In November South Herts Branch awarded the Prae Wood Arms in St Albans with its Most Improved Pub award. Can there be another pub that has so dramatically recovered from a seemingly terminal decline?
Back in 1838, feeling at odds with her lonely life in London, 81-year old Lady Frances Cooke Grimston decided “to throw away a few hundreds” by building a ‘cottage’ in the grounds of the family Gorhambury estate. Those ‘few hundreds’ grew to £4,139 but she happily moved into the house naming it The Pre, living there until she died, ten years later in 1848. Subsequently the building was extended, still for residential use, but in 1951 it was let as The Pre Hotel, an existence which continued for over 40 years – a popular local venue due to its pleasant riverside location and the fact that it was quiet, comfortable and unobtrusive – ideal for business meetings. For a while it made a mark on the real ale map though beer quality eventually waned. When it closed as a hotel the Pre Restaurant took over and then the Garden House but by now the years were seriously taking their toll on the building’s fabric.
In 2016, Brunning and Price, an award-winning pub group with other Hertfordshire outlets in Sarratt and Potters Bar, noted the potential of the site, seeing it as “a diamond in the rough”. Discussions with conservation officers led to an impressive refurbishment that would not only give the building a new lease of life but would uncover and incorporate many of its original features. The work took over 6 months to complete and now, 18 months after re-opening, the new pub and restaurant business has gone from strength to strength offering a variety of comfortable drinking and eating areas, decorated with interesting photographs and prints.
The Prae Wood Arms is now firmly established in the local area with a growing reputation for quality food stretching far into wider Hertfordshire. Manager Becky Hall and her hard-working team provide fine cuisine ranging from British pub classics to food created from world-wide influences. Smaller snacks are also available. There are now usually 5 real ales at the bar – from local county and national brewers, plus a real cider. The cellar is the domain of Becky’s assistant Tess Sanders who selects and keeps the beers on offer – the beer descriptions and their travelled “beer miles” are stated on the hanging blackboards above the handpumps. The grounds of the Prae offer Al Fresco dining, beautiful lawns, glimpses of the River Ver and a pleasant place to enjoy a pint. And Becky organises occasional walks from the pub (following free bacon butties!) into the local countryside. She said “We want people to really enjoy coming here and so aim to provide great customer service with lovely food and interesting beers. The whole team here plays an enormous and key part in making the Prae Wood Arms what it is – we are so pleased to be receiving this award.”
Congratulations to everybody at the Prae Arms Hotel!
Oh, and why “Prae or Pre”? The name refers to the local area which sat ahead of a gate and entrance to Roman Verulamium.