The Swan is a great survivor – still standing after two major fires and still providing a cherished meeting place for villagers – most of the other village pubs closing during the last 150 years or having changed tack into food-led establishments.
The pub occupies a part 15th century building with added extensions. Listed as Grade II, its origins are as an open hall of two bays with further bays at each end. A two-storey wing was added in the 17th Century and the building was re-fronted in the 19th Century. There remain many internal beams and original features, including an inglenook fireplace and there would probably have been more had it not been for damaging fires in 1903 and 2013. The refurbishment following the latter mostly reinstated the pub as it was before the fire – a single large bar with split level (indicating former times when the pub had a number of bars) plus a meeting room and garden space.
The earliest mention of the pub is in 1706 when the landlord, also a farmer, on his death, left £392 worth of farm goods. By 1743 the site also included malthouses and barns with its overall ground area extending to 12 acres, perhaps still indicating that farmland was still associated with the pub. An early landlord was James Messer, recorded in 1756. In 1791 Isaac House sold the Swan to James Wilkins, brewer of Wheathampstead.
Pictured, the Swan as it stood in the 1960s.
The pub returned to the House family in around 1836 when Wilkins sold it to John Isaac House but it was then acquired by Pryor Reid, the Hatfield brewers and remained in their ownership until 1920 when Benskins bought the Pryor Reid brewery and its pub estate. In 1957 Ind Coope inherited the pub. Allied Breweries followed in 1961 (retaining Ind Coope beers) but after the Beer Orders of the late 1980s the pub was offloaded to the Punch and then the Spirit pub companies. Greene King acquired the Swan in 2015. The longest period of stewardship seems to be by the Burgess family who were publicans for most of the second half of the 19th century.
Real ale disappeared from most Ind Coope pubs after WWII when the company, like so many, began to apply top pressure (a forced infusion of CO2) on to its beers. The Swan was no exception having to wait until 1979 for handpumps to reappear, offering Ind Coope Burton Ale and very soon after Ind Coope ordinary bitter. By 1990 beers such as Tetley bitter and Taylor Walker bitter were featuring from the Allied range and by the mid-90s a forward-thinking approach was the inclusion of guest beers from the likes of Eldridge Pope, Timothy Taylor and Marston breweries.
Today’s Swan is a hub of local community activity with a number of groups regularly meeting at the pub including the U3A, Women’s Institute and the Wheathampstead District Preservation Society. To test your worldly knowledge there is a quiz every Wednesday evening. A Bingo session is held every last Thursday of the month and Live music can be heard, most often, on the last Saturday of each month. The current leaseholder is Sally Shambrook, the pub offering a friendly atmosphere for villagers young and old – the pub even known to go the extra mile to give the elderly a lift home if required. Meals are available every lunchtime and on Monday and Friday nights, when Fish Friday (between 6.30 and 8.30pm) is particularly popular. And after enjoying a roast how about buying a ticket in the meat raffle which takes place at 5pm every Sunday. Sally says “We are really proud to be at the heart of village activity and try to offer something for everyone but we also welcome visitors from much further afield, many of whom return on a regular basis. Most of our staff live locally and we feel this adds a great deal to making the pub a friendly place for all our customers.” Real ales include Greene King IPA, St.Austell Tribute and a range of 3 or 4 other changing real ales from around the country, with beers from the likes of Oakham and Harvey’s breweries often represented on the bar. Sally is also leaseholder of the Elephant and Castle in nearby Amwell.
The railway has long gone from Wheathampstead – the station closed in 1965 – though the former platform has been refurbished and a length of track reinstated for a static truck, all as part of the Wheathampstead Village Centre Heritage programme. Travel to the village is therefore by bus but services have also been hit by local government subsidy withdrawals and subsequent timetable reductions. Bus numbers 304, 366, 610 and 657 connect to the local towns of Luton, Harpenden, Hatfield, Welwyn Garden City, St Albans and beyond, though do not run late into the evening and some not at weekends. So, check your timetables – but make a bee-line for the Swan.