Sucker-punch for tenants who renovated historic St Albans pub

Nigel Wild at the Rose & Crown

Nigel Wild at the Rose & Crown - Credit: Archant

The tenants of a 457-year-old pub in one of St Albans’ most historic areas fear they will join the growing list of Punch Taverns’ evictees, as the chain is trying to force them out.

Nigel Wild and Gary Hatchman jointly run the Rose and Crown in St Michael’s Street, where they have spent tens of thousands of pounds renovating the traditional 16th century public house.

The pub is located opposite the entrance of Verulamium Park, in the historic village of St Michaels.

The tenants entered into what they were led to believe was a long-term, renewable lease with Punch Taverns in April last year.

But the company, which boasts a portfolio of around 3,300 pubs nationwide, has recently instructed its lawyers to terminate their agreement, despite assurances the lease would be rolled over in April next year.

That is just four months shy of the tenants gaining the ability to purchase alcohol from firms other than Punch Taverns, as they would have become free of tie in August.

Punch Taverns told Nigel and Gary that the firm wanted to replace them with its own employees so it was directly managed by the organisation.

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But locals fear that given the closures of nearby pubs the Black Lion and the Blue Anchor, at the bottom of Fishpool Street, that changing to a managed house would give Punch Taverns the option to close the popular Rose and Crown.

A petition has been launched to stop the men from being forced out, with more than 1,250 signatures gathered online and on a paper version in the pub itself.

Gary, who has had decades of experience in the hospitality industry, said that when he and Nigel visited the pub before taking up the lease, “we came and had a look and fell in love with it.

“It was run down, but it had a decent customer base. So we redecorated it, putting in a new back bar, commercial kitchen and purpose built BBQ area. We have spent tens of thousands of pounds on it.”

Nigel added: “We wanted to make it a family-oriented pub, open to all. Everyone is welcome, including people with dogs.”

He said that in the first year, with beer sales increasing by 20 per cent, Punch Taverns had assured him and Gary that, in the lead up to negotiations, the lease would be renewed.

But they were ‘shocked’ at suddenly being told, for no obvious reason, that the lease would not be renewed.

Gary said: “They said they wanted to put their own manager into the pub, and manage it themselves. That is when the petition was started. In August next year we are free of tie, and can buy beer from anywhere, rather than at the inflated price from Punch.

“But, at no time did we say we wouldn’t buy our beer from them – however they would have to be more competitive. Punch refused to talk to us about the lease.

“We feel awful about it all, and are in the process of taking legal action.”

Nigel added: “It’s the morality of it all. We feel as though they have used us to come in and invest time and money, and yet had no intention of renewing the lease.”

A statement from Punch confirmed that: “In the lead-up to the expiry of the lease agreement, our solicitors have served legal papers in line with the Landlord and Tenant Act.”

It added: “Our regional director will now be making contact with our current publicans to discuss the options available for a new agreement.”

A spokeswoman did not comment further on the issue.