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The Old Bell, Henley-on-Thames

Description: The Old Bell

Grade: II*
Date Listed: 28 October 1974
English Heritage Building ID: 246045

OS Grid Reference: SU7606482707
OS Grid Coordinates: 476064, 182707
Latitude/Longitude: 51.5382, -0.9047

Location: Bell Street, Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire RG9 2BN

Locality: Henley-on-Thames
Local Authority: South Oxfordshire District Council
County: Oxfordshire
Country: England
Postcode: RG9 2BN

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Listing Text

696/1/141 BELL STREET
28-OCT-74 (East side)

Public house, probably once a wing of a large town-house, 1325 with alterations, refronted c1920

MATERIALS: Timber-framed building behind later front of brick to ground floor with imitation framing above; clay tile roof.

PLAN: Two storeys, of one bay in width by three deep. Inserted stack between second and third bays dividing front and rear ground-floor bar areas. Side passage to right of stack gives access to stairs leading down to cellar and up to first floor, originally a single chamber open to the roof but now subdivided and ceiled over. Single-storey extension to rear is not of special interest.

EXTERIOR: Front (west) elevation has brick ground floor (infilled beneath original jetty) with horizontally sliding sash windows and a doorway to the right; first floor is rendered with imitation box framing and central casement window. Hipped roof to front replacing original gable; lower gabled roof to rear bay.

INTERIORS: Substantial survival of early-C14 timber frame. Several original posts and studs in ground-floor north wall, including a sturdy wall post whose splayed head contains a cut-off tenon from the original, much lower ceiling beam, and further tenons and peg holes for two additional braces, indicating site of former lateral partition; further back are the jambs and lintel of an original side door. Ceiling structure in front two bays was raised during the C18, reusing original transverse beam and close-set joists. Lighter ceiling structure in rear bay is later, probably C17. Brick stack, an early insertion, with back-to-back fireplaces to front and back rooms. Brick south wall, shared with No. 18 Bell Street, is of c1800 and contains a series of low segmental arches. First-floor framing survives in two front bedrooms. In front wall, curved tension braces run between corner posts and jambs of central window opening, whose head (with curved braces forming a pointed arch and plaster infill to the spandrels) can be seen in the attic above. In north side wall, a second post is set a short distance behind the corner post (perhaps supporting an original 'hung' jetty), with further studs behind. Main wall posts beneath second roof truss have straight diagonal braces to sides and curved braces supporting tie-beams in attic above. Similar posts with curved braces in north wall supporting third and fourth trusses.

In attic space, much of original crown-post roof structure survives. Principal timbers are chamfered, with chamfer-stops at the intersections. Sharply cambered tie-beams originally supported a series of moulded crown posts with curved braces running up to collars and collar purlins. This arrangement now survives only in the second truss, whose octagonal crown post has a richly ovolo-moulded cap and a square base with spur-like mouldings to corners; a trimmer beam immediately behind this truss may have accommodated an earlier chimney or smoke hood. Crown post in first truss removed to create hipped roof, although its seating can be seen on front tie-beam. Third crown-post removed with insertion of stack, with only a mortice in the collar purlin now showing its location. Original coupled rafters survive in front two bays, except where cut back for hipped roof. Roof to rear attic bay has been converted into a utility room, concealing the roof structure.

HISTORY: No. 20 Bell Street probably represents a single wing of a large timber-framed building of the early C14 (dendrochronological analysis of the original timbers has yielded a date of 1325), of which the remaining portion has been lost. The surviving section was originally gabled and jettied on the street front, with a broad arched upper-level window (possibly an oriel) lighting a substantial first-floor chamber with a finely-moulded crown-post roof. It is possible that the rear portion of the present building once formed part of an open hall; the ceiling structure here was inserted at a later date, perhaps in the C17, and may be contemporary with the large brick stack that now divides the middle and rear bays.

The first documentary reference to the building comes from 1713, when it was still in domestic use. In the 1760s it became a public house known as the Duke of Cumberland, under the ownership of a local brewer named Taylor; it was associated with the property to the south, now Nos. 16-18, which was rebuilt c1800 and later became the town's assembly rooms. The building's conversion into a pub necessitated the excavation of a small cellar at the front, which in turn required the ceiling in the front two bays to be raised, re-using much of the old timber. Other changes included the insertion of a ceiling in the attic space, the infilling of the area beneath the jetty and the cutting back of the front gable to form a hipped roof. The present false timber framing on the front elevation dates from the 1920s, when the pub acquired its present name.

SOURCES: Ruth Gibson, report for the Henley Archaeological and Historical Group (2010).
Dan Miles, report for Oxford Dendrchronology Laboratory (2009).

The Old Bell is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* Early fabric: timber frame dendrochronologically dated to 1325, an unusually early survival;
* Architectural quality: impressive and lavishly-treated roof structure with chamfer-stops and richly-moulded crown post;
* Degree of preservation: despite later alterations, the original frame survives to a remarkably high degree for a building of this date.

This text is a legacy record and has not been updated since the building was originally listed. Details of the building may have changed in the intervening time. You should not rely on this listing as an accurate description of the building.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.