A pint at the local #9 Jolly Sailor, St Albans

Written by Les Middlewood

Tucked down Stonecross, on the Sandridge Road in the Bernard’s Heath area of St Albans, it is easy to miss the Jolly Sailor, a Charles Wells community pub. Yet when a wide range of beers was hard to find in the city in the late 1970s and early 1980s the pub uniquely offered Wells’ Bitter and the stronger Fargo to the people of St Albans. Bought from Allied Breweries in 1976, those looking for new beer choices would venture up to the Jolly Sailor to try the beers and perhaps enjoy a rousing game of “Ringing The Bull” in the public bar.

The pub’s history began in 1827 with the granting of a licence to Henry Nichols, first licensee of a small pub bordered by Snatchup Alley and which had been acquired by Francis Searancke of the Kingsbury St Albans brewery who were based or the corner of Verulam Road and Branch Rd. If the name Jolly Sailor was an odd sounding choice for such a landlocked pub it has been suggested that it may have been given in honour of the popular Prince William, Duke of Clarence, who became William IV in 1830 – dubbed the “Sailor King” due to his long naval career. The Jolly Sailor name at times alternated with the Sailor Boy and for over 25 years had been run by the Kilby family but when it was sold to William Bingham Cox in 1889 the “Jolly” had stuck. The pub was sold to Benskin’s of Watford in 1898 who, a year later, set about the rebuilding of the pub giving it an impressive frontage on Stonecross. In the hands of the Lockie family, who remarkably continued as publicans into World War II, the business quietly developed. When Benskins were bought by Ind Coope in 1957, a decision was soon taken to extend the pub – the area of the current public bar constructed in 1962, by which time Benskin’s had sold their brewery and most of their pubs to Ind Coope who were subsumed into the Allied Breweries conglomeration.

Early life in the hands of Charles Wells was relatively uneventful and the pub settled down as an excellent community pub. A significant refurbishment in 2008 set the internal layout as we see it today – a large and bustling public bar and a more intimate saloon.

Today, the public bar is popular with TV Sport lovers – there’s live football and rugby etc. Though the Ringing the Bull game has long gone, pool and darts attract the more participant, teams competing in local leagues, and the pub’s golf society regularly play on local courses with the Sailor a welcome 19th hole. A games room sits at the rear of the pub.

At the helm for almost a dozen years is Paul Egerton, giving the pub a face-lift and reintroducing the provision of food – available Monday to Friday afternoons and evenings plus all day Saturday and Sunday – including a roast. There are meal and pint deals on burgers. Charles Wells beers are on handpump – Eagle IPA, Bombardier and Young’s bitter with an occasional guest beer or real cider. A broad customer mix uses the pub. There is a quiz every Tuesday evening with karaoke at weekends. The pub is open all day and late (2am) on Friday & Saturday and hosts karaoke on Friday and Saturdays. Say hello to Bosun the giant dog.

The 304,305, 657, S8 and S9 bus services connect the pub to St Albans City station which is a 15 minute walk away.


  • My great grandfather Thomas Owen Pugh essentially owned and operated the Kingsbury St Albans brewery in the 1890’s after combining his brewery and distillery in Camberwell with the holdings of William Bingham Cox . The Jolly Sailor is listed among the several linked dozen pubs. I will have to pay a visit. Do you know if any of the other Kingsbury St Albans pubs are still in operation? Thanks.

    • Over time pubs are often a moveable feast – changing ownership hands many times in some instances – and time has, of course, meant that many of the pubs on Kingsbury’s tied list of around 1890-1900 have long closed or been demolished.

      But there are survivors!

      As well as the Jolly Sailor, there is the famous Olde Fighting Cocks (downhill from the Abbey), Rose and Crown (at the St.Michaels end of Verulamium Park – currently closed due to refurbishment), the White Lion (currently awaiting a change of publicans) and the White Swan – both of the “Whites” more in the town centre.  All are on the list of pubs sold to Bingham Cox in 1889.   There are other pubs in nearby villages/towns that also survive.

      If you go to the website https://whatpub.com/   you will find more current information including location maps.

      Times are difficult.  All pubs are currently affected by the Government’s Covid regulations – so if you are visiting from a distance it might be best to wait until after May when hopefully all of the above may be fully open.

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