The Rye House Tavern

A historic pub

By Nicholas Blatchley

The Rye House 2009
Reg Counsell
Delivery at the Rye House, no date given
Reg Counsell
Dining Room, Rye House Hotel
Reg Counsell
The Rye House, no date given
Reg Counsell
Interior 1969
Reg Counsell
The Rye House while Reg was the licensee
Reg Counsell
Interior no date given
Reg Counsell
Public Bar Mug
Reg Counsell
Water Jug
Reg Counsell
Water Jug
Reg Counsell
The Rye House from the River Lea (probably 1969-1971)
Reg Counsell

Just to the east of the River Lea and right on the border between the parishes of Hoddesdon and Stanstead Abbotts* stands what remains of the historic Rye House, centre of the notorious plot to assassinate Charles II in 1683. Only the gatehouse survives, although the ground-floor plan of the house is laid out on the grass.

Opposite it, next to the speedway track, stands the picturesque Rye House pub, variously known through its history as the Rye House Tavern, the Rye House Hotel and Ye Olde Rye House Inn. There’s no precise record of when it was built (one source gives it as 1443, but this seems to be a confusion with the house itself) but the earliest record of the pub appears to be 1756.

At that time it was known as the King’s Arms, and its position right beside the river made it popular with anglers following in the footsteps of Isaac Walton. The railway, opened in 1843, originally had no station between Broxbourne and St Margarets, but in 1845 the pub’s landlord (who appears to have been one Thomas Watson) came to an arrangement with the railway to issue tickets for anglers, who could stop the train by waving a red flag.

Henry Teale

By 1849, William Henry Teale (usually known as Henry Teale) had acquired both the lease of the estate and the licence for the inn, which he renamed the Rye House Hotel. Teale was an entrepreneur from Shoreditch, who saw possibilities in the site and developed it into a tourist attraction, with gardens, a maze, sports and a converted malt-house providing a hall for banquets. Rye House Station was built to serve the increasingly popular site, replacing the red flag with platforms and ticket office.

Teale’s greatest coup was when, in 1870, he bought the Great Bed of Ware (famously mentioned by Shakespeare) from the Saracens Head pub in Ware for 100 guineas, and displayed it as the site’s centre piece. Rye House was said to attract up to 25,000 visitors on bank holidays, mainly travelling from London, and became so well known that it’s mentioned in Gus Elen’s music hall classic If It Wasn’t for the ‘Ouses In Between (a song my father was frequently known to break into, although he didn’t sing the Rye House verse).

The hotel wasn’t ignored in this development. It had a dance hall and dining rooms, as well as the beer garden beside the river that patrons still enjoy in summer. In the same year that he bought the Great Bed, Teale also added the cast-iron window-frames that have defined the building ever since.

Rye House After Teale

Teale died in 1876, but the family continued to run both pub and estate past the turn of the century. Management was taken over by William Abel and then by Albert Vince, and this article tells an interesting anecdote about the Great Bed during Vince’s tenure. By this time, though, even the Bed couldn’t sustain interest. It was sold to the Victoria & Albert Museum in 1931, and all the buildings apart from the Gatehouse and the Hotel were demolished.

The Hotel flourished, though, as a pub, and still stands in its beautiful riverside setting. From 1969-1971, it was run by Reg Counsell, who has kindly provided many photos, some of the pub in his time, and some more historical items. These are reproduced here by his permission.

I’ve lived for some years in Rye Park and, while I don’t visit it more than once or twice a month, I think of the Rye House Tavern as my “local”. It’s a friendly place, with lovely views of the river and the Gatehouse, and plenty of reminders of Rye House’s rich history.

For this article, I drew on an excellent piece on the Stanstead Abbotts Local History Society website.

* Since they lie on the east bank of the River Lea, both the Gatehouse and the pub (as well as the Speedway track) are technically part of Stanstead Abbotts. However, they’re generally perceived as being an extension of Hoddesdon, and Rye House has traditionally been treated as a Hoddesdon house.

This page was added on 30/04/2014.

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  • I knew Reg & Joyce very well and our group were regulars and formed “The Rye House Choir” in the late 1970’s. We all lived locally. Reg played “Ain’t yer got no home to go to” every night at closing time, and “the choir” sang Land of hope and Glory and toasted England’ leaving many beer stains on the ceiling. I am still in touch with Nick Kirkpatrick and look forward to visiting The Rye again very soon

    By Roger Benn (18/07/2017)
  • Hi. Reg kindly sent the photos to us at HALA about a year ago, which was what prompted the article. We haven’t had any contact with him since, but I hope he’s still doing fine.

    By Nicholas Blatchley (04/02/2015)
  • hi i used to know reg and joyce councell very well and would ask is he still alive or how did you access these photos thanks

    By nick kirkpatrick (29/01/2015)