Find quirky styling and artworks aplenty at one of the most interesting and magical places to stay in the South East, The Bell in Ticehurst
“The Bell’s ancient bricks could talk, they’d have a tale or two to tell.” In 1645 The Bell in Ticehurst was first licensed to lodge travellers. For the price of a penny you could get a bed, the use of a plate, some linen and food. Things have moved on somewhat during the past three hundred and seventy odd years and now The Bell is as much known for its Alice-in-Wonderland style weddings and its cultural and community hub as its individually designed rooms and locally sourced food.
It’s been a hard time for the hospitality sector during the pandemic and The Bell, like many others, has had to weather some very choppy waters. “We had just completed extensive renovations to the Big Room with a new bar and vestibule for our wedding and events in March 2020 when everything shut down,” sighs Philippa King, The Bell’s Creative and Marketing Director. One look at the venue’s impressive new interior with bespoke Melissa White wallpaper and OTT chandeliers, newly created bar and airy vestibule, complete with life-size peacock and full height tree, all poised and ready to go, and you realise how frustrating it must have been for the team to have had to press pause for so long. However Philippa is enthusiastic that there is now a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel and is excited to soon be welcoming guests back once again.
The Bell has always had a central place in the heart of the village of Ticehurst. Hospitality began on the site in the 13th century when it was a medieval ale house run by monks, who would keep the bells from the nearby church safe there (hence the name). By the 17th century The Bell was a busy coaching inn servicing nearby Ticehurst House, owned by the Newington family that had opened as a hospital in 1797. By the mid 19th century the hospital had become a mental asylum catering to the extremely wealthy (it is now owned by The Priory Group) and The Bell became much in demand, adapting quickly to the needs and tastes of its rich London and Tunbridge Wells clientele. Despite having its feet firmly rooted in the local community, very much a local pub for local people, The Bell succeeds where many rural pubs are currently struggling, as it has always kept one eye on the city dwellers further up the A21 looking for the perfect ‘home from home’ getaway.
The Bell has always attracted creatives and it is that spirit of discovery that lies at the heart, not only of its interior and garden, but also its entire business plan. Close to Bateman’s, home of Rudyard Kipling, the celebrated writer is said to have written the poem A Smuggler’s Song within the pub’s four walls and more recently singer songwriter Bert Jansch (of Pentangle fame) was often found jamming on the pub’s well-loved piano. Part Enid Blyton, part Lord Byron the Big Room offers a community space where everything from weddings to comedy and live music nights are hosted. The space has been created to offer the whimsy and eclecticism of The Bell yet also made highly adaptable, suiting its many end uses, from the bride who wants the ‘fairytale’ to the live band who wants something more edgy. Philippa worked closely with local Hastings-based artist Melissa White, who has collaborated with the likes of Kit Kemp and Zoffany, to create a tailor-made scene that pays homage to the local area of Ticehurst – the old English meaning of which was ‘the wooded hill where young goats graze.’ Melissa has created a scene of hills, woods, goats and then more contemporary nods to the current interior with chandeliers hanging from the trees.
The Stable is The Bell’s private dining and creative space, with its signature long split oak table, bespoke iron-work and neon graphic statement pieces. Then there are, of course, the rooms. Seven bedrooms in the main building are joined by four oast house inspired lodges that are dotted around the garden (designed by Chelsea gold medallist Jo Thompson).
Funny and inventive conversation-piece design has been employed throughout to great effect. Upcycled and repurposed elements can be seen within the pub, both its public and its more private spaces. Whether it’s the wittily stacked piles of books in the main bar that appear to prop up the ceiling or the new bar made out of mismatched drawers (that do still open and will contain little surprises for the curious-minded) to the silver birch trees that pop up from nowhere in both bedrooms and public areas, making it feel as though you are perched high up in a tree-house – The Bell is packed with fun and wit. There are not many hotels that could get away with naming their rooms after a Sex Pistols song, but this is where having an owner with a playful sense of style and sense of humour pays off: Pretty Vacant, Pour L’Amour, The Benefit of Doubt, Between the Lines and Anything is Possible are just some of the room names. Run-of-the-mill this place certainly isn’t!
Together owner Richard Upton with Richard Brett of We Like Todayand Creative Director Philippa have amassed a local crack team of artisans, artists and makers including Bill Talbot, Ben the Blacksmith from Hastings and Noah’s Property Services in Flimwell. Together they have created a consistency and handwriting that joins the entire space together, be that the bedheads, created from everything from reclaimed timber to vintage books, to an entire bedroom ceiling of paper roses or the new allotment-inspired outdoor dining sheds. Old and new are expertly mismatched to the backdrop of a pint of local ale and a roaring open fire. This unique and very particular approach is no doubt why The Bell, as well as being a home from home for locals like Ken (to whom Howard, the general manager, has been hand-delivering beer during lockdown) also plays host to some rather famous faces often found propping up the main bar.
While some venues have over the past year simply shut their doors, others have used the time to add yet more value to their offering. The Bell will not only be re-opening its doors this May with its stunning new events area, bar and snug, but from April 12 there are new potting sheds for outdoor dining (for up to six people in each pod) and an outdoor BBQ will enable guests and staff to all feel safe, whilst we all try to go back to having fun once again. Locals will have been through The Bell’s doors many times, but for those of us chomping at the bit to get out of our own homes after the past year, perhaps, as we tentatively venture out from isolation, The Bell could be just the right answer for a staycation? As well as the pub bedrooms and garden lodges, if you are amorously adventurous, how about The Love Nest complete with free-standing copper bath and private roof terrace? Every room has all been created with the same individual flair and attention to detail that you would expect: cosy, quirky and imaginative. Expect to see vintage furniture, contemporary textiles, neon statements from the likes of Oscar Wilde and contemporary artwork from the owner’s personal collection including pieces by Graham Sutherland, Banksy and Tracey Emin.
The Bell is very much a place that both delights and intrigues. As Philippa King says, “We like to celebrate everything from theordinariness of just popping to the pub for a pint as well as the extraordinary events in our lives, like getting married.” All I can say is roll on the end of lockdown and welcome back to the great British pub!
The Bell in Ticehurst thebellinticehurst.com
Philippa King runs a series of creative retreats from The Bell. Find out more about what will be on the cards once restrictions are lifted by visiting Curious House at curioushouse.net
Bill Talbot billtalbot.com
Melissa White melissawhite.co.uk
Noah’s Property Services Flimwell noahspropertyservices.co.uk
We Like Today weliketoday.co.uk
- words: Antonia Methuen
- pictures: David Merewether
- styling: Holly Levett
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