THE OLD BELL AND STEELYARD, WOODBRIDGE, SUFFOLK

The Olde Bell and Steelyard

In the summer 2011 issue of the Pub History Society’s Newsletter I recalled the visit by my wife and I the previous January to the Black Country Living Museum (BCLM) at Dudley, West Midlands.

I told the story of The Bottle and Glass, a pub that had formerly stood on the Brierley Hill Road, Brockmoor beside the Stourbridge Canal but which had been moved, lock, stock and beer barrels to the BCLM in 1979. I cited other examples of pubs that had been relocated in a similar way to other sites.

However, during a piece of peripheral research I recently came across an example of part of a pub in Suffolk being moved to London and then being moved back again.

Curious?

(I was.)

I purchased a copy of Allan Jobson’s book North-East Suffolk for £1 at a local boot fair in early May 2011 and, once home, thumbed through it looking for references to pubs. I had only reached page 6 when the following fragment relating to The Old Bell and Steelyard, Woodbridge caught my attention:

‘Another interesting relic, still in situ, is the old steelyard at Woodbridge, forming part of the twelfth oldest inn in the country, the “Old Bell and Steelyard”; curiously enough situate in New Street (how new one might ask?). This steelyard, [a weighing machine: a forerunner of the public weighbridge] built of massive timbers, has the unique record of having been taken down in 1897 and brought to London to form part of a London street at the Victoria Era Exhibition, and then returned to its old site. A model of it is in the Science Museum at South Kensington.’

The Victoria Era Exhibition was held at Earls Court in celebration of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and was officially opened by the Duke of Cambridge on 24th May 1897. Ironically the pub’s website does not mention this historic event. However, despite this, what we appear to have here is a unique pub with a unique claim to fame.

East Anglian author and broadcaster Michael Watkins refers to Ye Olde Bell and Steelyard in his little book Pubs of the Suffolk Coast (1979) describing its appearance nearly four decades ago as of ‘Timber work, white wattle and daub, red window frames, bull’s eye windows’ and stating that it dated back to 1452. At the time of Watkins’ visit Mrs. Rosemary Wood was the landlady and all her customers were, according to her, ‘lovely people’. Watkins reported on ‘unusually good bar snacks’ which included pâté and toast and ‘farmer’s lunch with a couple of sausages, salad and beans thrown in’ yet there was no evening food and it was ‘no place for children.’

However, Watkins did not mention the relocation of the steelyard nor did he report on the wide range of traditional pub games that could be found in Ye Olde Bell and Steelyard when I visited it on an ‘awayday’ pub crawl of Woodbridge with the Blue Boar (Maldon) Darts Club back in the 1980s. Presumably they weren’t there during Mrs. Wood’s time as landlady. I remember drinking some excellent real ales and playing my first-ever game of Ringing the Bull there. 

Indeed for the said pub crawl I devised, with the help of local resident and good friend Bruce Harrington, a guide to the pubs (good and bad) in the town titled WATERING HOLES OF WOODBRIDGE; a guide that was distributed to all those attending the crawl. The guide said of YE OLDE BELL AND STEELYARD

‘Olde-worlde type pub with similar decor and surroundings to the Blue Boar. Has a Function Room for use as ‘base’ on Beano evening stop-off. For those interested in pub signs, this boozer has one of the most unusual in the country. Traditional pub games such as skittles, Ring the Bull, darts, bar billiards, Pass the Pigs and many more. Landlord requests “Please don’t climb up the scaffolding.” (Roof is still being repaired from last year’s storm.) Good beer & pleasant atmosphere.

WARNING! Max Headroom to Gents loo approx. 4′ 6″. Max. capacity 6 dry: 8 wet.

BHARRINGTON BOOZER RATING: 8.5.’

At the time of the Blue Boar team visit to the pub Mine Hosts were Stuart and Linda Lawson.

By 2006 the pub which had formerly been ‘No place for children’ had changed considerably from Mrs. Wood’s day (the pub by then featuring a ‘children’s area’) and from the description in the Good Beer Guide 2006 (apart from the absence of kiddiwinkies) was much as I remembered it twenty years ago with its ‘two bars with bare wood floors and high ceilings…a wide range of customers…good food, traditional games’.

More recently the 2018 Good Beer Guide describes the pub as

‘Large multi-roomed…with oak beams in two bars and a separate function room. The steelyard – a former cart weighbridge that dates from 1650 and still works – was on show at the Great Exhibition in 1851. Traditional pub games include bar billiards, chess and bar skittles…’

If anyone can tell me more about this pub (especially in relation to its unusual connection to the 1897 exhibition) I’d be pleased to hear from them either via the editor’s desk or direct at patrick.chaplin@btinternet.com. I would also like to know when the name changed from The Old Bell and Steelyard to the incredibly annoying Ye Olde…

© 2011 Patrick Chaplin (Revised August 2019)

Sources:

Chaplin, Patrick, and Harrington, Bruce. Watering Holes of Woodbridge (Langford, Essex: Chipissups 1988)

Jobson, Allan. North-East Suffolk(Wrotham, Kent: Coldharbour Press Ltd., n.d. but circa 1950)

Protz, Roger (ed.) Good Beer Guide 2006 (St. Albans: CAMRA Books, 2005/6)

Protz, Roger (ed.) Good Beer Guide 2018 (St. Albans: CAMRA Books, 2017/18)

Watkins, Michael. Pubs on the Suffolk Coast (Ipswich: East Anglian Tourist Board, revised edition, 1979)

Website:

www.yeoldebellandsteelyard.co.uk

The original article on which this is based first appeared in the Pub History Society’s Newsletter Autumn 2011.

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