According to a report by accountants UHY Hacker Young there are now over 2,000 breweries in the UK, more than at any time since the 1930s, with 300 small breweries opening in 2016 alone. St Albans and its surroundings may have initially been slow to pick up on this trend but we can now boast several local breweries which have started up in recent years – names such as Farr Brew, Mad Squirrel, Three Brewers and Verulam Brewery can now regularly be sampled in and around the town. And of course St Albans does boast the headquarters of CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) on Hatfield Road, the organisation founded in 1971 to protect traditional brewing in Britain, and claimed to be the largest campaigning consumer group in Europe.
St Albans has been a popular place for pubs and beer drinking for many centuries, being a natural halt for coaches and horsemen riding out of London. The 25 mile ride up Watling Street was as far as a team of coach horses could manage and coaching inns began to open up to cater for the need to change horses, as well as feed and water weary travellers. By 1815 around 70 mail and stage coaches passed through St Albans every day on their way up the turnpike road to the Midlands and Holyhead, and onwards to Ireland. Many of these inns still exist today, though you may be unaware of their history and importance to the development of St Albans. So next time you`re planning a night out in St Albans why not pay some of these pubs a visit, and take note of their historical significance while sipping on your pint.
Here are a few of the historic pubs you may have taken for granted:
The Boot, Market Place. Dating from 16th century when it was originally two shops, The Boot was given its first ale licence in 1719. Workshops which still existed on the first floor left offcuts of leather under the floorboards – not surprising given name of the pub. Outside The Boot stands the Clock Tower, built between 1403 and 1412. The bells were rung each day at 8.00pm to sound the curfew, and again at 4.00am to rouse people for work.
Lower Red Lion, Fishpool Street. Dating from the 17th century, it is situated in Fishpool Street, once part of the main stagecoach route from London to the North West, with up to 40 coaches a day passing its doors. Apart from the cobblestones Fishpool Street is virtually unchanged since the early 19th century. The name Fishpool Street existed before the Norman Conquest and came from the large fish pool from which the inhabitants of the royal estate of Kingsbury earned their living in Saxon times. The pub featured in an episode of the ITV wartime detective series Foyle`s War.
White Hart Hotel, Holywell Hill. By the mid-9th century Roman Watling Street had been diverted from its course through Verulamium to pass around the Abbey, thereby creating Holywell Hill. The upper part of Holywell Hill, where the pub lies, continued as the main coaching route to London until 1796 when the present London Road was opened. The original inn was built as the Hartshorn around 1500, becoming the White Hart in 1535. The Jacobite rebel Lord Lovat was captured after the battle of Culloden and was housed at the inn in 1746, on his way to the Tower of London for trial for treason. The following year at the age of 80, Lord Lovat became the last person to be offically beheaded in the UK. The inn was the scene of a tragic accident in 1802 when Elizabeth Wilson, seated on the top of the Northampton coach, failed to duck as the coach swept into the entrance and was killed by the impact. This incident provided the inspiration for the demise of Mr Jingle in Dickens` Pickwick Papers. It is said the ghost of Elizabeth Wilson still haunts the pub, and at least one murder took place in the cellar.
The Goat, Sopwell Lane. The Goat is a former coaching inn built originally as a house at the end of the 15th century, and it had become a pub by 1587. It is rumoured to be the site of the oldest known brothel in St Albans. At the height of the coaching age it had the largest stabling of any pub in the city, with space for 72 horses.
White Lion, Sopwell Lane. This is another former coaching inn just along the road from The Goat. In Medieval times Sopwell Lane was one of the 3 roads into St Albans from the east and on 22nd May, 1455 was the site of the First Battle of St Albans, between the forces of King Henry VI and Richard, Duke of York. The 3 narrow roads were barricaded by Henry`s men, before the Earl of Warwick and his men carried the day for the Yorkists by climbing through adjoining gardens and buildings to surprise Henry`s forces in the Market Place, claiming victory in the first battle in the War of the Roses.
Six Bells is now the only licenced premises within the walls of what was Roman Verulamium. It is a late 16th century building and used to be called The Bell before the nearby church added five more to its belfry.
Ye Olde Fighting Cocks is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest pub in Britain, though this is disputed by several other pubs. It is octagonal in shape and was originally a pigeon house. At one time the pub stood close to the Abbey but was dismantled and moved in 1539. Foundations beneath the pub date from 793AD. Formerly called the Round House it was renamed around 1800 to reflect the sport of cock fighting which took place in the bar area.