Some history of the Blue Bell Inn at Alfreton
The Blue Bell is located on the southern side of Alfreton's High Street, seemingly in isolation on the corner of a pedestrianised section of the town. The narrow lane to the right of the building leads to New Street; the left-hand side of the pub has always been something of an alley rather than a road. There is now a parade of 'modern' shops on the other side of this, though the old building you can see to the right of the Blue Bell is still standing. This has traditionally been occupied by auctioneers and estate agents down the years.
In the relatively recent photograph of the Blue Bell [below] you can see an entrance to the front and one to the side. However, the pub once only occupied the left-hand side of the building as the right-hand side had been a shop. The front entrance was in fact the shop doorway. The retail outlet had served many different uses over the years but is perhaps most famous as a cycle and motor cycle shop run by J. Dunn who traded as the Central Cycle Stores. Many an Alfreton cyclist would have purchased their trusty steed from this shop.
The Blue Bell is a fairly old building and the pub was certainly trading during the reign of King William IV. An early licensee was William Radford. Born locally around 1769, he had married Sarah Kemp towards the end of the 18th century and the couple kept the Blue Bell for many years. A branch of the Kemp family operated as carriers from Bell Yard to the rear of the pub. Following William's death, Sarah Radford succeeded as licensee. She kept the Blue Bell with her son George. He was documented as a maltster which points to the Blue Bell being a homebrew house. Eventually the licence passed to George sometime in the mid-1850's. His mother was at Greenhill Lane when she died in her 90th year in November 1859.
By the early 1860's George Radford was running the Blue Bell with his Bedfordshire-born wife Sophia. They were assisted by two nieces, Elizabeth and Ellen Roberts, who were officially recorded as house servants. George himself was listed as publican and maltster so it would appear that he was still produced the ales sold at the Blue Bell Inn. Having been born in Alfreton in 1799, he was a well-known character and, by all accounts, had earned much respect. It therefore came as a sad shock when it was learned that he suddenly died in the kitchen of the Blue Bell. He suddenly collapsed and was pronounced dead.
This photograph is not the best of quality but it is an important image showing the Blue Bell Inn as a Offiler's pub. Note also that Blue Bell shared the building with the shop next door, though a "For Sale" sign had been erected on the frontage - perhaps the time when the pub was merged into the neighbouring retail outlet. Actually, although the Blue Bell can be seen here in the livery of Offiler's, the Derby-based brewery had been acquired by Charrington's by this stage. Indeed, they had closed the Ambrose Street brewery in September 1966.
After George Radford's death in 1870, the roles within the house changed somewhat as the mother of house servant Elizabeth Roberts became the landlady. She was also named Elizabeth and actually sister-in-law of Sopia Radford who remained at the pub. The two Elizabeth's carried on running the Blue Bell throughout the 1870's, though probably selling beer bought in from other brewers.
This post-war photograph of the High Street shows the Blue Bell Inn with the adjacent Odeon Cinema. Formerly known as the Royal Cinema, this building with a mock-Tudor frontage was erected in 1930 and opened during the following year. The ground floor fronting the High Street featured shopping, including Silverthorn's Chemist's Store. The cinema was listed as the Royal Theatre [Picture Houses [Derbyshire] Ltd., with William E. Holland as the manager. During the Second World War the cinema's manager was Mr. T. Rowland. By this time the cinema had been taken over by the Odeon group. Although featuring a mock-Tudor frontage, the interior of the cinema was distinctly understated Art Deco. A competitor of the Empire across the road, the Odeon Cinema screened films until the building was closed by the Rank Organisation in May 1964. The last film to be screened was "Two Rode Together," a western starring James Stewart and Richard Widmark. The old cinema was demolished to make way for the aforementioned shopping development.
Elizabeth Roberts remained at the helm of the Blue Bell Inn until May 1885 when the licence was transferred to John Cartwright. Born in the Lincolnshire town of Sowerby around 1837, he kept the Blue Bell Inn with his wife Elizabeth who hailed from nearby Shirland. This couple enjoyed a long spell at the helm of the pub and were still running the place in their mid-seventies at the end of the Edwardian period.
Licensees of this pub
1835 - William Radford
1842 - Sarah Radford
1846 - Sarah Radford
1852 - Sarah Radford
1857 - George Radford
1876 - Mrs. Elizabeth Roberts
1881 - Mrs. Elizabeth Roberts
1895 - John Cartwright
1899 - John Cartwright
1912 - Mrs. Elizabeth Cartwright
1925 - Arthur Bentley
1932 - Mrs. Sarah Buckley
1941 - Mrs. Sarah Buckley
Although this, like many Blue Bell signboards, clearly shows a blue bell it is not clear if the sign of the Blue Bell first illustrated this or the flower. In some cases inn signs have a bell on one side and the flower on the other. It is also thought that the sign could have originated in Scotland where signs are called Bluebells of Scotland, a popular song properly known as Bluebell of Scotland. The bluebell in Scotland is the harebell, not the wood hyacinth of the South. Whatever the source, the use of the blue bell [as above] is a heraldic sign.
Have Your Say
If you would like to share any further information on this pub - perhaps you drank here in the past? Or maybe knew a previous publican? Whatever the reason it would be great to hear of your stories or gossip. Simply send a message and I'll post it here.
"Hang-head Bluebell, Bending like Moses' sister over Moses, Full of a secret that thou dar'st not tell!"
"On Friday an inquest was held at the Blue Bell Inn, Alfreton, before Mr. C. G. Busby, coroner the hundred of Scarsdale on the body of
William Hill, 73 years age, wheelwright, Alfreton, who committed suicide on Thursday morning by banging himself. From the evidence of Mrs. Hill, the widow, it appeared
that the deceased had been greatly troubled his mind since proceedings were taken against him two or three weeks ago for stealing a few kidney beans from a neighbour's
garden. On several nights recently he had not been to bed at all. On Wednesday night, however, he rested better, and rose about six o'clock in the morning. He went
about his work as usual. After breakfast the deceased was missed, and shortly afterwards Mrs. Hill found her husband suspended to a low beam in the hayloft over the
stable near the house. Mrs. Hill expressed the that the affair in reference to the kidney beans had been the means of leading the deceased to commit suicide. After the
deceased was discovered an alarm was raised, and he was cut by Mr. H. Bardill, a neighbouring shoemaker. Mr. Bardill said the deceased was in a stooping attitude.
Mr. Williamson, juryman, said that before the case came on for hearing the deceased went to him twice, and expressed a fear that the magistrates would send him to prison.
He [Mr. Williamson], however, assured him that he would probably only be fined a few shillings. The jury returned a verdict of "Suicide during temporary insanity."
"Suicide of an Alfreton Tradesman"
Sheffield Daily Telegraph : October 18th 1884 Page 6.
"By imposing heavy penalties, the Alfreton magistrates on Wednesday emphasised their intention of stopping the growing tendency of stealing
glasses from public houses. George Henry Dyke, his wife, Clara Dyke, and a woman named Florrie Boot, all of South Normanton, were charged with stealing two glasses,
valued at 1s.6d. each, the property of Arthur Bentley of the Blue Bell, Alfreton. Mrs Dyke pleaded guilty to stealing one but her husband said he was too drunk to know
anything. Bentley stated that the defendants came to his house for drink at a busy time on Saturday night. He was sure that Dyke was sober. Dyke and his wife were ordered
to pay £3.13s.3d. between them, and Florrie Boot was fined £2.8s.6d. including costs."
Derby Courier : August 27th 1921 Page 1.