The inns and alehouses of Bell Bar

Photograph of The Swan, Bell Bar, in the 1900s, still an important stopping place for horse-drawn carriages Image from the NMLHS archive
The Swan, Bell Bar, in the 1900s
Image from the NMLHS, part of the Images of North Mymms collection

In 1756, Bell Bar was a bustling staging post on the Great North Road, with four inns and alehouses dotted around the hamlet. The route was one of the main thoroughfares for travellers on horseback or on stage coaches making their way between London and the north.

Situated 17 miles from the capital, it was the ideal spot to break the journey, stay the night, feed or change the horses, and have a few beers and a meal.

Between the four establishments, The White Hart, The Bell, The Swan, and The Bull, there were 22 beds, and stables for 52 horses. Down Bulls Lane, at The Duke of Leeds in Welham Green (now The Sibthorpe Arms) there were another two beds and stables for four horses.

Long before the term micro-brewery and craft ales, some of these establishments would have had their own brew houses, making their own real ales served from the barrel straight to the jug. The kitchens would serve local produce such as "clod ham" and "cold fillet of veal, and sage cheese", because, of course, there was no refrigeration in those days.

And these inns and alehouses were not only frequented by people travelling through North Mymms; the report below talks of "much noise and drunkenness of the haymakers in the alehouse kitchen"; so they were popular with the locals, too.

The late Bill Killick, a member of the former North Mymms Local History Society, wrote the following feature for the March 1999 edition of the society's newsletter.

(Introduction written by the online editor)



The Inns In Bell Bar


Because of its location on the Great North Road, Bell Bar was much more widely known than North Mymms. It was named in the schedules and timetables for coaches and carriers' wagons, from London to places North: It is not surprising therefore that Inns, or Ale-houses, were built there. I have records of four such, three in our parish and one just over the boundary in Hatfield parish. ( See map 1)

In 1756 the Government had a survey made of inns and ale-houses to establish accommodation for the billeting of soldiers. The schedule then made included:-



Name Abode Sign Beds Stabling
George Drew Bell Bar White Hart 4 10
Will Yielding Bell Bar Bell 2 12
Thomas Broom Bell Bar Swan 8 20
Alice Leeman Bell Bar Bull 8 10
Will Tyler Bell Bar Duke of Leeds * 2 4



* (Note: This should be Welham Green as this was the former name of the Sibthorp Arms)

Map 1 - scan of map of Bell Bar based on the Tithe Map of 1844 Image from Bill Killick
Map 1 - Bell Bar based on the Tithe Map of 1844
Image from Bill Killick, part of the Images of North Mymms collection


The Bell (1) alias The King's Head


There has been some confusion in the past in locating The Bell, as there were two Inns, or Ale-houses, of this name in Bell Bar and they both adopted other names at times. The one of that name in the above schedule is that shown on the map above as (1) and is the earliest I have found recorded.

It was held of the Manor of North Mymms and at a Court of the Manor 12th March 1556/7, Agnes wife of Thomas Frowyke, previously the wife of Thomas Roberts, had died holding, in the right of her son John Roberts, a messuage called 'Le Bell'.

I have noted a number of subsequent changes of ownership and some time during the 17th century the name was changed to 'The Kings Head'; (perhaps after the execution of King Charles ). By early in the 18th century it was again The Bell, and in July 1720 Joseph Huntman, the then owner, sold it to Sir Joseph Jekyll the Lord of the Manor of Brookmans.

It remained The Bell at least until after the diversion of the Great North Road in 1850, when the landlord was George Archer.

The White Hart alias The Bell (2)


Photograph of Upper Farm, Bell Bar c1900s In 1746, The Bell, alias The White Hart would have been where the row of cottages are. Image from Mill Green Museum
Upper Farm, Bell Bar c1900s
In 1746, The Bell, alias The White Hart, would have been where the row of cottages are
Image from Mill Green Museum, part of the Images of North Mymms collection


The Inn, or ale-house, named White Hart in the above schedule, was also known as The Bell at some times and its location was as shown on the map (above) as (2). This was held of the Manor of Brookmans and the earliest I have noted it recorded is in the Court of that Manor held 1st August 1674, when the death of John James was reported. He was said to have held 'a messuage and hospitium called The Bell at Bell Bar'.

It descended through his nephews until in 1699 the death of his nephew William Sammon, was reported to the Manor Court, when it was called 'The Old Bell Inn at Bell Bar'. It descended through another generation and in 1716 it was mortgaged to John Lucas as the 'Old Bell'. In 1721 John Lucus laid a complaint against the then owner Anna Halsey, 'who had a small cottage near, Bell Bar formerly called the 'Old Bell', now the, 'White Hart'. In 1746 John Lucas surrendered the 'White Hart' to John Cocks Esq., Lord of the Manor of Brookmans, and it continued to be part of the Brookmans estate which passed to the Gaussen family in 1786.

John Byng (1743-1813), a nephew of Admiral John Byng, (his 'foolish uncle'), who built 'Wrotham Park' in South Mimms, made many journeys, usually on horseback, around various parts of Britain and recorded his 'tours' in his journals, with comments on events and his nightly accommodation, On the 9th of July 1793 John Byng set out from London, for a tour of North Wales, on the Great North Road towards Biggleswade.

He writes:- ·

"The roads were hot and bad, my pace was slow, and the mare jolts me to powder. Had I been young and on an active trotter, I had got to Welwyn: but those days are past, and, as relative to folly, all the better. So I put up at the White Hart, Bell Bar, whose landlord I have long known, and tho' it is an alehouse, yet there was a pretty display upon my supper board of clod ham, cold fillet of veal and sage cheese; with the daughters of the White Hart attendant." -- "There was much noise and drunkenness of the haymakers in the alehouse kitchen. Then one wishes for an elegant tavern, but it is summertime and may be endured."

He mentions that the landlord was Mr Mayes who formerly kept the New Inn at Stevenage; - "and is a fawning, chattering chap."


Scan of a drawing of Bell Bar in 1840 by Buckler The picture shows the poor state of the road, complained about above Image from the NMLHS
Bell Bar in 1840 by Buckler
The picture shows the poor state of the road, complained about above
100 years earlier The White Hart, alias The Bell would have been on the right
Image from the NMLHS, part of the Images of North Mymms collection


In 1833 the proposed diversion of the Great North Road, by-passing Bell Bar, was approved by the Turnpike Trustees and maintenance of the road throuqh Bell Bar was reduced. Presumably road traffic had decreased due to the opening of railways between London and the North and some time shortly before 1840 the White Hart was demolished.

The Swan


Photograph of Lower Farm, Bell Bar, formerly The Swan April 1979 Image from Ron Kingdon
Lower Farm, Bell Bar, according to Bill Killick, the first iteration of The Swan
Image from Ron Kingdon, April 1979, part of the Images of North Mymms collection


This inn is of interest for a number of reasons, not least because it was, successively, three buildings on adjacent sites.

First (see mark '1' to the right of The Swan in the map above), it was the house now known as 'Lower Farm'; one of the oldest existing in the parish. This was part of 40 acres of land called 'Ingoldes Fields' granted to John Fish of Hatfield in 1429, at a rent of 'one red rose' per annum, to be held of the Lord of the Manor of North Mymms by 'Military Service'. This is the only property in North Mymms Manor held by such service, that I have noted. It continued in the possession of the Fish family until purchased by Sir Matthew Lamb of Brocket Hall, Bart., about 1755.

I do not know if it was an inn when he bought it, but by 1776 'The Swan' was a new brick-built house (see mark '2' to the right of The Swan in the map above),  just North of the original house, which became again the farmhouse. At this date the property was still owned by Sir Matthew and passed to his eldest son Peniston who became the 1st Viscount Melbourne: (His second son William became Queen Victoria's Prime Minister.) After the death of Peniston Lord Melbourne, in 1805, all this property, which included land in North Mymms and Hatfield parishes, was sold.

I cannot do better than quote from the sale brochure:-

ln the preamble:-

"The Bell Bar Farm. in the Parishes of Hatfield and North Mimms, -- and the Public House, called the Swan, are let to Edmund Fearnley Whittingley Esq. as Tenant at Will, and is most eligibly situated by the side of the Great North Road, two miles and a half shot of Hatfield, and seventeen from the Metropolis. It is a regular Station for many of the stage Coaches to chance Horses, and for Drovers to stop with their Cattle and Sheep in going up to the London Market, which circumstances adds considerably to the value of this Property - which is divided into the two following Lots for Sale -"

Then:-

The Farm
Which consists of a Dwelling-House (formerly the Swan Inn), Lath and Plaster and Tiled, near to the Seventeen-Mile Stone, containing Three Parlours, Hall, Kitchen, Brewhouse, Cellar, and Pantry, Seven Bedchambers, and One Garrett."

Then the barns, stables, other farm buildings and the land, a total of 138 acres, are detailed.

The Public HouseCalled The Swan -- a well-frequented House of good business; containing a good sized Parlour, Tap-Room, Bar, and small Parlour adjoining, all in front, a back Kitchen, Pantry, and two Cellars, and five neat Bed-rooms and a Lumber Room. This House is Brick and Tiled."


The outbuildings and stables are detailed and the area of the site, 3a. 3r. 20p ** (please see online editor's note below).

Some time after 1850 when The Great North Road was diverted between Shepherds Way junction and Hatfield Town, to by-pass Bell Bar, (see map 2 below) a new public house The White Swan (marked with a '3' just on the map below), was built at the junction of Bell Bar with the new road, to replace the previous premises (marked with a '2' in map 1 above). I do not know when the building (marked with a '2' in map one above) was demolished.


Map 2 - scan map which is based on  the OS map for 1873 showing Bell Bar after the road diversion of 1850 Image from Bill Killick
Map 2 - scan of sketched map of Bell Bar based on  the OS map for 1873
Showing Bell Bar after the road diversion of 1850
Image from Bill Killick, part of the Images of North Mymms collection

The Bull


Sometimes called The Black Bull this establishment stood on the west side of the Great North Road, just over the boundary in Hatfield parish. I do not know how early this Inn was established, but in 1737 when the then owner, Henry Lord Ingram, mortgaged the property it was described as:- "A messuage called by the name of the Black Bull", and the tenant was 'widow Lemon'.

In 1748 Matthew Lamb of Lincolns Inn purchased the property from Lord Ingram, but in the survey taken in 1776, when Sir Matthew died, it was "A House at Bell Bar (late, a Public House the sign of the Black Bull)". It was inherited by his son Peniston and by 1805, when he died, the house had been demolished and the outbuildings incorporated into the 'Bell Bar Farm'. The land, including: "The Site of the old Farm Houae (pulled down) -", was detailed in the sale brochure mentioned above.

(I have to thank Mr Pat Clarke for details of the sale of The Swan and The Bull.)

Bill Killick 1999


Map of Bell Bar showing the sites of four inns or alehouses  Image from the NMLHS, part of the Images of North Mymms collection
Map of Bell Bar showing the sites of four inns or alehouses
Image from the NMLHS, part of the Images of North Mymms collection




Online editor's notes


The images in this piece are all from the Images of North Mymms collection.

** The measurements "3a. 3r. 20p." refers to the size of the land being sold. The abbreviations are: a = acre, r = rood or rod, p = perch, these being the measurement standards at the time. An acre = 0.4 hectares, a rood = 1011.71 sq m, and a perch = 25.29 sq m.

If you enjoyed this feature you might like to read Memories of Swan Lodge, Bell Bar by Nikki Greenleaf.

Below is a related news story from this site's archive, which shows the opposition to turn The Swan, at the time not a pub but a private house called Swan Lodge, into flats. The author is local historian and archivist, Peter Miller.






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