The Bell has been a focal point in the Old Town for over 300 years. From humble beginnings, the Inn has constantly adapted to the changing needs of the town, adding a theatre in the 18th century and becoming a hotel in the 19th century.
Its origins can be traced back through the Court Roll of Bexhill Manor to 1677, where it first was described as ‘a cottage with one rood of ground.’
Although the copyhold passed through a number of hands over the next 50 years, the description changed very little. This was until 1745 when, through inheritance, it passed to Samuel Pryor and is mentioned for the first time as the Bell. Pryor was already the copyholder of the Five Bells at Sidley Green (now the New Inn), but it is likely that the development of the establishment was initiated by his father William Pryor.
By 1751 it had become a Coaching Inn on the journey from Hastings to Brighton.
Its prominent location meant that it serviced ‘feeder’ coaches to and from Ninfield, Catsfield and Battle, and must have possessed a significant stable and rooms for lodging. The copyhold was sold to Isaac Lansdell in 1761, along with Rosiers, Broadlands and Chintings.
Occupied by John Vincent, the renamed Bell Inn came into even greater prominence at the start of the 19th Century with the arrival of the Military Barracks beyond the opposite end of the High Street. A large room was specially built for the officers of the Kings German Legion, a sure sign that the soldiers kept the establishment in good trade.
A ballroom and a brewhouse were also added in 1811. The ballroom would become the Assembly room and serve as a theatre for travelling players and a meeting place for the community.
In 1816 Diplock’s Guide to Hastings mentions the Bell as “a good and convenient inn with every accommodation calculated for the reception of strangers who, in the summer, are frequently induced to visit this rural spot.
Very recently a few lodging houses, a circulating library and a small theatre have been erected, and Mr (Arthur) Brook, a respectable resident, keeps a most excellent pack of hounds which in the winter and sporting seasons affords recreation and amusement.
The premises were tenanted by Peter Smith from 1819 until 1832. His widow, Rebecca, stayed on until 1846, despite the copyhold passing on to Thomas James Breeds, a Hastings merchant, in 1823 and Lucas Shadwell in 1840.
The abolition of copyholds in the 19th century paved the way for the Bell to be enfranchised in 1883 and break from the control of the Manor. In 1886 the premises was renamed The Bell Hotel, and a year later the newly created freehold was sold to Mr Ritchie of Hodges & Ritchie, a Brewers in Brighton. With backing from the brewery, plans were submitted for redevelopment in 1887 and the property was extensively rebuilt. The lower floors were extended and an additional upper floor was added, giving it the appearance that we see today.
The next 50 years saw the landlord change a total of 6 times, but the leasehold was held continuously by Hodges & Ritchie until the was sold at auction to Harvey’s of Eastbourne in 1930.
The last 2 decades has seen the slow decline of the Bell, with the last few leaseholders unable to reverse its dwindling fortunes. It shut permanently in 2013 and has been redeveloped sympathetically into luxury flats with a small commercial unit where the saloon bar once was.