The Blue Bell Inn was not the first pub of that name in Kilnsea. In the old village (now all lost to the sea) there were at least two pubs – the Ship, later renamed the Blue Bell, and a beer house. Soon after the fields were enclosed by Parliamentary Act in 1840, at the crossroads a new pub was built. That was the new Blue Bell, built in 1847. The first half of the 19th century was the most traumatic in the history of Kilnsea, for this was when the sea took the old village. Year by year houses, cottages, the medieval church, ponds, fields, fell over the soft clay cliffs. The bodies buried in the graveyard were revealed in the cliff face. No wonder the builders of Blue Bell Inn wanted to record erosion by placing a plaque on the new pub. Thanks to the plaque we know that in 1847 it was 534 yards (488 metres or just less than a third of a mile) from the sea. When the writer, Walter White, visited the area in 1858 he noted that only six years after the Blue Bell had been built 43 yards had already been lost to the sea. When the building was restored in 1995 another plaque recorded that it was 190 yards from the sea, a loss of about two yards annually. At the time of writing it is only 55 yards, so the rate of erosion has accelerated.
We do not know what the Blue Bell looked like when first built, though it certainly incorporated some cobble, and may even have faced towards the sea rather than as now towards the new village. A photograph in The Lost Towns of the Yorkshire Coast, by Thomas Sheppard (1912) shows the plaque built into a cobble wall, whereas now it is set in the northern brick wall. Photos of c. 1906 and 1925 show no plaque on that wall.
The only cobble wall which still shows in the present Blue Bell faces the sea. A one-storey extension was built during World War Two onto this wall, which was also undoubtedly all cobble, so it seems certain that the plaque was originally set into it. As it would have been hidden by the extension it was necessary to remove it and place it into the north wall. The photos below show the cobble wall and the extension.
The first licensee of the pub in 1847 was William Westerdale. He was succeeded by his son, Benjamin, who remained as landlord until about 1870. As was common at that time, the Westerdales combined their roles as licensees with farming. When they left, Robert Snowden, a Hull man, took over. He soon transferred the pub to a member of the Clubley clan, Francis John Clubley, a farmer from Easington. Francis brought up a large family there, but disappears from the records from 1899, and in 1901 David Murray is recorded as licensee.
Some time in the 1880s the Blue Bell may have been extended. When it was built it stood alone (though with substantial outbuildings). About 1880 a new house was built next door. This came to be known as Blue Bell Cottage. The owner of the Blue Bell, David Murray, was also the owner of Blue Bell Cottage, and possibly the builder of the latter. Looking at the two buildings they resemble each other markedly.
The earliest photograph of the Blue Bell pub dates from before World War I. The licensee’s name is shown as George W. Clubley, and the woman and children may well be his family. George was the son of Francis J Clubley, a previous licensee, and had been born in the Blue Bell.
Kilnsea was a quiet, out-of-the-way village in the early years of the 20th century. All that changed when war against Germany was declared in 1914. Kilnsea and Spurn became military bases. Forts were established at Kilnsea (Godwin Battery) and on Spurn. The Blue Bell Inn flourished during World War I and thereafter, because of its proximity to Godwin Battery, and because it was at the terminus of the railway line between Spurn Fort and Kilnsea.
After George Clubley, directories list John Robert Clubley (1913). This is probably ‘Ob’ Clubley, the father of the celebrated Redvers Clubley (another story!). This branch of the Clubley family had lived at Eddowes (also known as Beacon Cottage), a house at the top of North Marsh or Beacon Lane. Redvers’ sister, Mrs Edie Wheeler-Osman, said that she thinks that they did run the Blue Bell, or rather her mother did. It may have been shortly after Eddowes was washed away by the sea. They soon moved into Cliff Farm, and in 1917-1918 Annie Baker is shown as licensee, followed in 1919-1921 by Charles and Mary Cottis. The next names, in 1922-1925, are James and Elizabeth Walsh.
In 1925 the Blue Bell stopped being a free house, when Hull Brewery took it over. It was said that many of the military officers had shares in Hull Brewery and encouraged the men to give their custom to the Blue Bell rather than the Crown and Anchor! For the year 1925, directories list Frank and Susannah Brooks, as well as Walshes. The Brooks were still there in 1930. In the photos below Frank is surely the gentleman fifth from the left in the first one, and between the two women in the second photo.
Note the military men in this photograph and the buildings of Godwin Fort on the left.
Unlike Spurn Fort, which was placed under care and maintenance in the Inter-War period, Godwin Battery continued to be manned, albeit by the Territorial Army, which continued to maintain the guns. Accordingly the Blue Bell continued to flourish. In 1932 John Robert Stephenson and Charlotte Stephenson are recorded as licensees, whilst from 1933 until 1935 it was Benjamin and Rose King (Irene David’s Uncle and Aunt).
The Blue Bell in the 1930s
During the war (or before it) and into the early 1950s the Clubley family returned to run the pub. John Blenkin Clubley was the son of George Edwin Clubley and his wife Eden (née Blenkin) of Westmere Farm. George Edwin died in 1938 and it appears that John and his mother Eden took over the Blue Bell, although at some point later John enlisted in the army.
The Second World War began in 1939, and Kilnsea and Spurn again found themselves an important part of the defences. This time more land at the rear of the pub was taken over by the military. Behind the Blue Bell pub, a Naval installation had been built just after World War II started. Les Park remembered a 4″ gun there from his first period at Kilnsea and Spurn, 1939/40. ‘It was put in by the Navy and was put up for the D.E.M.S. training, i.e. defensively equipped merchant service [ships], I believe. It was purely a naval site and nobody seemed bothered with it. ….. One day we had a party of seamen come along in a coach. The only one in uniform was Chief Petty Officer, gunnery. We watched and wondered as the ‘squad’ disembarked and made for the Blue Bell. Having refreshed and satisfied all other needs they proceeded to said 4″ equipment. The bucket, rammer and ammunition were brought down. There was no drill as such. The gun crew had cloth caps, mufflers, jackets etc. The C.P.O. got them around and the gun was loaded. They banged off about twenty rounds at various elevations, just pumping rounds out to sea, no question of a target. It was primarily to let them know and see the gun firing. They also had two Lewis guns for anti-aircraft work, which they mounted on the rails; there were 100 rounds per magazine (we only had 47 (50) on our Lewis guns). Anyhow they all had a bang and a good time was had by all, pack up, call at the Blue Bell and away. Our Battery Quarter Master Sergeant was on the beach collecting ‘cases empty fired’ 303 for long enough. The Royal Navy didn’t think them worth the bother’./
By 1942 Wrens were in charge of the D.E.M.S. operations. Although a road had been built down Spurn the railway was still very much operational, and the Blue Bell was embedded within all this military activity and so did an excellent trade. When troops could get time off, they went mainly to the Blue Bell pub, unless transport was going to the Marquis of Granby in Easington. John Clubley, the landlord, apparently stayed in Kilnsea and worked as a soldier in the day and ran the pub at night. It was during the war years that the single-storey extension was built onto the rear of the pub, presumably owing to its popularity with the military personnel. It was certainly a very lively place. People who have lived in the building in more recent years have heard a piano playing, even though they owned no such instrument. The ghostly echoes of musical evenings during the war years? I should like to think so.
The end of the war did not mean that the military entirely left Kilnsea, because the onset of the Cold War in the early 1950s meant some upgrading of the military facilities at Kilnsea and Spurn, though this was relatively short-lived. Kilnsea had supported two pubs with no difficulty up to and including the war, but in the post-war period the run-down of military personnel meant that two licensed premises were struggling. Nevertheless John B. Clubley, his wife (and mother) carried on running the Blue Bell until the mid-1950s. Ernest (Jack) Codd and his wife then tried to make a go of the pub for a year or so. He had been one of the engine and railcar drivers on the Spurn railway, both before and during the war. The brass name plate of the most famous steam engine, the Kenyon, was apparently displayed on the wall of the bar at the Blue Bell, but when John Clubley left and went to Cornwall he took it with him. In 1957 big changes came about for the Blue Bell Inn. Hull Brewery decided to sell the pub. It was then described as ‘a dwelling formerly known as the Blue Bell public house plus stables and outbuildings’. When a reporter from the Yorkshire Times visited the area in June 1957, he seemed to find Kilnsea rather a sleepy place: ‘A visit to Kilnsea was, perhaps, more restful than rewarding from a journalistic point of view. There is not much doing there nowadays, for even the soldiers have gone and the sprawling War Department site is deserted. Added desolation is felt that the 110-year old Blue Bell Inn is no longer dispensing hospitality. It was closed a few weeks ago, as previously noted in our Holderness Letter. Mrs. Clubley, who was the licensee for some score of years, is now 86 and still lives in the village’.
Soon after this visit the Blue Bell Inn became a café. Edna Stanger and Mrs. and Mrs. Billany were the first owners. In 1959 Mr. Ernest and Mrs. Vera Stinton bought the building. Hilary Stinton, their son, recalls them opening the Blue Bell Café - ‘Dad was an expert carpenter/joiner and he did a lot of fixing up there. Then they opened as the cafe. The mortar in its brickwork was mixed using salt sea sand, so the interior was always damp in the winter. Also, customers kept stealing things’. Ernest Stinton was quite an enterprising man. He had a postcard of Spurn printed to sell at the café.
Even more enterprising was an idea he came up with which was published in the Hull and Yorkshire Times (27 April 1963), to ‘build a port big enough to take the Queen Mary on land that could be reclaimed from the mud at the mouth of the Humber. The plan which involves the reclamation of 14 square miles of mud between Spurn Point and Sunk Island’. Because this plan is so amazing (and I assume impractical), and would have changed Kilnsea and Spurn so dramatically, I am including it for interest at the end of this article. Clearly Ernest Stinton was quite a character!
Gillian Granger and her mother began visiting the Spurn area from Leeds in the 1950s. At first they stayed at Easington, but in April 1961 Gillian records her first meeting with the Stintons – ‘It was a cloudy day, with a damp, raw, bitterly cold wind. The wind was so intensely cold, and Spurn so bleak, that we didn’t even want to sit down and eat. So like cowards, we knocked at the door of the Blue Bell, and a kind old man [Ernest Stinton] let us in, though the place was closed. We sat in a big, neat room, and had a generous pot of tea for 2/-. I asked the old man about the chair I’d been sitting in. He said it was a captain’s chair that had been salvaged from a wrecked ship — it was ancient, with a rounded back’. The Grangers started staying for Bed and Breakfast at the Blue Bell. In 1963 Gillian writes – ‘I’m writing this in our warm sitting room at the Blue Bell. The wind is howling and the rain lashing down. Mrs. Stinton came out to meet us, and there was a delicious hot dinner waiting for us. Mother had her own little room along the passage and down a step (crash). Mrs. Stinton set off in fine style — but she is so kind. On our table is a little jar of primroses and white violets’. Later in the week she writes – ‘There was a light evening meal waiting for us. It’s 9.45, and Mrs. Stinton hasn’t stopped talking yet. She was telling us about the Civil Defence and First Aid, and lay down on the floor to illustrate a point’. And when they left ‘Mrs. Stinton had tea ready for us. We packed and Mrs. Stinton talked. Does she ever stop? Mr. Stinton carried our heaviest bag out to the bus. He is a perfect gentleman. We left with the greatest reluctance. If we’d paid £20 a week we couldn’t have been treated better. Hot water bottles, tea in bed, trays of tea, everything’. In November 1964 Gillian writes – ‘Back at the Blue Bell Mrs Stinton said that they were thinking of leaving this house. It was once a pub, and is too big for them, and they could get a wooden bungalow [Fourways] a short way down the road’. They did leave and moved across the road to Fourways in 1965.
In the photo above the newly established caravan site on the former Godwin Battery is on the left. Next door to the Blue Bell is Blue Bell Cottage and opposite is Fourways. The building continued to be used as a shop, as well as a Bed & Breakfast establishment when the gas sites were built in Easington and staff required accommodation. I think a Mr. Burgess owned it after the Stintons. Audrey and Geoffrey Burgess were the first owners of Sandy Beaches caravan site after it was sold by the Ministry of Defence.
In 1971 Ken and Olga Shann moved in with their family. They had run a shop on Sandy Beaches for a year or two before that date.
Sandra Shann has very happy memories of living at the Blue Bell. She remembers painted hands on the wall showing the way to the gents’ toilets outside.
Ken and Olga put the house up for sale in 1981 and it was sold to Eileen Stephenson and John Braun. It continued to be run as a shop, and also still did a good trade as a Bed & Breakfast establishment owing to the increased need from people working on the Easington gas sites. When the building went on the market in the early 1990s a new era opened up, as it was bought by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust (YWT). The Spurn Heritage Coast Project, a partnership between Humberside County Council, the Nature Conservancy Council, and Easington Parish Council had attracted considerable funding. It employed two people by the early 1990s and was using the old school in Easington for offices but needed to be closer to Spurn. The Blue Bell was perfectly located, and with the help of many volunteers the building was renovated and on 9 October 1995 the Blue Bell Visitor Centre officially opened.
The premises included a tea room, with an adjoining exhibition of displays on the history of the area. Also on the ground floor were the offices of the Project whilst on the first floor the rooms had been converted to a self-contained flat to provide accommodation for the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s warden, should his bungalow at the Warren be washed away! The funding came from the European Regional Development Fund, Rural Development Commission, Holderness Borough Council, Humberside County Council, the Countryside Commission, English Nature (now Natural England), the National Rivers Authority, the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, and Birds of the Humber Trust.
A large car park at the rear had been created a few years earlier, and toilets had been built by the County Council. The YWT decided to offer to lease the café, and Mrs Sue Wells of Westmere Farm took it over and ran it very successfully for many years.
After running the tea shop for almost ten years Sue was followed by Petra van der Zande of Southfield Farm, but in 2015 the YWT decided to run it themselves. At that time they were putting in planning applications for a new Visitor Centre in a small meadow near Canal Scrape Car Park, and in March 2018 the Blue Bell café and Visitor Centre closed. It is still owned by the YWT and is now used for accommodation.
Acknowledgements: many of the photos come from my own collection. Sandra Shann has been a great help to me, and Sandra and I would like to thank Jon Easby of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, for showing us around the Blue Bell in 2018.
Note: When researching the history of pubs several documents can be used. They include directories, censuses and where available deeds. A pub may be owned by one person and rented by another and it is sometimes difficult if not impossible to work out which.
Hull & Yorkshire Times, 27 April 1963
PLAN FOR HUMBER PORT ABLE TO TAKE QUEEN MARY.
Experts at Whitehall are studying a revolutionary plan to build a port big enough to take the Queen Mary on land that could be reclaimed from the mud at the mouth of the Humber. The plan which involves the reclamation of 14 square miles of mud between Spurn Point and Sunk Island, is the brain child of a retired civil servant from Kilnsea. Sixty-four-year-old Ernest Stinton, of Blue Bell House, Kilnsea, is the man who has prepared the scheme which would relieve the port of Hull of some of its shipping headaches. Since the beginning at this year over 6,000 vessels have passed through the Humber estuary, and Mr Stinton believes that a good percentage of these could be accommodated in his new dock, which would take some of the world’s biggest ships.
TWO POINTS. The scheme has two major points. The first is to safeguard Spurn Point and the Kilnsea coast from crumbling away under the severe battering it receives from the North Sea. And secondly to reclaim 455,000,000 square feet of land – now a barren expense of mud and silt covered at high tide – and dig out a huge basin in which ships could discharge and load cargoes.
DISAPPEARING. For centuries. Kilnsea has been gradually disappearing as the sea advanced. Mr Stinton's house, now 30 yards from the edge of the bay, was nearly half-a-mile away just over a century ago. He estimates that on this basis, about three yards of land are lost every year, which means that in about 50 years’ time his house will have been claimed by the sea. "I am worried about this erosion and at the same time think that the authorities could make good use of the mud flats. The new port would be in an ideal spot, though I realise it would cost at least £10,000,000 to build,” said Mr Stinton this week.
THE DUTCH. He added that the Dutch had been doing similar reclamations and he saw no reason why it should not be done in England. Spanning the bay, the new port would be at least 26 miles long and nearly a mile wide. "Certainly big enough for the Queen Mary," said Mr Stinton. In his representations to the Ministry, he said, "Assuming that the cost of the operation is at least £10,000,000, the new area of Government land will have cost about £1 per acre. Developed as a commercial and industrial estate the expenditure should prove to be a remunerative investment for the Treasury. Water and power are both immediately available.
SUB-SOIL. Mr Stinton claims that beneath the mud surface is a clay sub-soil. and that it would be relatively easy, although a long operation, to dredge the basin and to build up the mud flats to prevent the sea covering them. "With the modern equipment available, it should not be hard to carry this out. "With a basin, modern landing equipment, and five to 10 fathoms at water at low tide, vessels much larger than those at present using Hull would be able to use the dock for quick discharge or shipment of passengers or cargo, and would be able to sail again as soon as ready, regardless of the state of the tide." Mr Stinton, who has lived in Kilnsea for five years, but has been connected with that part of Holderness for about 40 years, is a member of Easington Parish Council and is an auxiliary coastguard. He has shipping experience, as he was in the Royal Navy for a number of years. His plan has been promised full investigation by the Minister of Transport, Mr Ernest Marples, who received it from Mr Richard Wood, MP for Bridlington.
WASTED. Mr Stinton admits that he is no expert, but feels that this land is wasted, and that eventually Kilnsea and Spurn peninsular are going to disappear unless something is done. On the idea of the port itself, he told the Minister, "The inauguration of such a new port should not interfere with Hull trade, but should act as a supplement. "With the possible expansion of trade, it may indeed be detrimental to Hull to have only a limited size of vessel accommodation, whereas a port nearby, handling vessels of twice the tonnage of Hull, would greatly add to the road and rail traffic passing through or handled in the Hull yards."
LIFEBOAT. Mr Stinton envisages a yachting pool and a new coastguard station, and his plan includes resiting at the Spurn Point lifeboat. The rail head at Salt End could be extended down the river bank across Sunk Island and to the basin. Mr Stinton claims that the nature reserve on Spurn Peninsular need not suffer interference, and could be fenced off from the new land. Preliminary correspondence from Mr Marples has indicated that there were several immediate problems confronting such a scheme.
HUMBER LEVEL. In a letter to Mr Richard Wood passed on to Mr Stinton, he states that the major problem in considering the proposal is that the level of the Humber is unstable.
LONG TESTS. It goes on "No one can say with any degree of certainty what effect such a scheme would have on the regime of the river, and therefore, on Hull, Goole and Immingham without extensive hydraulic tests having been made with a tidal model. Such tests would have to be carried out by experts and would certainly be protracted. The views of the Hydraulic Research Station and the Humber Conservancy Board would have to be sought." In reply, Mr Stinton said, "As far as the river's instability was concerned, this was a factor which would appear to argue in favour of siting deep water accommodation as near the river mouth as possible. "From a general observation of the process of the tidal inundation of the area, it appears that this comes only from the flood-tides. As the quantity of water required by the basin would approximate to that covering the area at full tide there would be little change in the quantity proceeding to the upper reaches as under present conditions."
MORE JOBS. He added, "Loss of land and homes in the past can be excused to our forebears, but in this day and age with modern machinery and techniques, there can be no adequate reason for allowing the sea to continue to deprive the inhabitants of their rightful heritage. Defence work would absorb many at present workless.”-