People in Malmesbury have hailed the news of America power couple Kim and Whit Hanks to the town.

The pair have taken over what is thought to be England’s oldest hotel, the Old Bell and are finalising ownership of the nearby Abbey House and Gardens.

The founders of Whim Hospitality, Camp Lucy and Tillie’s Restaurant in Dripping Springs, Texas say they are “exceptionally thrilled” to take on the sites.

Social media was abuzz this weekend as locals branded the news "excellent" and "exciting."

Councillor Gavin Grant, who represents Malmesbury, has had various conversations with the couple over the last six months - and had to hide the exciting news.

He said: "I have been in conversation with the new owners for the last six to nine months, they wanted to understand the interests of the local area and have a real desire to engage.

"There will be new opportunities made through this new relationship and I think it is very positive for Malmesbury.

"The sustainable nature of the Abbey House Gardens is vital to Malmesbury, and it is paramount that will be preserved."

Mayor Campbell Ritchie, added: “I am pleased to welcome Whit and Kim Hanks as the new owners of the Old Bell Hotel and the soon to be owners of Abbey House. The continued success of both is very important for residents, visitors and our local economy. The extra dimension, the return of a part of the Hanks family to Malmesbury is also special.

The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald: Campbell RitchieCampbell Ritchie

"I was recently being shown an important Warden and Freemen document from the late 18th Century with the signatures of Henry Hanks as the Alderman and Thomas Hanks as one of the Burgesses, and that is just a part of the Hanks family story.

"I am looking forward to meeting Whit and Kim when they are next here in Malmesbury.”

It is an end of an era for the Pollard family, who currently call the Abbey House and Gardens home.

Ian and Barbara Pollard made headlines across the world as their clothes optional days resulted in international success.

The Pollard family - Ian's son Rufus currently runs the property - said it was too early to comment on the soon-to-be sale at this stage.

It is understood that the Abbey House and Gardens will change hands by November.

Meanwhile the current owners of the Old Bell, the Harvey family, say the new owners' "great respect for the history of the hotel, vast experience within the hospitality industry, mixed with their unique luxurious whimsical style" will make sure the Old Bell is put on the map for both national and international visitors.

Gordan MacPherson,  managing director of high street consultant company Retailer Group, lives in Malmesbury.

He echoed sentiments that the acquisition news would be a real boost for the town. He said: “The hotel is a key business in the town and the expertise the Hanks organisation bring with them will be welcomed as they develop the business. I understand they have ambitious plans and look forward to seeing them unfold.

"The fact the family have connections with the town going back to the 1100’s is an added bonus as they are already invested in Malmesbury.

“My understanding is they are a credible organisation with a track record to be envied in the industry.

"They also wish to engage with the local businesses, groups and organisations which is welcome in the current trading environment,”he said.

Kim and Whit have stressed that the hotel will continue to serve the community as it has for the past 800 years.

“Whit and I are so excited and fortunate to have the opportunity to bring our Whim Hospitality brand of welcoming hospitality to both these outstanding historic properties in the wonderful town of Malmesbury, home of our Hanks family ancestors,” said Kim.

“We are looking forward to meeting our guests, members of the community, local artisans, businesses and entrepreneurs as we create a refresh and restyle programme for The Old Bell Hotel to be an inclusive, engaging destination in Malmesbury for launch in early 2022.”

The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald: The Old BellThe Old Bell

They plan to reopen the hotel on May 17.

Kim and Whit also plan to keep the Abbey Gardens open to the public.

At the Old Bell Hotel, the couple say they have proposed a programme of modest ground floor refurbishments to bring new ambience to the dining room and bar lounges, delicious new food menus and inviting outdoor drinks and dining areas.

Kim and Whit, along with both their US and Old Bell Hotel teams, will engage with the local community, artisans, businesses and entrepreneurs.

They plan to create programme of activities to be launched at the hotel in early 2022, aiming to recreate The Old Bell Hotel as a welcoming, active hub of Malmesbury life.