Page Updated:- Sunday, 06 March, 2022.

PUB LIST PUBLIC HOUSES Paul Skelton & Ed Gilbert

Earliest 1851-

Bell Inn

Closed Mar 1997

139 London Road


Bell postcard

Above postcard, date unknown.


Above photo, date unknown, by Bob Smith.


Situated opposite the "Flying Dutchman."


Written By: Edward James Gilbert-Thunder Bay, Ontario, 25 December, 2016.


There have been two public houses in Southborough called The Bell Inn. The oldest one, referred to in the Southborough Newsletter Winter 1998 as The ‘Old Bell Inn’ stood just west of the London Road, near the present Fountain from before 1737 to about 1800. ‘The New Bell Inn’ which is the subject of this article, was located on the east side of London Road (No. 139) just south of the Town Council Offices. This public house dated from about 1851 and continued as a pub until its closure in March 1997.

This pub had had a number of licensed victuallers over the years namely Mrs M. A. Latter in he 1860’s; L. J. Breeze in the 1880’s, and from about 1889 to 1903 William John Douch. Frederick Tanner ran the pub in the period of 1918-1922 and after him up to at least 1938 was H. Lawrence. The pub has had a number of owners also, including Leney’s in the early 20th century;  in the Fremlins 1950’s and Whitbread’s in the 1960’s and at the time of its closure it was owned by Shepherd Neame Ltd.

After the pub closed it’s windows had been boarded up for some ten years and was a blight on the landscape. In 1998 Shepherd Neame made application to put a new shop front on the building and provide parking. Permission was not granted due to traffic concerns created by what they believe would be a convenience store. Shepherd Neame then sold the site to Tesco. Tesco, who ran an ‘Express Store’ in Southborough, bought the old pub site with the intention of demolishing it and construction a superstore, but when their application for approval came before Council in, March 2012, there was strong opposition to it. As a result Tesco sold the site to Kent County Council. The Bell Inn was demolished and the site cleared ready for development as part of the Southborough Hub redevelopment of the area which was to consist of a large building in which would be housed a library, Council offices, a theatre, and various other uses. To date the redevelopment proposal has not gone ahead and has been met with some local opposition.


Shown above is the oldest known image of the pub and below it is a 20th century photograph of London Road on which it can also be seen.




The Bell Inn was located on the east side of London Road at No. 139. The location of the pub is labelled on the 1998 plan shown below. The map shows it next door to the Council Offices on the south and next to the Council Offices is the landmark building, the Royal Victoria Hall.

Bell map 1998

London Road was and is a busy commercial district in Southborough and no doubt the pub did a good trade. One person who lived across the road from the pub and frequented it said “It became a rough place and often there were fights there”.

The pub has had a number of owners, including Leney’s in the early 20th century; Fremlins in the 1950’s and Whitbread’s in the 1960’s and at the time of its closure in March 1997 it was owned by Sheperd Neame Ltd. Some examples of their pub signs are given below.

Bell sign 1967

Above sign left, 1967, sign right, date 1980s.

Bell sign

Above sign, date 2000s.

The Southborough Society Newsletter of Winter 1998 stated “'The New Bell Inn', was located on the east side of London Road (No. 139) just south of the Town Council Offices. This public house dated from about 1851 and continued as a pub until its closure in March 1997. An earlier pub of the same name is described in the ‘Overview’ above, which description is from the same source.

Shown below are some other images of the pub when boarded up and one showing its demolition.

Bell boarded up Bell demolition

A review of Planning Applications shows that in 1977 an application was approved for the installation of an Illuminated sign on the pub. In 1998 Shepard Neame Ltd, who owned the building submitted an application requesting approval for a new shop front with parking for twelve vehicles. This application was met with resistance and as a result it was not initially approved over concerns that the pub was to be converted into a convenience store. However approval was given January 8,1999 although it appears that the work did not go ahead. A letter in the files pertaining to this application dated January 29,1999 stated “The Bell Inn has for the past few years been a derelict eyesore in Southborough attracting vandalism and creating a health hazard. Although some work had been carried out to try to secure the building and remove the tiles from the roof the entire site is still very unattractive and a health hazard” signed Paul Russsell, Town Clerk.

Shown below is a set of architects plans relating to this application which shows existing the proposed elevations of the building.

Bell plans

Shepherd Neame Ltd sold the building to Tesco, who had a building in Southborough already. Tesco proposed to construct a superstore in the former Bell Inn site. In 2002 an application was made to gain approval for the ‘erection of a local convenience food store with associated parking but permission was refused.

Tesco, seeing that they would have to make other plans for their operations in Southborough sold the Bell Inn Site to Kent County Council. An article dated July 6, 2016 entitled ‘Southborough Hub Moves Forward’ stated ‘The Tesco site that has been boarded up for over a decade has been bought by the Kent County Council, in the latest step towards delivering the Southborough Hub project. The supermarket giant previously wanted to build a new store on the site, formerly the home of the Bell Inn, but have now sold it to Council”. The Southborough Hub project (image below) referred to was described in other articles as a facility that would house the Council Offices, a library, theatre, meeting rooms, storage and also the St Andrew’s Medical Clinic.

Southborough hub project

Some opposition to this project has presented it from going ahead at this time and all that remains on the site of the Bell Inn is a patch of barren ground. The sticking point in proceeding with this development is that the old council offices and more significantly the Royal Victoria Hall need to be demolished and since the latter building has historical importance, there is great opposition to it being demolished.

However, since the above was written, Ian Kinghorn, Vice Chairman of the Southborough Society tells me the following:-  Planning approval to build the Southborough Hub was granted by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council Planning Committee in February 2019 and work on the building of the Southborough Hub will start in June 2019 with completion due in late summer 2020.

He kindly also sent me a CGI of what the Southborough Hub will look like when built in 2020. The design shown above was from a previous design that was superseded some two years ago.

Southborough Hub 2019


Bell Inn card 1950Bell Inn card 1950

Above aluminium card issued 1950. Sign series 2 number 13.

Bell advert 1870s

Above advert, circa 1870s.

From the Kent and Sussex Courier, Friday 23 January 1874.

Tonbridge Petty sessions. Tuesday, January 23rd.

Extension of time.

Mr. Dunk, Of the "Bell Inn," Southborough, applied for, and was granted an extra hour, on the occasion of a Druids' Supper at his house, on the following Friday evening.


Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser, Friday 11 January 1924.

Southborough Licences Death.

Frederick Tanner

We regret to record the sad Death of Mr. Frederick Tanner, the popular landlord of the "Bell Hotel," Southborough, which occurred in the early hours of Monday morning in his 50th year. Mr. Tanner came to Southborough about 13 years ago from Groombridge, where he was born, and where he managed the "Junction Hotel" after the death of his father. He took great interest in the football club, and especially in the Juniors (3rd XI.), and was always ready to help forward anything for the benefits of the town. He was also a member of the Groombridge Lodge of Odd Fellows and the Druids and Buffaloes, and had for some years taking keen interest in the Licensed Victuallers' Association. Mr. Tanner leaves a widow and two sons, with whom the greatest sympathy is felt in their sad bereavement.

Mr. A. H. Neve held an inquest at the Tunbridge Wells General Hospital on Tuesday on Frederick Tanner, aged 50, licensee of the "Bell Inn," Southbrook who died in the Institution on Monday following diabetes.

Mrs. Sarah Turner said that her husband had been at the "Bell Inn" for 12-years. He usually enjoyed good health, and during the 21 years of their marriage life she had never known him to have a doctor. On December 30th he was breaking wood with a hammer, when the instrument slipped, striking him on the right shin. The following morning she saw the wound and found the skin was slightly broken, but deceased did not appear to take much notice of it. Later he felt worse, and she treated the wound. On the second instant, Dr. Falkener was consulted. Her husband became delirious, and another doctor was called in. Deceased was later removed to the hospital.

Dr. B. F. Faulkner of Southborough, deposed that on Wednesday week he was called in and found an abrasion as described by the previous witness. The wound was very inflamed. Later deceased became worse and was in great pain, the gangrenous condition having spread. Next day the whole limb was involved. Dr. Pain was consulted, and they agreed that it was a grave case. On Saturday morning the patient lost consciousness. There were symptoms of diabetes. On Sunday morning insulin treatment was recommended. This was used twice, but without effect. Generally, the deceased was not in a healthy state, and the diabetic condition was of some long standing, the man's blood being saturated with sugar. Death was due to diabetes coma. The witness added that efforts were made to get the patient into the General Hospital, but at first the place was full up and it was impossible. He ended later.

The Coroner returned a verdict of "Accidental Death."


From an email received 21 July 2020.

Photo attached of my late grandfather Henry Douglas Lawrence outside the main entrance, who was landlord from about 1927-1957.

John Lawrence.

John Lawrence
Bell matchbox holder

Above photo showing a matchbox holder probably given away at Christmas to the regulars by licensee Henry Lawrence. Kindly sent by Osman Rafaat.

Bell matchbox holder

Above photo showing the inside of the matchbox holder. Kindly sent by Osman Rafaat.



COLE Charles or MORSON Charles 1858+

LATTER M A Mrs 1867

DAVIS William to May/1872 Maidstone and Kentish Journal

Last pub licensee had DUNK Walter Sept/1872-74+ Maidstone and Kentish JournalKent and Sussex Courier

SMITH Philip 1881+ (age 23 in 1881Census)

STARR Spencer 1882+

BREEZE L J to Jan/1886 Kent and Sussex Courier

DOUCH William John Jan/1886-1903 (age 45 in 1901Census) Kelly's 1903Kent and Sussex Courier

Last pub licensee had TANNER Frederick 1913-Jan/24 dec'd

LAWRENCE Henry 1927-57


Kent and Sussex CourierKent and Sussex Courier

Whitstable TimesWhitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald

Maidstone and Kentish JournalMaidstone and Kentish Journal


Kelly's 1903From the Kelly's Directory 1903


If anyone should have any further information, or indeed any pictures or photographs of the above licensed premises, please email:-