By Ron Dale

Joseph Bigg, a Stanstead Abbotts man, bought the Hatfield Brewery in 1815 at which time its only outlet in Stanstead Abbotts was a pub named The Three Wheatsheaves. By 1819 he was bankrupted and the brewery was sold to Joseph Field, at which time it owned 31 full licences and 8 beer-only licences.  When it was again sold to Alfred Pryor in 1837 after another bankruptcy, there was no pub listed for Stanstead Abbotts. In 1920 when the brewery was sold to Benskins, it had two local pubs listed The Rose & Crown and The Pied Bull. (Details from Breweries in Hertfordshire: A Historical Gazetteer. Allen Whitaker, 2006) The above-mentioned Joseph Bigg may be the farmer/landowner who in 1840 owned much land at Easneye, according to the 1840 Tithe map, and was also the Overseer of the Rye House Workhouse.

    Another Hertfordshire brewery, Hawkes, sold to Benskins in 1898, which listed the following pubs supplied in Stanstead Abbotts: The Bull, Five Horseshoes, Rye (Kings Arms), Pied Bull, Red Lion. In St. Margarets for that year a pub called The Chequers was listed, which may be a mistake.

    It is not known where The Three Wheatsheaves, The Bull and the Chequers were located.  The first named may have been the old name for The Five Horseshoes as it was rebuilt at one stage and could have also been renamed.  On the 1840 Tithe Map the Pied Bull was named The Red Bull at this time.


Research is such a lucky dip and I have this morning found information about our local Red Lion pub in the most unexpected place. I came across by accident the full text of an American family history, the family of Olmsted (Holmstead).  [History of the Olmsted Family in America 1632-1912, Henry King Olmsted, New York, 1912]   The family were Puritans who left Essex for America in 1632 and their history looked interesting so I began to read the book which was published in 1912 in New York. In one of the family wills of a Nicholas Olmstead, I found the following statement:

     ‘My wife, Rachel, has had for her first husband, THOMAS GRAVES THE YOUNGER of Stanstead Abbotts in the county of Hertfordshire. She claimed his share of the Red Lion Inn and involved Nicholas Olmsted in a lawsuit (in 1610 or so) which was decided in her favour. He prays in his will that his son shall have the inn.’

     This was written in the will of Nicholas Olmsted (Holmsted) of Braintree, Essex, proved at Bishops Stortford in May, 1627. Investigation found that his son was named John Olmsted, so that we have the names of two very early owners of the Red Lion, the earliest known to-date: Thomas Graves the Younger of Stanstead Abbotts  and John Olmsted, son of Rachel and Nicholas Olmsted of Braintree. Of course they were the owners and not necessarily the landlords of the Red Lion but it is interesting to note that 400 years ago the pub was still the Red Lion by name. Few pubs have maintained their name for four centuriesw and possibly from the 16th century. The family were Puritans and at this time Puritans were being treated very badly for non-conformism, causing many to flee to Holland, and there was also an exodus of Puritans to New England in America. In 1632 the Olmsted family headed by James and his two sons were part of a large family group who fled to the New World and founded the large family which exists there today. This family history had no apparent connection with Stanstead Abbotts, but it was a pleasant surprise to find a nugget of gold wrapped up this otherwise uninteresting story


I came across the following description of Stanstead Abbotts and St. Margarets on a website for river-boat enthusiasts headed Felonious Mongoose and dated July 2010. I am sure the village has not altered much since then.

   ‘A one-horse town (or one-street town) where the horse seems to have died. There is an impressive Kart racing track just before you get to it, after passing the Stort. St. Margarets has the advantage of a railway station from where you can go to Hertford or Liverpool Street.’

    If all that impresses this man of few words is a go-kart track at Rye House and a railway station from which to escape, he is blind to the history he passed on the river. No mention here of the mysterious 15th century Gatehouse he passed without seeing. No mention here of the beauty of the tranquil riverside and its birdlife. And in any case, country villages are meant to be quiet one-horse places are they not? He sounds very much like a townie who could never appreciate the beauty of a quiet peaceful country village or the history which surrounds it. I feel sorry for the Felonious Mongoose. He is welcome to appreciate the smell and noise of the Go-kart Track if that gives him joy but he appears condemned to travel through life semi-blinded to his surrounds. Let him read this website for the rich history he cannot see. Let him read of Rye House where thousands flocked daily to see Henry Teale’s glorious Pleasure Gardens. Let him examine the fine restored Gatehouse of 1443, where centuries later, talk of regicide abounded. He passed Rye House and saw only the Go-Kart Track. What a sad waste of precious life!


In a diatribe against Bishop Dr. John Thomas (1686-1781), Octavius Nicholls (1) accused the bishop of neglecting to repair the ancient church of Chestfield in Kent, and of demolishing it needlessly. He also accused him of further vandalism elsewhere:

‘ And again... in 1757 for the destruction of the 14th century glass in the churches of Stanstead Abbotts and Eastwick, in order to replace them by modern windows.’

  Octavius continued, saying that fortunately the bishop was appointed to the Bishopric of Winchester in 1761, omitting the words before he could do any more damage. At least we now know the exact date of these windows if still there in St. James church.


The following record dated 1708 from Hertford Quarter (2) Sessions puts a name to the half-mile stretch of road which today leads from the Great Amwell roundabout to St. Margarets, presumably to the riverside which is the boundary of the parish:

Presentation that the highway leading out of the common road from London to Ware, commonly called FOUR WANT WAY, to St. Margarets, is out of repair for half-a-mile, one side of which is in the parish of St. Margarets and the other in the parish of Great Amwell.  It is presented that the inhabitants of St. Margarets ought to repair their half of the road and the inhabitants of Great Amwell repair their half.

    This name, whatever the meaning of ‘want’ in this case, is obviously referring to the four-way crossroads which existed before the modern roundabout. Today this stretch of road is commonly called Folly Hill. The records of the Quarter Sessions are filled with many reports of damaged bridges, walls, fences, gates, riverbanks, blocked streams and roads, all in need of repair. The court had authority to order the repair of these by those responsible or face penalties. Later in the year a certificate was issued by the court that the road was now in good repair. (item no. 116)

1) Chestfield’s Ruined Church, Octavius Nicholls

2) Hertford Quarter Sessions Records, 1581-1894, vol. 4, bundle FOB 1702, no. 98