The Cherry Tree

Steaks and Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll

By Roger Filler

The original Cherry Tree, taken from the Railway Halt
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
The interior of the old Cherry Tree
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
The Cherry Tree gardens
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
The re-built Cherry Tree 1935
Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies
Ballroom entrance to the Cherry Tree
David Barber

Opened Easter 1921, this was the first subsidiary enterprise of the WGC Company. Situated next to the railway halt, it provided visitors and Garden Citizens with meals and entertainment, and gave the town a much-needed social centre. It certainly looked like a charming building, a timber construction which lay slightly further from the road than its successor (now Waitrose). It featured a larch pole veranda where meals could be taken, extensive gardens, a billiards room and bowling greens which were added in August 1925. A further extension in 1928 saw the Bridge Hall open to accommodate large meetings and dances.

New building

In 1932, the new, permanent Cherry Tree was built to replace the by-now decaying wooden structure and WGC Company sold on their interests to Whitbread the brewers.
The new building had much more space and was a great success at first, but many  thought it lacked the charm and intimacy of the old building and it slowly lost its place as the town’s social centre, especially after the new Stores was built in 1939, when the Cherry Tree had to compete with the Parkway restaurant.

The Cherry Tree rocks

During the 1960s and 1970s many rock bands performed at the Cherry Tree. I have heard rumours that ‘The Who’ and ‘The Small Faces’ both played at the pub. Led Zeppelin certainly did, in April 1969, and it would have cost you 7/6d for a ticket.

Drugs

The pub also got something of a reputation in the 1960s as a hangout for drug users. Subsequent research suggests that the level of drug use was no better or worse than any other town centre pub in Hertfordshire, but as the newly-formed Drugs Squad was based up the road at Stanborough, it was obvious they would investigate their immediate area first and when the national press picked up the story the Cherry Tree was featured.

Waitrose

Over time the pub turned into a Beefeater restaurant, becoming a branch of Waitrose in 1990. Controversy centred over the ripping up of the bowling greens to provide the supermarket’s  car park as dozens of Garden Citizens ashes had been scattered there over the years.
Look carefully the next time you drive or walk past Waitrose for the small homage to the pub which sits on an outside wall.

Do you remember seeing any groups in the 1960s and 70s that went on to stardom?  Perhaps you worked at the pub. Why not log on and share your memories.

This page was added on 20/06/2009.

Comments about this page

  • The Cherry Trees is one of my fondest memories. Thursday and Sunday nights were Reggae nights. I was about 18 onto my 20’s when i used to go. I was from St. Albans and went with several friends. After we often went to the Lemsford Cafe, a truck drivers cafe that stayed open all night, but thats another story.
    I don’t recall any trouble at the Cherry Trees or any drug taking. Black people used to be near the front on the right of the stage enjoying the music. We got to know all the local people and those from other towns, such as Stevenage and Hatfield. In fact we all got on so well that we would go to Great Yarmouth for the Bank Holiday weekend , perhaps 100 strong. I remember playing football on a large field outside New Market with 50 or so people. We also went to Northampton several times as a large group to ‘invade their town’. There we did have trouble with the locals as they didn’t appreciate us taking over their area or chatting to their girls !!!! . Police tried to stop us as we pulled off the motorway.
    Back to the Reggae nights, we wore Ben Sherman shirts and stay press trousers. Close cut or skinhead haircuts. The girls were especially well dressed in their two tone outfits. It was always well attended, full of people dancing and talking.
    I think it was The ‘Sun’ paper that interviewed a skinhead called ‘Spider’ . He claimed to kick people so fast that they thought he had 8 legs. I knew him and it was total nonsense even though we suspected he said it.
    Great memories

    By Richard Clark (09/10/2019)
  • I remember seeing the English Rogues at the Cherry and the adjacent college, I think they were all a couple of years older than our crew. I was in a band called Masque (later morphed into Johnny Curious and the Strangers), we played several Thursday night gigs at the Cherry. I remember seeing Minotaur there too, they were possibly a bit esoteric and prog-Genesis like, but I always liked seeing them and they always went over well. I also remember a much more straight ahead rocknroll/rnb band called the Blokes played there once or twice.

    Pint of Trophy please!

    By Bob Green (08/03/2019)
  • I see that my old friend Rick Graham has already commented on the Led Zeppelin gig at the Cherry Tree. What a coincidence – I didn’t meet Rick (who currently works for Kasabian) until the early 70’s, and now in 2019 I find out from this site that we were at the same gig in 1969. I had already seen the New Yardbirds at Dunstable, and then the Jeff Beck Group at the Marquee in London before seeing Led Zeppelin at one of their earliest U.K. gigs in Welwyn Garden City. My friends and I had been disappointed with the New Yardbirds, but thought that the Jeff Beck group with Rod Stewart on vocals, Ron Wood on bass and Micky Waller on drums were fantastic. Led Zeppelin were not so good, and seemed to have copied Jeff’s band, even using some of the same material. As Rick stated, Jimmy Page had his theremin, and he also played the guitar with a violin bow during one song as I recall. It seems incredible that Led Zeppelin played at this tiny venue, that they went on to become so huge – and that this was half a century ago!

    By Andy Pegg (05/01/2019)
  • I drove all the way from Henley on Thames to see led zep play in the bay window of the cherry tree-
    I remember Jimmy Page playing the theremin with his foot!!….

    By Rick Graham (07/07/2018)
  • My band English Rogues played many times at The Cherry Tree in the public bar on Thursday nights in the mid ’70’s
    I remember doing a great show there one Christmas.
    Whenever we played there it was always packed I guess because we were a local band.
    Brett Salmon, Dave Taylor,Andy Bacon,Andy Shaw,Ray Catt & Martyn Stone were all part of the band in one way or another.
    I have some great 9mm footage of playing there with sound!
    Happy days!

    By Tony Fewkes (06/02/2018)
  • This comment will add little to previous comments. However, I have say that Wilhelm Kempff playing at the Parkway Restaurant is astonishing. He was and is all-time piano royalty. I have the boxed cds of him playing the complete Beethoven sonatas.

    By Robstan (15/11/2017)
  • I played at he Cherry Tree in the 60’s with my band called The City Sounds. We used to play there on Sundays. I have many happy memories.

    By Tony Crampton (13/11/2017)
  • My 1952 diary records my attending a series of eight weekly dancing classes in the Cherry Tree, given by Phyllis Kitley. I went with Nigel Williams, a fellow ex-student of the de Havilland Aeronautical Technical School. We lived in the Rodney Court flats, Hatfield. We both worked at the de Havilland Aircraft factory at Hatfield. Welwyn Stores were frequented for buying books and records – the old 78rpm ones! The Parkway Restaurant was the venue for a memorable piano recital given by Wilhelm Kempff on 11th December 1952. I have many happy memories of my time in the area; 1946 to 1953.

    By Ken Watkins (16/09/2017)
  • “Do you remember seeing any groups in the 1960s and 70s that went on to stardom?”

    Between 1959 and 1963 the Kenny Ball Jazzmen played 19 gigs at The Cherry Tree  jazz club.  Which coincides with the period in which the band scored 14 Top Twenty hits.   So I suppose you could say we – I was trombonist in the band from 1958 until 2013 –  went on to stardom!

    By John Bennett (23/05/2016)
  • I can remember the Disco nights on  a Sunday in about 1974/5 met a nice girl there I nearly married call Dennise , had to drive back to Romford Essex ant there was on m25 great days but we do need a supermarket every 100 yards don’t we, Peter 

    By Peter Connor (28/12/2014)
  • I was 16 when I saw Led Zepplin play – remember the crush inside – who cared – also saw Rory Gallagher who did play there – just him and his guitar  (sure he played there twice), Spooky Tooth and Family – great venue ! Missed out at the Hop – only saw UFO there which I think was at the back end of those day and not a lot to write home about gig wise!!

    By kevin oconnell (04/08/2014)
  • I lived in w.g.c.and was 16 in 1963 and my friends and I heard to go to the cherry tree pub and the rolling stones played there ,all so my father run the peartree pub at this time ,which is still used to this day ,when I married my husband and I lived at the woodman pub which burnt down and has since been rebuilt .

    By jan tarbox (12/05/2014)
  • I was living in WGC and was 18 in 1969. I was lucky enough to buy a ticket to see Led Zeppelin perform at the Cherry Tree. I remember that the room in which bands played was quite small so the gathering of audience (who were standing) and performers was very close-up. With hindsight, musical history was being made there because this gig occurred very shortly before Zeppelin began their meteoric rise to fame, such that they were playing to huge venues and audiences just a few months later. Watching the formidable lead guitarist (Jimmy Page) suddenly start playing parts of his guitar solos with a violin bow in some of their bluesy songs was a novel and exciting eye-opener, but from the overall sound (vocals and instruments), you could tell immediately that the band was something special! I saw Rory Gallagher playing somewhere in Hertfordshire around this time but I don’t think that it was at the Cherry Tree. However, “Family” was definitely another band of that era which I did see at the Cherry Tree. They had a period of major success with “hit” albums from around 1968-70 but this didn’t last strongly for much longer after that due to disruption caused by regular changes from the original line-up of band members.

    By Geoff Lyles (04/10/2013)
  • I worked as a live in barman at the Cherry Tree in 1969. I can remember watching the landing on the moon in the staff room. I was rooming with a pal named Alan Young who I subsequently lost track of. Mr and Mrs Sherwood (or was it Sherwin?) ran it at the time , they had a dog named Faisal. Mr was the spit of Clark Gable and was a wonderful personality, Mrs was more like a nice Sunday School teacher.. the both of them just about kept us from getting into any serious trouble ( we were only 21 at the time) and were very tolerant of two ragamuffins from Merseyside. They had the bands on on Saturday nights but during the week it was a dreary place and we both left after about 5 months to seek our fortune in Gibraltar (but it had already left!) The chief Barman was Bert , the cellarman Ollie, Rusty was the obligatory gay guy, just a lovely person. Never did get a chance to go back that way but it was an important if short part of my life

    By Bill Corden, Vancouver B.C. (02/08/2013)
  • Like Douglas, I remember travelling from Hatfield to go to the Cherry Tree to see various trad jazz bands appear there. It certainly was a great venue.

    By Dave Irvine (03/06/2013)
  • In the late 50s and early 60s the Cherry Tree hosted (along with St Albans) one of the best Jazz Clubs in the county. This was during the huge trad jazz boom of that time. Regular bands included all the stomping trad greats of the era. My favourites were Monty Sunshine, Ken Collyer and Terry Lightfoot. A local with a great voice who guested there was Sally Collingwood – I remember her from Applecroft School. Great memories! Anyone else remember that era?

    By Douglas Cockbain (28/04/2013)
  • Nice to see that Rory Gallagher (Irish blues/rock guitarist and a BIG name in rock music during the 1970s) once played the Cherry Tree pub, i became quite a fan of Rory during the 1980s but he unfortunately died age 47 back in 1995.

    By Michael S (09/03/2013)
  • I was 19 in 1969 when the ‘Bluesville 69’ Club had a short but successful run at the Cherry Tree pub. Led Zeppelin played there but I didn’t see them, unfortunately. I was lucky enough to see Chicken Shack, however, and Christine Perfect performed her last gig with them – at the end of the show she announced that she was leaving the band to join Fleetwood Mac! Another band I saw was ‘Taste’ with Rory Gallagher doing an amazing guitar riff. I don’t believe The Who or the Small faces played there but they may have appeared at The ‘Hop’ at Woodhall – this venue was host to many famous names including John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, The Birds, Eric Clapton, Geno Washington, Cream and David Bowie! Wish I could go back in time!

    By Geoff Knowles (24/02/2013)
  • I was a teenager in WGC during the early/mid-1970s and yes I do recall that the Cherry Tree did have a reputation for drugs at that time but so did the Whimpy bar opposite the railway station have a reputation for drugs as well. I never really used the pub at all although I do have a vague memory of visiting the pub one Saturday evening during the mid-1970s (I think it was a disco night?) but it’s all a bit of a hazy memory now some 38 years on. We left WGC in 1979 but on a day return visit to the town in 1989 I did pay a visit to the pub one afternoon for a couple of pints although the pub by then looked a bit run down and as it turned out didn’t have much time left before it closed for good.

    By Michael S (09/12/2012)
  • Around the end of the seventies, for two/three years, I worked as a part-time barman at The Cherry Tree. Growing up in WGC, I was well aware of the pub’s reputation, but welcomed the chance to join the staff when my part-time job at Welwyn Department Stores was terminated (I think my hair was a bit too long!). The landlords were Gill and Wally Duffin, two larger-than-life characters who, despite appearing, in my eyes anyway, two vastly different people in terms of energy and temperament, were a great team and ran the pub with real enthusiasm. If I remember correctly, they had a son, Barry, who also worked in the pub, and his fiancee – lovely girl, but whose name I have shamefully forgotten – who did a lot of the accounts. There were others who worked behind the bar, too, many whose names escape me also … a Mrs Timpson (?), someone called Ingrid and John Somers come to mind – in fact I think it was John who got me the job, having been my supervisor at the Stores… It was quite likely that bar work wasn’t something I was naturally cut out for, but Gill and Wally persisted with me and gave me plenty of opportunities to experience every level of pub work while I was there. The two bars were very different in nature: the saloon was generally quiet, even in the evenings. The drinkers tended to be more middle-aged, more looking for a sociable time with friends – although there were a few hard-drinking regulars among them, who sat at the bar regretting past times with the help of barley wine or “Brew and Tankard”. I remember still a few by name – after how many years??!! In particular, there was the resident DJ – Phil – and his wife (?) and friends – who despite my clear inexperience were always very understanding when I slopped beer and miscounted change and always urged me to get out of the pub business and into university. The public bar was something else! I think Gill must have waited a few months before she was convinced I was ready for this, but eventually I had to face it – and it was quite an ordeal, although one I really enjoyed: loud, constantly demanding, intimidating, but fun. And there was quite a reputation to be gained just by being there – the other side of the crush. Band night was particularly lairy!It was seen as quite cool to be working there, amid all the tension and the pressure, and I got recognised by a few people in the town centre thereafter – although, if I’m honest, I was probably the least cool person there – a student aiming to study English, more at ease with 19th century novelists than local bands and alcohol! But behind the bar, the team-work was great and everyone supported everyone else – Gill made sure of that. I remember bands playing, and I remember that some had acquired burgeoning reputations, but the demand for drink at the bar, four/five people deep was such that I rarely got to see them. And, yes, there was a reputation for drugs and violence, but I saw very little of either, although it was giddying with noise, drunken behaviour and occasional threats. But it was the first place I heard Bob Marley (on tape, rather than live of course) and it was the place I got to learn about some legendary WGC characters. Occasionally, the police showed a determined interest in the customers and I remember being stopped quite often as I left the pub at the end of an evening, but I recognise now that I must have looked quite suspicious – long hair, long coat, leaving the pub on my own late at night … good job I was never much of a drinker and never a drug-user! By the time I left I felt quite comfortable in the environment and when I took up bar-work in the bar at the university I finally attended, it all felt very tame! I haven’t lived in WGC for well over 30 years now, and I guess many of those I knew at The Cherry Tree are long gone. Just before I moved out, Gill and Wally took up the offer of a different pub, The Goat in Dunstable (?). What happened to them thereafter, I don’t know, but I wish them well – they must have retired a good while back – although Gill had the energy to last two or three lifetimes! I visited the town a couple of years ago and was sad to see that Waitrose had moved in and had gutted the place. Good for shoppers, clearly, but sad for me and others like me, who remember the pub with affection: in my eyes, it was part of what WGC was all about. You think somewhere like The Cherry Tree, an institution in the town, a central part of so many people’s lives, will last forever. I guess we should be grateful that the building still stands and we can remember how things used to be.

    By Rob Lane (28/10/2012)

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