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The Olde Bell is managed by James, General Manager.
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Bedroom at The Olde Bell
— James: “Lots of kings and more recently people like Elizabeth Taylor, Princess Ann, Errol Flynn and other celebrities used to come to visit.”
Interview By:
— 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.
James: “The Olde Bell first opened its doors in 1135 as a guest house for visitors to the nearby priory. St. Benedict who founded the Benediction order laid down the monastic rule that hospitality to travelers and strangers was one of the obligations of monastic life. The innkeeper would ring the big bell to alert the monks that guests had arrived.

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.”
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— 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?
James: “The idea came on the owners’ honeymoon. They were staying in a hotel in the Far East and it could have been anywhere in the world; nothing about it felt real. They wanted to create something different and permanent, and create a brand that would stand apart from all the hotels in the marketplace.

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.”
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— Bedroom at The Olde Bell
— The common spaces are the heartbeat of The Olde Bell. How would you describe their atmosphere?
James: “We wanted to create something that wasn’t a hotel chain, something that was individual and human. When you arrive, you feel you are visiting somewhere rather than going to a hotel that could be anywhere.

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?
James: “The bedrooms are really simple and use earthy, muted tones and exposed wooden floors. We have really comfortable beds, 100% cotton sheets with a Welsh blanket and big, oversized pillows. There are flat screen TVs and bright red Roberts radios. The bathrooms are white municipal tiles with rainforest showers. They’re really stylish but very simple.

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.”
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— The Olde Bell interior
— Please tell me about the restaurant at The Olde Bell. The food plays an important role?
James: “A lot of our business revolves around the kitchen. It feeds off into other parts of the business. That’s what attracts the weddings, the corporates and private parties. Everything is handmade and the kitchen use lots of wild foods from around the local area to get that local, seasonal burst of flavor so you know where you are. The whole point is to make you feel like you are in Hurley, England, from the design to the food to the gardens.”
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— Bathroom at The Olde Bell
— What are some of the typical dishes that you serve at the restaurant?
James: “Because it’s so seasonal, it varies. For example as main courses, we currently have saffron braised squid, fennel, jersey royals and aioli or pollock, peas, broad beans, girolle and Mousseron mushrooms. On the rotisserie, we have things like free range organic black leg chicken or jersey royal potato and dill salad. From the Kamado oven, we serve smoked belly of Blytheborough pork with a tomato and piquillo salad.

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.”

 
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