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.
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”
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’.
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.
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.
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
Do you have a milk bar memory to share?
About Bells or another milk bar experience?