Resting at the top of the hill leading away from Welwyn village which sits to the north, is the Steamer, a community pub on London Road. Thought to be the approximate site of a previous pub, the White Lion, the Steamer’s pub sign depicts a horse being added to a horse and wagon to give it extra momentum as it travels up the tiring hill towards Hatfield and beyond. This additional horse was known as a steamer, yet the practice which may have been common in those pre-motor vehicle days, probably has nothing to do with why the pub was named The Steamer.
Built around 1851 and originally called the Steam Engine, it was more probably named after the arrival of the Great Northern Railway and the locomotives that constantly crossed the remarkable Digswell viaduct just one mile to the east. Could it be that plumes of steam could be seen from the Steamer’s high spot as the trains puffed from London to the north?
The pub is first mentioned in 1851, with a smithy and stables on the site and in the ownership of William Chamberlain, probably the first licensee. The pub was bought by the small Lattimore brewery of Wheathampstead before 1881 and was then leased to Pryor Reid of Hatfield in 1897 who bought it seven years later. In 1920 Pryor Reid and its pubs were put up for sale with the Steamer a thirsty proposition – selling an impressive 112 barrels of beer per year. It must have courted interest and the pub was sold, along with the Tavern, in the village centre, to McMullen’s of Hertford, the owners to this day.
If there is one stand-out landlord of length of tenure it must be George Whittle who, with his family, ran the pub from around 1911 until his death in 1932. The pub would have then sold cask-conditioned beer either direct from the barrel or via handpumps on the bar. By the time CAMRA came along in the early 1970s, the handpumps had sadly been replaced by top pressure fonts – still cask-conditioned beer but tainted by a heavy infusion of CO2. As CAMRA’s view on the dispense of cask-conditioned beer began to gain traction, McMullen’s began to reinstate handpumps and to rely on their beer to speak for itself. By 1983 an AK pump-clip graced the handpumps with Country Bitter following soon after.
The pub continued in its quiet but purposeful local way but in 2014 Mac’s carried out a significant £90,000 refurbishment with improvements that bring the Steamer up to date. There is a sunny decked garden to the rear. Today’s leaseholder is Nicole Lawrie who has been at the helm since November 2016. She says “We aim to bring the community together enjoying a good time at affordable prices. We have customers of all ages and it is great to see that age is no barrier to good conversion and fun – everyone mixes in.”
The Steamer is open all day offering McMullen’s AK, IPA and a Rivertown seasonal ale. At lunchtime during the week filled rolls are available on the bar. Indian food is available Monday – Saturday evenings to eat in or take away. And the Sunday roast carvery is so popular there are three sittings and it’s necessary to book ahead. With pool, darts, board games and a juke box and occasional live music sessions there’s plenty to keep people occupied.
The nearest train station Welwyn North but, beware, it is 1½ miles away. A better bet is the regular 300/301 bus service which passes the pub front door, connecting the Steamer to St Albans, Hatfield, Welwyn Garden City, Knebworth and Stevenage.