1-3 Stoke Street
First a look at The Old Bell in in 1956: things have changed so
dramatically, it is hard to believe that the row of shops and houses
once stood on the left side of Vernon Street; the public house (called
for many years The Silver Star) and the Methodist Mission Hall are all that
remain standing here in 2013. You can see all the way up Bell Lane on
the right, a view that is foreshortened by a block of flats today.
Bell Lane might have been wider in earlier centuries and stands on an
almost direct line from the old Stoke Bridge. Burrell Road disappears
to the right. The relief caps of the pub name
lettering, characteristic of Tolly Cobbold inns, is still in place and
at that time there was the name 'COBBOLD' below. On the approach from
the town centre to the area over Stoke Bridge, views are dominated by
the large mature trees around the north side of the St Mary-at-Stoke
churchyard, and by the modern flats on rising ground behind the Old
Bell Inn - the massing of which serves to underscore the Inn's
mediaeval scale - and the gables of The
Until it closed in 2007, this was the oldest operating
licenced premises in
Ipswich. It is believed to date from the early 16th century and
was first recorded in
1639. A Bell Inn is known to have existed in this area since well
before the Civil War (1642–1651). The name may refer to a bell foundry
nearby before the inn was constructed; there's documentary evidence of
this as far back as mediaeval times. The view above left shows the Old
from Bridge Street as it enters Vernon Street: the old public house,
yard and outbuildings, now relatively isolated by a dual carriageway
and busy traffic junctions. The Bell Lane access is marked by double
yellow lines the size of which are emphasised by the otherwise small
scale of the space. To the west side of the lane are single storey
shops built in 1924 of no architectural interest and adjacent is a high
brick wall with an overgrown unused site behind. The Bell used to be
much bigger, but the
section of the building to the left of the present corner door was
demolished in the mid-19th century to make way for Vernon Street to
provide easier access to Wherstead Road. This accounts for the feeling
that the building looks 'sliced off' rather abrubtly.
Above: The gold-painted relief characters once common on Cobbold
tied houses with the panel of rendering below, distinct from the
roughcast surface, which repaired the damage caused by the removal of
the word 'Cobbold' (see the top photograph).
In the mid 19th Century, as land along Wherstead Road started to
developed and Bell Lane became too narrow for local traffic, a new
road, Vernon Street, (initially called Harland St), was built to the
east side of The Bell Inn. In the 1960s the
land to the rear of the inn was comprehensively cleared and redeveloped
for blocks of four-storey flats. In the late 1970s, the sense of
enclosure (buildings crowded along narrow roads) around the inn was all
but destroyed as buildings opposite were demolished to make way for the
Stoke Bridge and Approaches Road Scheme, completed in 1982. The sense
of former enclosure can only be appreciated on the west side towards The People's Hall.
Walking up Bell Lane, a narrow version of the main
thoroughfare which once led to parts of Over Stoke and to Wherstead
now leads to a car park behind flats – the jettied upper
and timbered outer wall towards the rear of the pub are seen. Beneath
the overhang is an example of a Tudor(?), glassless window, shown
below. The narrow bricks and timbering seem to be 'original'. In 2013,
with the whole building in a very fragile state we hear that it has
been purchased and will be renovated by a funeral company. If it will
bring the long-empty pub and yard back into use, then so be it.
post was carved by Mr Ringham, an eminent
19th century wood carver. It features a bell with clapper within at the
top and lower down a cat-like creature, the back end of which becomes
serpent-like. Is it too fanciful to think that this carving might be
based upon: "Ding dong bell, Pussy's in the well"?
Bell Lane, once the arterial route from Ipswich to Over Stoke and
(eventually) Colchester, this narrow lane lacks an official Borough
nameplate. However, a rather smart homegrown street sign is fixed to
the shop frontage of Danielle Hopkinson's stained glass studio at 5
Stoke Street – presumably above the original 45 degree corner door. If
they created the street sign, kudos to them; incidentally, they very
kindly sent images and information about (probably) the oldest example
of lettering on this website: stained glass roundels from the original
Holy Trinity Church, now to be found in a window in Holy Trinity Church in Back Hamlet.
Above the view of Bell Lane from Stoke Street with the corner-post
showing the bell and cat carvings at the right.
At the front of the building are two doorways; to the right, one with a
curved top with one surviving carved spandrel. A slat of wood features
the lincensee statement:
Licensed to sell intoxicating liquor of all kinds for consumption on or
The Suffolk CAMRA (see Links)
entry for The Old Bell shows the
licensees: 1952- Stanley Chas. Sharman; 1956- Stanley Chas. Sharman, so
this sign perhaps refers to his widow, who took on the licence?
of the spandrel
"Hello.....just a small correction to your very interesting site. Ref
the licensee sign and the name 'Sharman'. Carol Sharman was the last
licensee and the sign , even though it looks old and hand painted, was
made by Danielle Hopkinson, Who runs the stained glass studio at 5 - 7
Stoke Street, in about 1999. I don't know if she was a relative
[of the earlier Sharmans] but she was in her early forties at the time.
Hope this helps. You may also be interested to know that our premises
at 5 Stoke Street was a pub called the Maltsters in 1837. With a
Cobbold and Tollemache connection.We have a huge pile of the original
deed documents dating back to this time and up to current day. These
were passed onto me by prettys solicitors when I purchased the building
in 1998 approx. Ian Davies. the stained glass studio." Many thanks to Ian for the
Suffolk CAMRA (see Links) tells us that The
Maltsters Beerhouse (on the site of the blue-painted building in the
long shot above), previously known as Maltster's Arms, stood on the
corner of Bell Lane and Stoke Street. Earliest records found show it
operating from 1861; it closed January 31,
1912. "Must have stood in Bell Lane, as the Borough Police licensed
premises register shows that beat bobby number 9 would walk past the
Old Bell, then the Maltsters, Little Wonder, New Anchor and on to the
Boar's Head. This is confirmed by an article in the East Anglian Daily Times (March
2012) which mentions it standing on the corner opposite the Old Bell
(though confusing the beerhouse with the Maltsters' Arms which was
actually in Quay Street)."
[UPDATE 27.12.2017: "I have
just seen the film Showman,
and it brought back memories of dancing with my friend Sally Sharman of
the Bell Inn, on the benches in the bar area, around the year
1948-1950. My mother had a baby shop in Vernon Street at the time. Nice
to see the pub still standing, but lost touch with Sally Sharman about
1955. Would be interesting to know where the family went to. I have lived in New Zealand for many years now, but
return to Suffolk about every two years. Regards,
Gillian Johncock (née Jill Firman )." Many
thanks to Jill for getting in touch.]
[UPDATE 23.9.2018: 'The above
was passed to me by a friend who thought it would be of interest to me,
as indeed it was. I was Sally Jean Sharman, now Sally Kitching. My late
brother and I lived at the Old Bell with my parents, Stanley and Edith
Sharman; they took the licensee from my grandparents, Thomas Prentice,
in 1947 and remained till the late sixties. My grandparents moved to
the Bell mid-thirties. It was an interesting and detailed article
regarding The Old Bell and deserved the coverage because of its
age and history. I believe it’s mentioned in the the ‘Margaret
Catchpole’ book which involved smuggling in the late eighteen hundreds
in and around this area – an interesting read. I was given this book in
1953. There is no connection with our family and the previous licensee,
Carol Sharman: just a coincidence. Sally Kitching.' Many thanks to Sally for another piece in
the Old Bell jigsaw.]
The Old Bell finally closed its doors in 2007.
The door to the
right features a
frosted glass panel.
example of wording and decoration on glass might
have been quite common on taverns and inns where there was a 'Jugs'
entrance/counter (a feature of The Duke Of
York on Woodbridge Road
until refurbishment) for off-sales and an entrance for on-premises
drinking. It is possible that the door was a stable-type where the top
could be opened, perhaps to serve beer to those who wanted to drink
while overlooking the river.
From Vernon Street
Above: the view of The Old Bell from Vernon Street, opportunity
snatched between rapid traffic flows. The corrugated structure at the
left is at the rear of the pub yard. In the background rises the roof
of The People's Hall in Stoke Street. The structures forming the
L-shaped Old Bell can be seen most clearly here.
The east wall of The Old Bell, that is the wall created after
demolition of part of the pub, bears a road sign in negative (see also Dogs Head Street and Parliament Street). The white characters on
black ground boast a superior 'T'.
Other examples of lettering in
Vernon Street include the Vernon Street Methodist Room, the Vernon Street Co-op and Uncle Tom's Cabin.
[UPDATE 19.9.2014: the image
below shows the long-awaited beginnings of
work on the rear roof of the Old Bell. By late 2016 the premises were
open for business as a funeral director's.]
See our Stoke Hall page for early maps of
this area. On Pennington's map of 1778
see St Peters Street leading into Bridge
Street which descends southwards from the town centre, past Stoke
Mill, over Stoke Bridge, crossing the
junction of Stoke Lane (now Stoke Street) and Dock
Lane (now Dock Street) with The Old Bell marked 'Bell'.
See also The
Duke Of York for modern pub
lettering on glass and Fore
Street for a frosted former chemist's door.
Stained glass pub lettering can be found on The
See also the Pubs & Off-licences
page and the Tolly Cobbold House & Brewery pages.
Web-pages relevant to this one:
R. & W. Paul maltings
Trinity House Buoy
Please email any comments
and contributions by clicking here.
throughout the Ipswich
Historic Lettering site: Borin Van Loon
No reproduction of text or images without express written permission