The Royal Bell is a beautiful Queen Anne style Arts and Crafts style building just north of market square. The architect was the renowned Ernest Newton and it is Grade II listed. The Royal Bell was so named after the Royal coach service that passed through Bromley. The Inn was more upmarket than the nearby Swan & Mitre, providing rooms, stabling, a tap room and more refined dining areas.
This range of buildings was rebuilt in 1898 on the site of an earlier hostelry of 1666; as part of the front required propping up by the 1890s. It was this older building that was made famous in Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ when Lady Catherine de Burgh says to Elizabeth Bennet “Where shall you change horses? – Oh! Bromley, of course. – If you mention my name at the Bell, you will be attended to.” Jane Austen frequently travelled to Kent to visit her brother and would certainly have changed horses at the Bell.
Planning permission has been granted to restore this iconic building, as a niche market hotel, commissioned by Gary Hillman who has a personal project to restore it, as he has childhood memories of family functions there. The website describing the history and restoration is at: http://www.theroyalbell.co.uk/.
The architect is Benedict O’Looney who has also restored the train station at Peckham Rye. Under his supervision, they have made the roof water-tight, and sensitively restored the pargetting at the front and removed the staircase in the ballroom floor.
A distinctive feature is the pargetted strapwork under the bow windows, with its Arts and Crafts lettering and depictions of bells, gremlins and nymphs. The white paint has probably preserved the pargetting in good condition – originally it would have been bare plaster, dark brown in colour (see photo). Newton clearly hoped that this would be the beginning of a grander High Street but it was not to be; to the north past no.181, the older Kentish cottages still remain.
The 1920s photo shows a glass covered canopy over the front door adorned with signs. It is no longer there, but the remains were discovered on the floor of the stables at the rear – it is a possible project in the future to restore/rebuild this. 1920s photo also shows shopfronts inserted in the frontage, and though the arches have been knocked out, the ground floor rooms have been installed as drinking/eating units.
Inside, Newton provided a grand ballroom on the first floor with a gallery and characteristic chimney-piece. The first floor rooms in the front overlooking the High Street have original chimneypieces and decorative ceiling still intact.
These are some photographs from August 2018, before work was started:
This blog entry dates from 2015 when the building had been empty for 5 years: A Look Inside the Royal Bell