A few days ago we heard on the radio that there was much more violence during the Great Train Robbery of 1963 than has been reflected in the over-romanticised films about it. We also learnt that the notorious Leatherslade Farm, where the robbers held out, is no more.
Luckily, ‘The Bell’ at Aston Clinton, the pub frequented by the prosecution at the trial down the road at Aylesbury, is still around. Here’s what the Good Food Guide for 1961 – 62 had to say about this very popular inn just a year before the robbery took place:
Gerard Harris now has his own company and controls the inn; perhaps his brow will become less furrowed. The Bell is no well known to our members now that it is difficult to find anything new to say about it. Its menu is large, but not gigantic and the cuisine rises to a level of real distinction…creamy pate, 3/-; Arbroath smokies in cream,3/6; coq au vin, 9/6; beef Avignon, 8/6; sweetbreads chasseur,8/6; entrecote marchand de vin, 11/-; blackcurrant sorbet,2/-;crème brule,2/6…The menu is supported by a long and a remarkably chosen wine-list. The strongest section is probably the clarets: at one end is a Haut Medoc at 10/6, at the other ‘28’s and ‘29’s—chateau bottled wines between 32/- and 45/-, which are now not at all easy to get, even from wine merchants. Ordinaires at 9/6. Often crowded, and service sometimes overtaxed ( especially the wine service); but meals are served until quite a late hour. Open all year. Bed and breakfast, 19/6; no full board (App by too many members to list .)
Later on in the swinging sixties ‘The Bell’ became the eating place of choice for the glitterati. Liz Taylor and Richard Burton were diners, along with international jet-setters like Jackie Onassis. The place had its own helipad. As one former chef recalled, ‘the Bell Inn did for British cooking what the Beatles did for music’. In the seventies and eighties, according to the same source, ‘young chefs from around the world came to work and learn their trade’. These included Raymond Blanc and the Roux brothers.
In the days when ‘The Bell’ was just a humble roadside pub Evelyn Waugh drank there while teaching at Aston Clinton School across the road. He spent five terms ( Sept 1925 – Feb 1927) at what seems to have been a school for under-achievers (Waugh called the boys ‘lunatics’ early on in his career there) and was eventually sacked for some indecent remarks he made to the matron while drunk. The school is cited as being the main inspiration for Decline and Fall.
‘The Bell’, though still operating, is no longer the haunt of the rich and famous and it’s unlikely that you would find many chateau bottled vintage clarets in its cellars. The helipad was decommissioned decades ago. [R.M.Healey]