Last pub in the Village

Written by Steve Bury

Despite improvements to planning regulations pubs are still closing at an alarming rate. Two of the latest being the Plough Elstree and the Chalkdrawers, Colney Heath. We also saw the Golden Lion in London Colney close before Christmas.

Elstree is still a village separate and self-contained though the cordon of countryside that surrounds it has got substantially smaller. At one time not so long ago there were four pubs in Elstree the Artichoke, Hollybush, Plough and Fisheries. Without a doubt the Hollybush is the oldest pub with a very small but historic interior including an inglenook fireplace. It is hard to believe that the pub was extended in the 1980’s with the coaching arch being removed and the outside toilets being moved to the rear of the pub. Since the pub was built the road level had risen and you stepped down into the bar which contained many original beams and the inglenook I mentioned earlier. I always remember the pub serving an excellent pint of Directors (when it was brewed by Courage) and had an eccentric Italian publican who was a teetotaller. The Artichoke down the hill on the other side of the road, had another long running publican in a small but bustling local both pubs having great views of the countryside from their rear. Trade in both pubs declined and they closed in 2009. The Artichoke became the La Masseria Italian restaurant for a while but that failed and in 2011 in an odd move both pubs were purchased and converted into places of worship. The Artichoke became a Shtiebel which is a place used for co0mmunal Jewish prayer and learning smaller and more casual than a synagogue. The Benskins pub sign was repainted blue with the new name and I remember travelling up Elstree Hill when one of the passengers in my car commented what a strange name for a pub. The Hollybush became a Jewish social centre and from what can be seen only the rear of the building and the car park are used, the old pub interior appears to be intact though totally neglected.

The Plough further up Elstree Hill by the crossroads used to be a thriving Benskins pub and I remember drinking some very pleasant Burton Ale in there. The pub has an extensive sloped garden with views of the Elstree reservoir, another bonus for Elstree was that it had a good amount of parking space. Again trade diminished and the pub was taken over by the East Chinese food chain which has now ceased to trade along with their other pub the Bull at Stanborough. The Chinese restaurant did well for some time and used to sell Fullers London Pride, I even visited on a couple of occasions but the garden was seriously under-utilised. The restaurant stopped selling real ale and ceased trading, after what seemed like a long closure it re opened as the Kiss Kiss Italian which lasted a couple of years. Considering the La Massarata’s failure after a major investment it was possibly no a good business move to open another Italian just up the road. The Plough is now boarded up again and looking very forlorn and is now owned by Heineken Star Taverns after the Punch sell off.

When you reach the lights the only remaining pub the Fishery is down Watford Road the A411 but watch out because it is a no right turn at the lights. In the 90’s the Fishery had been bought from Benskins by Mc Alpine the building contractors who used to have their head office on the industrial estate further down Watford Road. Tom Mc Alpine the matriarch and major shareholder in the company used the pub and bought it on a whim, he liked real ale and installed a brewery on the back of the pub. Money appeared to be no object and Tom even approached Hertsmere Council to divert Watford Road so that the pub would have a garden that ran down to the reservoir opposite, which was rejected out of hand. After a short period there was a boardroom quo and Tom ended up retiring from the business and the Fishery known as Tom’s folly was on the market. This is when Mc Mullen’s bought the pub and moved the pub brewery to Hertford where it was installed in the old brew house and used for special small batch brews. Another curiosity about the Fishery was the giant fish float that used to sit in the centre of the patio, I don’t know when it was removed but it has definitely gone. The pub has undergone several makeovers and now has the popular grey exterior. Inside is a long bar with light wood panelling and a raised food area at the far end. Windows and patio overlook Aldenham reservoir with the rear garden overlooking farmland. The Fishery is an up market destination pub and restaurant so Elstree could really use a good locals local.

Just for completeness two other pubs are listed on Whatpub (the CAMRA pubs database) in Elstree, the Wagon and Horses and the Battleaxes. In my view both these pubs are outside Elstree village the Wagon and Horses is on Watling Street at Medburn and is a very old building dating back to 1471. The Wagon is free of tie and serves its own house beer called unsurprisingly 1471 alongside changing guests normally one from a Hertfordshire micro brewer. The pub has a famous Inglenook fireplace used in the solid fuel advisory services advertising campaign and the CAMRA Good Beer guide when they were the sponsors. The Wagon has a large well, kept garden overlooking countryside and a restaurant area at the rear, a farm shop is under construction in the car park beside the pub. The Battleaxes in Butterfly lane is opposite Elstree aerodrome and named after the coat of arms of the owner of the Aldenham estate. A pub called the Wrestlers was originally on the site but was knocked down when the roads were moved the Battleaxes is on a slightly different site at the junction. The pub is currently owned by Greene King and beers from their range are alternated. Don’t forget your CAMRA membership card when you visit if want to get the 10% discount on offer.

Colney Heath

At one time not so long ago Colney Heath had four pubs the Crooked Billet, Cock, Queens Head and the Chalkdrawers Arms. The Queens Head was the first to go situated prominently on the cross roads it was bought by a developer and closed in December 2011 the pub was converted to a house and after seven years building started on two semi-detached houses in the pubs car park, which have almost been completed. The next loss was the Cock a free house which after having celebrated having celebrated Hertfordshires longest running licensees in 2013 they closed the pub. The Cock was an almost unique Hertfordshire pub with a separate public bar and large car park the closure in in November 2013 came as a surprise and the pub has been converted to a house that is still lived in by the owners who ran it as a pub. It could be argued that dwindling trade had caused the closures and the most recent to shut its doors was the Chalkdrawers Arms in May. At one time the Chalkdrawers was on the busy Roestock Lane to Hatfield but this was cut off by the A1 road improvements making it a dead end. Ever since the roadworks the pub has struggled and was in an unloved state, no real ale had been sold for many years and when some was available the quality was never reliable. The pub now has concrete blocks across the car park and has been described in the local papers as an eyesore. I was worried that the closure could be permanent but an assurance has been given that a new landlord is being sought and it will re open.

The last pub in Colney Heath is by far the best and is the CAMRA Good beer guide listed Crooked Billet. The Billet has won two CAMRA awards this year one for 25 consecutive entries in the Good Beer Guide and a Highly Recommended in the South Hertfordshire Pub Of The Year competition. Both awards are to be presented on Tuesday 4th September at 9pm.

If you have not visited the Crooked Billet it is a classic multi bar country pub with low ceilings and separate drinking areas. The pub has a large car park and garden with children’s play equipment. Hearty English food is available lunchtimes and being a genuine free house a good range of different beers are available normally including one from a local brewer.

As we are discussing the demise of pubs I feel that I must mention the Golden Lion in London Colney which is about three miles from Colney Heath. The Golden Lion closed in January this year and it is believed bought by a developer. The pub has a large frontage and car park with a garden behind it that at one time used to be a bowling green, on the back of the pub is a function room so the site covers a large area. The Golden Lion has had short closures and a regular turn over of managers. Again the pub has not sold real ale for many years and was in a poor state of decoration and was generally unloved. The pub does still have some very interesting original etched windows but will probably end up like the White Lion which was further down the road being converted to housing with new builds on the rest of the site.

I am sure that there are other areas around the county which are suffering in the same way as I have mentioned above. I will use the adage that I have before “Use them or Loose them”.

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