Memories of The Pilgrims Rest, St Albans

Shop front
Nana and Grandad Hayes
Julie Hayes
Derick Hayes
Chrissy Smith

The Pilgrims Rest was a family restaurant in Holywell Hill, St Albans, where I grew up and it fuelled my imagination as a child.

I have lived in Bishops Stortford for the past 32 years but the Pilgrims Rest was run by my family in the 1950s, 60s and 70s and I lived above the restaurant for most of my young life and it was quite an unusual upbringing.

My parents and grandparents worked every day, there were no weekends off, and our living quarters were upstairs on the first and second floor. When all the customers had gone home and the place was quiet I would explore the very old 16th century building which had many secret nooks and crannies, a spooky attic on the top floor and an old cellar underground where I discovered a blocked off tunnel.

Stories surrounding the tunnel were the trigger for my imagination. Apparently monks used it centuries before to make and store their wine for the liturgy etc. There was a lot of talk and rumours amongst staff of ghostly apparitions.

I started to write a book about the restaurant nine years ago when my mother and I went back to visit No 1 Holywell Hill which had been bought by Wesley Barrell and was a furniture showroom. I started doing my research then, asking if there had been any more ghostly sightings by the staff, which there had!

I am now newly retired from my job as a medical secretary in Church Langley and so I have more time for writing.

My novel is based on fact and is a memoir and homage to those who lived and worked at the Pilgrims Rest. Fictitious events have been intermingled with religious and historical truths and legends relating to the town of St Albans which have been passed down through the ages. An ancient tunnel which links The Pilgrims Rest to St Albans Cathedral is the basis for this mystical tale. There have been many ghostly sightings reported in the area.

The book is a family affair through and through, my husband David, who retired from his job as an electronic engineer last September, was the first to read the novel and also helped layout the artwork for the cover. Our daughter Hayley, 28, a visual merchandiser for Marks and Spencer and a former student at the Herts and Essex High School, did the illustrations for the book’s front, back and spine. Our sons Andrew, 32, who works for Tate Enterprises and Daniel, 22, who is a freelance sound engineer were very supportive. Both attended the Bishops Stortford High School.

My grandparents, former publicans Reg and Win Haye,s bought The Pilgrims Rest and worked with my parents, Derick and Julie Hayes, and also my uncle and aunt, Reggie and Sheila. A strange loner called Alf features in the book and he was based on an elusive character and odd job man who actually lived on the top floor of the restaurant with the family.

The historical information and legend were obtained via old documents on websites which related to the town of St Albans, the Abbey and the story of Albanus (Saint Alban)

In a strange quirk of fate, the premises at No. 1 Holywell Hill has now been taken over by a bookshop called ‘Books on the Hill’ who are very excited to stock copies of my book which is also available from Amazon in paperback edition or Kindle download.

This page was added on 05/02/2020.

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  • What a lovely thing to wrote about. I lived I’m Harpenden and went to the girsl school in St Albans. I have very fond memories of visiting Pilgrims Rest for tea on a Saturday afternoon. My Father Bernard always chose the Welsh Rarebit which was a mound of molten deliciousness- I remember the red covered menus too. Thanks for bringing this wonderful establishment to life again x

    By Clair Hardy (21/03/2023)
  • The waitress Anna Edwards (pictured and mentioned in comments) and her husband Fred were close family friends of my parents and known to my sister and I as our Nanna and Grandad. We would visit the Pilgrim’s Rest regularly as children in the mid-70s and feel very grown up sitting at a table by ourselves having lunch! I knew the Hayes family – Derek / Julie and I remember playing with their children (memory failing me now, sorry!) inc Anthony and Michael (?). As Chrissy says, it was an amazing place to explore and I also remember being shown the blocked off tunnel. Fantastic to read these memories from others and lovely to see a picture of Anna, sadly missed. Best regards to all!

    By Andrew Tudberry (30/08/2022)
  • Well, hello now Chrissy Smith, was Christine Hayes; I remember playing in the Pilgrims Rest with you as a young child and now call the hay bales the Pilgrims Rest Ice Cream Bales as they are the same shape as that given us by your lovely Mum. You hardly look any different! My maiden name was Piggott if you remember anyone that far back!!!

    By Gillian Reilly (25/06/2022)
  • I used to go there every Sunday with my parents and brother.

    By Diana (30/12/2021)
  • I believe that my mother and father first found the Pilgrim’s Rest during WW2, and occasionally (eating out was a rare treat) my mother took me there when I was a child in the late fifties and early sixties. If a visit to the cattle market on a Wednesday had been fitted in beforehand, so much the better. I later went there as a young man when I could.
    I absolutely adored it from the start and still do. The half-timbered building, its old-fashioned cosiness and the food were all splendid to my mind. It was almost always the steak pie and veg for me, followed by treacle sponge and custard, with a pot of excellent tea. Good food, well cooked and plenty of it. Much better to my mind than a great deal of what is served up these days.
    The two waitresses who first served my parents must have been there all their working lives, as they were still serving me decades later. I believe one (Anna possibly) was still there when to my utter dismay, it closed, or had stayed up to just before then.
    The only time I caught a glimpse of the kitchen at the back, I saw a veritable army of ladies at work, apparently preparing and cooking everything from scratch.
    I liked to observe the other customers: many ladies and gentlemen of a variety of social classes, a pair or two of local solicitors discreetly discussing their cases, and a few younger people here and there. I don’t mind saying that it was also a place where you could indulge in a little pleasurable and harmless eavesdropping, sometimes with amusing results. (It was harmless as we lived in Welwyn Garden City and didn’t know any of the other guests from Adam.) A good place to study people.
    I was very sad that it had to close, and will always cherish my memories of my visits there. Thank you to the Hayes family!

    By Jeremy Pymer (30/08/2021)
  • I was a policeman in St Albans in 1968 and The Pilgrims Rest was a welcome place in the early hours for a cup of tea. A man, possibly, Alf, would be up lighting the boilers etc. He was not much of a conversationalist.
    Also an excellent restaurant to take my children to for lunches.

    By Jeff Walklate (29/10/2020)