The Old Bell Hotel: 800 years of amazing history!

This year marks our 800th year in hospitality. The hotel has seen some dramatic changes since its inception, so we have put together a little timeline of The Old Bell Hotel’s history over the last 800 years for you. Whilst we have done our best to thoroughly research this fascinating topic, we are always looking for further information on our history and would love to hear from any historians who could enlighten us further!

1120-1220

The future Old Bell Hotel was built on the ruins of Malmesbury Castle. The Castle was built by Bishop Roger of Salisbury, chief minister to King Henry I who lived here openly with his partner, Matilda of Ramsbury. The castle played an important part in the war between Stephen and Matilda in the 1150s. The future Henry II came here in 1153 besieged the town, massacred monks in the Abbey and took control of the castle.

In 1216 King John sold the castle to the monks who immediately destroyed it. King John needed the money desperately as he was fighting a war against his own barons and an invading French army. The monks were keen to demolish the castle because the garrison tended to behave badly and disrupt the work of the Abbey.

(Courtesy of Athelstan Museum)

1220-1320

The Old Bell Hotel’s illustrious history began in 1220 when Abbot Walter Loring built England’s first official lodgings to entertain academic guests and pilgrims visiting Malmesbury’s iconic Abbey. The Abbey attracted a plethora of visitors as host to the first school of Latin in England, students flocked to the academic centre to study manuscripts. The guesthouse, now known as The Old Bell Hotel was built on the ruins of Malmesbury Castle and for many years was known as Castle House

In 1260 William of Colerne become the next Abbot of Malmesbury. Abbot Colerne was a passionate property developer and in 1276 the guest house, originally established by Abbot Loring, was extended. During this era modernisation also came to the neighbouring Abbey as running water was installed in the lavatories in 1284!

1320-1420

During this period the Abbey’s guesthouse provided accommodation for the many visitors to Malmesbury Abbey. At this time the Abbey owned 23,000 acres in twenty parishes that constituted the Malmesbury Hundred.

1420-1520

Around 1480 Malmesbury Abbey’s spire plummeted to the ground in spectacular fashion, it is said that an ill-fated lightning strike caused its downfall! Perhaps the stone from the fallen spire was repurposed in the building of the Market Cross!

(Courtesy of Athelstan Museum)

1520-1620

1539 saw the dissolution of the Monasteries and Malmesbury Abbey began to fall into decay. During its peak there were 200 monks based at the establishment, however, this number fell to just 7 during the dissolution as many monks went back to live with their previously concealed wives and children.

Things were set to change however when in 1542 Malmesbury’s fortunes were revived under the stewardship of William Stumpe who brought a thriving textile business to the town. William, a rich merchant bought the Abbey and all its lands. He returned the Abbey Church to the town for continuing use as a parish church and filled the Abbey buildings and the hotel with over twenty looms for his cloth weaving enterprise!

(Courtesy of Athelstan Museum)

1620-1720

In time ownership of The Old Bell Hotel changed hands and in 1640 Sir John Danvers, MP for Malmesbury in the 1640’s, became owner of the hotel. A little-known fact is that Sir Danvers was one of the signatories for King Charles’ death warrant in 1649!

During 1642 -1644 the English Civil War tore Malmesbury apart. It is thought that the town changed hands as many as seven times, and the Abbey was fiercely fought over. If you take a close look, you’ll see hundreds of pockmarks left by bullets on the south, west and east sides of the Abbey walls. It seems that luckily The Old Bell Hotel escaped the fate of some of its neighbouring buildings!

1720-1820

In 1743 Sir John Rushout bought the Manor House at 6 Oxford Street. It came with a substantial amount of property and possibly this is how he came to be the owner of Castle House. In 1798 the hotel’s name officially changed to The Old Bell Hotel.

1820-1920

Joe Moore became Mayor of Malmesbury in 1894. He retired from his mayoral duties in 1905 and bought The Old Bell Hotel in 1906. Significant renovations took place at the hotel under his ownership. It is said that Joe Moore invested a significant sum, approximately £1,000,000 in today’s value! It is rumoured that he found a treasure trove somewhere on the site of the hotel which enabled this investment. However, we cannot confirm this 100%

Courtesy of https://history.wiltshire.gov.uk/community/getimage.php?id=443

1920-2020

The last century had a tumultuous start with WW1 and WW2. Luckily The Old Bell Hotel remained unscathed and to this day remains a tourist hotspot attracting guests from all over the world!

(Courtesy of Athelstan Museum)

In 2018 the Hotel underwent renovations and is a warm, welcoming destination with an extremely interesting historical past and the title of Oldest Hotel in England. The Old Bell Hotel is currently owned by The Harvey Family and we are all extremely excited to be celebrating our 800- year Birthday.

To book your break in England’s Oldest Hotel click here.