High Street Property Details

No.11 – The Bull – an old pub now being run as a pub/restaurant


Although shown in the English Heritage 'Listed Buildings' register of 1953 as a 16th Century building with later additions, it seems entirely likely that The Bull Inn has much earlier origins. The modest local guide to Wheathampstead for 1938 suggests that, 'The Bull was an ancient hostelry which was built in 1260 when the third Henry sat upon the throne of England'. Support for even earlier origins is found in an article in the Countryside Magazine in 1970 which argues that wherever a mill was found there was likely to be a hostelry for thirsty mill workers. Since the Wheathampstead mill - sited immediately opposite to The Bull - is recorded in the Domesday Book, for which the survey was completed in 1086, the case for an inn before the 13th century seems strong.

The earliest written reference to The Bull is in 1617 when it had 119 acres of land attached to it and belonged to the Manor of Lamer which became the property of the Garrard family in the same year. We believe it remained in the ownership of the Garrard family until 1919, when Apsley Cherry Garrard sold The Bull to the brewers J.W.Green .

So far as can be established The Bull has been used as an inn since earliest records, making it probably the only building in Wheathampstead to have been used for the same purpose on a continuous basis for the whole of its history.

The Bull in the 20th Century

Although the current appearance of The Bull is of a single, harmonious and integrated structure, for much of its history The Bull comprised the inn itself and a series of attached cottages overlooking the River Lea. During the 20th century these cottages were progressively incorporated within the structure we now think of as The Bull. The occupancy of The Bull is therefore complicated by the existence for much of its recent history of tenants who paid rent to a series of owners.

Things are further complicated by the fact that the area now used as The Bull car park previously comprised 'Bull Yard' containing other buildings with a variety of uses. The use of the yard in this way had ceased by 1963 when the then owners - Flowers Brewery - changed the site substantially by removing the remaining separate buildings and putting the area at the rear of the inn substantially into the form which we know today. At that time two of the cottages had 'closing orders', indicating that they were unfit for occupation. Wheathampstead residents were concerned that all five cottages might be demolished but this was obviated by Flowers' decision to fully restore two of them and incorporate them into the overall structure. The newly restored property had three new bars including a cocktail bar and a new dining room seating 50 people. From this time onwards there was no accommodation for guests but some members of staff lived on the premises.

The Bull Yard prior to 1963

StablesHistorically part of the yard buildings were stables since The Bull was a stopping place for travellers from London going north. The provision of stabling gradually became less necessary as motorised transport replaced horses, after which time the yard provided parking for a limited number of cars for guests. In 1901 The Bull was able to advertise that it offered 'Good stabling and nicely situated to accommodate commercial gentlemen and cyclists.' The Bull continued to be a rallying point for cyclists and also for veteran cars.

Blacksmiths: Alf and Ted Westwood operated a blacksmith's forge in premises in the yard from the late 1920s - possibly one of the fomer stables - until 1963 when the major changes were made to the yard and the Westwoods moved to premises further along East Lane. The Westwoods were particularly known for their wrought iron work, examples of which included work for St Peter's Church at Gustard Wood, churchyard gates at Wheathampstead's St. Helen's Church and the gates at Shaw's Corner in Ayot St Lawrence. The wrought iron fittings to the celebrated fireplace in the front bar of The Bull were built to a commission by Dick Spurr in 1944. Many homely pieces of domestic ironwork made by the Westwoods are to be found around the village including door knockers, bell-pulls and foot-scrapers. During World War II Ted Westwood was called up and ended the war as a POW of the Japanese working on the infamous 'Burma Road' railway. Alf and their uncle Lionel continued the business during the war and became a sub-contractor to Helmets Ltd. which made a significant local contribution to the war effort.

Outside Toilets:  Toilets for male customers of The Bull and separately for residents of the adjacent cottages were situated in the yard probably until 1938 by which time it has been suggested that all the cottages had internal plumbing.

Fire Service:  In 1895 the Wheathampstead Parish Council decided that the village fire appliance should be moved from St Helen's Church to the Bull Yard at a rent of £2.10 shillings per annum  - thought to be housed in one of the old stables until new brick-built accommodation was provided in the yard for the fire appliance in the 1930s. It remained there until the 1960s when the new fire station was constructed on the Marford Road.                            

The fire brigade had a Captain and 12 men, together with a young boy responsible for calling out the men when an alarm was raised. In the early days the fire service was summoned by knocking on the yard gate or ringing the bell provided for the purpose. The service has always been manned by volunteers including any resident or worker available at the time. After Murphy Chemicals came to Wheathampstead many of these volunteer firemen were employees of Murphy's. In 1898, for the first time, uniforms were provided by public subscription.

The first known fire appliance was hand-pumped, drawing its water by suction from the River Lea. This operation needed a team of men to work the pump to fill the tank. This engine was in use until 1920.

The next appliance, christened 'Joyce', was a 'Merryweather' steam-powered engine which needed two horses to move it. The horses were kept at Place Farm but any available horse was pressed into service if necessary.

Finally this appliance, re-christened 'Angela', was placed on a chassis with motor attached. On the move to Marford Road 'Angela' was sold to Murphy Chemicals.

Circus: It is suggested by Alan and John Potter, resident in the adjacent cottages during the 1920s, that the yard occasionally hosted a travelling circus although no-one else can verify this. Some support is provided for this assertion by the Potters' recollection of falling over marquee guy-ropes while making their way at night to the outside toilets. Further support for the presence of a circus is  provided by the suggestion that the slipway beside The Bull was damaged by a circus elephant watering in the River Lea.

Garden:  It is suggested by Colin Spurr, son of the leaseholder of The Bull at the time, that part of the yard was used to grow vegetables during World War II.

Laundry:  One of the 'cottage industries' to be found in Wheathampstead until well into the 20th century was clothes laundering for other residents of Wheathampstead and also for customers further afield including London. Much of this activity was carried out by residents of the cottages adjacent to The Bull, who would do the washing in a wash-house and then dry the resulting clean clothes in the Bull Yard. Laundry from London and elsewhere arrived by rail to Wheathampstead station and was returned in the same way. The laundry being dried in the yard was necessarily withdrawn on days when Wren's, the nearby wheelwrights, were performing operations giving rise to smoke and smuts.

'Cheapjacks':  During the 1930s Jimmy Wright who died in 1940 at the age of 91, was the 'Town Crier' and was known to advertise when the 'cheapjacks' were coming to the Bull yard. They sold a variety of china, saucepans, hardware etc which local people were grateful to buy given that walking to the market in St Albans was the alternative. At such times the yard was lit with flares.

Expenses:  Expenses for maintaining the yard and its services have included:-

1905     Repairs to Bull Yard drain     £ 21.4s 0d

1905     Painting and repairing cottages and painting outside the  Bull Inn     £47 6s 9d

             Cottages general repairs       £33 10s 2d

1906     'Lady Day' total bill including emptying the cesspool     £128 14s 1d

1910     New wash-house for the cottages     £30

1911     'Sanitary Pails' for cottages       9s 11d


Owners of The Bull:

The identity of earlier owners of The Bull cannot be established but by 1617 it was one of the portfolio of properties in the Lamer Park Estate and therefore owned by the Garrard family.

J W Greens Brewery of Luton were the owners from 1919 until 1954 when Greens merged with Flowers Brewery. In 1964 Flowers was acquired by Whitbread Ltd. who in 1976 reorganised the Bull as one of its 'Beefeater' restaurant chain. The Bull was sold to Mitchells & Butlers in 2007 when it became one of their 'Miller & Carter' chain of pub/restaurants. 


It is possible to determine with some certainty the various landlords/managers of The Bull since 1900:

1902 - 1922     Thomas Dickson Myles (before he took over, members of the same family had been licensees of The Bullsince 1815)

1922 - 1929     George Charles Chivers     

1929 - 1933     Fred R Daniels

1933 - 1935     Nicole Mearns

1935 - 1937     Thrale Brothers

1937 - 1938     Philip Hayward Mecey

1938 - 1953     Dick Spurr.  In about 1938/39 he acquired what was almost certainly the first television set in the village. It had a 9" screen which was a great attraction in the bar for local drinkers. 

1953 - 1956     ? Dunn                                                      

1956 - 1963  Major and Mrs D Wemyss McDonald. Major McDonald was a tall, serious Scot who was known to shuffle about in his slippers but whose generosity was expressed in July 1956 when Tony Penny, going off to national service, was given a 10 shilling note by the Major.

1963 - 1964     Ian and June Nicholson. Ian Nicholson spent part of the war in India where he acquired a skill in cooking curries - later to be on offer at The Bull.

1964 - 1965     Jan and Isabella Vaughan. Mr Vaughan, Polish but by then a naturalised British subject, had taken part in the Warsaw uprising in 1944 when only 19 years of age and had later been an officer cadet in the Polish navy. During their tenure Mrs Vaughan gave birth to a son. The Vaughans were managing The Bull during the final stages of the Flowers Brewery reconstruction of the building.

1965 - 1970   Pat and Barry Kent. The Kents were the first landlords following Whitbread's acquisition of The Bull. Mrs Kent, on inspecting the furniture,  was surprised to find that some items still bore 'For sale' notices on behalf of Collins Antiques. She recalls being very impressed by the large fireplace which could accommodate five people sitting side by side. The Wheathampstead Guide for 1938 says that this fireplace had recently been discovered beneath eleven layers of wallpaper. 

1970 - 1974     Norman and Phyllis Rose. Norman Rose had been a crew member in Lancaster bombers during the war. A number of people have recalled working for the Roses, all of whom, "believed it was a good life, like a party every night. People came in looking glum but always left cheerful". During the Roses' tenure The Bull was described as being the most popular pub in the area for young people. At about the same time it is known that The Bull experienced one of the rare occasions when the River Lea was in flood with water flowing in while people were drinking. Regulars at this time included one called 'Billy the Hat' and Molly Bishop, an exotic lady who carried her own silver 'swizzle-stick' on a chain with which she stirred her pink gin. She was very popular with the other drinkers. Another regular customer was 'the Major' who lived in Abbeyfield House in Garrard Way. Yet another 'regular' - 'Mike' - called most lunchtimes demanding a Worthington 'White Shield' but always insisted on pouring it himself.

At the end of the Saturday shift staff were treated by the Roses to a basket meal and a drink of choice. During the Roses' tenure one son ran a greengrocer's shop in the High Street and another is thought to have run the Chequers public house in St Albans. Their daughter is believed to have been an air stewardess. When the Roses left the Bull in 1974 they moved to Mallorca where they ran a restaurant and their family eventually joined them there.

1974 - 1976     Mr and Mrs Lombardo. Maria Smith worked in the bar for Mr Lombardo from 1976 and was also employed during the day to do book-keeping in an office upstairs overlooking East Lane. At the same time 'Mrs Mac' worked in the bar at lunchtime. Mr Lombardo left the Bull in 1976 to run a restaurant in north London.

Later owners converted the inn to a 'chain' restaurant - 'Beefeater' and 'Miller & Carter'. Appointed managers have generally served for short periods, sometimes on a part-time basis. Details of managers and staff living in the inn since 1976 can be found in the electoral rolls relating to Hemel Hempstead, St Albans and Welwyn & Hatfield, in all of which jurisdictions Wheathampstead has found itself at different times.

The Bull during World War II

Evidence for The Bull's experience of the Second World War comes mostly from Mr Colin Spurr, son of Dick Spurr, the leaseholder of The Bull at the time. Colin, who was 6 years old when the family moved to The Bull in 1938, remembers hearing Neville Chamberlain's announcement of war in September 1939 on a radio set in his bedroom overlooking East Lane. By this time tThe Bull had acquired good indoor facilities enabling them to provide five guestrooms plus the Spurr family's own accommodation, together with two bathrooms.

There was a saloon and public bar with a dining room for guests and simple inn food served to other customers in the bar.The public bar was favoured by 'locals', including poachers bringing the occasional rabbit. 

During the war beer was rationed and whisky was in even shorter supply. Most staff disappeared during the war but Colin Spurr recalls George Crooks, the 'potman', who was also a local butcher.

At that time Wheathampstead was something of a refuge for Londoners wanting a break from the most intense experience of war. An occasional visitor was a doctor from St Mary's Paddington, accompanied by a nurse. 

Soldiers were billeted in Wheathampstead and their officers would gather in the saloon bar while 'other ranks' favoured the public bar. The wife of an RASC officer lived in The Bull for some months while her husband, Major Sinclair-Ellis, was billetted nearby.

The only connection with the larger events of WWII was the arrival in 1940 of a Dunkirk survivor, whose home was in the village, and who, having arrived by train, called at The Bull on his way home. Naturally his drink was 'on the house'.

Colin knew of occasional plane crashes nearby including possibly one on Gustard Wood Common. He also recalls a bomb landing in St Helen's Churchyard - possibly 'dumped' by a German plane making its getaway - and remembers Dakotas and gliders passing over Wheathampstead on their way to Arnhem for 'Operation Market Garden' in September 1944.

The Cottages

At one time the five cottages adjacent to The Bull were separate from the main building with three of them having access via the yard and the other two directly from the High Street. There was an entrance to the yard through a passageway from the High Street.

These cottages were all of similar construction with a sitting room and kitchen downstairs and two bedrooms above. It is known that, until at least 1934, these cottages had no internal water supply and no bathroom so that residents were reliant on a hand pump and an outside toilet in the yard.

Residents of the cottages which overlooked the river remember cows from Chennells, having been milked at the back of his shop, coming to drink from the river before being taken to graze in nearby fields. Sybil Gray remembers Tommy Newbury, the milkman, delivering milk in two large cans hanging one on each side of him from a rope fixed to a board across his shoulders.

The level of the River Lea was usually about knee deep - as it still is - except when it was dammed to enable the mill to function.

Although one of the cottages had become part of The Bull during the late 1940s to enlarge the accommodation for staff, it was during the 1960s that the main structural and other changes took place, including the demolition of the buildings in the yard and the incorporation of the remaining cottages.

It has not proved possible to establish the identities of all residents of the cottages - even in the 20th century - but those whose tenure can be established at various dates are as follows:-


1901     Daniel Foster, Alfred Tomlin, Emma Rowe, Mr Edmunds

1910     Miles Dixon, Edward Thrale, Alfred Tomlin, Emma Rowe

1920     Isaac Hulks, Edward and Maud Thrale, Alfred and Sarah Tomlin, William and Minnie Williamson, Sybil Gray

1930     Edward Thrale, Alfred and Sarah Tomlin, William and Minnie  Williamson and their daughter Kay (who married  Frank  

             Chennells the village postmaster in 1940), Mrs Pratt   (washerwoman)

1935     Alfred and Sarah Tomlin, Mrs Hall, Edward Thrale, William and  Minnie Williamson, the Potter family

1940s   Mr and Mrs Ward 

1950s   Mr Mears, Mrs Saunders, Mr Harding, Mr Renwick


The last cottage resident was Sybil Gray (a washerwoman) who had lived there for 50 years but she had left her cottage by 1963 when the major restoration work was carried out.


Well-known visitors to The Bull

Visitors to The Bull over the years have included Geoffrey de Havilland - often with guests - , the broadcaster Reginald Bosanquet, the comedian Eric Morecambe and the actor Peter Haigh.


Researchers:       Alan and Bobby Read  


April 2020 update  Since this research was completed in 2013, members of the History Society have researched the pubs and beerhouses of Wheathampstead from 1830 to 1914. For a history of The Bull, click here.


Sources consulted:

·      Interviews with Colin Spurr, Alan and John Potter, Amy Coburn, Pat Kent, Maria Smith, fellow researchers

·      Herts Advertiser - Archive edition 1st January 1965

·      Herts Countryside Magazine Archive edition 1970

·      East Herts Archaeological Society Newsletters -  1965 & 1966

·      English Heritage ‘Listed Buildings’ Register 1953

·      Kelly's Directories    

·      WEA publications      

·      Historical records of Wheathampstead

·      Wheathampstead history site -wheathampstead.net/history.htm  

·      Wheathampstead Local Guide 1938  

·      Letter from Gilbert Smith to Ruth Jeavons dated April 1976   

·      Internet                      

·      Electoral Rolls  1976 (onwards) for Hemel Hempstead, St. Albans,  Welwyn & Hatfield





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