The Bell Inn at Middleton has been an Adnams house for over a hundred years but its history stretches much further back to a time when no records exist. Some say it was a beer house run by the monks of old Leiston Abbey to serve the workers who built the church. Some say that timbers from wrecked ships form part of the wooden frame.
What is certain is that the tile and thatched Bell, tucked away but situated in the centre of the village, has always been the main beer house. The bar has changed little since the last war apart from the incorporation of ‘the slip’ or off-sales which ran along the side where the dart board now stands. It was here that men would take a glass or two often alongside young lads of the village who experienced their first half in the company of their elders.
The present restaurant was the publicans’ living area and there is still a coffin hatch, now used to raise larger pieces of furniture to the upstairs accommodation.
In 1835, Edward Lewis, landlord for thirty-one years, charged 2 1/2d for a pint of beer and 2/6d for a dinner.
Subsequent landlords, Robert Foulsham and John Sparks record bills given to the Churchwardens for grog, tobacco and bottles of port!
In 1858 the pub was owned by Matthias Wright, a part-time farmer and landowner, for forty-two years. During the nineteenth century the Bell served the small community of Middleton-cum-Fordley, composed largely of agricultural workers and some trades people. The village had several shops, a butcher, a shoemaker, wheelwrights, a Post Office and many small farms. The population rose to over six hundred, today it is around half that size.
Up until the 1950’s many in the village were half and halfers, working part of the year on the land and after harvest travelling to the coast to work as fishermen. Now only one cuts reeds, catches fish and works in the forest. The fishermen sang in the Bell after their weeks away and their return across the fields from Darsham station.
There have been around nineteen landlords since the First World War. The Bell has had teams playing quoits, darts, cricket, football and more recently boules. It continues to be a social gathering place, hosting drinkers and diners from all over the country and abroad. The Bell still attracts many because of its rural, quiet location and famed hospitality.
In recent years, the Bell Meadow hosts the Summer Fete and Autumn Fayre and on St. Stephen’s Day welcomes the Old Glory Molly Dancers and Musicians who annually celebrate the ancient ceremony of the Cutty Wren. Live traditional singing and playing still takes place at regular intervals throughout the year.
Try it and imagine the characters who must have sat in this very place discussing the state of the world and the price of a pint. Be part of its history.