A Pint at The Local #21 Robin Hood & Little John, Tonwell

Written by Les Middlewood

Sometimes pubs quietly go through the years without fanfare – just occupying a place in the local community or quietly providing a service for motorists, ramblers and cyclists. When the village of Tonwell (pronounced “tunnel”) was bypassed in 1987 by the new A602 road, the Robin Hood and Little John perhaps lost much of its passing trade but nevertheless found a way to press on. Sold by McMullens in 1990, it become a Free House, owned by Julian and Sheila Harding, still publicans at the helm and now for some 32 years.

The pub’s history is a little hard to confirm. Records say there was a brewhouse in the village kept by Edward Foster in 1722 and Edward Odell in 1748. And Victuallers Billeting Records tell us that a Magpie alehouse with stabling for 11 horses existed in the village – thought to be the pub we see today. The Robin Hood and Little John pub name was already in existence when the it was sold to Benjamin Gilman in 1800, a Hertford brewer who had inherited the Cross Keys brewery in Fore Street, Hertford five years previously. The pub was acquired by McMullen’s during the 19th century with Martha Foskett as tenant in 1851 who continued for many years and by Thomas Baggs Vye in 1914, landlord for over 15 years.

Grade II listed, the Robin Hood and Little John is of late 16thC or early 17thC timber-frame build, extended in the 18thC and much altered in the last two hundred years. The roof, once thatched, is now tiled. For a time in the 20th century the village post office and shop transferred to the pub after the previous one was demolished, though this arrangement ceased in around the 1980s. In 1991 the pub was opened out internally into one bar. The 1996 Hertfordshire Real Ale Guide commented that it had been “cleverly renovated, now one bar on two split-levels plus a dining room” and at that time serving a number of real ales. By 2000 it was offering beers from the Dark Horse brewery of Hertford. The roaring fire is a strong feature in colder times. Work to convert the under-used restaurant room for accommodation use may take place later this year but the pub will otherwise remain largely the same.

Undated photo from the early 20thC

In total eight accommodation rooms can be booked – five to the rear, added in 2000 and three in space above the pub, all popular with visitors to the area and with local businesses for their staff. There are pleasant patio areas to the rear. Dogs are not allowed inside the pub.

As for many pubs the pandemic has provided a challenge. Sheila said “We currently have fewer drinkers than before but our food side is definitely picking up. Like a lot of village pubs, late evening drinking is on the wane – something that was happening before the pandemic – we would definitely welcome more drinkers”. But despite those recent setbacks, Julian and Sheila have enjoyed their time at the pub, “32 years is a long time but the pub has been good for us” they said. To tempt cask ale drinkers there are two handpumped beers on rotation from local and national brewers. Dining customers, including members of the U3A, come from near and far in Hertfordshire.” The popular menu has a strong following and can be described as ‘traditional English pub food’, most of which is homemade.

The Robin Hood and Little John is open Tuesdays – Fridays 12 – 2.30pm and 6 – 9.30pm (11pm on Fridays), 12 – 3pm and 6 – 11pm on Saturdays. It is closed on Sundays and Mondays. The 383/384 Monday to Saturday bus service links Tonwell with Hertford, Ware and Stevenage.

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