There have been many landlords at the Ring o' Bells, particularly over the last ten years. Times have been very difficult for pubs, and those publicans with a successful pub in these straitened times have had to work hard for it.
Landlady Su (seen here, to the left, behind the bar) and Chris have been resident proprietors of the family-run Ring o' Bells for a number of years now, and by responding to the needs and wishes of their local clientele have managed to bring the place back from closure. They are now proprietors of a quirky, charismatic local pub. By ensuring that they serve excellent real ales, and by organising a variety of regular, popular events, Su and Chris have built a good crowd of regulars, and look forward to seeing you soon in either of their cosy, welcoming bars.
The Ring o' Bells opens at 12.00 noon every day except Thursday. On Thursday it opens at 5.00pm. (The pub will open earlier for weddings, christenings and other celebrations by request).
The Ring o' Bells is open until at least 11.00pm.
Fridays and Saturdays, the Ring o' Bells is open till at least midnight, and often 1.00am if there are enough customers to justify it, or if the crack is good!
Generally, if the front curtains are open, the pub is still serving.
The original sign from the ring o' Bells, now to be found at the end of the North Aisle in the Parish Church.
The modern "reproduction" sign
Lisa delivering one of the excellent real ales
The Ring o' Bells, depending on whose opinion you believe, is one of several pubs in England built upon Consecrated Ground. So far, other claimants are: the Savile Arms, Dewsbury; the Mug House, Claines in Worcestershire; and the Cross Keys, Handsworth in Sheffield. The main, albeit unsubstantiated, reference that I can find to this last claim is on the St. Mary's Church website. However, the following links from a variety of internet sources, all report pretty much the same story: Urban Ghost, M. J. Wayland, and Sheffield CAMRA. The principle undefined element in all of these claims is the status of the ground on which the buildings stand - whether it is actually 'holy' or 'consecrated', or simply owned by the church.
It is likely that there have been buildings on the Ring o' Bells site since at least the early 1600s, as a map of Kendal from 1611 shows buildings on the South side of Kendal Parish church. The inn itself was probably built in 1741 on the instructions of Thomas Barker, the church sexton at the time. However, the Westmorland Gazette reports that the inn was built on the instructions of the Rev. Thomas Symonds in 1746. It is also thought that the inn wasn’t named “the Ring o’ Bells” until 1789, when John Fisher succeeded Thomas Barker as church sexton. There are obviously a few inconsistencies surrounding the inn’s history, including at least one claim that it is 'hearsay' that the pub is built on Consecrated Ground.
The proximity of the pub to the church meant that it was widely used by people employed by the parish, such as the church wardens, the sexton (to accommodate bodies prior to burial) and the bell ringers. It was a church sexton (John Fisher, presumably) who named the pub ‘Ring o’ Bells’ in 1789. There is also rumoured to be a secret passageway from the pub’s cellar to the church.
The sign for the inn was painted by Jack Fothergill in 1814 when John Reid of Heversham took over ownership. The sign represented the church tower and bell ringers with a jug of ale between them. When John Reid died in 1830, the inn's sign was sold to Obadiah Burrows of the Eagle and Child inn at Heversham (long-since gone in 1906). The sign was then discovered a few years later, being used as a draught screen. It was purchased by Thomas Jennings who restored it and returned it to the inn. The original inn sign can now be found in the North Aisle of the Parish Church, whilst a modern reproduction is mounted on the gable end of the inn. Between the inn and the church gates used to lie the town stocks, and opposite the Wheatsheaf inn the maypole used to be raised every May Day.
Today's Ring o' Bells is a cosy two bar establishment. The interior retains its Victorian details and arrangement, with front room, side room, and larger back room all supplied from a central bar. There are real fires in the colder months, and an 'olde worlde' ambience. Excellent quality, traditional hand-pulled real ales are a main draw to the pub, with selected ales permanently on offer, and regularly-changing guest ales to appeal to all tastes. It has also been claimed that the Ring o' Bells is the only pub in England to be built on church grounds (see the links at the top of this column), and the Bellringer's Snug is reputedly the room where bodies used be laid out for funerals. If you are visiting kendal, it is most definitely worth calling in.