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How St Albans’ Historic Pub Ye Olde Fighting Cocks Was Saved

Martin Robinson was a part of the Ye Olde Fighting Cocks team when it was announced the historic St Albans pub was closing down – so decided to take matters into his own hands

When news filtered through earlier this year that St Albans’ historic pub, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, was to cease trading, us like many in the area and pub lovers beyond were devastated. This was a venue that had its foundations laid back in the 8th century, and has featured in the Guinness Book of Records as Britain’s oldest pub, so to hear it would be no more was tough to hear. But, luckily, there were existing staff who felt the same.

“I was devastated,” nods Martin Robinson, “as was Ian, the head chef. We thought it was the end of the road. But then some business-minded friends asked the question: ‘why don’t you take it over?’ and for the first time we started thinking about whether it was possible. Friends and family had a lot in faith in us.”

Ian And Martin
Ian Baulsh and Martin Robinson

Robinson admits the toughest part of the whole process was getting a deal to take over the pub across the line, but his team felt confident. “We’ve worked here for a decade already, so we know how to run the place and we knew our customers would come back,” he says. “Pubs are a really important part of the community, and Ye Olde Fighting Cocks has been at the heart of this community for over 1,000 years. We have our regulars, we have people who happen to wander past us after a walk in the park and pop in with the dogs and kids for a bite to eat, and we also have people who travel here to see the country’s oldest pub and soak up that heritage.”

With a deal in place, Robinson – along with his management team of the aforementioned Ian Baulsh, the head chef, and Sam Walker – got to work on improvements ahead of re-opening. “We did a lot of work,” Robinson says. “We painted the whole of the outside of the pub, and replaced the pub signs with brand new hand-painted versions, complete with gold leaf. We transformed our raised garden, adding the new outside BBQ kitchen, a bar and also a little grass-laid children’s area complete with mini tree-stump tables and chairs. We have increased the seating capacity in the garden to around 200 covers, and trimmed and tidied our trees and foliage, so the view of the lake [in Verulamium Park] has opened up and is visible to almost everyone in the garden area. Inside we have painted and decorated, cleaned extensively, repaired and varnished furniture, and recently completely replaced the old ladies’ and gents’ toilets. We had planned to get to this point in about six months from opening, but are four months early only because of the huge vote of confidence we have received from the public.”

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The new outdoor BBQ is perfect for summer

With Baulsh heavily involved behind the scenes, unsurprisingly the food offer has been key too. “Ian is an incredible chef,” smiles Robinson, “and he has created a menu with something for everyone. We’re very proud of our fish and chips and our chicken wings, both of which are extremely popular with our customers, and of the balance of meat, vegetarian and also vegan dishes. Ian is also committed to changing things up a lot with regularly changing specials, and we try to source locally as much as possible.”

With summer here, it’s also the best time to sample the new outdoor BBQ kitchen. “We think it’s the best spot in Hertfordshire to have a bite to eat and cold drink,” Robinson asserts. “We are situated just a stone’s throw from St Albans Cathedral at the foot of the lawn of grass known locally as the Abbey Orchard, and we are on the edge of Verulamium Park. So, we are surrounded by parkland and greenery, as well as the historic Cathedral on one side and Roman ruins in the park on the other. We also offer a BBQ menu as well as our regular menu, which has dishes like harissa chicken thighs, jumbo tiger prawns, Merguez sausages and grilled halloumi. We hope our pub is the place to be this summer.” Considering we all thought we had lost Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, Absolutely Hertfordshire couldn’t agree more.

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