Britain’s oldest pub which opened its doors in 793AD is forced to close after 1,229 years
A pub claiming to be the oldest in Britain has closed after the landlord was forced to enter administration due to ‘extremely challenging trading traditions’ caused by Covid.
Christo Tofalli, who runs Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St Albans, Hertfordshire, said he was ‘heartbroken’ and had ‘tried everything’ to keep it open.
The pub is said to date back to AD793, which would make it the oldest in England, according to Guinness World Records.
It reputedly has a tunnel leading to nearby St Albans Abbey that was used by monks, and Oliver Cromwell is said to have spent a night there.
Mr Tofalli’s administrators are now speaking to the building’s owner, Mitchells and Butlers (M&B), but he said there were no plans to close it for good and it would reopen under new management.
Christo Tofalli, who runs Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St Albans, Hertfordshire, said he was ‘heartbroken’ and had ‘tried everything’ to keep it open
The pub is said to date back to AD793, which would make it the oldest in England, according to Guinness World Records. At one point it was known as ‘the Round House’ due to its shape
The pub reputedly has a tunnel leading to nearby St Albans Abbey that was used by monks, and Oliver Cromwell is said to have spent a night there
After surviving countless wars, plagues and economic crises over some 1,229 years of history, Mr Tofalli said the pub had been unable to generate enough profit to see it through Covid.
‘It goes without saying I am heartbroken: this pub has been so much more than just a business to me, and I feel honoured to have played even a small part in its history,’ he wrote on Facebook.
‘Before the pandemic hit, the escalating business rates and taxations we were managing meant trading conditions were extremely tough, but we were able to survive and were following an exciting five-year plan and were hopeful for the future.
‘However the Covid-19 pandemic was devastating and our already tight profit margins gave us no safety net.’
Secret tunnels, Oliver Cromwell and a Saxon king: The colourful past of Ye Olde Fighting Cocks
Ye Olde Fighting Cocks is one of several pubs claiming to be the oldest in England, with rivals including Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem (1189?) Ye Olde Man & Scythe in Bolton, which is mentioned in a charter from 1251.
Historic England describes the building as ‘of 16th-century appearance’, although the owners say it dates back to the 11th. Its octagonal shape is due to its original use as a pigeon house – hence a document from 1756 giving its name as ‘The Three Pigeons’.
The pub has had its current name since 1872 due to its history of cock fighting, a sport which was banned outright in England and Wales in 1835. At other points it was known as ‘the Round House’ on account of its shape.
Interesting features inside the building include an original bread oven, while there are reputedly tunnels stretching from the beer cellar to St Albans Abbey. Other claims made by the owners include that Oliver Cromwell slept there for a night during the Civil War, and that the foundations incorporate parts of the Palace of Offa, King of the Mercians.
M&B confirmed the pub would reopen, with Mr Tofalli telling the BBC he hoped the new landlord will ‘keep a bit of the soul and spirit going’.
Covid has ravaged the already struggling pub industry, with lockdowns and rapidly see-sawing restrictions keeping drinkers away.
In December, Fullers announced it would close 20 central London pubs ‘indefinitely’ as its chief executive, Simon Emeny, slammed the ‘pitiful’ level of support provided by the government.
Mr Tofalli said the pandemic had been the final straw after years of difficult trading.
‘Along with my team, I have tried everything to keep the pub going,’ he said.
‘However, the past two years have been unprecedented for the hospitality industry, and have defeated all of us who have been trying our hardest to ensure this multi-award-winning pub could continue trading into the future.’
Last month, the pub was hit by vandals who were caught on CCTV stealing beer kegs and throwing them into the River Ver.
And in 2015, it was the target of a campaign by animal rights group PETA, who urged Mr Tofalli to change its name to ‘celebrate chickens as the intelligent, sensitive animals they are’.
Its special projects manager, Dawn Carr, suggested ‘Ye Olde Clever Cocks’ as an alternative.
‘The name Ye Olde Fighting Cocks calls to mind the violence and gore of cockfighting, a hideous blood sport so cruel that it has been outlawed in the UK,’ she said.
‘A change of name to Ye Olde Clever Cocks would help highlight the fact that chickens are intelligent, sensitive and super-social animals.
‘[It] would encourage people to rethink the way that we treat chickens and grant these birds the respect and kindness that they deserve.’
After surviving countless wars, plagues and economic crises over some 1,229 years of history, owner Cristo Tofalli said the pub had been unable to generate enough profit to see it through Covid. Pictured is a stuffed cockerel on the wall
When cock fighting was banned as a sport, the pub changed its name to the ‘Fisherman’ in 1848. However it resorted to its original name and has been officially known as ‘Ye Olde Fighting Cocks’ since 1872.
At the time, Mr Tofalli said he had a responsibility for preserving the history and heritage of ‘the oldest pub in the country’.
CAMRA’s National Chairman Nik Antona said today: ‘It’s incredibly sad that Christo is leaving the Ye Olde Fighting Cocks and that the future of the pub is currently uncertain.
‘We all know how hard he and his team have worked to keep the pub running through these challenging times, and it is clear that simply being able to reopen without restrictions post-pandemic isn’t enough to ensure pubs survive.
‘The Government must provide greater support for these businesses, particularly with regards to easing the sky-high business rates.
‘Another rate revaluation is due next year which could see costs spiral again for many pubs, leading to even more closures over the coming months and years. We must act now to protect our pubs or risk losing them forever.’
Owner Mitchells and Butlers the pub would reopen, with Mr Tofalli saying he hoped the new landlord will ‘keep a bit of the soul and spirit going’. Pictured is an interior shot of the bar
Mr Tofalli said the pandemic had been the final straw after years of difficult trading. The pub’s interior is pictured in 2015