High Street Property Details

No.27 Crown House – private residence

The building is a timber-framed house of the 16th or 17th century with a Georgian frontage. It is listed Grade II. In 1617 it was "The Bell" and on the 1879 OS map (i) it is described as the "Bell and Crown".

For much of its life it was used as an inn and had, along with No 25, all the usual conglomeration of buildings to the rear: these were present until at least 1923 but had disappeared by 1971 (i).   A small field/orchard is identified on the 1841 tithe map (ii) as being in the same ownership in the 1830s; it stretched across to the rear of the other High Street properties as far as East Lane. However, there is no direct evidence that No.27 had a dual purpose as a farmhouse as was common in some other Hertfordshire villages.

At the beginning of the twentieth century it was a public house and although No.25 was in the same brewery ownership, it was let out separately as a shop: recorded in the 1901 census as  "Bell Cottage" (iii)

The publican in 1900 was Edwin Alfred Morrison (48) born in Northamptonshire: his wife Mary was born in Stowmarket, Suffolk. There was also a lodger/groom Frederick Searbate (27), born in Bedfordshire. It is interesting to note that in the public house trade at least, landlords at this time seem to have come from all over the country and were not people that had grown up in the village (iii)

The 1901 census records Charles Parker (25), born in Shropshire, as publican, and his wife Jane (31) living there with their baby daughter Bertha.  At this time there were at least five other inns and beerhouses in the village itself and the Bell and Crown would have had a lot of competition.  In 1902 Charles Parker is recorded in Kelly's Directory (iv) as landlord.

By 1911 John Noble had started his long tenancy at the good age of 51. He had a wife Amelia (48), a daughter Elizabeth (24) and a son John (22).  The daughter assisted in the business and the son is described as a house painter. Both Mr Noble and his wife were born in Yorkshire and they had no other children; infant mortality, which was commonplace, had not touched this family. There was a lady visitor listed (iv) who was likely to have been a friend of the family rather than a paying guest. The owner of the building was Benskin's Brewery who were also listed as owning No. 25.

John Noble kept the tenancy until at least 1928. Kelly’s Directory in 1928 includes a large advert under "hotels" where it is described as "The Bell and Crown Hotel and Tea Gardens".  It would seem that by this time it was going up market to catch the growing number of motoring and cycling customers heading out into the Hertfordshire countryside from London and recalling perhaps the former glamorous days of country inns prior to the 'Railway Age'.

By 1933 Alfred Hitchins was the tenant and the property described (iv) as simply a public house. From 1934  until 1960 there is no mention of the business in Kelly's Directories (iv).  However, in 1962 there was an article in the Harpenden Free Press (v) about Mrs Ethel Sweeney, licensee of The Bell, who surrendered her licence on 4th May after 28 years. She had run the business from 1934-1962. Sydney Sweeney had died a year before and, as it was a rule of the brewery that only married couples could serve as landlords, the licence had to be formally handed over to Mr and Mrs Telfer on 7th May 1962.

In 1946 the building was styling itself as "The Bell and Crown Hotel Fully Licensed , RAC Appointment Luncheons, Teas, etc. 25 miles from Piccadilly Circus." This advertisement was from a programme for the Village Fair (vi) and although it would seem to be aimed at the motoring trade it appeared for a purely local event, along with a smaller advertisement for Fred Kelvey, of Park Hotel Riding Stables, who would later become a resident.

Mr. V.L. (vii), a past resident,  remembers with affection the period 1956-1962 when he stayed as a resident guest at the Bell and Crown. There were three other "permanent guests" and, from time to time, temporary guests: the Bell and Crown was definitely operating as a small hotel. Guests ate with the family in the kitchen, were treated as part of the family and would "muck in" helping behind the bar or changing the barrels for example during busy periods. However, the business was run solely by Mr and Mrs Sweeney. There were no bar staff or waitresses as such.  

The public house/restaurant side of the business was strictly socially stratified. There was a small and exclusive restaurant of about 10 covers (bookings only) as Mrs Sweeney was an excellent cook. Among the traditional English dishes such as jugged hare and pigeon pie there were also African dishes.  Mr and Mrs Sweeney had lived in Africa where he was a banker before taking up the tenancy. There was also a saloon bar (collar and tie required). Customers included local farmers and business people as well as ex-RAF officers and test pilots from nearby De Havilland. The tap room was for working class customers. Mr Sweeney ran a "tight ship" and customers in both bars were well behaved. Most customers were "regulars" and many were ex-servicemen: he didn't take kindly to people who took their custom to other pubs. However Mr V.L.(vii) remembers the Sweeneys as kind and decent people. Because they ran the business without help, they had to take holidays separately.

Few young people used the pub; an exception was when there was a darts match against another pub in the tap room.

There was no "piped music" until Alan and Elsie Telfor took over the license in 1962

On Sundays there were "speciality teas" including Mrs Sweeney's home baking. The hotel/public house was an important part of what is remembered by Mr V.L. as a "wonderful" village high street with a good range of shops, banks and public houses.

From 1962  until 1971/72 it appeared in Kellys (iv)  and the Herts & Essex Trade Directories (viii) as "The Bell and Crown Hotel".  Mr. V.L. remembers Alan and Elsie Telfer taking over and among other things introducing piped music into the bars, which was not to the liking of many of the older regulars. This was possibly a move to keep up with the changing culture of the 1960s and when pubs were responding to a change to mixed company in small groups rather than the traditional communal culture of pub life.

Another resident, G.B. (ix), also recalls the time when he was a saloon bar regular and John Rolf's father was a tap room regular. Although the two bars were still kept separate, they would all get together in the back bar for "after time" drinking which was a common occurrence in English pubs when the licensing hours were restrictive. The police turned a "blind eye" to late night drinking and would often form part of the after hours clientele.  He also remembers that dress was a sports jacket, collar and tie in the week and a suit at weekends. He was a bricklayer by trade so it would seem that strict social division on class lines was loosening and that identification with saloon or public bar was perhaps becoming based more on financial status. His parents were from Durham but he had lived in the village since a small boy. He remembers one regular character, a Maureen Bishop, as " a bit toffee-nosed but lovely" and a character called Oddy Brandon who drove around on an old motor bike (thought to have been a BSA Bantam). Oddy was one of those people who would walk into any pub and start playing the piano and everyone would join in a sing-song, although he does not recall there being a piano in the Bell and Crown .

The food was still very good and John Nicholson was still the chef: Hungarian Goulash was the special dish on Sunday evenings

In 1965 the landlords were Ian and June Nicholson . They had been running the Bull but seem to have taken on the Bell and Crown also. Electoral Roll books at St Albans Library (x) show that Ian and June Nicholson were landlords of first the Bull (1963-64) and then the Bell & Crown. John Roe, a researcher on this High Street Project, remembers the change of landlords. Ian had been in the army in India where he learned some of his cooking: he did a lot of curries at the Bull.

Anne Atton  and Lizzie Holland (xi)  recall the pub between 1976 and 1979, when the Nicholsons were still the landlords. The restaurant was up-market, offering French Cuisine: it was frequented by the more prominent citizens of the time, including Graham Dangerfield the naturalist and Nick Faldo the famous golfer. The waitresses were in traditional black and white uniform. One of the landlord's sons, Rick, ran an Italian bistro on the first floor above Lorna Rowe's greengrocer's shop next door. Sharon Titmuss was a waitress there and remembers that customers would enter through the bar, up the stairs and across the first floor to the restaurant even though there were still paying guests on this floor above the pub. The bistro was long and narrow and Rick would prepare food with the help of Sally Kenniford. There were permanent guests staying at times during this period. One of these was Fred Kelvey, who ran a hacking and hunting business from the rear of the premises: this included a taxi service which would ferry people from the outlying parts of the parish to the railway station. One of the regulars was known as the major or colonel: he tended to get drunk and became bristly and rude. Sharon and Lizzie also remember Maureen Bishop who was posh (“or thought she was”): she had a handbag carrier all to herself, clipped to the bar (by this time there was only one bar) (xi).

The main restaurant ran right across the front range of the building and so it is clear that the old partitioned rooms had been opened up, which was typical of the times. The front door was no longer used and was blocked up. One entered the building through a side door, off the carriageway, straight into the bar (an interesting throwback to the typical layout of inns where this entrance would be controlled by the landlord). 

During the 1980s  you could get takeaway pizzas from No.25 which was then run fully in conjunction with No.27. Another resident, D.C. (xii) remembers the time when it was changing from a pub with restaurant to a full restaurant. He recalls that the building was still split into small rooms so that one could dine in small groups and that the cuisine was still English (steaks and steak and kidney pie being examples of what was available). The bar had been relegated to a back room and drinking without eating was frowned upon. Another resident (L. M.) recalls having a complete room to themselves when he and his future wife went out for a meal with their respective parents.  

In January of 1987 number 25 and 27 became a Chinese restaurant called "Khans" and it's first Chinese New Year was celebrated with a ten-course banquet on the 29th, 30th and 31st (xiii).  At this time it lost its traditional name and any vestiges of its past as an English inn or country hotel. Only the large but empty sign bracket remained as a tangible reminder. This reflected the continuing cultural shift away from traditional English or European fare towards the splendours of the Orient . 

By all accounts the service there was "patchy" . Residents John.R. and friend Nigel recall that, while the takeaway side was very good, the sit-down meal was poor culminating with a very poor Christmas meal which left them still with the pangs of hunger.  Was it perhaps venturing into the "Nouvelle Cuisine" era? John and Nigel had a shorter description to match the size of portions "Con!"  (xiv) 

Between 2000 - 2013 numbers 25 and 27 were again split into two residential units. Number 27 became "Crown House", a large house, and number 25 became "Bell Cottage" . The  yard at the back was also split between the properties so that a remaining outbuilding at the rear of number 25 could be converted as a third residential unit (xv)   

Researcher:  Andrew Robley

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 Bell & Crown, click here.



(i)  Ordnance Survey Maps 1879, 1897, 1923, 1971

(ii) Tithe Map 1830s

Hertfordshire Inns West Branch Johnson.

(iii)  Census 1901, 1911

(iv)  Kelly's Directory 1902, 1917, 1926, 1928, 1933, 1962, 1964, 1966

(v)  Harpenden Free Press, 4/5/1962

(vi)  Advertisement in Village Day Programme, 1946

(vii) Telephone interview with Mr. V.P.L ,Chartered Chemist,  January 2014.

(viii)  Herts and Essex Trade Directory 1971/ 72

(ix) Conversation with residents G.B and J.R. 13/1/14

(x)  Electoral Roll Register St Albans Library

(xi) Conversations with Anne Atton, Liz Holland and Sharon Titmuss,  2013 and15/1/2014 

(xii)  Conversation with resident D.C.10/1/14

(xiii)  Press Cutting announcing the opening of Kahns Chinese Restaurant, January 1987

(xiv) Conversation with resident John.R. and friend Nigel, Christmastide 2013

(xv) Ref. ‘Wheathampstead.net’ website


Hertfordshire Inns West Branch Johnson.

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