Thrings Meets... the Old Bell

Thrings meets the old bell

Thrings Partner John Davies meets Whit and Kim Hanks, owners of the historic Old Bell Hotel in Malmesbury

John Davies: How did your relationship with Malsmesbury and the Old Bell start?

Whit Hanks: We have owned the hotel since 2021 but I actually first came to Malmesbury some 40 years ago as an antiques dealer to attend an auction in Lea. We are from Texas and so did not know anyone from the area, but I was approached by someone at the auction who it turned out was also a ‘Hanks’. He told me that there were many of us in the area and in fact the Hanks surname comes from here.

I found that fact fascinating and after some brief research, had the teasing idea that Malmesbury and I had a deeper connection, a thought I tucked away for several decades before returning with Kim. By this point we were running a hotel business back home and, growing restless as you do, looked to start a hotel over here.

We must have looked at about 40 hotels across England but kept finding ourselves being drawn back to Wiltshire. We were in negotiations to purchase Abbey House when we found out that the Old Bell had come on the market and leapt at the chance to take it on.

Not only did it later turn out that when I came out on my first visit 40 years ago, I stayed at the Old Bell, but when we went back through the history of the deeds, one of my distant family members – Henry Hanks - actually owned the hotel in the 1800’s so it was clearly fate!

JD: What is the story behind the hotel?

Kim Hanks: There is so much history not just in the Old Bell but in Malmesbury which is the oldest borough in the country. The Abbey has been a holy site since the mid-to-late seventh century with the amazing stone building we have today around since the twelfth century.

Even back then, the Abbey was historic and people travelled from all over to visit it and its library which at the time was one of the biggest in the country. The hotel was first built in 1220 as lodgings for visitors and has remained in that use ever since, slowly growing as it took over parts of Castle House and had further extensions – the bar has the oldest chimney of its type in England!

JD: How did you find the experience of taking on such a local treasure?

WH: After completing on the property, we had eleven weeks before we were set to reopen and realised this would be a perfect opportunity to remodel. It was a major job to get it all done, flooring, wallpaper, furniture and everything else you would expect – including a container of antiques from our house in Texas – but it was worth it when we saw the final result.

Since opening, we have felt really welcomed by the town. We found our feet by bringing some staff over from our hotel in the States to help get the wheels turning but we have since employed people from the local community and it has been amazing to work with them and see them grow in confidence and flourish professionally.

JD: What is it that you love about Malmesbury?

KH: As Whit just said, the welcome we received was amazing. Malmesbury is one of the friendliest places we have ever been to. We can walk out of our front door, past the beautiful Abbey and into town and be greeted by a dozen people we know.

Aside from that, the town is so picturesque, it is the fact that you can walk into the town centre and see everyone in one place – there is something magical about it. Where we are from in Texas, it’s so spread you need a car to go anywhere, even to go out and get a newspaper!

JD: What does 2024 have in store for you?

WH: We are looking forward to Malmesbury’s Athelstan 1100 celebrations this summer. Alfred the Great’s grandson, King Athelstan, ascended to the throne in 924AD. He was very loyal to Malmesbury and was buried in the Abbey. Athelstan was the first king of a unified England, and the town is very proud of its long association with him with lots of exciting events planned to commemorate the anniversary.

KH: We are continuing to work on improving the existing hotel for our guests, rebuilding the garden and expanding the meeting room. We’re also hosting weddings at the hotel from the New Year, so we will be kept very busy!

To find out more about the Old Bell Hotel, visit Also visit to learn about upcoming events in Malmesbury this summer.

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