One of my two or three favourite pubs in the city, the others being The Trip To Jerusalem which I sadly rarely get to these days and The Lincolnshire Poacher, a perennial visit. The Bell Inn is another of Nottingham’s ancient public houses, indeed argued as the oldest by some depending on the definition of ‘inn’ or ‘public house’. It is thought that its origins were as the guest house of a Carmelite monastery situated nearby on Beast Market Hill. Timber in the building has been dated back to 1420AD whilst it is thought that the building first became a public house around the mid-1500s’.
‘The Bell’ was renowned as being under the ownership of a certain William Clarke. Clarke who married the owner of the Trent Bridge Inn, a small business then which crucially had a large meadow to the rear of the property. Clarke developed that same meadow into what is now known as Trent Bridge Cricket Ground, an international Test cricket arena of great history and repute. Unsurprisingly the Bell Inn is now classified as a building of special architectural and historic interest.
As I write, the old place was recently closed for a few days due to an unfortunate fire emanating from an upstairs kitchen. Thankfully no members of staff were hurt, nor was there any serious damage, only to the pub’s takings for that period. I have a special affection for The Bell due to the fact that it was the first pub I ever entered as a young teenager. With an orange juice on the old table in front of me and listening to the very adult chatter of older men, before we departed for an afternoon at Nottingham Forest’s City Ground, I felt very much in awe of the scene. When I was old enough I began to visit there with my old friend, Frankie where we would regularly reach a comatose state after demolishing a few drams. The tradition continued when I attended Nottingham Trent Polytechnic in the late seventies and would visit every Thursday evening at eight to embark on a ‘Bell-Sal-Trip’* pub crawl. The combined ages of those three pubs reach into literally thousands of years. If you should ever one day read this, Geoff, Rue, Gary and all, bless you, happy days and I hope you are all doing well.
The Bell Inn was under the steady stewardship of the Jackson family for over a century until they finally severed their ties in 2002 by selling to the Hardy & Hanson Brewery. A the sight of members of the Jackson family on the front door was always a familiar one and added stability and the feeling of being in a ‘local’ to a visit to The Bell. Nowadays under the ownership of Greene King Brewery, the pub remains essentially the same as it ever was and of course that is the true beauty of it. The Bell Inn in Market Square is a tradition in the Lace City.
Three bars and an upstairs restaurant give the customer a good choice upon entering. Two quieter, smaller bars are situated left and right of the front entrance whilst an ancient flagged corridor between them leads down to a large and well-populated bar at the rear of the pub. Live music is a regular feature of the back bar which is counted as a jazz headquarters by the local fraternity of that genre. Good quality rock music is often a feature also and is provided as free entertainment. The clientele of The Bell is a mixed one, from Nottingham’s large student community to little old ladies, through hen nights to rank and file, ordinary singles and couples just out for a lively city centre pub visit without the potential downside of rowdiness that other pubs centrally placed often offer.
Jazz night at The Bell
In the past few years an interesting tour has been offered one night a week every Tuesday, descending down into the two stories of caves that lie below the pub. It has not been my pleasure to attend this fascinating sounding tour as yet but it is my intention. Nottingham has many caves of course, mainly man-made by burrowing out the soft Bunter Sandstone that the city is built upon. The Bell Inn’s underground caves are put to good use as beer cellars. This is not a rare practice in Nottingham as the constant cool and temperate atmosphere offered underground is ideal for beer storage and was the original reason that Nottingham ale was highly renowned in England. They tell me that a couple of pints by way of a tasting session are part of the cellar tour package. All the more reason to pop downstairs into the past, come a Tuesday evening.
If you’re visiting Nottingham a small excursion into The Bell is an easy option due to its central situation amongst the busy shops and Market Square life. Come and experience the warm feeling of a visit to one of my favourite ever watering holes.