Heart-broken locals are devastated at the loss of one of Welwyn Garden City’s oldest and best-known pubs, which has been closed for conversion into a restaurant.

Drinkers who have socialised in The Beehive in Beehive Lane for nearly 40 years have bitterly condemned the closure by leaseholder InnBritain.

Ben Cooper, 31, who lives in the Howlands area, said: “For 300 years this has been a traditional, historic public house, which many regulars have frequented for the best part of 40 years.

“My grandparents drank there, my parents drank there, and I had my first pint there on my 18th birthday.

“This is a despicable tactic employed by crass businessmen with no respect for the history and nostalgia of Welwyn Garden City’s last true pub.”

Jamie Frost of Salibury Village, 42, who grew up near The Beehive and has been a regular more than 20 years,

said: “It is a lovely old building, and a mainstay of the community.

“It is a meeting point for people young and old. They have not considered the effect on the community.”

The freehold of the 1790s pub belongs to the Wells & Young’s brewery. but InnBritain took out a ten-year lease in late 2014.

Chief executive Jason Tudor told the Welwyn Hatfield Times he had invested £200,000 into the pub over 18 months, but it was still losing about £4,000 a week in its final months.

He said: “I am sorry for locals who have drunk there for many years, but the market has changed. I can’t pay 20 staff and cover all the overheads just by pulling pints any more.

“We have had some lovely locals, but there have been other customers who have caused us problems, and the police have had to be called on some occasions, which is certainly not what we are aiming at.

“I spoke to every member of staff personally, and apart from two who had been with us less than two years, they were all offered positions in our other establishments.

“Of about 20 staff, at least 13 accepted this offer, and several are now working in Hemel Hempstead.”

He plans to open the building in late August as either a “high-end steaknouse”, or a specialist seafood restaurant.