— The Olde Bell has a very rich history, being the site of a plot to overthrow the monarchy amongst other things. Please tell me a bit about the history of the property.
Late in the 17th century, there was a plot to overthrow the Catholic James II. It was hatched in the tunnel which leads from The Olde Bell bar to the Priory, and is accessed to the right of the fireplace. It’s a tiny entrance as people were much smaller then! Above it there’s a picture of what the tunnel looks like and a description.
Lots of kings have also visited. During the war, Winston Churchill and Dwight D. Eisenhower had a meeting here. Colonel Elliot Roosevelt, the son of the wartime president, used The Olde Bell for dining. More recently people like Elizabeth Taylor, Princess Ann, Errol Flynn and other celebrities used to come to visit.”
— The Olde Bell main bar
— The Olde Bell was turned into a modern coaching inn by Ilse Crawford and 6a architects. What was the inspiration to reinvent the old inn in 2008?
With that vision, they hunted around for designers. When they met Ilse, she was after the same sort of thing and the relationship worked really well from there. Everything needed to be redone. They completely stripped the building and used local furniture makers and English materials to restore it. For example, the restaurant tables are enormous, made of English oak. It takes six men to move them.”
— Bedroom at The Olde Bell
— The common spaces are the heartbeat of The Olde Bell. How would you describe their atmosphere?
We try and hire local staff and all the food is local whenever possible, with much grown in our own kitchen garden. It’s about being a focal point within the local community, not just a hotel that is exclusive and closes its doors on its neighbours. It’s drawing upon its original DNA, allowing anyone to visit.
For example, in 1890, the innkeeper at the time used to stand at the door on Sundays and give out free glasses of Sherry for people going to church. If you were to order chicken, you’d get the whole chicken, not just a piece. He was really, really welcoming and everything was in abundance. We wanted to go back to that. The food is honest and simple, with big and hearty portions.”
— Can you tell me a little bit about the rooms and facilities at The Olde Bell?
The Olde Bell is laid out like a village with the main inn, which is the oldest part where the restaurant and the bar is, and 11 bedrooms. That’s where the locals and overnight guests meet. The auxiliary buildings are where the more private activities like weddings go on. Next to The Olde Bell is the malt house, which is a Victorian building that has five public rooms. It can be hired out separately or exclusively. Three of the rooms have balconies where French doors open onto the private gardens. The other two are oak paneled and quite dark, good for winter, with big, roaring fires. It also has 14 bedrooms upstairs.”
— The Olde Bell interior
— Please tell me about the restaurant at The Olde Bell. The food plays an important role?
— Bathroom at The Olde Bell
— What are some of the typical dishes that you serve at the restaurant?
The puddings are amazing. We’ve got puddings like treacle tart, apricot and raspberry trifle, hampshire strawberry pavlova, and vanilla panna cotta with garden berries and a vanilla biscuit.”