If there’s a pub that epitomises the appearance of a quintessential East Anglian rural pub, surely this is it. And within its weatherboarded exterior, the timber framed Grade II listed building hides a wealth of architectural features including exposed beams and a tiled flooring.
Built in the 16th Century with a 19th Century extension, its history as an alehouse began in the 18th century and it is a notorious event that overshadows those early years. Certainly, it is known that the pub’s barn was used to lay out the body of Walter Clibborn, a notorious footpad who with members of his family, had been responsible for a string of vicious robberies on people returning to the area from Hertford market. In December 1782 he met his match – Clibborn was shot by George North as he tried to rob his master, Ben Whittenbury, in nearby Canon’s Wood. North was tried for murder but was acquitted and the spot where Clibborn was shot and later buried – on the Bramfield to Bulls Green road, near Queen’s Hoo, is still witnessed by a marked post. Seen as doing a great service to the local community, Whittenbury’s command for North to fire was rewarded by a silver cup presented by the local Lord Lieutenant. The gun used is kept at Hertford Museum. The barn was destroyed by fire in 2001 but the pub still thrives – now a popular stop for walkers and people tempted by the pub’s ales and quality food. There is a bar and adjoining restaurant to the right of the front door and a smaller “snug” to the left.
The Horns was bought by the Lucas family, Quaker brewers of Hitchin, in 1835. Along with 3 acres of land the sale included a dairy, stable, the barn, a cowhouse and two pigsties. Like many rural pubs it at times hosted inquests and auctions and until 1920 still had a hayloft. When Lucas’ sold out to Green’s of Luton in 1923, the pub had recently gained a full licence and was a popular place for a game of quoits. Green’s adopted the name of Flowers for their business in 1954 but succumbed to a Whitbread takeover in 1962.
As the number of beer-drinking agricultural workers declined the pub gained a new life as a pleasant stop for pre and post-WWII motorists exploring the rural roads of Hertfordshire.
By 1990 the pub had also finally yielded to the clamour for real ale, installing handpumps for Flower’s Original Bitter and Wethered’s Bitter – formerly brewed in Marlow but then being shipped in from Cheltenham, as Whitbread blithely continued with a grim policy of selling off their regional breweries. By 1994 Boddington’s Bitter, Brakspear’s Bitter and Castle Eden Ale had broadened the real ale offer – leading to the inclusion of Wadworth’s 6X and Mauldon’s beers as the millennium approached. In 2001 the pub was sold to a pub company and is now in the ownership Ei (formerly known as Enterprise Inns).
Currently Leaseheld by Mark and Corinna Butcher, the pub offers Sharp’s Doombar and three other beers that constantly change and where Hertfordshire brewery beers often make an appearance, alongside other favourites such as Oakham JHB. Mark says “The Horns is a traditional country pub serving great local real ales. Customer beer recommendations are always welcome whether it be for blonde and citrusy or dark and malty. Why not pop in and give us your pint of view!”. There is real cider in the summer months and an annual Beer and Cider Festival held over the May Bank Holiday weekend. The popular “Curry and Quiz” takes place on the first Thursday of each month. The pub’s wide lunchtime and evening menu includes hearty pub food classics such as bangers and mash and warming casseroles and there are tasty vegetarian options. Daily specials, Friday Fish Night and the excellent Sunday lunches often make the pub a busy destination.
With Watton At Stone and Welwyn North the closest railway stations (but each two to three miles away), the sparse bus timetable at least allows some public transport access – routes 378/379 are what you will need. The Horns opens all day Monday to Saturday, closing at 7pm on a Sunday. Food is available at lunchtimes and then during the evening.