MORE than 360 people were at St Stephen’s Church in Cinderfordvon Thursday (April 18) as the town said goodbye to businessman, philanthropist and racehorse owner Keith Bell.

Mr Bell, who started his career in the construction industry as a hod carrier, built up one of the largest enterprises in the Forest in Cinderford-based KW Bell Group.

He died on March 20 at the age of 82.

His coffin was drawn to the church in Belle Vue Road from the KW Bell Group headquarters in Whimsey by four black Frieisan stallions. Each had a plume of feathers in the colours of Mr Bell’s racing silks.

The eulogy was given by Mr Bell’s eldest son Peter who opened with thanks “for the flood of love and respect that has come in for dad.”

He added: “It has been quite overwhelming. It has been a great comfort to all of us in the family and I hope he knew 10 per cent of the love that came his way.”

Mr Bell was born on April 9 1941, one of six children born to Gladys and Jim Bell on Littledean Hill “a place he cherished all his life”.

After leaving school he went down the pit with his father but decided that coal-mining was not for him and later got a job as a hod carrier “working alongside some amazing bricklayers”.

“Dad spoke fondly of these times. It was strict and hard but it eventually led him to the trowel himself.”

His first big break came when he convinced the developers Westbury Estates to give him a contract for their second site, telling them he had a gang to work on the project.

“You need me because I’m the best around, he told them. It worked and he got the job. It was, by the way, a pack of lies – he was in fact a lone brickie but he formed that gang very quickly.

By the mid-1970s he was employing 200 people and the home phone at Turner’s Tump, Ruardean was “hot” with business calls in the early evening.

Later he diversifed into scaffolding and then housebuilding with his Bell Homes company which remained a passion up to his death.

Mr Bell said: “From our living room at 49 Edgehills, to Turner’s Tump, Ruardean and a converted coal shed for an office to Powell’s Yard, White Hart Hill to the purpose-built office and yard at Whimsey now. That was quite a journey.”

The current KW Bell Group headquarters was opened by Richard Frazer, the chief executive of Westbury Homes in 1988 – and one of the many scrapes that Mr Bell got into concerned his good friend’s blue Cadillac.

“He parked it outside a B & B and woke up to find they had built the Saturday market around it and couldn’t get out until the evening.”

Mr Bell was passionate about horses, eventually owning a string of racehorses at his yard at Elton which was opened by Grand National-winning jockey Bob Champion.

His favourite day in racing was April 9 1988 when two of his horses won at Hereford on Grand National day and his and twin brother John’s birthday

The music for the funeral included Lead Me Lord and Ex Ore Innocentium sung by choristers from Gloucester Cathedral with solos by Mr Bell’s grandson George.

Mr Bell concluded his tribute saying: “Thank you for everything you did for us, God bless you.”

Mr Bell was a committed of many local charities and donations are being taken for Great Oaks Hospice.

Following the service, led by Rev Mike Barnsley, Mr Bell was buried at St Ethelbert’s Church, Littledean.

The arrangements were carried out by Coller & Brain funeral directors.