Will ‘Britain’s oldest pub’ live to fight another day?

It survived the Norman conquest, the Black Death, a visit from arch puritan Oliver Cromwell, the introduction of licensing in 1828 and a ban on cock fighting in 1835. But Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, reputedly a fixture of St Albans since the year 793 and a claimant to the title of Britain’s oldest pub, was widely reported this week to have succumbed to the Covid pandemic.

Landlord Christo Tofalli made the announcement on Facebook, saying the pub had gone into administration after an “unprecedented” two years for the hospitality industry.

He said: “Along with my team, I’ve tried everything to keep the pub going. 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. I am even more heartbroken for my incredible team and the wider Fighting Cocks family.

The statement – and the wide coverage it received – sparked a wave of interest and offers of help, while Mitchells and Butlers, the freeholder, raised hopes that the Fighting Cocks would reopen under new management: “We can reassure locals that this is not the end for the pub.”

While it is impossible to prove the pub’s year of opening, its current premises can be dated to the 11th century, when it was built to house pigeons. Its round shape made it ideal for hosting the cock fights it was named after.

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