The most common question we are asked is 'what is a Steelyard?' So, before giving a 'potted history' of the pub, let's explain a bit about the large covered structure that hangs off the front of the building. It looks a bit like a summer house or garden shed and is currently home for several families of doves!
What is a Steelyard?
This part of the building houses the the Steelyard which is simply a weighing machine, and is basically the forerunner to the public weighbridge.
In times gone by it was used to weigh carts when the government of the time passed a Road Traffic Act. This was because carts were getting heavier and the steel banded wheels were becoming much thinner and damaging the road surface. The new act stated that a toll had to be paid if loads were over 2.5 tons.
Local records suggest that the Steelyard was added to the original building somewhere around 1680.
A steelyard is a very simple device and is still used in Asia and parts of Europe today, albeit in a much smaller guise. Unlike a conventional set of scales on which the item to be weighed is placed at one end of a beam which is suspended from it's centre point, and weights gradually added to the other end until both sides balance. The steelyard is fixed at one end of a calibrated beam and the item
to be weighed is attached, then a counter weight is moved along the beam until the item is 'balanced' and the weight is read from the scale on the beam.
In order to obtain the weight of the cargo (the tare), the horse(s) were unhitched from the wagon or cart and it was connected to the steelyard by ropes, chains or leather strops. The cart was then weighed empty. Once the empty weight had been established the cart would be taken away and loaded before returning to the steelyard to be weighed again. By subtracting the weight empty from the laden weight, the weight of the cargo could be calculated. In this instance the cargo would usually be grain, hides or wool.
During this lengthy process the cartiers or farmers would visit the pub to refresh themselves or 'drown their sorrows'.
This steelyard was last used commercially in the 1880s. It was dismantled in 1897 and taken to London for a Victorian exhibition before being reinstated. A working model of this very steelyard can be seen in the Science Museum in London and also in the Avery Museum. It is last known to have been used to weigh an item in 1959.
The word Steelyard is thought to originate from the City of Westminster 'Stallhofes' owned by Hanseatic merchants, in front of which stalls were set up for the sale of merchandise. Corrupted and anglicised by 1320 the word became 'Stilehof' or Steelyard depending whether a German or an Englishman were speaking it.
The load capacity is 3 tons (imperial).
Main beam is 13 feet long and mainly forged from iron.
The counterweight weighed 108lbs and was made of lead.
Steelyards died out as modern drive on / drive off weighbridges were invented. This steelyard is 1 of only two complete steelyards left in the country, the second is in Soham near Cambridge which is said to have raised an elephant in the 1880s.
There is a wealth of information available on steelyards, and much time can be spent learning all about them by simply using the internet and visiting Google.com
The Pub itself.
The building stands on New Street which is first mentioned in the Court Rolls of 1549. New Street was constructed to allow easier access between the quays on the river Deben and Market Hill. The pub was originally a terraced block of dwelling houses.
Woodbridge market received it's charter in 1227 and was run by the Priory who owned much of the surrounding land and property.
A 'copyhold capital messuge' dating back to 1560 records the site in New Street and gives very precise measurements. This plot backs onto a parcel of land held by 'The Cock' which extended between Market Place and Bridewell House on one side, and various houses in Church Street on the other. The entrance to 'The Cock' was at the market end of Church Street, and it seems to be the only inn or tavern on the Market Place at that time. A tavern is mentioned at 'The Cross', on the corner of Church Street and the Thoroughfare.
The Priory appears to have originally owned the land on which Ye Olde Bell & Steelyard stands, and the first 'copyhold messuge' shows the building being held by Clerk William (or John) Symonde who may have been a canon of the Priory who provided for his retirement. He was ejected from the Priory in 1537!
'The Cock' was held by Robert Wryghte who is mentioned elsewhere as farming the Priory land, while several other houses in the Market area and Seckford Street were first held by clerks. By 1560 these clerks had been replaced by tradesmen and laymen.
One Robert Jordan, a smith, held the property on the east side of the building and shared a well with the 1560 owner of Ye Olde Bell & Steelyard, Robert Haughis.
The annual rent for the building was 21d with a further penny 'in obligation' (stamp duty?). The Bridewell, a private house, which used to be the prison, just a few doors down New Street; paid the same duty which suggests that the two houses may have been built at the same time.
'Le Campyng Close' is mentioned as lying within the curtilage of Ye Olde Bell & Steelyard and is said to have been 'demesne' land, this would have been a play area for some type of ball game.
The land held by Ye Olde Bell & Steelyard is not recorded as ever being enlarged and this would prohibit it from being an 'Inn' in the traditional sense, as it would have need additional land for stables and horses.
The 1827 map of Woodbridge shows 'The Bull' tavern in it's current location and many other inns, but none where Ye Olde Bell & Steelyard stands. However the 'Cock & Pye' stood at the corner of New Street and Chapel Street with land behind it.
A tythe map of 1841 records 'The Fox Inn' on this site, the owner being Robert Knipe Cobbold. John Cobbold, the Ipswich brewer owned 10 of the 17 Inns and Taverns in Woodbridge. He had a large family and it is extremely likely that the two men were related. This suggests that Ye Olde Bell & Steelyard only became an 'inn' between 1827 and 1841, however this topic is widely disputed. Several historians suggest that this building was a public house from the mid seventeenth century. Having been 'The Fox Inn' it has variously been known as 'Bluebell', 'Bell', 'Stillyards', and 'The Three Goats'.
Until the turn of the century two houses stood on the street east of Ye Olde Bell & Steelyard with another lying back from the street as it had been in 1560. The modern houses between the pub and Bridewell now stand where these would have been prior to their demolition.
To fully appreciate the charm and history of not only this wonderful old pub, but also New Street and Market Hill, we invite you to visit us and share the experience.