The Bell Inn Colebrooke

The Bell Inn Colebrooke

Readers may be surprised to learn that the dwelling now known as The Old Bell Inn was an inn for a relatively short period. The original public house of that name was situated in what is now the NW corner of the churchyard. According to 17th and early 18th century, churchwardens accounts it was then known as The Church House and appeared to be in constant need of repair. An early 19th century print of the church taken from the NE shows a path running along beside the north wall of the church and passing between the NW corner of the church and the corner of The Bell Inn. At that time the Inn was also the home of the local butcher George Daw Wreford. It is said that a groove to be found in a stone on the NW corner of the church tower was made by George sharpening his knives there!! Entirely how the Church House, which was the property of the Church Commissioners became The Bell Inn is not known, but from about 1800 it appears to have been described as a “Public House” taking the name “The Bell Inn” from the 1820s. Three generations of the Wreford family seem to have been innkeepers and butchers there. After the death of Thomas Daw Wreford in 1866, his widow carried on for a while but with her health failing (she died at Barnstaple in 1870) the Church Commissioners seemed to have become tired of keeping the building in repair and arranged to have it pulled down and the site incorporated into the churchyard. This resulted in a most unusual auction in which not only were the doors, floorboards and roof timbers sold, but the thatch from the roof and the cob from the walls were also laid out for auction in lots.This auction took place in June 1871. It was not until October 1871 that Colebrooke had it’s “local” back again. The village blacksmith Robert Jackman Jewell had been granted permission by his landlord, Squire Coryton, to apply for a licence in his house to the west of the green.

In a spirited plea to the licensing authority, Mr Jewell’s advocate said: “since The Old Bell Inn was thrown into the churchyard, there has been much inconvenience in the locality with no resting place for man or beast”. He went on “There has been no place for people at funerals to shelter on rainy days” He also alluded to the fact that it was usual to wet the “babies” head at christenings. An extra “binding pint” to the nuptial knot at marriages was usually found necessary. His eloquence proved successful, and Mr Jewell became mine host of The Bell Inn Colebrooke. He was unmarried, but with the assistance of his sister and his elderly mother, he was able to combine the duties of the landlord with his work as a blacksmith. The smithy was the recently converted dwelling at the southern end of The Old Bell Inn. He was by all accounts a skilled craftsman, and at least two iron bread oven doors have been found in old houses in the parish inscribed with the name Robert Jewell. As years went by, Robert began increasingly to “take to the trade”, an ancient description of an inebriated landlord. On several occasions, he was to be found at Crediton petty sessions charged with serving drinks while “under the influence”. In September 1895 Jewell was granted a renewal to his licence but warned as to his future conduct. The following March he was given notice to leave by his landlords, the Coryton Estates as his lease had expired and his behaviour did not befit a public house landlord, but he refused to leave. Later that year the licence for the Inn was withdrawn as the magistrate remarked “There does not seem to be a need for it as it is poorly attended and the building itself is in a dilapidated condition.” With that decision, Colebrooke’s only Inn closed in 1896. It appears Robert Jewell may have stayed on in part of the house with the Madge family who had taken on the tenancy. However, he was in failing health and died in 1899 and was buried in the churchyard near his mother who had died some twenty years earlier.

© Neville P. Enderson