Sunday, 29 December 2013

The Old Bell Inn Bromley

As the Bromley Arts and Community Initive (BACI) continues to gather support and funding, my mind has turned to Bromley Archive to look at the original Inn and it's place in Bromley's history.
After several months I have gathered together threads about the site. The history of the current building is relatively easy to research but to place the original in the context of Bromley as a market town close to London (many of the City's population came to Bromley) is more elusive.
The parish registers contain some clues and other records are associated with the Inn.
In the burial register for 1652 there are two mentions of the burials of the Gyles brothers,sons of Daniell Gyles of "the belle".
We later have records of the Wilson family who from 1773 until 1822 were Master of the posting house. James Wilson and then his widow and family all acted as landlords;during this time the Beefsteak Club was formed in Bromley and many notable gentry characters united in a love of sport met there.
The Wilsons were succeeded from 1823 to 1845 by James Painter Davis and his daughter. Davis was an enthusiastic cricketer. His daughter Mary Ann Davis took over when he moved to Farningham until 1845 when she left. Horsburgh describes her leaving  to fulfil an appointment as housekeeper to the Lord Mayor of London at the Mansion House but there appears to be no documentary evidence to support Horsburgh's account.From 1846 until it's demolition and rebuilding in 1897 it was run by William Sutton and his family. The neighbouring bakers shop in Market Square was also demolished and the site was incorporated in the rebuilding of the Royal Bell Hotel that we see today.
Before the coming of the railway to the town Bromley was something of a rural market town some 12 miles from London. It is often described as such but it had a constant passage of horse drawn traffic between London, Tunbridge Wells and Hastings.
The Bell and another Bromley Inn, the White Hart grew to serve this traffic and the local population. The stage coach service between London and Tunbridge Wells and onward to Hastings had need of a staging point in the town and the Bell and White Hart could stable up to 100 horses for  travellers.
Two coaches a day left Bromley at 9 a.m. in the summer or 7-30 a.m. in winter. One coach travelled to the Boars Head Fleet Street the other for the Spread Eagle,Gracechurch Street.Over time additional stage coaches added to the service with two to Charing Cross and an additional coach to Gracechurch Street until the railway arrived in the town.
In addition there were two local daily carrier carts to London and these are recorded as late as 1884. Consequently the Bell found fame and Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice has Lady Catherine de Bourgh recommend to Elizabeth that she change horses at the  Bell.
There are also references to death's of those accommodated at the Bell overnight in the parish register and adjacent to the Market Square. It was also popular for travellers at market days and the ancient Fair days. Bromley although rural has a surviving 1801 census with a total population of 2,700 (including schools and Bromley College which housed widows and families of deceased clergy). Bromley's population of permanent residents hardly increased over decades.
Bromley has for centuries been a place for Romany and other travelling families and the parish registers record substantial burials of traveller  families who were a feature of Bromley Common and seasonal fruit pickers and agricultural workers can be found to move through and work the land.
 One cause for increase in population was the attraction of permanent residence to be under the care and supervision of Mister James Scott who until retirement in 1829 to Clay Hill had become renowned as a surgeon specialising in diseased joints and ulcerated hips. He had succeeded Mister Bagshaw in his medical practice in Bromley. Thus the town attracted patients and residents and there is a notable decline in population after his retirement. "Scotts Coaches" brought patients from all over the country to the practice.
The Bell became "Royal" when royal coaches began to change horses there and in this respect it came to attract a different clientele to it's companion the White Hart.
Bromley had resident ostlers and stage coach men and traffic between nearby "Croyden" and between Bromley Bishop's Palace and Rochester was also undertaken. The initial passenger bus services between the town and outlying villages and parishes like Keston, Downe and Cudham were horse drawn and necessary to connect to the rail services which developed after the 1850's when the town rapidly expanded to occupy the land to the south and east along Bromley Common and north to created the need for a branch railway line to Bromley North.
Copyright (c) Henry Mantell 2013