Red Lion Inn

[This is probably my favourite photo of the Red Lion Inn.  Although I do not have a date for the photo the track that passes in front of the inn would suggest that it was from a time where there were no motor vehicles and probably not many other vehicles using this route.  It would be wonderful to be able to eavesdrop on the 'old boys' conversation].

The earliest reference I have identified to their being a pub on this site was an Indenture dated 15 August 1766  detailing a one year lease between “…Thomas Vernon, … and Richard Belcher of Wainloads Hill in the parish of Norton in the said County of Gloucester, victualler … in consideration of the sum of five shillings … doth grant, bargain and sell unto the said Richard Belcher all that messuage, tenement or inn commonly called The Red Lyon, being heretofore two tenements but now and for some years last past converted into one and held as one tenement with the outhouses, hovels, lands and hereditaments thereunto belonging”.  This states that the property used to be two houses but had been converted into a pub, unfortunately it does not say when.  A further Indenture dated 16 August 1776 appears to record the sale of the pub by Thomas Vernon to Richard Belcher and states that Vernon “…agreed with the said Richard Belcher for the absolute sale of … in consideration of the sum of two hundred and fifty three pounds of lawful money of Great Britain”.

By the time of the Inclosure Act of 1807 we discover that the land where the Red Lion now stands was recorded as Plot Nos 226 & 227 and was still owned by Richard Belcher.  Plot No 226 was described as a House and Garden (0,1,2) and Plot No 227 was described as an Orchard (1,1,31).  There is no evidence that the property was in use as an Inn at this time although that does not mean that it wasn’t.  In 1815 a Jane, ‘natural daughter of Ann Belcher, publican’, was baptised at St Mary’s so the family were still here then.  Richard Belcher died in 1818 and his Probate dated 1 March 1818 described him as a yeoman and he left all of his real estate etc to his wife and children but there is no mention of The Red Lion.

An Indenture dated 3 November 1820 records that “…Richard Belcher … innkeeper of the one part and Benjamin Jeffs and James Charters of the City of Gloucester, porter brewers … in consideration of the sum of one hundred pounds … doth grant, bargain, sell … all that messuage, tenement or inn commonly called The Red Lyon, being heretofore two tenements but now “converted into one and held as one tenement with the outhouses, hovels, lands and hereditaments thereunto belonging”.  This is the same description as had been used some fifty years earlier so the statement “…for some years last past…” may in 1766 have referred to many years earlier.

A further entry is recorded in the parish registers in 1828 when Richard, ‘son of William and Sarah Belcher, innkeeper’ was baptised, so we can assume that the family had remained at The Red Lion until this time.  A Richard Belcher died, aged 82 years, in 1825; presumably a son of the original Richard.

The Inn appears to have left the family when an Indenture dated 25 March 1832 recorded that “…Edward Webb paid … the sum of one hundred and fifty pounds, twelve shillings and 9p … which with the sum of £399 7s 3p … to Thomas Tolley, John Dobbins Clifton and Henry Hays … is the full consideration or purchase money”.  Edward Webb was owner of Norton Court at that time and this is when the Inn appears to have become a part of that Estate.

In 1832 another baptism recorded Augusta, ‘daughter of William and Mary Howe, innkeeper’.  Later records tell us that the Howe family had taken over The Red Lion. 

The ‘terrier and valuation of the messuages, lands, and other hereditaments liable to poor rate in the parish of Norton’ from 1838 records that the Red Lion was still occupied by William Howe and was described as a public house with land.  The full schedule of the property recorded :-

"Orchard                                                                                   1-  1-31

Red Lion public house and garden                                          0-  1-  2

Orchard                                                                                    0-  1-25

Part of Clift Ground, arable                                                     0-  3-16

                                                                                    Total:     2-  3-34

Gross estimated rental or annual value of each holding                    £26

Rateable value or net annual value of each holding                          £20”

By 1851 William Howe is listed as innkeeper of what is recorded as the “White Lion”.  Whether this actually was the name of the pub at this time or was a mistake in transcription is not known but the latter seems the most likely.  William Howe was born at Ham and was living with his wife and four children.  His wife and eldest child had been born at Hatherley but his later children were born at Norton supporting their arrival in the village in approximately 1832. 

On 22 August 1851, I have discovered a “specification for Building a Barn, Mill house and room over Mill house at Mr Howe’s in the Parish of Norton”.  The specification is quite detailed; “The earth to be dug out the requisite length, breadth and depth for the foundations.  The whole of the Brickwork to be erected agreeably to the drawings, the thicknesses and height as there shown.  The floor of the Barn to be laid with forest stone, and stone plinths for the door frames to rest upon, and stone sills.  The Roof to be covered with Crossley tile laid on sawed deal lathe.  The ridge to be covered with round cross and pointed.  The ceiling of Mill house to be cross lathed and plastered to the floor.  One deal frame and lid in each and 4ft square – One deal frame and lid in Mill house 2ft square.  Two deal frames and lids in room over Mill house 2ft square.  Joist for floor over Mill house 10ins x 2ins and one room herring bone, inch deal floor, three framed Principles for roof, Beam 8ins x 4ins, Blades 7ins x 3ins, Sling(?) 7ins x 4ins, Side piece 6ins x 3½ins, Rafters 3½ins x 2ins, Ridge board 5ins x 1ins, Wall plate and bond timber 4½ins x 3ins, Lintels 6ins x 4ins, Lintel over large door 12ins x 9ins, Door posts 9ins x 6ins, Three inch framed doors and ¾ inch boarding for the same frames for the ledge doors 6ins x 4ins, Frames for lids 4ins x 3ins, Inch deal ledge doors and lids.  The whole of the timber to be best red pine.  The doors and lids to be hung with proper hinges and fastenings.  The door frames, doors and lids to be painted three coats oil paint.

I the undersigned will agree to Build Barn, Mill house and loft over According to the plan and the specification at W Howe’s in the Parish of Norton for the Sum of One Hundred and Sixty our pounds - £164”.  Unfortunately the signature at the foot of the estimate is not clear but may be William Freeman.

The above plan was attached to the letter showing the overall dimensions as 53ft x 16½ft.  The structure was to be 13ft high when measured from floor to the top of the wall plate.

This is the only reference I have seen to their being a mill on the premises.  Looking at the buildings on site today, it is clear that the Mill house discussed above is still standing.  It now houses, amongst other things, the Red Lion Riverside Stores.  The dimensions of this building correspond with the above plan as does the 10ft doorway, now next to the entrance to the stores, and to the rear it is still possible to see a bricked up door of approximately 5ft.

In January 1856 we find an advertisement for the sale by auction of ‘the useful household furniture and effects’ from the Wainlode Hill Inn.  The sale was to be conducted on the premises by Mr T White on the instructions of the owner, Mr Howe.  Amongst the items for sale we find single and double barrelled guns, 2000 gallons of capital cider and perry, and useful casks.  There is also a pleasure boat with sails and oars, a spring cart complete with a capital brown mare and other assorted livestock.  What is particularly interesting about this advertisement is the reason for sale; ‘having to be pulled down for the purpose of rebuilding’.  It is known that Capt Walker was responsible for the demolition and renovation of many properties around the village at this time and this is certainly possible.  It is indeed confirmed by a schedule of the Norton Court Estate from 1863 which recorded that the Red Lion Inn  was being rebuilt.  It is likely that much of the current structure dates from the time of this rebuild.

William Howe is still in occupation in 1861 and was described as an ‘innkeeper and farmer’.  The trade directories from this time indicate that he left the pub some time between 1863 and 1867.

At this time The Red Lion was taken on by William James, the 33 year old son of William James, chairmaker of Norton.  William jnr had been a chairmaker himself at the time of both the 1851 and 1861 Census but had obviously decided to try his hand at something new.  He was living at the pub along with his wife, Mary Ann, and seven children.  This marked the beginning of a long association between the James family and the Red Lion.

I am led to believe that this is William and Mary Ann James in their younger years.

In September 1878, William James held a yearly tenancy of the the Red Lion Inn and acreage of 20a, 1p and 38r from the Norton Court Estate.

William James (1833 – 1908), Mary Ann James (1825 – 1888) and two daughters

The two photographs, reproduced above, were taken by a G Bellisario in Cardiff which I believe helps us to date them quite accurately.  One of William and Mary Anne’s daughters, Minnie, married David Lewis of Cardiff at Norton in 1883 and another daughter, Sarah Elizabeth, married Henry Jenkins of Cardiff at Norton in 1884.  With Mary Ann dying in 1888 it seems likely that the photos were taken in this 5 year period whilst they were visiting their daughters in Cardiff.  It also seems likely that the daughters pictured with Mary Ann were Minnie and Sarah, but I can’t be sure of that.

According to the record of licences granted by the Petty Sessional Division of Gloucester in 1891 the pub held a seven day licence and was described as an ‘alehouse’.  It was still in the occupation of William James and was owned by Charles Betteridge Walker of the Norton Court Estate.  The same details are true in 1903 when the pub had a gross estimated rental of £86 and a rateable value of £76 10s.  It was held on an annual tenancy, was not tied to a particular brewery and the house closed at 10 o’clock.  It is also recorded that there had been no convictions or endorsements in the previous five years.

In 1896 Ralph, son of William James, married Laura Simmons, the daughter of the landlord of The Kings Head Inn.  William James remained the innkeeper until his retirement in November death in November 1906 after 44 years at the inn.  In November 1906 a temporary transfer of the licence was granted to Ralph James and his wife Laura to succeed his father.  [I note that Ralph was moving to the Red Lion from the Duke of York, Tewkesbury, where he had been the licensee since 1899.  It is worth noting that the license for the Duke of York was taken by Herbert Simmons who then held it until 1933.  Herbert was the son of Alfred and Ann Simmons and had grown up at the Kings Head Inn, Norton, when his parents held the license and was also Ralph James’ brother in law.  The Simmons and James families were responsible for the two village pubs for well in excess of 100 years between them].

I am guessing that this undated photo would have been taken in the early 1900s.  It is the only photo that I have seen giving the view from the back of the pub looking up the hill behind.  The event and unfortunately none of the names are known apart from Ralph James on the extreme right.

At the time of the Norton Court Estate Lady Day Rentals of 1908 Ralph James held the Red Lion Inn and land of 24a 1r 1p at a yearly rent of £35 for the inn and £50 for the land.

I would suggest that the presence of the tall soldier dates this photograph to some time around the First World War.

Ralph James continues the tenancy of the Red Lion until 1923 when he became joint innkeeper with Walter William James at the Kings Head and ended the long standing James family connection with the Red Lion Inn.

'Traffic' seems to have increased by the time this photograph was taken.

On 18 October 1923 the tenancy of the Red Lion passed to Mr Lewis Edward Gurton.  Albion Chambers of Gloucester were required to conduct a valuation of stock in trade, utensils, furniture and effects and reported that “we estimate the value of the above at the sum of two hundred and thirty four pounds six shillings”.  Lewis Gurton did not have a happy start to his time at the pub as in February 1924 his wife, “Frances Elizabeth Gurton, of Wainlodes Inn, aged 44 years” died.  When Lewis Gurton died in December 1962 he was also buried at St Mary’s.

The Red Lion was to change hands again on 17 September 1929 with “an agreement between Capt George Norton Walker of Norton Court in the County of Gloucestershire (hereinafter called ‘the landlord’) of the one part and Harry Wilson Griffiths of Withy Beds, Norton Bromyard, in the County of Herefordshire (hereinafter called ‘the tenant’) of the other part”.  There is no valuation associated with this agreement – whose details run to eight pages – but it does contain the following schedule describing the property :-

“No on                        Description                                                     Area

Ord Map         Parish of Norton                                             A         R         P

1                      Road                                                                                         3

2                     Pasture                                                              4          1        17

3                      Meadow                                                          12          3        16

4                      Ponds                                                                                      30

5                      Pasture orchard                                                 1          2          2

6                      Red Lion Inn & c                                                             1        14

8                      Pasture orchard                                                             2        16

9                      Pasture orchard                                                             2        34

15                    Pasture orchard                                                 5          3        27

Pt24                 Road                                                                            2        30

                                                                            Total:           27          0        29”

The inn appears to have formally changed hands on 1 October 1929 when it was valued at £312.0.0.

The next change occurred with effect from 11 October 1935 when the tenancy passed to Mr T E Jones.  The property was then valued at £306.2.0 that was apportioned as follows :-

“Trade fittings & fixtures, furniture, utensils in trade and hay          194.  5.  0

  Stock in trade                                                                                           86.18.  0

  Share of license & certificate                                                                 18.19.  0

  Compensation levy                                                                                    6.  0.  0

                                                                                                                    306.  2.  0

Dated 11th day of October 1935, Westminster Bank Chamber, The Cross, Gloucester, on behalf of the vendor Chambers, King Street, Gloucester, on behalf of the purchaser”.

This transfer was completed with a huge 25 sheet inventory detailing every item imaginable in all buildings associated with the property.  The following were listed amongst the various items that could have been found in the bar :-

“2 ornamented iron trade spittoons.  The 3-motion beer engine with brass mounted china handles, 3 brass taps, pewter drainer, 3 lengths of piping, unions and 3 cask taps.  The patent Nashua Cash Till with 5 bowls and 2 recesses.  Pearl optic spirit measure with EP stand complete.  Mandal silver nip measure.  Quoit board and set of rings”

There was also a cider house attached to the property at this time which contained the following :-

“3 x 60 gallon cider casks,  1 x 9 gallon cider cask, 7 cider cloths, feeding tub, corn tub, broom and shovel, square and shovel”

Motorised transport has arrived

Edward St Vincent Spencer of Rougemont, Mannamead, Plymouth, became the next tenant with effect from 29 September 1938 at a rent of £130 per annum excluding the rates which were approximately £15 per annum and the license duty of £19.5.6.  In 1936 there had been a compensation levy (?) of £8 but this had reduced to nil in 1937.  Bruton Knowles & Co described the property as follows :-

“To be let at September 29th 1938.  The Red Lion Inn, Wainlode Hill, Norton.  On the banks of the River Severn and five miles from Gloucester.  The ‘Red Lion Inn’, a fully licensed, free house, is brick built with tiled roof, has capital outbuildings, and affords the following accommodation :

Ground Floor  Kitchen with grate: Scullery with copper, sink, kitchen range, and soft water pump: larder: Small bar, with fireplace and serving counter with three beer pumps: Large smoke room, with two fireplaces: and Cellar.

First Floor       Five good bedrooms, and Lavatory.

Outside           Skittle alley: Ladies’ and Gentlemens’ conveniences: Engine house, with fitted Lister 1½ hp engine: Garage: Cider house with mill and with loft over: two pigs-cots.

At the rear of the Garage and Cider House, are two timber and tiled 2-stall stables, with mangers.

Included with the property are enclosures of good meadow, pasture land and pasture orcharding, the area of the whole being about 26a 2r 38p”.

The application for the transfer of the licence from that time reads;  “To the Chairman of the Parish Council of Norton in the County of Gloucester and to the Superintendent of Police of the Rural District of Gloucester, and to all whom it may concern.  I, Edward St.Vincent Spencer now residing at 53 Gwendwr Road London, W14, and having for six months now last past resided at 53 Gwendwr Road aforesaid and at 26 Hacton Lane Hornchurch in the County of Essex and having during that period been employed at Rainham in the County of Essex by T.Wall & Sons Limited as a Branch Manager hereby give you notice that it is my intention to make application to the Transfer Sessions to be held on Saturday, October fifteenth one thousand nine hundred and thirty eight, at the Petty Sessional Court, Gloucester, for a transfer to me of the Justices’ Licence for the sale of any intoxicating liquor by retail for consumption either on or off the premises mentioned below now held by Thomas Edward Jones, in respect of the premises situate at Norton in the County of Gloucester and known by the sign of the Red Lion Inn.  Given under my hand this 13th day of September one thousand nine hundred and thirty eight.”.

Document dated 1st November 1940 records for the Red Lion Inn, a “valuation for transfer of trade fittings, fixtures and utensils, stock in trade and other effects, proportion of licence etc, from Mr E St V Spencer (the outgoing tenant) to Mr G Mitchell (the incoming tenant).  We agree the value of the above enumerated in the following inventory at the sum of three hundred and ninety three pounds seven shillings (£393 7s 0d) which amount is apportioned as follows :-

Trade fittings, fixtures, utensils and effects   137  13  0

Glass                                                                         7  10  6

Stock in trade                                                        72  15  6

Furniture outdoor and other effects               157  17  6

Licence and levy                                                   20  15  3

Less proportion of licence and rate

        for one month to 1 November 1940           3    4  9”.

In 1943 the property changed hands again with the arrival of Mrs Joan Mitchell and her husband Griff. 

The river at Wainlode has always been prone to flooding but 1947 saw possibly the worst.  There used to be, possibly still is, a marker on the bar to show the level that the water reached that year.

I dont know if this photo was taken in 1947 but it does show the river lapping at the pub door.

The main auction when the Norton Court Estate was finally broken up took place in 1952 but there were several sales prior to this disposing of pieces of the estate.  One such sale took place when the two village inns were auctioned by Bruton, Knowles & Co at the Bell Hotel, Gloucester, on Friday 27th July 1951.  From the records that still survive much interest was shown in both properties by prospective buyers from around the country.  In response to requests from prospective buyers, Bruton & Knowles estimated that in their opinion the Red Lion would make “in the neighbourhood of £20,000”.

The Red Lion was let to the Stroud Brewery Co Ltd until 29th September 1951 and was in the occupation of Mrs J Mitchell, who had taken over the licence upon her husband’s death.  Between the time that the auction catalogue was produced and the sale itself there was a fire at the pub badly damaging the skittle alley building and a comment to this effect was added as a loose slip to the catalogue.

The bidding started at £6000 but fell a long way short of the estimate making £9,900.

The Red Lion Inn then remained in the same family for the following 60 years with Joan’s son, John, later taking over the license.

Joan (seated) with son John and his wife Sheila

Mike Charity wrote the following piece that was originally printed in the Cotswold Life Magazine a number of years ago; "Cheltenham born, Joan Mitchell and her husband Griff began their married lives as Mine Hosts of the Red Lion Inn, an establishment with open range cooking, log fuelled fires, well-drawn water. And oil lamps to provide the household illumination.  A way of life it would seem, reminiscent of the charm projected in the television version of H E Bates’ book, The Darling Buds of May, in reality life on the banks of Gloucestershire’s premier river near the hamlet of Bishops Norton, was far from Perfick!

The young couple faced with the privation of wartime food shortages and lack of trade, many customers being called up for service, battled on to keep the business afloat.  Said Joan, now 81 years of age, “It was very hard in those early days, takings for the first week’s trade amounted to four pounds.  Some nights, if there were six customers in the bar we had a rush on!  But like Churchill, we were determined not to be beaten.  We kept chickens, pigs and a couple of cows to supplement food rationing.  When in the spring and summer families cycled down to the riverside, we began offering afternoon teas at 1s 1d a head.  Often caught short of milk, Griff would have to rush off and milk the cows to meet the demand”.

Last month the Mitchell family, calling time for the last time, sold the lease to the popular Red Lion Inn, severing a unique six decades of service behind the bar.  The move marks the end of an era in which Joan became Gloucestershire’s and possibly the countries, longest serving landlady, while her 53-year-old son John, who has held the licence for some time, has clocked up 35 pint-pulling years at the idyllic riverside watering hole.

Although now an octogenarian, Joan has always maintained an active part in the business she developed over the years into today’s success story.  Sitting in her favourite bar seat, her still sharp mind and retentive memory ever ready to reflect on Wainlode Hill life.  She went on “During the war life was very quiet and sometimes quite lonely, but in 1944 we were invaded by hundreds of American troops, they commandeered the area for D-Day training, preparing for the assault on German occupied France.  We made many friends, some who we still here from but our new arrivals were no good for trade, the pub was ‘out of bounds’ to the troops, with armed guards on the doors.  Even so they were very kind with their rations!”

Sadly at the age of 30, just 10 years after arriving at the Inn, Joan’s husband died, leaving her with two children, six-year-old Ann and two-year-old John.  Undaunted, she continued running the pub and bringing up the children, her sharp business mind developing the river bank fishing, camping, caravanning and catering side of the business during the austere 1950s, as folk with little money for seaside holidays flocked to the now long eroded pebble and sand beach adjacent to the Inn, known locally as the ‘Gloucester Lido’.

Over the years visitors from all over the world have arrived at the time-warp premises, some to camp, others in search of a real ‘English pub’.  One year, members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra playing at Gloucester’s Three Choirs Festival arrived with tents.  The strange sight of musicians dressed in black tie and tails, complete with instruments emerging from their canvas homes, caused the locals to smile and eventually to sing, during impromptu night time session!

For seven years, my wife Gillian and I lived in the village, the Red Lion with it’s roaring winter fires and bustling summer trade became very much our ‘local’.  We struggled through snow and flood water for the warmth and welcome in the bar, watched National Hunt jockey, Terry Biddlecombe, demonstrate his riding prowess on the pubs rocking horse, joined locals in the call to rescue snow trapped sheep on nearby farms, the emergency over, the grateful farmer would repay us with a pub round of warming whiskeys.  We witnessed full immersion baptism services held by various religious orders.  We took part in a myriad of fancy dress functions over Christmas and New Year celebrations.

Joan’s ever friendly ‘good evening’ welcome to each customer and John’s tongue-in-cheek ‘Straight Home Mind’ at closing time, are familiar strains that they will no longer render to ‘locals’ in the Red Lion Inn – an Inn for all reasons and seasons".

The Red Lion Inn was taken on by the Chamberlayne family, who have village ties going back more than 100 years, in April 2014 and the inn underwent a full refurbishment in early 2015 before entering the next chapter of its life.

The Inn's website features a section on 'Pub History' that includes many additional photographs;