Berkshire's Historic Secret Escape
In 2020, The Olde Bell turns the grand old age of 885! To celebrate the occasion we’ve put together a little account of The Olde Bell’s very decorated history.
The Olde Bell first opened its doors in 1135 AD as a guest house for visitors to the nearby Benedictine Priory. For hundreds of years, the ringing of the Sanctus Bell signalled to the monks that an important visitor had arrived in the village and was on his way to call at their monastic retreat beside the River Thames. The Sanctus Bell still hangs over the door of The Olde Bell, a sign of welcome and refreshment to travellers.
There is a secret passage running from the cellar of The Olde Bell to the Priory in the village. The secret passage was used by Lord Lovelace of Hurley who was a plotter of the ‘Glorious Revolution’ in 1688 which drove the Catholic James II into exile and placed his son-in-law William of Orange jointly with his wife, James’s daughter Mary, on the throne.
The Olde Bell was an important staging point on the Oxford to London route, with the last recorded schedule in 1890.
Reports have come back that the Inn-Keeper in 1890 used to stand at the door every Sunday handing out glasses of Sherry to everyone attending Church.
In 1936 the 17th Century Malthouse was the residence of the classic horror actor Boris Karloff whilst he was making “Juggernaut” & “The Man Who Changed His Mind”. His wife Dorothy said of Hurley “it’s the loveliest, tiniest village you can imagine”
During World War Two, famous guests at The Olde Bell included Sir Winston Churchill, Dwight D. Eisenhower & Colonel Elliot Roosevelt, son of the war-time President, who were all visiting Ladye Place mansion, next to the church, which was being used as a secret U.S intelligence base prior to The Normandy Landings. Also, during War times, the two barns were turned into a small arms factory, producing bullets, with a labour force of Hurley ladies.
Some notable guests have included Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Cary Grant & Errol Flynn. We have more recently played host to some location filming for Dustin Hoffman on his directorial debut and are also a bit of a favourite secret escape for some very recognisable faces. Nowadays The Olde Bell Inn is a favourite for celebrities and sport personalities as well as filming crews who document the history of this unique property.
In 2009 the Olde Bell was awarded Best Restaurant by the Restaurant & Bar Design Awards
The Olde Bell has had many owners during its long history, but despite its many changes of ownership, it still keeps to the traditions of St. Benedict – that true hospitality be provided to travellers and strangers.