The Chestnut Tree is a freehouse situated about twelve miles south-east of Cambridge in the village of West Wratting. It was recently awarded Pub of the Year 2014 by Cambridge & District branch of the Campaign for Real Ale and is also on this month’s Ale Trail (pdf). More than anything, it was the draw of the large beer garden that prompted us to visit again on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
Rachel and Peter Casuton bought the Chestnut Tree in 2012 and have spent the last two years transforming the pub, winning Most Improved Rural Pub 2013 along the way. A freehouse, when we visited there were beers from Brandon Brewery, Saffron Brewery, and Greene King IPA and Abbot.
There’s been a pub here since at least 1861 when John Norden worked here as a blacksmith during the day, and a beer retailer in the evenings. After he died in 1881, an auction of the premises described it as:
The well known “Chestnut” public-house, containing 9 rooms and cellar. Blacksmith’s shop, barn and other outbuildings, with a well planted garden. The purchaser to pay for the 2 forges, bellows and slack-troughs, as fixed, and for the house fixtures and coppers. (Trent Valley Heritage Gazette)
The original thatched building burned down and was rebuilt later in the 1800s, retaining a blacksmiths shop and outbuildings until at least 1918.
In 1632 three alehouses were licensed in West Wratting (A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely, 1978). A hundred years ago, there were at least five beer retailers in West Wratting:
1904 Kelly’s Directory of Cambridgeshire
|Chestnut Tree||Albert Pepper|
|Crown Inn||Ann Bradnam|
|Five Bells||James Saunderson|
|Waggon & Horses||John William Radford|
Only the Chestnut Tree has survived. Here are some details of the closed pubs.
The Lamb existed from at least 1876 when it was occupied by James Twinn. The landlord from c.1896 to 1906 was Henry MacFall, inn keeper and mail cart contractor. His son Arthur Ernest Macfall, a bombardier for the Royal Artillery, died in the First World War and is recorded on the war memorial inside the church of St. Andrews (Roll of Honour). In 1906 the original thatched building met the same fate as the original Chestnut Tree and completely burned down when a paraffin lamp was knocked over in one of the bedrooms. It was rebuilt but eventually closed around 1978 when landlord Percy Boreham was declared bankrupt – by 1980 he was described as ‘retired publican’ at the Lamb. His name is still above the door.
During the Second World War RAF Wratting Common, a bomber command airfiled, was built on the nearby common and “the three pubs in the village quickly sold out of beer with all the extra customers available. There were rumours that spies were operating from The Lamb – they supposedly had a radio transmitter – one night they disappeared and nothing was heard of them.” (Western Colville Local History – About West Wratting)
The Crown Inn stood on the High Street, opposite the end of The Causeway that leads to the church. It existed from at least 1788 but was closed and demolished sometime after 1960, when it was still shown on an Ordnance Survey map, and before 1981 when it had been replaced by modern housing. Ann Bradnam was publican there from at least 1891 to 1916.
The Five Bells (the western tower of St. Andrew’s contains five bells) was mentioned in 1850 as part of a sale of land “adjoining road to Cambridge on west, including Five Bells beer house, stable brew-house etc”. It was still trading in 1906.
Waggon & Horses:
Existed from at least 1857 when Peter Tilbrook is listed at the beerhouse, to 1921 when it is recorded in a sale catalogue from Hudson’s Cambridge and Pampisford Breweries Ltd.