home page   back to the History Page

The History of The Bell Memorial Home


Walk along South Street in Lancing towards the sea and you will pass The Bell Memorial Home or “The Bell” at it is affectionately known. The Bell has been caring for over 100 years. This short history reflects the marvellous story of how sheer will power, love of the common people and professionalism created a home that gained national recognition. Always at the heart of The Bell has been caring. Caring that has continued for well over a century. Caring that need to continue in the different but still socially challenging world of the 21st century.

This is not a complete history and there may be some episodes that are not covered here.
Founding Fathers and First Principles

1890 England was a very different place to the present day one. Queen Victoria had been on the throne for over 50 years. There had been a massive expansion of the British Empire overseas. At home, huge developments in industry and commerce were underway. The move away from villages and hamlets into towns and cities created large centres of population – and problems.

London was England’s largest centre of population with striking contrasts between the wealthier suburbs, developing as “middle class” areas, whilst inner city areas were poorer, which reflected in housing conditions being poor or very poor. There was no social service or health service in the modern sense. In the darkness of the inner city were beacons of light provided by groups and individuals who were attempting to improve the lot of the “common people”.

William Booth (left) , the Methodist preacher from Liverpool who had founded the Salvation Army began a series of ground breaking social surveys in London. His team produced “poverty maps” showing the places with the most acute problems. Booth had also set up a network of Gospel Missions across London, particularly in those poorer areas identified by the “poverty maps”. One such Mission was Kingsland Gospel Mission. Here was a certain Mr William Chorley who had worked for many years with the poor. Mr Chorley’s vision was to improve the spiritual and physical well being of the poorer people by providing “a change of scenery and fresh sea air”. Mr Chorley had visited and knew Lancing and decided it was just the place in that vision.
Mr Chorley and Lancing

Mr Chorley (left) set to work making the vision into practical projects. A certain Mr Northcroft offered the use of his house “Bank Cottage”, rent free for the summer months of 1890 to provide that “a change of scenery and fresh sea air”. Bank House still stands just below The Three Horseshoes Inn on the corner of South Street and Brighton Road Lancing.

Accommodation was limited but Bank Cottage provided a holiday for ten children at a time and was a great success. How those children would have enjoyed the break away from London! No crowded streets, damp houses, poor nutrition and the like. Instead, the sea, warm sun, regular nutritious meals and loving care.

Bank Cottage was a great success, so much so that Mr Chorley needed to look for larger premises! Mr Chorley’s project was for more than the children. It was also for a home where men would be accompanied by wives and children.

Luck was on his side ………

Lorne Cottage, Hope Lodge and Channel View

By 1895 Bank Cottage was not large enough for the projects that Mr Chorley had in mind and as luck would have it, a house on the opposite side of South Street called Lorne Cottage became vacant. It was bought and opened that same year as a rest home for ten men. The next year, 1896, saw Mr Chorley buying the house next to Lorne Cottage, called Hope Lodge for £425. Hope Lodge was to be for “12 or more mothers and their babies”.

As is often the case, once a problem has been identified and a solution reached, the solution itself becomes a new problem, a victim of its own success. So in 1899, a house facing the sea and known as “Stork’s Nest” was acquired, renamed Channel View and opened for 30 men and youths. Residents at Channel View wore a uniform of rough serge navy blue and were known to the villagers as “Chorley’s Blue Birds”. Lorne Cottage was no longer used to house men, so it served a new role in housing a few elderly women so that they might end their days in peace and comfort. The alternative for many of these women would have been the not so tender mercies of the workhouse.
Lancing Grammar School becomes The Chestnuts

Lancing Grammar School in South Street had been closed for some time and when it eventually came onto the market was bought by a certain Mr Wenman. The new owner was at once approached by Mr Chorley who persuaded Mr Wenman to grant him free use of the house for 21 years! This once again demonstrated the sheer will power of Mr Chorley to arrange “a change of scenery and fresh sea air” – what a remarkable man he must have been.

The new home was named The Maria Wenman Home of Rest, in memory of the owner’s deceased wife. Classrooms were converted into bedrooms and dayrooms. The dining hall doubled as a Mission Hall at which locals were encouraged to attend. Within three months of opening, 450 patients had been received. The home soon became known as “The Chestnuts”, not from the trees standing in the grounds (which were Ilex) but because many of the residents suffered from chest complaints. The building was extended, a new wing opening in 1901 and a new mission room in 1903. After three years the free lease was withdrawn but the freehold became available on very advantageous terms. The Missions trustees borrowed £900 to make the purchase. For the first time they owned a home of their own.

Mount Hermon and Beachville

In 1910 Mount Hermon was added to the homes owned by the mission and used as a home for the elderly and the dying. Lorne Cottage became the home and studio to a certain McCarthy family. The next door property to Channel View was acquired in 1912 and opened as Beachville, a home for men. Much later it was taken over by West Sussex County Council and renamed Sussex Lodge.
Enter Miss Bell ….. and a Sunbeam

About this time a certain Miss Bell of Tooting became actively interested in the work of the homes and gave generously to their upkeep.

Sunshine home staff and children “a change of scenery and fresh sea air”

In 1922 the homes became incorporated as a company (“The Southern Convalescent Homes) as Mr Chorley and his family could no longer manage the increasing costs of running the homes.

Building of new premises were undertaken and in 1928 when the new home was erected it was natural that it should be called “The Bell Memorial Home” as it was paid for more or less from monies left to the homes by Miss Bell. Children were not to be neglected either and part of the new Bell was the “Sunbeam” home; a convalescent home purpose built for them.

The death of Mr William Chorley

William Chorley died on 22nd November 1932, aged 84 and was buried at the St James the Less churchyard in North Lancing. In only three months, William’s wife Sarah was dead and buried alongside William.

William clearly was an extraordinary man. His powers of persuasion, love of the common people and faith combined to realise the aspiration of his vision to better peoples’ lot by “a change of scenery and fresh sea air”.

The Bell at war ….. and bomb damage

The Bell became an emergency hospital and was run by the Ministry of Health until 1941 when it was requisitioned by the War Department for the billeting of soldiers. Canadian regiments were billeted at The Bell and English soldiers at Beachville. Happily, during the war few bombs fell on Lancing but one of those that did hit the Sunbeam Children’s Home - fortunately there were no casualties.

Post War optimism brings rebuilding

War ended in 1945 and the great optimism of those times meant work began to redecorate and make The Bell useable again for it’s original caring purpose. The major task was the Sunbeam Home. Negotiations for settling war damage claims were protracted. Plans were drawn up to accommodate 25 children on the ground floor and the two storeys above and 25 single bedrooms to extend the work of The Bell.

Miss Nancy Price opens the refurbished Bell in 1950

Estimated costs were £20,000 for the rebuild and £6,000 for furnishings. The war damage claim came in at £11,146 leaving around £15,000 to be raised. It was decided to sell Beachville (which alone needed £5,000 over and above the war claim damage to put it into repair) and Mount Hermon to The South London Mission and use the proceeds to build the Sunbeam. Following the sales and a generous donation of £2,750 from The King Edward Fund the gap reduced to £1,500 – which was filled. Works began and were completed by 1950, the diamond jubilee of the foundation of the homes in Lancing. Notation at the time comments on the work at the new Sunbeam home:-

“It was a truly magnificent piece of work, children from deprived homes, hopelessly under nourished, weak and pale, some with deformities and abnormalities due to the home conditions were nursed back to full health”

The official re-opening ceremony for The Bell Memorial Home and the Sunbeam Home came in 1950. Guest of honour at the event was the then well known actress Miss Nancy Price. That same year, 1950 saw central heating installed at The Bell and every bedroom redecorated and refurbished including the provision of hot and cold water.

The 1950s/70s .. a nationwide reputation for caring

The 1950’s saw the fulfilment of the plans and building that resulted in the rebuilt Sunbeam and Bell Memorial Homes – collectively, “The Bell”. The two homes were full of children and adults. The reputation and importance of the two homes spread across the country. Social policies changed. By 1956 the concept of separate child convalescence gave way to mother and child together; which signalled the end of the Sunbeam children’s home. On 31st October 1962, The Bell Memorial Home became a registered charity. Mechanical progress continued with installation of a lift in 1960. In 1964 saw the building of the much loved sun lounge – still in use today. By 1971 a new automatic lift was added with the intention of enabling the caring of more heart and disabled cases.
July 7th 1990 – a century of caring

The sun shone on the Centenary Day of The Bell Memorial Home, July 7th 1990. The promotional literature for the event proudly announced

The Council cordially invites you to a CENTENARY YEAR OPEN DAY, Saturday 7th July 1990 to commence at 2pm

Centenary Greetings
Exhibition 100 years
Tour of the refurbished home

It is hoped that as many friends and associates of the Home as possible will be able to attend and make the day the climax of the Centenary Year Celebrations. At 2.00pm prompt Sister Ivy introduced Miss Lena Phillips who sang two solos “Bless this house” and “Where’ ere you walk”.

Legal changes affected The Bell in 1991, when a change of name was made from “Southern Convalescent Homes Incorporated” to the present day “The Bell Memorial Home Incorporated”.

Towards and beyond the Millennium

Throughout it long history of caring, The Bell has always been able to adapt to the changing social and health care needs of the country. Happily those crowded poverty stricken streets of London known to William Chorley now belong in the history books. But still the needs of the population have to be satisfied and in July 1991, The Bell opened a new wing to the building “The Nursing Home Wing”

In 1993 The Bell began to issue an annual booklet to promote the home. One of those marvellous machines, a computer, was bought in 1996. 1999 saw the removal of the famous bridging between the two homes (The Bell and former Sunbeam Home) to provide spacious landings, a new eight person lift, a guest room, a staff room and office. 2003 saw the launch of The Bell Memorial website and the following year as a tribute to all the hard working staff and their training, The Bell was awarded “Investor in People” status. 2004 saw the birth of the Training Centre, now situated in the bungalow at the rear of the building. The training centre is dedicated to the hard work of Mr Derek Bennett. The Training Centre is an extension to The Bell’s caring ethos where all it’s staff are training in all areas of caring for the residents. In addition, NVQ training is provided to its own staff at to staff from outside homes.

Palliative “End of Life” care been expanded on using the Liverpool Care Pathway Tool to enable us to deliver better holistic care to our residents, a home for life.

The Bell’s category of registration has changed since the 1980’s, from convalescence to nursing and residential care, although it now provides residential, respite and holiday care for the over 65’s. The Bell continues to be governed by a Board of Trustees, known as the Executive Council. The current chairman is Mrs Maureen Walker who has had a long association with The Bell and assists with pastoral care and communion services. The registered manager is Mrs Maureen Condick who has been with the company for the past 16 years and has initiated many changes to improve care practices to maintain the highly professional organisation that The Bell has become

Three key Bell personalities

Mr Harry Leeks was Superintendent at The Bell after the Second World War having moved down from London. He had strong links with the Bermondsey Mission. The present House Manager, Diane, remembers Harry carving the ham each week and listening to the cricket on the radio! At Christmas time in these years the Bell was closed for two weeks after the convalescent patients went home. Mr Leeks, the staff and Rotary Club members made up Christmas parcels for the needy and poor; distributing them around Lancing

Sister Ivy Baldock originally deaconess at the Bermondsey Mission and was associated with The Bell for many years. Sister Ivy is still remembered for her role as Superintendent and later as chairman and treasurer after the death of Mr Leeks. She was a staunch Methodist and her beliefs, values and personality were an integral part of The Bell’s philosophy.

Mr Derek Bennett joined The Bell in 1985 as secretary, later Company Secretary and treasurer after the death of Sister Ivy. He continued in this role for twenty years until his death. Derek was a man of many parts, wearing different hats during is his time at The Bell. He was responsible for most of the current restructuring, refurbishments and alterations to The Bell and was totally committed to bringing an old building up to modern day standards of living.

please click here to go to the top of this page