Bells History 101


Jan 17, 2014 About Bells, Discover Broken Hill, History of Bells, Milk Bar Stories , , , , , , , , , , , , 4 Comments

Bells Milk Bar started out as a small confectionery store called ‘F. Fenton Confectioner’ in 1892.  The original building was situated on the same site that Bells now occupies.  Frederick Fenton was also a cordial maker.  Mr Fenton hired John Joseph Longman as his apprentice.

F Fenton

Fredrick F Fenton

By 1908, Fenton still owned the store, but Longman was left in charge of the Patton Street store.  Eventually Longman acquired the business.

Les Bell’s mother, Minnie Pearl Davis joined the business in 1903, as an apprentice cordial maker, and later married Mr Longman. Minnie Pearl had three children to Longman: Eric, Robert and Eunice.  In 1918 Longman was killed in France in the First World War, leaving Minnie Pearl to run the shop on her own.  It became known as “Pearly Longman’s”

The Original Fentons store on the current Bells site

The Original Fentons store on the current Bells site

When she remarried on the 7th March 1923 to Les Bell, a toolmaker on the South Mine, The shop was known as “Pearly Bell’s”.  Minnie Pearl was the true pioneer of Bells, running the shop solo as ‘Old Les’ continued working on the mine.

Legend has it that she would stand out in the street until it was devoid of a single soul before closing; Thus ensuring that no one was ever denied the opportunity to purchase one last special Bells drink.

The ‘Milk Bar” first appeared in Australia around 1932 in Sydney.  Though “Pearly Bells” was already an old soda fountain shop of much renown, council records indicate a major re-development of the shop in 1938.  This would have most likely been when it first became ‘Bells Milk Bar’.

The First Ever Bells from 1938

The First Ever Bells from 1938

As well as enjoying the atmosphere of the shop even back then, people came to taste Pearly Bell’s delicious drinks like the Green Lime or Ginger Beer Spider and Vanilla Malt Milkshake.

Minnie Pearl had another son, Les Bell junior, who eventually inherited the shop along with his wife, Mavis, in 1953.  The fifties and sixties live on in Bells Milk Bar.  After only three years as owners of the shop, Les and Mavis conducted dramatic renovations in 1956.  Today, the intact 1950s architecture meets the Jetson’s-style ‘Dancing Fruit & Aliens’ interior murals.  This version of Bells is still architecturally stylish, and was ahead of it’s time in the mid 1950’s.

Mavis Bell

Mavis Bell

In the proud Bells tradition, Mavis Bell continued the ‘doll-faced’ appearance adding a beehive hairstyle too.  In the fifties, the population was almost double that of today and Bells Drinks were in high demand, particularly over the sweltering Broken Hill summers.

The Modern Bells 1956

The Modern Bells 1956

Les Bell was a perfectionist.  He took his mother’s old recipes of the late 19th century and added the 1950’s ingredients to modernise them.  The result can still be tasted today – the drinks served here are made from Les Bell’s famous secret recipes which he adapted from his mother’s old fashioned recipes.  They taste ‘out of this world’ and are a fine example of the benefit of retaining the old traditions like small batch handmade syrups.

Some of the most common stories / memories that people share about Bells include:

  • That the Bells had the first TV set in Broken Hill
  • Les Bell and his never-ending bag of jokes (some only for the boys’ ears)
  • The appearance of the shop – it was always spotless
  • Getting Ice cream in a Billy-can to take home and eat on the front lawn
  • Lining up on Sunday afternoon halfway down the street for a drink.
  • Running down the road from the Metro Theatre at half-time for a Bells drink – they always had them lined up along the counter
  • Going on first dates at Bells
  • Hanging out with the group of motorcycle riders out the front of Bells

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  • Patricia Richards
    Nov 19, 2014 at 4:10 pm Reply

    We lived in Wright St West Broken Hilll befor moving to Geelong Vic

  • Patricia Richards
    Oct 7, 2014 at 6:50 pm Reply

    As a family we often drove from West Broken Hill out to South Broken Hill to visit Bells for a Spider ,on a hot Broken Hill Evening

  • Tracey Kitic
    Aug 18, 2014 at 2:42 pm Reply

    I was born in Broken Hill in the early 60’s and lived in Queen street, I have fond memereys of walking up to Bells with my friends in summer and having a spider. I move to Sydney when I was 17 for work but have done a few road trips back with my sister and our children, one of the first places we took them was Bell’s and told them story’s of our youth. My mother and father are both gone now but my sister and I are taking a road trip back down memory lane in the school holidays together and one of the first places we will visit is Bell’s. It brings back memory’s of youth and summers so hot it melted the tar roads, I can still see us all sitting arond a table and talking about which boys were hot and what should we do next… I can not wait.

  • mary-anne simpson
    May 19, 2014 at 5:38 am Reply

    My grandparent lived in Rockwell street, my grandfather, Jack Kearns,would get us a coler spider, we love them

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