Friday, 12 August 2016

Leicester's Bell Hotel

On this day, 12th August, in 1848 George Stephenson died. He not only built the first public inter-city railway line, he planned and managed the building of Leicestershire's first railway line too. When he was planning the construction work he met with engineers and financiers at Leicester's Bell Hotel. The Bell is no longer standing but I still have fond memories of the hotel and, although I am sure that I could have written copious words in memory of George Stephenson, I have decided to write a tribute to The Bell Hotel instead.

The Bell Hotel, Humberstone Gate, Leicester

The Bell Hotel was Leicester’s most respectable coaching inn in the days when horse power really meant horse power. Built around 1700, it was well patronised by all the county families and was said to be cutting edge in comfort. The Bell was favoured by the hunting gentry on their way to the Quorn and, as I mentioned above, it was the place where George Stephenson met with engineers and financiers to plan Leicestershire’s first railway, the Leicester to Swannington line. The hotel was an important part of upper class Leicester life.

Time passed and tramlines were laid into the cobbled roadway running past the hotel, adding new sounds to the strike of horses hooves. The Bell was modernised, with electric lighting and a garage for those ‘new fangled motor vehicles’.

Yet more time passed. They tarmacked over the cobbles, over the tramlines and maroon Corporation buses took the place of the horse and carriage. The Bell was still popular, still buzzing with lively dinner dances, parties and weddings, but by 1970 it was starting to look shabby and Leicester, it would seem, needed a shopping mall. The Council ignored the objections, the placards, the protests printed on the Leicester Mercury letters’ page. The bulldozers were sent in to do their damnedest and a red brick shopping centre emerged from the 18th century dust. They used an ancient name. They called it the Haymarket, as if this might placate the objectors. It didn’t.

Now, stone paving slabs have replaced the tarmac roadway. Humberstone Gate has been pedestrianised, with a big screen for special sporting occasions, a roundabout for the kids and an ice rink that appears each Christmas time. It seems strange that a coaching inn once stood on a site where traffic is no longer allowed and it’s sad that all traces of The Bell Hotel have gone, so I thought I’d write this to try and keep its memory alive.



11 comments:

  1. St Albans has a tudor coaching In that I think is mentioned in Dickens...now ringed by traffic and barely visible. Shame, isn't it?

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    1. How exciting. At least it's still standing.

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  2. Such a shame when these lovely hotels are abandoned for modern malls. We still have some of old coaching inns - and a lot of the town is 'preserved' but that doesn't stop an ongoing scrap between the modernisers and historians. (Though part of me thinks this is very healthy - I don't want to live in a museum, but neither do I want it all bulldozed.).

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    1. I don't want to live in a museum either but the shopping centre was a bad move - not a pretty sight in my opinion.

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  3. Hi Ros - I agree so sad to see old things go without due respect or conservation thought - things have changed somewhat - though in places it's mighty hard work to preserve wonderful buildings. It's what's beneath them too ...

    Red brick shopping centres seem to attract the masses ... but that's not much help to us who favour older buildings ... or something with a little history ...

    Cheers Hilary

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    1. Your comment about 'what's beneath them' is highly relevant in Leicester. They built a high rise Holiday Inn over Roman remains. I wonder if one day they'll demolish the high rise. Now THAT would be of interest.

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  4. I agree with you about the destruction of the Bell to make way for the Haymarket....not thart I remember it well, I was too young! I do think that these days things are different...and our City Mayor , Sir Peter Soulsby seems deermined to preserve Leicester's past.....

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    1. Too young!?! Well, thanks for the reminder that I am, in fact, older than you!! I have a vague memory of being taken there for a meal, possibly Sunday lunch, when I was a child. I clearly remember it being knocked down. I agree that Leicester City is looking good these days, especially over by the Cathedral area. I thought it was Richard III who did that but, ok, I concede that Peter Soulsby had a hand in it!

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  5. and now this post can help preserve the memory

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  6. Such a lot of bad stuff was done in the 70s and 60s. I was appalled in Bradford last year to see how much had been bulldozed. The upside was that there was still a lot of amazing Victoriana around that was unappreciated except for those of us who found it all by ourselves, quite exciting! I was reading Geoffrey Fletcher's books on London recently and remember that thrill of discovery...

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  7. What an interesting post and it brought a lump to my throat as my father loved The Bell Hotel. He used to go every week and meet up with friends. At one time it was closed for refurbishment and when it re-opened the 'regulars' were presented with a silver tankard to thank them for their continued support. I have this tankard now and put flowers in it occasionally which would probably horrify my father and the drinkers of the day!

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