Page Updated:- Monday, 11 March, 2024.


Earliest  1738

(Name from)

Six Bells

Open 2021+

181 Church Street


01634 220677

Original Six Bells

Above drawing showing the original building. Date unknown.

Six Bells 1908

Above photo 1908, showing licensee William Thorndyke in the doorway. Kindly sent by Rory Kehoe.

Above photo, 1910, by kind permission of Terri Collins, and send by Jason Kemsley.

Six Bells 2013

Photo taken 12 September 2013 from by Jelltex.

Six Bells 2009

Above photo 2009 by Oast House Archives Creative Commons Licence.

Six Bells 2021

Above photo August 2021, kindly taken and sent by Ian Goodrick.

Six Bells sign 1986

Above sign left, December 1986. Sign right, 2010.

With thanks from Brian Curtis

Prescilla Thorndyke

Above photo showing licensee 1913-14, Priscilla Payne/Thorndyke right, Patricia Payne (born 1908) centre and son of Priscilla, David Payne, left. Kindly sent by Philippa Dedman.


In 1908 this was supplied by the Charles Arckcoll's Lion Brewery of Chatham.


The following information has been taken from


(The Bull: renamed c. 1720-1738)

Early 6 Bells

Together with the "Black Bull," the "Six Bells" public house is one of the oldest beer-houses in Cliffe. The name derives from the six bells that were once contained in the tower of the close-by parish church of St. Helen's. Today the church of St. Helen's has a total of eight bells: two more bells were added in 1864.

In 1902 the "Six Bells" was home to Cliffe Football Club whose ground was situated at Six Bells Meadow: they played in a blue strip and whose Secretary was a Mr. Archilbald Creighton.

The "Six Bells" is now the oldest remaining public house in the village of Cliffe with the closure of all the 'marsh' pubs, the "Staff of Life," the "Three Merry Boys," the "Compasses" and the recent demise of the "Black Bull" and "Victoria Inn" in the village.

One of the more interesting characters who was associated with the Six Bells was a Mr. William John Thorndike who was licensee between 1901 & 1912. We are indebted to Mr. John Gilbert for his meticulous research into the 'Thorndike' family and his agreement for us publish the story of one of his ancestors.

The life and family of William John Thorndike 1863-1912

William John Thorndike the son of William Thorndike and Emma Mayhew was born on the 3rd of September 1863 at Johnsons Whiting Works cottages which were in later years known as Flint Cottages or Granny Callars and which laid to the northern end of Cliffe Canal alongside the "Canal Tavern," which under the stewardship of one Isaac Thompson was known locally as the Shant.

He was of course not to know that in later years he would become landlord of that same public house whose smells and banter surrounded his crib.

In 1871 William John aged 7 and studying at the village C of E school is living at the same cottage on Cliffe Creek with his father William who aged 32 is as might be expected a cement labourer, mother Emma aged 40 and siblings Joseph aged 5 George 3 and Sarah Just 1. Also present is a 20 year old cement labourer and lodger named Alfred Osborn. In 1881 and aged 17 William John is still living with his father William who was born in Occold, Suffolk and his mother Emma.

William John is like his father and brothers Joseph Edward and George Thomas labouring in the cement works that surround his home.

Also present at this time are further siblings Sarah Ann aged 7, Maria 4 and Fanny just 1. Present also within the home is a boarder; one George Filmer who aged 24 was born at Cliffe.

In 1885 William John decides to travel abroad, in what is most likely a bid to escape the daily toil within the cement works, earn enough for a different life upon return and perhaps win the hand of his childhood sweetheart Priscilla Albon.

He leaves from Southampton on the Steam Ship Liguria which is on charter to the Orient Line in January 1882 on a route that takes him to Gibraltar, Port Said, Suez, and Colombo before reaching his destination in Australia. It is known for reasons that will be explained later that William John ended up at Murray Downs, Swan Hill, in Victoria Australia. Here he most likely worked on one of the many sheep stations that were spread across the area.

Correspondence with Doctor Rob Pilgrim who is the senior curator of the Pioneer Settlement archives at Swan Hill, Victoria has uncovered no record of the activities of William John during the period that he was there. It is most likely then that he worked hard and kept himself within the law.

Even today there is evidence of a substantial Aborigine community at Swan Hill though Murray Downs is now a tourist trap that boasts a up market Golf Course and many hotels.

In May 1889 William John joins the Steam Ship Orient for his return trip to England. Soon after his return to the UK William John Thorndike aged 26 marries Clara Hammond, 27, on the 18th of August 1890 at the church of St Nicholas, Strood. A year later the couple are found to be living at Upper Stoke, a village that is located upon the Hoo peninsular between High Halstow and the Isle of Grain. We can only assume that the reputation of the Thorndike family who for many years had held the licence of the "Victory" Beer House (later the "Victoria Inn") and his hard earned new financial situation impressed a brewery to the extent that he is at this time a Licensed Victualler and landlord of the "White Horse" in that same village.

On the 31st of July this year a son who is named William Hector is born to the couple and baptised at St Helen's church, Cliffe on the 30th of August.

When a vacancy for a Landlord in Cliffe arises he takes it and in 1893 when their second child, Winifred May, is baptised at St Helen's he is the Licensed Victualler running the "Canal Tavern" [Shant] that is located just a few yards from the cottage where he was born. He is still the landlord of the "Shant" in 1896 when Gladys Marion, the couple's third child, is baptised at St Helen's, Cliffe on the 29th of March of that year.

Sadly on the 29th of December, just l year and 10 months after her birth at Cliffe Creek, on the 20th of February 1896 she is to die of Meningitis.

Another daughter is born on the 6th of April 1899 and baptised as Dorothy at St Helen's Church on May 14th of that year.

Sometime about 1894 [assuming that he was aged about 20] Alfred Charles Gilbert travels from his birthplace on the Isle of Wight to Cliffe in search of work. Having little money he is given permission by William John to sleep in one of the outbuildings attached to the "Shant."

It was here that he first met Fanny, William John's youngest sister, who will eventually become his wife.

In 1901 William John Thorndike, aged 37, is the landlord of the "Six Bells Inn," High Street, Cliffe where he shares his life with wife Clara also 37, Mary Ann Clifford, 23 who is his niece and his sister Francis [Fanny] aged 21 who are both in his employ as barmaids/domestic servants and also his son William Hector, aged 9, and daughters Winifred May and Dorothy aged 7 and 1.

Another Cliffe girl by the name of Emmaline Petts, aged 15, is also residing and employed by William John and Clara as a domestic servant.

Maud Sophia Wallis, 15, and born in Greenwich who is visiting and George Batchelor, an agricultural labourer aged 61, from Newport on the Isle of Wight who is most likely boarding at the inn complete the household mix.

On Sunday the 7th of July in this year of 1891, which was probably only a few weeks after the census was taken; a terrible tragedy occurs within 100 yards of the "Six Bells." This tragic affair may have affected William John for the rest of his life and possibly contributed to his premature death.

Two cottages that lay opposite the chapel [which was later the Temperance Club] and adjoined the forge were destroyed by fire.

The Topley family appear to have escaped before their home collapsed but tragically the Kenknight family, who lived next door, were trapped by the flames. Ellen Elizabeth, aged 7, Lillian May, 4, and their father Richard Henry Kenknight were found in each other's arms burnt to death. Their mother Elizabeth Jane died two days later in hospital. Their burial takes place on the 15th of that month at St Helen's Church, Cliffe. It is believed that William John Thorndike was among the would be rescuers and sustained a head injury when the upper floor collapsed upon him.

Sadly Clara, the wife of William John, dies in January 1907 and is buried at St Helen's, Cliffe on the 31st of that month. A further tragedy hits William John when his son William Hector dies of TB, aged just 17, he is also buried at St Helen's, Cliffe on the 17th of August 1908.

Whether William John has a longing for a return to his Australian life of adventure it is not known but what is known however that he has four houses built on Buttway Lane with a view over the Thames and names them Murray Downs, Swan Hill, Victoria and Australia Which replicated his place of settlement in that land.

Cliffe cottages

The 1911 census finds William John, a widower aged 47, still landlord of the "Six Bells" public house in Cliffe and living with his widowed mother Emma Thorndike [Mayhew] aged 68. Ida Caroline Smith, a Cliffe girl of 19, is employed as a servant within the pub as is Ezerich Farrow, a widow aged 69, who was born in Suffolk.

Having seen William John's willingness to take in family waifs and strays it is most likely that Ms Farrow is a relative of his Suffolk born Father.

Winifred May Thorndike, his daughter, is also present aged 17 and though no occupation is given she probably assists within the public house.

On the 16th of May 1912 William John marries his child hood sweetheart Priscilla Albon/Payne at Chatham Registry Office. His home is noted as "Six Bells," Cliffe at Hoo and his father is named as William Thorndike [deceased] Priscilla's home is the "Fountain" Public House, High Street, Chatham and her father Isaac Albon. The ceremony was witnessed by one Henry Tomlin and Edwin Albon: Priscilla's brother.

When the inquest regarding the death of William John is studied it will show that this was something of clandestine ceremony. The details of which were withheld from his friends and with the known exception of Thomas his cousin who was landlord of the "Victoria Inn."

On the 22nd of May 1912 William John Thorndike aged 48 takes his own life within the back room of the "Six Bells" Public House, High Street, Cliffe.

Details of this tragic event and of the state of mind of William John can be read in all its very sad detail on the Death certificate and the newspaper reports of the time.

William John Thorndike is buried on the 28th of May at St Helen's Church Cliffe where his headstone [which has escaped a monumental cull carried out by the incumbent Vicar] still stands. It should be noted also that although he committed suicide William John Thorndike was allowed a burial within the church grounds which was not always the case. This perhaps conveys as much as any epitaph can, the stature of the man and reflects perhaps upon the fact that the scars that he carried both physically and mentally after the tragic fire, that took the Kenknight family in 1901, were considered when the decision to allow the burial was made.

It seems that Priscilla Thorndike a widow after only 6 days of marriage continues to live within and run the "Six Bells" for some years after the death of her husband William John. She must have been a very strong woman to have done so bearing in mind that her husband had killed himself and in his state of mental unbalance at the time of his death had indicated that he considered the marriage to Priscilla a betrayal of his first wife Clara.

Under those circumstances she would have needed the continued presence and clear support of Emma, William John's mother within the business to have retained the custom of his friends and associates.

Emma is to outlive her son by 14 years dying at the age of 85 in 1926.

Isaac Albon, the father of Priscilla, comes to live at the "Six Bells" after William John's death, for his death is added to her husband's memorial stone in 1919 having died on November 14th of that year.

Between times Winifred May, aged 21, the daughter of William John and Clara marries George Earnest Smith, 23, a Joiner by trade on the 4th of July 1914. George Earnest Smith's address being given as Murray Downs [Kangaroo Villas] which was most likely still owned by the Thorndike Family at the time.

The father of George was Samuel James Smith a foreman Joiner who was probably living with his son at the time of his marriage.

The influx of carpenters to Cliffe was probably being drawn to Curtis and Harvey who were employing such men at this time. Alfred Charles Gilbert, who had married Fanny Thorndike in 1907, being one of them, Dorothy, 21, the youngest daughter of William John Thorndike and Clara Hammond also marries a Carpenter by the name of Walter Harold Edward Crockett, aged 24, on the 10th of September 1920 at St Helen's Church Cliffe.


From the local newspaper 25 May 1912.


Quite a sensation, was caused in Cliffe on Wednesday when it became known that Mr W, J. Thorndike, the landlord of the "Six Bells" public-house, had committed suicide. He was found in an outhouse by his Mother with his throat cut at seven o'clock in the morning. Dr. A. B, Rogers was called, and upon seeing the serious nature of the wounds he telegraphed to Rochester for Dr. White, who came over and stitched, the neck. Upon being carried into the house, however, it was found that Mr Thorndike had inflicted seven or eight wounds on his left breast, which penetrated his lungs and caused haemorrhage, from which he died shortly, after ten o'clock.

It is only a week ago that Mr Thorndike, who had been a widower for five years, was married at Chatham to a lady he had known for 28 years, and with whom he had kept company before his first marriage. But the fact that he had kept the knowledge of his marriage from his family and friends seems to have worried him, for at the inquest held on Thursday afternoon by Mr C. B. Harris (County Coroner) a letter was produced in which deceased wrote that he had done wrong; he had flown in the face of all his friends and could not face them with all the "slurs" he would get. "God bless my dear old mother, my wife that I have wronged, and my dear children. It has broken my heart, and turned my brain, and I hardly know what I am doing.”

The widow said he did not tell all his friends of his intended marriage, and he was afraid they would be offended.

Thomas Thorndike, a cousin, who lives at the "Victoria" opposite the "Bells," was taken into deceased's confidence the night before the marriage, when deceased said he was in trouble; he had gone too far, for he was going to get married on the following day. Witness was present at the wedding, but since then deceased had been troubled, and was afraid the village would laugh at him. He wanted a quiet marriage, but said he ought to have had it open, only he hadn't got cheek enough. Witness added that when they heard of the marriage all his friends approved of it. Witness was called to deceased after he was found, and deceased told him then that he must have been mad to have done it.

Dr. Rogers also gave evidence, and the jury returned a verdict of “Suicide during temporary insanity," expressing sympathy at the same time with the widow and family.

The late Mr Thorndike had kept the "Six Bells" for a number of years, and had also held the license of other houses. He was in Australia for some years, and owned a block of four houses in the village' called "Kangaroo Villas" which are separately named after different places in the Antipodes. He was a man of kindly disposition, and was held in high esteem by all who knew him.

Kangaroo Villas

Above photo showing the Kangaroo Villas.

From the By Clare Freeman, 27 August 2016.

Vanished village gives up clues to its illustrious past of Cliffe on the Hoo Peninsula.

Buried under earth built up over hundreds of years could lie the key to finding the lost history of a Medway village and the community is digging in to help find it.

Historians and archeologists have been working to uncover the past of Cliffe on the Hoo Peninsula.

The Cliffe at Hoo Historical Society found about 30kg of items during the latest dig on the Buttway Field next to The Six Bells.

Helped by villagers of all ages, they found oyster shells, various animal bones and teeth, Roman and medieval tiles, bone buttons and beads, an array of building materials and lots of worked flint.

Chairman Daniel Wilmer-Brown said: “We have the third largest parish church in Kent but nothing could really explain that.

“We think Cliffe used to be a big medieval village, but in the 16th century an outbreak of malaria killed a lot of the people.

“We have a very important story out in Cliffe and we’re really excited about it but it’s never going to be a complete story from just one dig.”

The finds still need to be cleaned and processed, and the society will be hiring a specialist to date them.

Mr Wilmer-Brown, 39, has been conducting research on the peninsula for 15 years.

During the last six years he has been working with local historians and archeologists to bring the findings together. The team have pulled together about 2,000 years of village history.

Between 716 and 825 AD, Anglo-Saxon bishops are recorded as holding their synodal councils at Acleah, Caelhythe and Cloveshoh, the last of which is thought to be in Cliffe parish. The Hoo Peninsula lay at the intersection between the kingdoms of Mercia, Wessex and East Anglia.

Following the Roman conquest, it is thought that a pottery industry developed in Cliffe and large quantities of Roman pottery have been recovered from the marshes.




SAVIKLLE John 1738-40

CHAMBERLAIN Thomas 1740-57

HAWKINS John 1758-59

PANKHURST Henry 1760-63

SMITHJohn 1764-65+

PARKER Edward 1808-13

PARKER Mary 1814-40

BLUNDELL Steve 1841

VINTON James 1842-51

TOPLEY William John 1852-62

TOPLEY Mrs Ann 1872-80

TOPLEY John 1880-1901 (also market gardener age 54 in 1891Census)

Last pub licensee had THORNDIKE William John 1901-12 (widower age 47 in 1911Census) Kelly's 1903

THORNDIKE Mrs Priscilla 1913-14

JENKINS John 1923

HOBBS Edward Bruce 1925-37

THORPE  John 1918-37

LUGG Charles Vivian 1937-42

LESTER Frederick Charles 1943-46

COWELL Ismall 1946-51

O'BEE  Herbert James1951-55

ASHER Herbert George 18/Apr/1955

WAD Richard Edward 9/Aug/1955


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:-