High Street Property Details

The Swan was built in about 1500 as an open hall house consisting of two bays with additional buildings at each end. It is timber-framed, the spaces being filled originally using wattle and daub and later with bricks. In the past it has had its own brewery, malt house, accommodation for travellers, barn, stables and blacksmith’s forge. The chimney was added in about 1680 and a new frontage in about 1750. A fire in 1900 destroyed an even older part of the building. Currently The  Swan is a Grade II listed building. During a refurbishment in October 1981 a 16th century fireplace was uncovered, together with ancient cupboards, clay pipes, centuries old bricks, beams and walls made of cow dung, lime and horse hair. Some of the beams are ships beams, one having a picture of the ship drawn on it.

For a detailed archaeological survey of the building, click here.

In the early hours of 16 July 2013 a fire started in one of the first floor bedrooms and spread to the roof. Nobody was injured but there was extensive damage, and The Swan has been closed since then. However the building is believed to be structurally sound, plans are being made for a refurbishment, and it is hoped that it will re-open again on Village Day 13 July 2014(Note: The Swan re-opened later in that year.)

In the last 100 years (and probably for all the time since it was built, although this is difficult to verify) The Swan has been trading as a pub in the middle of the Wheathampstead community. The 1901 and 1911 censuses show that Agnes and George Brown were running the pub, with Agnes being the licensee. They lived there with their two sons, George and Algernon; in 1901 Gertrude Harding, described as a servant, also lived there. A list of the landlords since then (so far as is known) is attached. In January 1920 when Ernest Dench was the landlord, there was an auction of the freehold of The Swan which was then part of the Hatfield Brewery. The notice gives a full description of the accommodation, together with buildings in the yard, and also includes the meadow and kitchen garden to the left of the yard with the frontage on to The Hill. 


In the 1930s the game of quoits was a popular pastime and The Swan had its own team.  The game involved throwing iron quoits 22 yards to hit a pin in the ground.  In the mid 1930s there were national and international competitions held in The Swan's field.

From 1941 to 1966 James Hensman was the landlord of The Swan, and his son, Jim Hensman, has many memories of growing up in the pub with his sister and parents, which are contained in the audio interview (iv) he gave on 9 August 2013, together with his wife Beryl. James Hensman senior was a Londoner, and regarded as an intruder by village folk. During WW2 airmen sometimes stayed at the pub while they were undertaking secret flying missions and using the nearby airfield at de Havilland in Hatfield. One was flying officer Proudlove, who used to circle The Swan on his way back to the airfield. Jim's mother carried water to the bedrooms, and operated a 'bed and breakfast  and evening meal' system. Cold meals (rolls and sandwiches) were available for the pub customers during the week, and at weekends there were sausages and pork pies delivered by Walls. As there was a shortage of beer and cigarettes during the war years, pubs were allocated a quota based on their pre-war sales. The Swan had five barrels of mild and three kils (18 gallons) of bitter a week, although frequently this only lasted five days, and customers were served shandy or soft drinks on the other two days.

Some soldiers in the Eastern Command of the British Army were based in Wheathampstead House, Canadian soldiers practised manoeuvres on Nomansland Common, living there under canvas, and both groups came to drink in The Swan. The landgirls and the men who worked in the fields and on the farms also frequented the pub at the end of the working day; the landgirls congregated at the forge, and had a sing-song. A doodlebug which fell near Bury Farm damaged some windows and tiles at the back of The Swan but the damage was soon repaired and there were no injuries. Hertfordshire County Council used part of The Swan yard for storing gravel and tarmac. Jim's sister Eileen wanted to help the war effort and she, with other young girls in the village, arranged to hold a concert in The Swan's garden. James, the landlord, managed to have jelly sweets to keep the children happy, and the concert audience donated five guineas for the war effort. This was sent off to the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, and Eileen was delighted to receive a letter of thanks from Clementine Churchill.

The blacksmith Bob Beadle and the saddler Harry Riddell had their premises in The Swan yard. Young Jim Hensman worked the bellows for the blacksmith, who shoed horses by day, and then in the evening was involved in munitions work making long iron rods for the government. The saddler worked until the 1950s with just an oil lamp for illumination, which Jim  has kept as a reminder of the man who made belts for him as a youngster. Jim also carried out duties in the pub, collecting the empty bottles and stoking the fires. He remembers there was a legend about the sixth bedroom (next to the toilet upstairs) where people talked of having strange feelings in the room and one landlady said things went missing from there. During the 1950s there was a lively cribbage team at The Swan.

During the 1960s there was a lively party scene among The Swan's customers, and at the present time (2013) it has an active involvement in the life of the Wheathampstead community.

When Ted Williams took over The Swan in 1981, he had the building refurbished. The builders made some fascinating discoveries. Click here.

From July 2008 Stephen Pascall took over the running of The Swan together with Wendy, having bought the lease in 2006, and initially put in a manager. Before the fire in 2013 there was a pub football team, a darts team, a weekly pub quiz, a yearly beer festival, and The Swan has always had a float in the annual Village Day parade.(i) Just before the fire Glenn and Sally Shambrook were taking over the lease. Since the enforced closure in July 2013 due to the fire, there have been several "pop-up Swans" outside on The Meads by the river Lea, and in Kippings, the restaurant next door. As The Swan is a Grade II listed building all the refurbishments have to be made according to the regulations, and currently permission is awaited for the planned building work to commence. It is hoped that The Swan will be back in business by Village Day 13 July 2014.

Researcher:  Janet Woodhams

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 Swan, click here.



Census 1901 and 1911

Kelly's Directories of Hertfordshire

Hertfordshire Advertiser 30 October 1981, and 18 and 25 July 2013

Interview with Stephen Pascall on 19 June 2013

Audio interview with James Hensman 9 August 2013

Conversations with James and Beryl Hensman; Stephen Pascall


Licensees of The Swan 1908 to 2013

1908   Agnes Brown

1914   Alfred Edward Gates

1917   Ernest Henry Dench

1922   Arthur Ernest Lovick

1926   William Baines

1927-1941   Jn Percy Wilkinson

1941-1966   James Albert Hensman

1966  John Underwood

1981-1990   Ted Williams

2006-2008   Steve Pascall   (with manager)

2008-2013   Steve Pascall

2013-present   Glen and Sally Shambrook




Property Images

past & present images for this property

Additional images, documents, audio and video files: