Squished between the bookshops and restaurants of Fossgate, the varnished red bricks of the Blue Bell look as if they belong in a Victorian underground station – certainly not a pokey little street in North Yorkshire. But inside the walls, a pub of unrivalled history lurks.
Split into two rooms, each with a coal fire, the inhabitants of the front lounge looked as old as the dark timber furniture they were slumped onto. Being at least 60 years too young to qualify for this front bar status, I scuttled round the back into the gloomy smoke room.
Whilst settling both my pint of Timothy Taylor’s and my fellow quaffers into their benches, the Edwardian cricketers on the wall and the bashed and beaten copper tables suggested a quaint past. Rather oddly, the Blue Bell was the subject of social reformist Seebohm Rowntree’s studies into children drinking and smoking in the 1900s.
Thankfully, the Blue Bell doesn’t shout about its momentous past, ensuring that it stays largely free of the cream chino clad tourist brigade that can infest pubs of a similar ilk in York.
Rowntree’s studies resulted in the Children’s Act of 1908 which did much to alleviate child poverty and underage drinking in the slums. So toast to that when you’re supping a ‘Mud Puppy’.
That’s right, ‘Mud Puppy’. One of half a dozen cask ales on offer, this intriguingly named brew was actually one of the poorest; more of a wet fish. The beers (don’t bother with wine, this is a pub of the grain not the grape) ranged from the ever-present Black Sheep and Deuchars IPA to a more peculiar Ruby Mild, which I felt, with its Marmitey quality, was excellent.
Unfortunately, you do pay north of £2.50 for any of these, but when the Blue Bell’s central location and exclusivity is taken into account, the price can easily be forgiven. After all, saving our student pennies isn’t the Bell’s top priority.
Just because it isn’t aimed us doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it. A little gem in one of the most picturesque streets in York, offering quality cask ales, which should not to be missed.