A pint at the local #12 Brocket Arms, Ayot St Lawrence

Written by Tom Blakemore

Perhaps the most known thing about Ayot St Lawrence is that the village was the home of novelist and playwright George Bernard Shaw from 1906 until his death in 1950. His arts and crafts house, a former rectory now dubbed Shaw’s Corner, is now in the hands of the National Trust is well worth a visit. The village also has a ruined 12th century church and a neo-classical replacement built elsewhere in the village in 1778, plus… The Brocket Arms, a Grade II Listed characterful pub that charts from as early as the 14th century, full of interesting features, timbers and a sizeable 17th century inglenook fireplace. Why not combine all these into a day out.

Shaw would have known that the pub was formerly called the Three Horseshoes – up until 1937. It was licensed as early as 1694 when it was held by Joseph Ewer. The building is thought, originally, to be the monastic quarters for the Norman church, up until the Reformation. Some say the pub is haunted by a monk who was tried and hanged there. And between 1940 and 1958 the religious link was still continuing with an afternoon Sunday School held in the taproom.

By the late 19th century the pub, owned by members of the Brocket family with their connections to the nearby Brocket Hall, had been leased to Wrights, brewers of Walkern. When Wright’s brewery business was sold to Simpson’s of Baldock in 1924 the lease transferred with it. Could it be that the expiry of the lease coincided with the change of pub name in 1937? By the time Simpsons were themselves bought out by Greene King, in 1954, the pub had become a Free House renamed after the Lord Brocket family connection.

In the mid-1970s the pub gained early CAMRA fame for its Greene King and Youngs beers drawn direct from barrels in the bar – see them, low, to the right of the bar in the picture opposite – Abbot Ale particularly popular at the time. Samuel Smiths, Marstons, Everards and Adnams beers followed as interest in real ale grew.

Following a major refurbishment in 1979 handpumps were added and a new restaurant was formed, however the pub retained most of its cosy charm, run for two decades by Toby Wingfield-Digby. During the 1990s further improvements saw the conversion of site buildings into further hotel accommodation – there are now six en-suite bedrooms.

Today’s Brocket Arms sits behind an imposing pub sign in the garden, depicting the Brocket family crest and the Latin inscription “Felis demulcta mitis” which translates as “A stroked cat is gentle”. The pub remains in the hands of distant relations of the Brocket family though it is currently leased to Kelly and Ed Janes and has gained a solid reputation for its food and restaurant. Kelly says “We’ve been here for five years now, in fact I also worked here for 10 years before that! We try hard to keep a heart of the community country inn-style pub where everyone is welcome – families, walkers, cyclists, dogs, horse riders (we have a hitching post) and of course, beer drinkers. We always keep Greene King IPA and Abbot plus Brocket ale, brewed for us by Tring brewery and also usually have three or so guest ales, mostly from Hertfordshire brewers. We are open all day with hot food available during the lunchtime and evening sessions (except Sunday evenings) with local produce and seasonal food, including game, at the centre of our English pub food menu. And here’s something unusual, all of the people working here are women – except for our chef that is!”

Meanwhile, out in the garden there is safe children’s play equipment and a pet’s corner with chickens, rabbits, guinea pigs, parrots and budgerigars with chipmunks arriving soon.

Our pictures from 1996 and 2016 show minimal change – the latter almost as it is in 2019.

Folk music on the third Friday of the month, jazz on the first Sunday and a quiz on the second Sunday supply regular entertainment along with monthly open-mic sessions and a popular June-held beer real ale festival. Now, there’s one for the diary.

Ayot St Lawrence is four to five miles from both Harpenden or Welwyn North Stations and the nearest bus stop is still a 30 minute walk into the village. So, best to elect a driver and drive, or arrange a walk along the many footpaths that cross the local hilly countryside.

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