Features Nottingham Drinker

Published on January 29th, 2014 | by Nottingham Drinker


Ring in the Changes

In many communities, pubs and churches were probably two of the most frequented buildings open to the general public. So it is perhaps no surprise that the names of some pubs near to churches refer to one of the most distinctive features of an English church – the peal of bells.

In days gone by, Nottingham had an Eight Bells (St Peter’s Gate / Peck Lane). This was named for the bells of St Peter’s Church just across the street. Prior to 1672, the church probably had six bells, which were augmented to eight during that year. These were replaced by a new set of eight in 1771 and then increased to twelve in 1965 and thirteen in 1994. Sadly, the Eight Bells closed in the early 1960s but not before it had a moment of Hollywood stardom, when it featured in the film of Alan Sillitoe’s novel “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning” (1960) starring Albert Finney.

St. Mary’s Church had major works undertaken in 1699, including the addition of a sixth bell. So the lost hostelry called the Six Bells (Barker Gate) recorded some sixty years later was possibly so named at the start of the eighteenth century, perhaps in the reign of our last Stuart monarch, Queen Anne.

Similarly, St. Mary’s peal would appear to give name to the later Ten Bells (Narrow Marsh), which was located at the bottom of the cliffs to the south of the church. St. Mary’s bells still stood at eight at the start of 1761, when they were increased to ten to mark the coronation of King George III. In 1981, long after the pub had closed, the peal was increased to twelve.

Writing in 1926, J. Holland Walker records that the Ten Bells had rather appropriately become a Christian mission but that in bygone times the pub was reputed to be the lair of criminal gangs, such as associates of Dick Turpin, including one Captain Daniel Mead, a smuggler from Boston.

It is interesting to think that both these churches existed long before these pubs and have continued to grow their peals of bells many years after the pubs rang last orders for the final time.

Whilst Nottingham’s bell ringers are clearly an acquisitive bunch when it comes to adding to their bells, the link between the pub name and number of bells allows us to identify the years for which the pub name had a real and meaningful relevance to local people.

Mansfield also had an Old Eight Bells (18 – 20, Church Street), close to the church of St Peter and St Paul, whose bells were augmented from five to eight in 1762. In 1925, the Mansfield Brewery replaced an earlier pub building with a rather grand edifice, recently trading as “Pure”.

The Four Bells Inn at Woodborough refers to the number of bells in the tower of St Swithuns. Well, it did. By the end of the seventeenth century, the church had four bells, some of which were made at the Oldfield family’s bell foundry in Nottingham. A fifth bell was added in 1985 and a sixth bell in 2008, now leaving the pub’s moniker somewhat outdated. Perhaps there is a reasonable case for the publican ringing in a change of name?

The village of Claypole in Lincolnshire, near Newark, has a CAMRA award winning pub, the Five Bells. The local church, St Peter’s, still has five bells and seems to have had five since at least 1795. In 1902, a strengthened frame to house the bells was installed by the Yorkshire bell-hanger, Thomas Mallaby of Masham. In a Yorkshire trade directory of 1890, Mallaby appears as a Masham tradesman alongside a well-known local brewer, a certain Thomas Theakston of T & R Theakston fame! Two of the Claypole bells were cast in 1633 by Oldfields of Nottingham and one of them has a thought -provoking inscription on which to end this piece: “all men that heare my mornfull sovnd repent before lye in ground”! With thanks to Mary Stephens of the Southwell & Nottingham Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers, George Dawson author of “The Church Bells of Nottinghamshire” and Keith Halliday of the Diocese of Lincoln and “Lincolnshire Bells and Bell Founders” by John Ketteringham. If any readers are interested in participating in bell ringing, then please contact Mary Stephens (www.southwelldg.org.uk).

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