No bell ringing just yet for Dennis’s 49-year pub stint

Longtime Landlord: Finedon: Oldest serving landlord, Dennis Willmott who has been 'mine host' since 1969. Now nearing his 50th year behind the bar. NNL-180827-211551005
Longtime Landlord: Finedon: Oldest serving landlord, Dennis Willmott who has been 'mine host' since 1969. Now nearing his 50th year behind the bar. NNL-180827-211551005

On August 25, 1969, Wellingborough magistrates court sat for an ordinary day of licensing hearings.

The piece of paper they bestowed on Dennis Willmott granted him the right to sell alcohol at The Bell in Finedon, like dozens of publicans before him at the ancient inn.

The Bell, Finedon NNL-180827-211200005

The Bell, Finedon NNL-180827-211200005

And 49 years later, that paper sits proudly framed on the wall of the pub that is steeped in Northamptonshire history and folklore.

Dennis is still landlord at The Bell, and despite being almost completely blind, he manages to run the place alone.

He’s thought to be the longest continually-serving landlord in Northamptonshire, and the pub is believed to be the county’s oldest - with records of the first coaching inn on the site dating back nearly 1,000 years to 1042.

The Bell is the last remaining traditional pub in Finedon and has a unique royal connection. It is built on land thought to be owned at one time by Queen Edith, wife of Edward the Confessor. And it is even rumoured that she dined at The Bell.

One of the many collections of artefacts at The Bell - a set of locally-crafted bottles NNL-180827-211254005

One of the many collections of artefacts at The Bell - a set of locally-crafted bottles NNL-180827-211254005

Behind its doors is a treasure-trove of artefacts including a unique glass bottle collection made up of water containers made in Wellingborough.

Dennis, 77 is so used to the set up of the bar and his cellar that he barely needs his sight, instead using second nature to find his way around the large pub.

Originally a tenant of Phipps Brewery, Dennis bought the building 20 years ago.

Sadly, his wife Sheila died in 2001 and since then, Dennis has run the pub alone. Chef Philip Ferguson runs the incredibly popular Bells Kitchen restaurant from the pub’s kitchen.

A list of previous landlords at The Bell, Finedon NNL-180827-211317005

A list of previous landlords at The Bell, Finedon NNL-180827-211317005

Dennis said: “Most of the building was put up in 1598 but we think there are some old cellars that we can’t find!

“I was in the building trade before this, then I did some farming, but I was born in a pub and I said I’d never do this.

“But here I am.”

Dennis is fiercely proud of the pub’s royal connections, pointing out a Queen Edith statue on the front of the building. He said that part of the secret to his success is taking a hard line on some of the more unsavoury punters.

Philip Ferguson (left), chef at The Bell, Finedon, with landlord Dennis Willmott NNL-180827-211111005

Philip Ferguson (left), chef at The Bell, Finedon, with landlord Dennis Willmott NNL-180827-211111005

“We don’t get any trouble in the pub,” he said.

“Over the years I’ve had to keep the drugs out.”

Despite his failing eyesight, Dennis has no plans to retire.

He said: “I can see a little so I still run the pub as normal.

“I know where everything is. I just take everything as it comes really.”

Dennis is also a local parish councillor, and despite the fact he must be party to every morsel of local gossip in Finedon, he is the model of discretion and won’t be drawn on the subject of local tittle-tattle - although he does reveal that Reverend Richard Coles and former MP Brian Binley have been known to pop in for a drink from time to time.

Queen Edith sits, in stone, on the exterior wall of The Bell in Finedon NNL-180827-211458005

Queen Edith sits, in stone, on the exterior wall of The Bell in Finedon NNL-180827-211458005

“We get all kinds of people in here,” he said.

“We get millionaires and we get farm workers.”

Despite its history, the pub continues to move forward and its chef Philip Ferguson is proud of his impeccable tripadvisor ratings.

“We just do really good, traditional food,” he said.

“I was taught by my mum who was in catering and I was making sandwiches when I was still in school.”

Philip says he hopes to grow trade at the restaurant, housed in two rear rooms in the pub which seat 68 people.

Dennis says he will carry on working as long as his eyesight allows him to.

And while times may be tough for the rural pub trade, it seems like there’s still a place for The Bell at the heart of the town of Finedon.

Do you know a longer-serving landlord than Dennis? Contact our newsdesk at nt.newsdesk@northantsnews.co.uk

A roaring log burner sits in the heart of The Bell NNL-180827-211416005

A roaring log burner sits in the heart of The Bell NNL-180827-211416005