through the factory every day.  I assume it was all in fun, but I was lucky that I was a fast mover.

    By Diana Parrott (20/09/2014)
  • History Society member Geoff Woodward has provided more information about the history of the Old Bell.

    The original farm building belonging to Samuel Willmott was bought by Bennett of Dunstable in 1873 and converted into a public house. Planning permission was given in June 1905 for extensive alterations to the building.  The bell which hung outside for many years, which was made by Mears & Co, was taken inside the pub in 1972 and a painted sign put up outside in its place. An earlier bell displayed inside the pub came from Trinity House in London, headquarters of the lighthouse and maritime safety organisation. A large extension to the Old Bell was built by Harpenden builder Jarvis in 1960.

    Kelly’s Directory lists the following Old Bell publicans: William Canning Vaisey, 1886-1900; Harry Smith, 1901-1911; Amos Smart, 1922-1923; John Mayley, 1925-1928; Alfred Beckett, 1929-1934; John Fensome, 1934-1952.

    By Alan Bunting (28/08/2014)

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