NOT QUITE LAST ORDERS: Historic potteries pub saved from the bulldozers

4th July 2023

SAVE Britain’s Heritage is pleased to report that plans to flatten a historic public house in Stoke-on-Trent have been refused by Stoke-on-Trent City Council.  Located on the outskirts of Stoke city centre The Bell and Bear dates from the late 19th century and remained a popular watering hole until 2006 when it closed.

SAVE was alerted to the demolition by concerned local residents following an application by the current owners to flatten the site, with the intention of bringing forward proposals for a new supermarket and hotel in the future. Our letter of objection, submitted to Stoke-on-Trent City Council in March 2023 argued that demolition was unjustified on both heritage and climate grounds, with evidence pointing to deliberate neglect by the owner in order to hasten the demise of the building.

The application was subsequently refused in April 2023, with the pub given a reprieve for the time being. 

Bell 3

IMAGE: The unusual relief sign of the Bell and Bear is a particularly interesting feature 
(Credit: Neville Malkin)


Despite the building’s colourful detailing and obvious landmark character, it remains unlisted and unloved, with no signs that any maintenance or remediation work has been undertaken by its owners to prevent the building from falling into dilapidation. 

The proposals come amidst a difficult period for the national institution, with pub closures and subsequent demolitions on the rise in the face of changing social habits and unfavourable economic conditions. Figures published in April show that on average 51 pubs are closing their doors each and every month so far in 2023, a significant increase on the average of 22 pub closures a month in 2022.

The challenges of protecting pub architecture and adapting pub culture are highlighted in SAVE’s latest newsletter, in an extended feature article by architects and pub historians Dr David Knight and Christina Monteiro.

Two pubs on SAVE’s books have been demolished in recent months, highlighting the threats faced by unlisted and neglected pubs. The Black Horse in Coventry was demolished in January this year to make way for a road widening scheme, whilst The Air Balloon in Gloucestershire is set to be raised in the coming months to make way for road realignment programme. SAVE objected to the loss of historic but unlisted pubs following strong local outcry. See our letter of objection here.


The Bell and Bear public house is situated on Snow Hill, Shelton, on the outskirts of Stoke city centre. The current pub was built on the site of a former inn and hotel of the same name, with the decorative key stone above the main door displaying a construction date of 1892. Whilst elements of current building may date from 1892, it is thought principal structure and its clearly Edwardian Tudor-revival style, is more likely to date from the early twentieth century (c.1906).

Bell 4

IMAGE: A selection of exterior details, including the date stone above the door reading 1892 
(Credit: Neville Malkin)


The pub was originally one of four local inns and taverns serving this area of the city which was by the late 19th century a global centre for the ceramics and pottery trade. The origins of the pub’s unusual name are unknown, but it is thought to derive from the brutal pastime of bear-baiting, often practiced in the local communities of colliers, farmers and potters who settled in the area from the eighteenth century onwards.

In the 1980s, the Bell and Bear was saved from demolition and refurbished, remaining open until 2006 when it finally closed its doors. Plans to refurbish the pub as part of a council-led area regeneration scheme unfortunately faltered following a fire in the adjoining florists site in 2010, which caused damage to both buildings. Both structures have stood empty and rotting ever since.


Note to editors

1. For more information contact Ben Dewfield-Oakley, conservation officer at SAVE Britain’s Heritage – / 020 7253 3500

2. SAVE Britain’s Heritage is an independent voice in conservation that fights for threatened historic buildings and sustainable reuses. We stand apart from other organisations by bringing together architects, engineers, planners and investors to offer viable alternative proposals.