Helstonia – The Bell Inn, Meneage Street
Paul Corballis in his book Pub Signs (Lennard Publishing 1988) writes “…if you see a pub with this sign look around for a church. This ancient sign originated with pubs attached to or near early churches.” It is possible that there was in pre-Reformation times an ecclesiastical establishment of some kind on or adjacent to the present Meneage Street site of the Bell Inn. One theory is that the Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene – the exact location of which has never been conclusively established – may have been the one referred to. The chapel/hospital cared for lepers – the name of nearby Clodgey Lane having the same connection. It is also said that lepers were made to wear a bell to warn of their approach. This, of course, is pure conjecture.
The Bell, together with the Angel Hotel and Red Lion Inn, are the oldest continuously documented inns in the town. The Blue Anchor building at least is older but there are gaps in its documented history as a public house. The earliest document appertaining to the Bell Inn that I have seen is held by the Cornwall Record Office; it is a “Release in Fee of a Moiety in the Bell Inn”, dated 25th December 1713. Parties to the Conveyance were:“From James and Ann Edwards to William Treven.” The holder of the second Moiety in the inn appears to have been Richard Harry, and the total value of the property is given as “Four and Forty Pounds”. Another short document dated the previous day gives Mr. Treven a lease for a year apparently at a rent of five shillings. In the early (no later than 1732) 18th century document “An Account of the Taverns, Brandy Shoppes and Alehouses in this borough” the sign of the Bell is listed with Mrs. Stephens named as landlady. The Helston Borough Licensing Recognizances for 1782 list John Rowe as landlord of the Bell(s). In 1783 the landlord is named as William Bastian Rowe. By 1784 William Masters had begun his long tenure as landlord. The same Recognizances for 1775, ’76 and ’77 name Mrs. Catherine Stephens, widow, as holding a license with an address in Lady (later Coinagehall) Street. No name is given for her establishment.
In the light of the possible church or hospital connections, it is probable that the inn is considerably older than its first documented appearance. In pre-Reformation times the inn would most probably have been housed in an earlier building. The present Bell Inn is, like many old inns, something of an architectural nonesuch. Parts of the interior and rear ranges are quite old – 18th and possibly 17th century. Other portions are newer and the Meneage Street frontage no older than early mid-19th century.
A death notice in the Royal Cornwall Gazette of 16th November 1811 records: “At Helston on Sunday, Mr. William Masters, many years keeper of the Bell.”
Pigot’s Directory of 1823 lists Joseph James as landlord. The 1830 edition names Ambrose Wearne as landlord.
The West Briton of 29th September 1832 contained the following notice:
DESIRABLE OPPORTUNITY OF ENTERING
INTO PUBLIC BUSINESS
To be disposed of immediately or at Christmas next, the trade and
business of, and the present occupier’s
interest in all that old established and well-accustomed Inn or Public House
THE BELL INN
In the borough of Helston.
Rent and terms moderate.
For particulars apply (if letter, free of postage)
to Mr. T.H. Edwards
Sept. 27 1832.
Whoever had taken the inn following the 1832 advertisement in February 1838 the West Briton announced the birth of a daughter to Mrs. Tyacke of the Bell.
The Census of 1841 lists Thomas Eva, age 40, as an Innkeeper of Meneage Street, living with his wife, Alice, also age 40, and their daughter Alice, age 13. The Royal Cornwall Gazette of 30th December 1842 carried the following:
(late of the Bell Inn, Helston)
Begs to inform the Public generally that he has taken the Queen’s Head Inn, Truro,
where he hopes by strict attention to business to merit a share of public support.
Well-aired beds and good stabling.
An Ordinary on Wednesdays and Saturdays at One o’Clock precisely.
By 1844 the landlord of the Bell was Jacob Lory, the West Briton of 10th May announcing the birth of a daughter to Mrs. Lory. In the light of the following notice in the West Briton of 12th December 1845 it is assumed that Mr. Lory was Thomas Eva’s tenant or sub-tenant.
All that old-established and well-accustomed Inn
or Public House known by the sign of the
BELL situate in Meneage-street, Helston.
For particulars apply to Jacob Lory on the premises; or to Mr. Eva, Ferris Town, Truro.
Dated Dec. 11 1845.
The situation at the Bell seems to have been unchanged when the following notice appeared in the West Briton of 26th April 1847:
Public House To Let
To be Let and entered on immediately or at
Christmas next all that well-established public
house known by the sign of the
situate in Meneage-street in the borough of Helston
now in the occupation of Mr. Thomas Eva who is
about to leave the neighbourhood.
The incoming tenant to take the fixtures and Brewery
Utensils, and, if desired, may be accommodated with
the whole or any part of the furniture at a valuation.
For further particulars apply either to the said Mr.
Eva or to Messrs Kerby & Son, Auctioneers
and General Agents, Helston.
Dated Nov. 25 1847.
The West Briton of 18th February 1848 recorded: “Deaths – At Plymouth on Sunday last Mr. Thomas Eva late of the Bell Inn, Helston. Aged 52 years.”
By 1852 the landlord of the Bell was John Homer Prisk. The Census of 1851 lists him as Innkeeper, age 41, resident with his wife, Ann B. Prisk, age 39, and Harriet Goldsworthy, 19, Servant. Mr. Prisk, born at Newport, in earlier life had been a cordwainer but in the 1830s he came into a bequest of some £2,000 and entered the licensed trade, in which he would be prominent in the town for over forty years. In addition to the Bell he was at various times landlord of the Horse & Jockey, Prince’s Arms and finally the Seven Stars. His tenure at the latter house lasted only a few months as he died suddenly, aged 78, while on a day’s outing to Helford. The first of his press appearances in relation to the Bell came in the following notice in the West Briton of 21st April 1854:
Borough of Helston
To be sold by auction by Mr. Edwards on
Wednesday 3rd May at 3:00 o’clock in the
afternoon at the Duke’s Head Inn.
Lot 4. All that the reversion in fee expectant on
the demise of one life aged 86 years of an undivided
moiety of and in all that well-accustomed public
house called the Bell Inn, situate in Meneage-street
in the said borough, now in the occupation of Mr. Prisk.
N.B. The other moiety of this lot may also be purchased.
Mr. Prisk appears again at the Bell in the Census of 1861 as head of a household consisting of his wife, Ann; their son, also John Homer Prisk, age 9; John Williams, 40, Visitor; and Mary Ann Curnow, 21, House Servant. The 1871 Census records, as well as Mr. Prisk and his wife; Elizabeth Prisk 91, Grandmother; Jane Williams, 51, Step-sister & Barmaid; Elizabeth Richards, 19, General Servant; and Thomas Mitchell, 64, Boarder & Commercial Traveller. A flavour of the house under his management may be gleaned from the following report appearing in the West Briton of 30th December 1869:
“Agricultural Dinner At Helston – On Thursday Mr. J.H. Prisk of the Bell Inn entertained at an excellent supper a large party of his friends for the purpose of presenting a silver cup of the value of £5.5s and a purse of £2.2s. The first prize was to be awarded to the person who this year had produced the best crop of three acres of swede turnips and the second prize admitted competitors of one acre. The crops must have been produced by the manures of Messrs Burnard, Lack and Alger. The umpires selected to award the prizes were Messrs John Pascoe of Gramble, Wendron, and Mark Hendy of Helston. The first prize was awarded to Mr. Thos. Pryor of Craskin, Wendron, whose crop was exceedingly fine, estimated at about 38 tons to the acre, and a large quantity of the turnips weighed without root or branch from ten to twelve pounds each. The second prize was awarded to Messrs R. and T. Russel, of Sithney, whose crop was also very fine and exceedingly regular. The chairman, in presenting the second prize, intimated that Mr. Prisk would (if Messrs Russel preferred) give a silver tea pot instead of the purse. This Messrs Russel stated they preferred, and appreciated the exchange. Several practical speeches were delivered and the excellence of Messrs Burnard, Lack and Alger’s manure was highly spoken of. The proceedings of the evening were entirely satisfactory.
The West Briton of 3rd April 1873 announced: The public house licenses were transferred, that of John Homer Prisk from the Bell to the Horse & Jockey, and that of the John Hitchens from the Wheal Inn, Cury to the Bell Inn, Helston.
In December of the same year the inn was again advertised in the same newspaper:
The Bell Inn, at Helston, To Let
To Be Let, all that convenient and roomy
Premises known as
THE BELL INN
In Meneage-street, in the borough of Helston.
Yearly Rent £18.
For conditions regarding taking the same apply to W.H. Sleeman, Helston.
In the Royal Cornwall Gazette of 14th March 1874 it was reported that: “The Amicable Society, a sick club established in 1832 was finally dissolved at a meeting held on Monday. The members assembled at the Bell Inn and dined together on the dissolution of the society after the transaction of business. There was sum of £721 for division, and an arrangement was made for members who have been in receipt of sick pay – one received £55 and the other £80. The remaining members, twenty-seven in number, divided the balance according to seniority of membership, the amounts varying from £20 to £26.15s.” William Penaluna, a printer and stationer prominent in Helston through much of the 19th century, in his will of 1861 left, “…to my said Wife the Legacy or sum of Twenty Pounds and all monies which by reason of my death shall be due and payable from the Club or Friendly Society established at the Bell Inn in Helston aforesaid of which I am a Member.” A portrait of Mr. Penaluna is displayed in Helston Museum. He died in 1864, aged 84.
In sharp contrast to the congenial occasion featuring the manure factors Burnard, Lack & Alger and the amicable proceedings of the Amicable Society, were the events at the Bell reported in the West Briton of 13th January 1876. Appearing before Capt. Daniell (chairman and deputy mayor) and Messrs Edwards and Penberthy, Helston Borough Magistrates was “Joseph Mitchell, farmer of Mawgan, summoned by John Retallick, pig dealer of Helston, for assault. Complainant said – On Saturday evening I was at the Bell Inn, Helston, transacting business, when Mitchell entered the room. After Mr. Guest, the landlord, asked him to settle for some drink, he came and sat by my side. His manner was rough, and I moved away, as he had previously threatened me. He called me ‘a counterfeit’ and ‘an outsider’, and on my replying that I did not want anything to say to him, he laid violent hands on me, knocked me to the ground and beat me there. I heard a voice say ‘You’ll kill the poor man’ and then he kicked me in the face. My head was fractured and I am blind in one eye. This is the first time in my pilgrimage I’ve been before a Bench. In reply to Mr. Kerby, who appeared for Mitchell, complainant said it was no fight on his part. Dr. Bullimore described the contusions and other injuries. Mr. Guest, landlord, said defendant was not in liquor, but had drunk a little, and always paid his score. Several other witnesses were called and proved the assault. Mr. Kerby, who appeared for the defendant, admitted that there had been an assault, but asserted that it was a public house brawl, fracas and free fight and appealed to the Bench accordingly. The Chairman said a brutal assault had been proved, in which Retallick might have been killed. The Magistrates had determined to stop all public house brawls and Mitchell, who ought to feel shame for his conduct, must pay a fine of £2.10s with costs of a like amount, or be imprisoned for six weeks. The money was paid.”
At the same Sessions a George Laity, described as “elderly”, was charged with being drunk and disorderly by the redoubtable borough constable, P.C. John Wedlock.
In February of the next year the Royal Cornwall Gazette ran this announcement:
FREEHOLD PROPERTIES IN HELSTON
To Be Sold pursuant to an order of the High Court of Chancery
in the case of Johns vs. Browne
Lot 1. An undivided moiety of and in all that messuage called the “BELL INN” situate in Meneage-street, in Helston aforesaid, together with the stables and piggeries and the yard behind same, now in the occupation of Mr. Henry Guest.
Also of and in the Brewery and stables situate in the yard aforesaid, now in the occupation of Mr. William Sleeman.
And also of and in all that COTTAGE adjoining the “BELL INN”, now in the occupation of Ann Roskilly.
The said several occupiers are yearly tenants of the respective tenements at the aggregate annual rent of
£16 10s for the said moiety.”
I have as yet been unable to ascertain the details of the Johns vs. Browne Chancery suit. However, the Cornwall Record Offices holds (in an as-yet-uncataloged file appertaining to the Redruth Brewery) a conveyance of the inn, dated 1877, from a Richard Sandys, acting as trustee and administrator of the estate of Tremenheere Johns, deceased, to William Sleeman, brewer of Helston. Nor have I yet established if the James and Ann Edwards named in the 1713 Conveyance were connected with the later members of the Edwards family prominent in Helston, particularly – and suggestively – T.H. Edwards, several times Mayor of the borough during the mid-19th century, and to whom parties interested in taking the lease of the inn are referred in newspaper advertisements. In any case, the tenures of John Hitchens and Henry Guest were comparatively brief. By 1881 the landlord of the Bell was James Harris. The 1881 Census indicates that Mr. Harris kept a very full house. He is named as Head, age 50; along with his wife, Sophia, 53; Sophia, 15, Daughter & Victualler’s Assistant; Charlotte Bishop, 37, Sister-in law; Richard Henry Oliver, 64, Boarder & Retired Grocer; Samuel William Jewell, 31, Boarder & Auctioneer; Elizabeth Ann Jewell, 29, wife of above; Walter James Chapman, 27, Boarder & Auctioneer’s Clerk; John Thomas Haltam, 21, Boarder & General Salesman; Thomas Eva McNair, 22, Boarder & Watchmaker; William John Harris, 19, Boarder & Grocer’s Assistant; Frederick Charles Haltam, 15, Boarder & General Salesman; and Charles Edward Chapman, 22, Visitor & Solicitor’s General Clerk.
Mr. Harris is named as landlord in the Kelly’s Directories of 1883 and 1889. In June of that year the West Briton announced: “DEATHS –At the Bell Inn, Meneage-street, Helston, Whit Sunday, Sophia Ann, wife of Mr. James Harris (formerly of Truro), aged 62.
The 1891 Census records both a thinning out of the Bell’s occupants and a change in management. James Harris is still listed as Head, age 60, but now described as Widower & Cab Proprietor. His Son-in-law, William Carne, aged 28, and married to Mr. Harris’s daughter Sophie, 25, is described as Publican. Charlotte Bishop is still resident, along with General Servant (Domestic), Sarah Edwards, 27; and John Stevens, 17, Stable Boy (Domestic). Kelly’s Directory of 1893 names William Carne as landlord of the Bell. In June of that year the West Briton announced that Mr. Carne’s wife had given birth to a son, an identical event being reported in the same newspaper of 23rd April 1898.
By the 1901 Census the house had rather filled up again. James Harris, 70, is back to being a Licensed Victualler. William Carne is in charge of Posting as Stable Master. His wife, Sophia and the Sister-in-law Miss Bishop (now Elizabeth rather than Charlotte) are still resident, along with Emily Johns, 23 and Mabel Reed, 15, both General Servants (Domestic). No age is given for Cecil John Carne, Grandson, but he is presumably one of the sons born in either 1893 or 1898, and a brother to Mary Carne, age 1, Granddaughter.
In April 1905 James Harris died at the Bell. In the same year the license was temporarily transferred to William Carne. It is not clear at this point whether William Carne was connected with the Falmouth brewers and general traders W. & E.C. Carne, at that time owners of the Beehive spirit vault in Coinagehall Street.
In 1906 the Bell Inn license was transferred to Walter John Wilkens who remained until at least 1919. The Royal Cornwall Gazette of 19th February 1912 reported: “Walter John Wilkens of the Bell Inn, was fined 5s and 10s costs for selling drink to an intoxicated man. – The Bench intimated that the penalty was small because they did not think defendant would supply an intoxicated person if he knew it”.
By 1923 the licensee was Thomas W. Menhennet who remained until at least 1930. Other landlords named in Kelly’s Directory were F. French (1935) and J.H Mitchenson (1939). Subsequent post-War licensees have included Sidney Amos Alcock; Janet Alcock; Alice Jameson; Richard John Harris; John Nesbit; Neal Hicks; David Dean; and present landlord, John Waddoups. The freehold of the inn appears to have passed from the Sleeman Brewery to the Redruth Brewery and held until its closure in the 1990s. The freehold is now held by Punch Taverns. After a period of closure for4 some months following the Waddoups tenancy the house reopened in the summer of 2017 with Simon and Lisa Pressland as licensees.
Note: This historical sketch has been prepared in part utilizing material found not only in the Cornwall Record Office and the Cornish Studies Library but also in the index of Cornish public houses compiled by the late H.L. Douch, author of the book Old Cornish Inns, and kept in the Courtney Library at the Royal Cornwall Museum.