Pubs in Welwyn Hatfield have headless horses, interesting ales and tons of history
PUBLISHED: 17:29 14 July 2020 | UPDATED: 09:29 15 July 2020
After pubs reopened, Welwyn Hatfield Times’ reporter Charlotte McLaughlin visited Welwyn Hatfield to discover the history of our much-loved locals, and delve into other strange times this borough has lived through.
Starting with an early cycle up and down the winding roads, with fields and woods on either side, I arrived at White Horse Lane at around 10am to an eponymous-named pub in Burnham Green.
The White Horse – which was renamed from The Chequers to represent the bloody tales of a headless horse roaming down the lane beside the pub – is working hard on getting its McMullen’s crafted ale, the Headless Horse, back on tap.
Manager Dan Vine, from Welwyn Garden City, clarified that the legend is about “an actual horse with no head” and not a headless horseman – a more commonplace tale.
“I’ve heard competing theories, but the one I know well is that during the English Civil War in the 17th century – which the building dates to – a farmer called Pennyfeather, a Royalist, was killed by the Roundheads [on Parliament’s side], who wanted his horse as a prize.
“But the horse would not leave the lane and they decided to behead it.”
Dan has never seen it but said many locals do admit, after a few pints, they “hear strange noises and horse hooves”.
And I can say, a little while later after moving on to The Plume of Feathers – down Orchard Road – I did hear something like a clippity clop.
The Greene King-owned 17th century Tewin pub – which has thrown away over 400 gallons during lockdown – also has on tap a specially-brewed eponymous beer and dark tales. Manager Andrew Whitfield, 39, who has spent over 20 years in the industry and took over running the pub just before lockdown, said: “There was a woman’s body found in the fireplace and they say key’s still go missing from there even now.”
Ghostly figures of an old man and a cackling crone have been seen during different times, and the candle on the table has been known to re-light itself after being snuffed.
The ladies’ toilets upstairs – which is now a staff toilet, as the passage is too narrow to ensure social distancing – has also been seen to have doors opening and closing by themselves.
Keeping with the spooky theme, Tewin churchyard nearby, is also known – according to Herts Memories – as the place where the devil appears on New Year’s Eve.
Legends claim, if you can’t ring the bell at midnight, while other people run seven times around the church, then Lucifer takes you down below.
Up the road at Queen Hoo Hall, Benjamin Whittenbury and servants set out to find Walter Clibbon, the highwayman of Hertford, who was killed after attacking a farmer’s son from Datchworth.
Next, I took the train from Welwyn Garden City to Hatfield – after cycling over 10 miles – to drink a half-pint of Chief Jester, a fragrant, punchy ale with notes of grapefruit and tropical fruits, at The Eight Bells.
The 16th/17th century pub has had many different illustrious guests from Dick Turpin, an 18th century highwayman, Charles Dickens to Angelina Jolie – who popped in while filming Lara Croft at Hatfield House.
University of Hertfordshire criminology student Becca Di-fonzo says she has only been scared once since she moved in above the haunted pub – which is run by Wheathampsted-based brewing company Farr Brew – in late 2019.
Becca explained: “I was sitting in my bedroom with my girlfriend and there is some copper wiring around my bed – when I moved the lights started flashing.”
But the 21-year-old explained that she noticed every time she moved they flashed and now thinks it was more a wiring issue.
“A little girl has been seen upstairs, and a man down here in the pub, who is an old landlord who was hit in the back of the head,” she added.
“People come from all over the world to come here. Though sometimes they just take pictures from outside.”
All the Grade II-listed pubs I visited do have an app available to order from, hand sanitiser, floor markings, and have kept tables two metres apart.
They might also take your details for track and trace and have outdoor beer gardens with no or limited bar service, in line with government guidance.
The White Horse has Little Orchard-sourced fruit and vegetables, Trussells of Knebworth meat and makes all food fresh on site.
Historic pubs in Welwyn Hatfield is part of a series of articles delving into the pub culture in the borough.
Next time we will look into Hatfield Brewery and why it closed, the decline of a social drinking culture and more.
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