Jane Bell: Hotelier who established Druidstone as a force in Welsh arts

 

Jane Bell did not seek acclaim for Druidstone, the idiosyncratic hotel she developed on a clifftop at the sea's edge in Pembrokeshire and to which there are still no signposts. But it came anyway, in the words of the many writers who have stumbled upon it across the course of 40 years.

Mark Ellingham, founder of the Rough Guides, has often cited it as his perfect hotel; Craig Brown described it as possibly the oddest and most ramshackle such establishment and yet also the most delightful in British Isles; and Bob Marshall-Andrews, the barrister and former Labour MP, defined it on Radio 4's Any Questions as his "paradise on earth," even if you did need your heel to double up as a bath plug, as he put it. But the odd missing plug, exploding bedspring or table lacking equilibrium has always been an acceptable price to pay for "avoiding Conde Nast style-victims on holiday", as Ellingham defined it. Some imperfections were detailed when the Good Food Guide first listed Druidstone in 1974 – the hotel has been in the guide ever since and is its 10th-oldest continuous listing – and Bell told the publishers that "your criticisms have encouraged the type of people that we usually appeal to".

That appeal lay in the community which she fostered after turning the 19th-century family house she inherited into a hotel possessed of extraordinary natural advantages, with its clifftop location overlooking sweeping sands, breaking waves and divine sunsets. Bell timetabled room allocations to build friendships. Judges, poets, politicians and actors were among those who made the discovery and returned year after year with their own children, who also formed lifelong friendships as they charted those challenging years through adolescence from the safety of Druidstone's walled garden and cellar bar.

Bell had always belonged at the Pembrokeshire coast – indeed, her mother was at the beach when she went into labour with her. She was five when her parents moved with her and two siblings from the county town of Haverfordwest, to the house on the cliff in the hamlet of Druidstone Haven. Her father was a surgeon and her mother established cottage lets.

After primary education in Saundersfoot, Jane attended boarding school in Dorset, and though at 18 she returned to the coast and developed her talents as an accomplished horsewoman, in her early 20s she went to live in London. Her career interests there brought her art gallery and hotel work, though professional life – and her life's mission – began when her parents handed over the keys to Druidstone as a gift on the day of her wedding in 1972, to Rod Bell, whom she had met in London. The establishment rapidly emerged as a major force in Welsh arts and youth work.

Her husband's background as a lighting specialist enabled Druidstone to stage free music festivals which became legendary, with bands performing against a backdrop of sunset and ocean. The contemporary folk band Bellowhead and multi-instrumental ska-jazz big band Wonderbrass count Bell and Druidstone as a significant part of their ascent to an international stage. Bell's greatest passion was theatre and she also became an important patron to those seeking the creative space Druidstone offered them. High Jinks Theatre and Spectacle were among the companies to benefit and Bell's equally significant critical input to their work led to the Welsh Arts Council appointing her to its drama committee.

Something was still missing, though. Always aware of her own good fortune, Bell felt the absence of young people in the hotel's off-season to be a lost opportunity. By chance, she encountered Vivienne Bowen Morgan, the Prince's Trust's regional organiser for neighbouring Carmarthenshire; the product of their conversations was "Druidstone Plus", a project which permitted large organisations such as the Ministry of Defence, the Inland Revenue, and Ford to use the Trust's resources for a week of team-building in return for them mentoring groups of the Trust's young people for a week, at Druidstone. Thousands of young people from the most deprived areas of Llanelli, whose concrete jungles had a profound effect on Bell when she saw them, and also from London's East End, benefited over the 10 years of this partnership.

There were other beneficiaries of Bell's vision of Druidstone as a fulcrum of the arts and good works. Many artists, including Grahame Hurd-Wood and the children's writer and illustrator Jackie Morris, have exhibited and sold their work there – with no commission asked – and built reputations on Bell's generosity and enthusiasm. Her environmentalist instinct drew her to the campaign against radar installation off the coast at the nearby St David's and the Liquefied Natural Gas facility at Milford Haven.

Yet it is the force of personality which melded the community of guests for which she will most be remembered. Her death, from pancreatic cancer, brought many of them together at Druidstone, though her instructions were that the celebration should be for the four decades of a place she made a home to so many. Continuity rather than change was always Bell's mantra. She leaves her husband, Rod, son Angus, daughter-in-law Beth, and grand-daughter Seren. The Druidstone spirit lives on.

Ian Herbert

Jane Bell, hotelier, arts and music patron: born Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire 14 March 1944; married 1972 Rod Bell (one son); died Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire 12 August 2012.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test