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Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Can no-one save the Old Bell?

The Old Bell in Ipswich has an emotional appeal to me, being one of those places that would turn a blind eye to a couple of 15 year-olds enjoying a couple of halves some two score years past. Then it was on the fringe of a working dock, with narrow roads inset with freight tracks and signal levers so that the old Eastern Counties 221 from Tattingstone had to negotiate a line of rail box wagons to pass, the air heavy with the cloying aroma of malt and pigeons fat on puddles of spilled grain. Men who went down to the sea in ships were drinking in the Bell when Thomas Wolsey was a lad, his father's shop a long stones throw up St Peter's Street. It's a rambling, higgeldy-piggledy accretion of bits of building from the fourteenth to the nineteenth century, more or less upright, pierced by more chimneys than one would give reason for, the inside a maze of low-ceilings, passages and tiny parlours except where a brewer past has taken out a wall or two to make the public bar and steel posts intrude. 

It's death came with the smoking ban and the Council's 'improvements' outside, which created another two acres of roads, lines and traffic signals between the pub and the town that have only marginally increased vehicle congestion and have actually reduced traffic speeds. It's now just beyond an old run of pubs that used to be separated by no more than a hundred feet and provided a comfortable if time consuming walk into town from Wherstead Road without ever being in a building newer than the eighteenth century.

It's currently up for sale, with a fifth-acre yard, for the price of a London bedsit - £225k. The owners, who seem to have given up, have secured planning consent for a nightclub with bedrooms (?) or a 'sports bar', yet there's room for not only a micro-brewery but a brewing school or additional wine bar in the yard ... is there really no-one who can remake a financially viable pub from the Old Bell, and keep six hundred years of Ipswich history alive?


Anonymous said...

My old local in Plymouth has just closed, so I have some sympathy Raedwald.

It's amazing how much a person's life is invested in "the local" - meet and mate, meet friends and attend their funerals, see new generations in, darts, euchre, pool - it's a complete local history.

FWIW I don't entirely blame the smoking ban - I don't think that young people are content to stand at a bar chatting these days.

Scrobs... said...

Unfortunately, a combination of over-zealous, and over-stretched developers and no help from the local planners, has resulted in a stagnation of potential development in Ipswich, Raedwald.

I love the Old Dock, and also several roads around it, but there were too many obstacles in the way, and the place was just razed without enough thought.

I'm sorry to see that the old empty sites are still there too, unless the map's a bit out of date.

£225,000 seems a good price though, if not value!

Anonymous said...

As a northerner, I am not acquainted with the area described. But I do see two things. Firstly, this is certainly an old building - the upper floor is a "jetty" construction over the ground floor and I think this came in during medieval times (Raedwald will know). Surely then, this building is grade II listed? That would lend itself exactly to the usage suggested by Raedwald - a microbrewery and / or vintner, selling the real deal instead of pasturised rubbish from Inbev. Maybe it could be residential? Maybe the local council could be persuaded to allocate good access to this pub as a different type of business. Secondly, we can't reverse the smoking ban, so this element becomes another work of what I call "rocks and rivers". If you throw a rock into a river, does the river stop? No, it just flows around it! Different and imaginative, but similar, uses have to found to attract new customers in and old customers back. Old pubs can and do survive and the old adage of "quality sells anytime" is never truer than in these troubled days. Good quality cask ales, good quality, reasonably priced food will generally pack a pub to the rafters. I know a few round my way and not all of them are "ancient buildings" by any means. They are just good places to go and they give you that "warm felling" when you arrive and that "happy feeling" when its time to go. That's the trick!

Coney Island

Curmudgeon said...

Why can't we reverse the smoking ban? The Netherlands has to some extent and, very recently, Hawaii.

Good post, though.

Wildgoose said...

I notice that the dead-end road adjacent to the pub is solid double-yellow lines. Not much chance of driving your partner or a bunch of mates for some conviviality in a charming old building is there? So only local trade within walking distance. Hobbled from the start.

Anonymous said...

Am I alone in thinking, that the traditional British pub has become an 'enemy' of the state and by using the word 'state', really I mean the EU.
A good local pub, contained many people and opinions, we argued politics but never allowed the conversation to drift into and over religion and the ladies. A good pub, also sold good beer at a reasonable price - I hate the town centre 'drinking barns' they are anti social and encourage bad behaviour and louts of the lager drinking variety.
We raised funds, helped people with all manner of problems, drank and commiserated with each other and talked; cricket, football - oval and round varieties. We helped people get jobs and gave lifts to some who enjoyed the occasion a little too much and in the main always got on and we also kept an eye on the local 'wildlife'.
News about local events and politics did the rounds and we were on top of many topics, Guardian readers, sat next to and mixed with Times and Telegraph, Sun and Mirror readers and we joked, talked History and Economics, Geography, waxing philosophically on times gone by and made fun of each type of stereotype. Rich lads, poor lads and lasses, working lads and lasses, old and younger - all together - and from 'our' area.

Alas, the smoking ban and cheap alcohol from supermarkets and a prolonged recession - people moving on has killed it off - the pub is now boarded up.

That wonderful and redolent aroma; the smell of polish on varnished wood and of fresh and old dank of beer and of sweat steeped in its walls is gone, so too the men and women who down the years met, gossiped and shared, shed joyous and sad tears with each other, now all memories and vanished.

Is this the real policy, an attempt to halt local people communicating and spreading news with each other?
Tinfoil hat or not - I think the 'State' decrees just that - that the nation and as individuals - we have become 'islands'.

News is controlled and knowledge is power.

Anonymous said...

PLEASE STOP whingeing about the smoking ban
It has nothing at all to do with the case.
I wonder which BIig Brewery actually owns the site, and what the extortianate rents were?
I also agree with previous posters about the vile rebuild of the surrounding area, which has really screwed it as to "location" if you see what I mean.
I must have been past it, even in it on occasion, as I've been down the old Ipswich docks branch ....
Agree about listing.
Such a building must be saved, and prefereably as a genuine Free House .....

Anonymous said...

What killed pubs for me was the loud music. You can't hear yourself talk in most pubs.


Middle Seaxe said...

Hi Raedwald,

Often read and enjoyed this site, never posted before. Just thought I'd post the listing text for The Old Bell from British Listed Buildings website. It gives a bit of info.

The fabric of this building should certainly NOT be altered. Might be worth an Email to S.A.V.E. just to let them know about it. Whilst its days as a pub might be over the building can still be useful.

Anonymous said...

Listed buildings are a nightmare for any developer - a 'normal' investor would run a mile.
The only even chance would be the National Trust.

DeeDee99 said...

I don't know Ipswich, but that is just too lovely a building to lose. I presume Ipswich has a History Trail identified for visitors to the city - and The Old Bell should be on it. If there isn't a History Trail, then one should be created and perhaps Raedwald should be prodding the local Council to do this.

Sadly the pub looks isolated and difficult to get to. It reminds me of The Bullington Cross pub in Hampshire, which was left isolated on a hard to access 'island' in the middle of a badly designed junction between the A303 and A34. It struggled on for years, before finally closing about 5 years ago.

Blue Eyes said...

Mr R, you are a man of the world, why don't you put in an offer?

Raedwald said...

Blue, my business plan for a boutique gin distillery has got a dust off; small run designer gin production is the micro-brewing of the second decade. I shall produce three gins; a 57% alc Naval gin perfect for bitters, an 'Indian' London Dry Gin for everyday and an 'Old Tom' similar to Plymouth Gin for cocktails and other mixes .... *dream dream dream*

Anonymous said...

Sold 20th June 2012 for £110k