The Old Bell, Malmesbury

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The Old Bell is a hotel and restaurant on the edge of the Cotswolds in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, England. Built on the remains of outbuildings of Malmesbury Abbey, it lays claim to being the oldest existing hotel in England, standing on foundations dated to 1220, and is a Grade I listed building. It is located in Abbey Row adjacent to the abbey, which was built to accommodate scholars studying at the abbey. The bell of the inn sign refers to St Aldhelm’s bell, the great bell in a peal of ten that once hung in the former west end tower of the abbey church, noted by John Leland’s Itinerary and in William Camden’s Britannia.


The Old Bell

The inn has been extended and altered from a core built in 1220 for visiting monks, re-using material from the old keep built by Bishop Roger c1130, which had been demolished on the same site in 1216 by permission of King John. The abbey guest house was extended at the east end in the late 15th or early 16th century and the older structure partly refaced and reroofed. Following the dissolution of the monasteries, the house was referred to as the Steward’s Lodging and was used for some time as weavers’ lodgings: “every corner of the vast houses of office which belonged to the abbaye”, Leland noted in 1540, “be fulle of lumbes to weve clothe yn” The present roofline and dormers date to the 17th century, and the west extension was added in 1908.
The Old Bell was listed as a Grade I listed building on 28 January 1949. The 4-bay inn is built in limestone rubble with limestone dressings. Mullion windows are a feature and the front is heavily covered in vegetation. The inn has a central cross-axial stack, with a 16th-century two-bay extension and two large gable dormers on the east side. The doorway here is dated to the 18th century with an architrave and shell hood. On the west side is the main porch and entrance.

The interior of the hotel and restaurant is a fusion of styles; from Medieval to Edwardian in the main building, to Japanese in the coach house. The hotel has 33 rooms and 8 suites with four poster beds, and 3 single rooms. A prominent feature of the inn is an ashlar fire hood which is believed to be one of the earliest domestic-style ground-floor fireplaces, served by a flue, in England; it is dated to the initial building in 1220. It was restored around 1980.
The central room to the first floor has a late 15th-century and early 16th-century compartmental ceiling with deeply moulded beams, and 17th-century dormers are cut through large trenched purlins. The current stairway is relatively new, replaced some time after 1950. A corridor connects the main building to the coaching house, which has six rooms on the ground floor, and several of the rooms are adjoining. Beneath the lounge to the inn is a vaulted cellar which has been reported to contain eight stone coffins. The dwarf walls with iron railings attached to the property are also part of the Listed Building designation.
The hotel and restaurant has been awarded the AA 3 Stars and AA 2 Rosettes. The restaurant, which serves modern British Cuisine, is run by Head Chef Richard Synan.

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