Historic Wearside family catering firm and former butcher T & I Bell to shut for the last time after 139 years feeding hungry mouths in Washington and beyond, including the late Queen and Princess Dianna

A family firm is closing for the last time after serving Royalty and generations of Wearside people for 139 years.

T & I Bell, in Station Road, Washington, will cease trading on October 22 after a history which goes back to 1883.

Sole proprietor Alyson Chapman, nee Bell, is the last of the family to work for the company and is retiring after being with the firm since she was 12.

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She said: “I am still very passionate about the business. I will never lose that, but I feel as though I have done my bit.

Fond memories and lots of thank yous for customers from everyone at T & I Bell.
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"It was very difficult and very heartfelt to make the decision. I have got staff who have been with me for 44 years and they have been so loyal.

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"I want to say thank you to so many people who have worked for the family over the years and over so many generations.”

The firm started out as Bell’s Butchers and later became T & I Bell Caterers.

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Alyson Chapman who has announced the end of an era at T&I Bell.

It has enjoyed many highlights, including catering for functions where the VIPs included Princess Alexandra, Prince Philip, Princess Diana and even one where the late Queen Elizabeth II was among the guests.

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It also was the caterers for all Federation Brewery functions at one time.

But now it is time for retirement and, in a social media message to her loyal customers, Alyson said: “Not many businesses have survived trading since 1883, coming through two world wars, several recessions, the pandemic and seven Monarchs.

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"I have been honoured to carry on the family name.”

Alyson Chapman with the team at T&I Bell.
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The company’s origins date back to Isaac Walton Bell who was born in 1861, son to Thomas and Charlotte and husband to Annie Bell.

In 1883, the business was registered under his name Isaac Walton Bell of Washington Staithes. In 1890, the family firm had a small chain of shops in Washington Village, Concord and Washington Station.

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In 1893, the business moved to Station Road where it continued to trade under the newly appointed title of “A Bell”.

Maurice Bell (left) and a member of staff standing outside the family butchers.
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Annie’s children, Goff, Tom and Editha, brought the business into the next century and throughout the First World War.

Later, Maurice carried on the family business under the name of M Bell and Sons. He and his wife Florence had five children Maurice, Joan, Tom, Enid and Fred, who upheld the business through the Second World War and the days of rationing.

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In 1959, the company changed name once more with Tom taking control. In partnership with his wife Isabel the company became known as “T & I Bell”

and with the birth of their two daughters, Judith and Alyson, yet another generation became involved.

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9 events in the UK in 1883 – the year Bell’s opened:

Queen Victoria was in the 46th year of her reign.

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The grandfather of Alyson Chapman sitting in one of the company vans.

William Gladstone was Prime Minister.

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Blackburn Olympic beat Old Etonians 2-1 in the FA Cup final.

The first ever Home Nations rugby tournament, the predecessor to the Six Nations, took place.

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Matthew Webb, the first person to swim the English Channel, died in this year.

Philosopher Karl Marx also died in 1883.

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The Royal College of Music opened in London.

It was the year of the Victoria Hall disaster in Sunderland in which 183 children died.

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Future Prime Minister Clement Attlee was born.

A framed ration book alongside an advert for T&I Bell.
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How Station Road looked when T&I Bell opened.
A letter sent on behalf of The Duke of Edinburgh to T&I Bell.
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A letter to T&I Bell, sent after the firm catered for a function attended by Princess Diana.