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News > Announcements > In Memoriam: John Vereker (49-53)

In Memoriam: John Vereker (49-53)

You are warmly welcomed to leave a message below, share your memories, and celebrate the life of John Vereker (49-53), who we sadly lost in 2023.
9 Jan 2023
Written by Robin Knight

J.S.B. Vereker (49-53) died on January 2nd 2023, aged 87. He left a wife Christine, two sons Julian and Christopher and grandchildren. A memorial service will be held at 12:30pm on 8th February at St. Peter & St. Paul church, Horndon-on-the-Hill, Essex SS17 8NT followed by a wake at The Bell Inn, Horndon SS17 8LD.

A message from a friend posted on the website of The Bell Inn, which John ran with Christine and the family for the past 50 years, stated: “Publican and Gentleman. An amazing life, lived magnificently with joy, kindness and passion, which touched so many other lives and made them better.”

John entered the Nautical College in the winter term 1949 and later joined Macquarie Division. A good hockey player, he was in the 1st X1 in varying positions for three years as well as playing in the cricket 1st X1 in 1952. “If he has the chance to play much in the future, he should become a fine player” wrote his hockey coach in 1953.

That was not to be. Bent on a career at sea, John joined the Blue Star Line, a passenger and cargo shipping company sailing mostly to Africa and Australia, in 1953 and remained with it as a navigating officer until coming ashore for good in 1970. “I have no doubt this phase of my life taught me many of the skills, including managing people and taking responsibility and control when needed, that I would later use as an innkeeper. (But) I had no idea that was where I was going to end up at this stage.”

Often docking at Tilbury after a long spell away from home, John would sometimes make his way seven miles north up the road to The Bell Inn at Horndon-on-the-Hill where a good pint was always guaranteed. There he met the landlord’s daughter, Christine, whose family had owned the pub since 1938 and who had been born there. “And when I found the woman I loved, I also found the industry I loved,” he once informed a journalist.

Even then one of the best-known 16th century Tudor coaching inns in England, The Bell under Christine and John’s patronage flourished to such an extent over the decades that followed that almost no regional and national award escaped it. In 1999 it won the nationwide Pub of the Year award given by the Licensee Industry. As recently as 2021 the Good Pub Guide named John Vereker as one of the country’s top ten licensees.

In the early 1970s, though, The Bell was still a traditional hostelry with no great food pretensions. The Verekers set about changing this, in the process creating one of the U.K.’s first gastropubs, with a daily changing menu, and also developing the inn’s 15 bedrooms. By the early 2000s about half the turnover was coming from food sales, more than 40 staff were on the payroll and up to 100 covers a day were regularly served. More recently, an all-day brasserie called The Ostlers was opened nearby.

The commitment involved in this growth was not for the faint-hearted. A typical day, as John once described his working life after The Bell had won the Best Country Dining Pub award for the sixth year in a row, would begin at 7:00am with 90 minutes’ paperwork in the pub’s office and end around midnight with cash up and lock up.

Over the years John’s popularity as the genial, welcoming host of The Bell grew and grew and became proverbial. Several East of England reunions of OPs were held at the pub, and John never failed to acknowledge the debt he believed he owed to the training he had first received at The Nautical College.

After John’s death hundreds of people paid tribute to him on social media, many of whom had once worked for him. One said: “To the most dapper gentleman publican I’ve ever met.” Echoed a second: “An absolute gent and all-round good man…a legend among pub landlords.” And a third wrote: “One of life’s very rare people. A true gentleman, a great leader and boss, and a kind-hearted person.”

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