The Blue Bell Inn has served the villagers of Cocking, as well as travellers between Chichester and Midhurst for well over 200 years.
Although the Cowdray Estate map of 1635 shows a building on the site of the present-day Blue Bell inn, the earliest known written record of the inn was in September 1804 when an advertisement was placed in several local newspapers:
Further particulars may be known by applying to Mr. Champ, Solicitor; or to Mr. Weller, at his General Agency Office, Chichester.
Although recorded as the Bell Inn in 1841, ten years later, the Post Office Directory of Sussex for 1851 lists it as the ‘Blue Bell’, with James Harn as licensee. From now onwards, until the 1980s, all official records refer to the Blue Bell although the pub was often known colloquially as simple The Bell.
The original inn was a thatched house, but this was replaced with the present-day building shortly after the opening of the railway station in 1881.
By now, the licensee of the inn was Frederick Farley whose family had been farmers at Wolverstone, between Cocking and Singleton, for many generations and later at Sunwool Farm. Frederick Farley became the tenant of the Blue Bell in about 1865 and continued until his death in September 1893, when his widow, Elizabeth replaced him, until about 1902. Members of the Farley family lived in Cocking until quite recently; Frederick and Elizabeth’s great-granddaughter, Ann Farley, was shopkeeper and post-mistress in the village for many years.
Following Elizabeth’s retirement, the licence was transferred to David Hunt, who was the tenant at the Blue Bell until 1939. Thus, for a period of 75 years, the tenancy of the Blue Bell had been occupied by only two families.
In January 1927, a case was heard at Midhurst Magistrates Court against George Blandford, described as ‘a bad lot’. Blandford was charged with stealing six pounds, plus a quantity of brandy and whisky as well as the till from the bar at the Blue Bell on Christmas Day 1926. He was also charged with embezzling £3 17s from his employer, George Lambert, haulier and coal merchant. During the trial, it was revealed that Blandford was also in arrears with maintenance payments to his ex-wife of over £27 and that he had a string of convictions going back to 1910. He was found guilty and sentenced to three months imprisonment on each charge.
By August 1939, the freehold of the inn was owned by Cowdray Estate, who put it up for auction on 1 September 1939. The auction particulars describe the Blue Bell as a “fully licensed inn, a Free House … standing in the centre of the village … occupying a commanding position, and capable of doing a large trade”. The inn had a “large club room (and) a large ‘pull-in’ garden with garages and stabling” and was let to Mr. D. Hunt on a quarterly tenancy. Sadly, David Hunt’s wife, Annie died (aged75) soon after the sale, as a result of which he terminated his tenancy. On 14 December 1939, his furniture and effects were sold by auction on the premises.
For a few years in the 1980s and 1990s, the name of the business was changed to the trendy ‘Potter & Vine’ although this subsequently reverted to the Blue Bell, and more recently to the Bluebell.
With thanks to David Earley