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The Litten Tree Public House Bedford

The Lion Hotel about 1900
The Lion Hotel about 1900 [Z50/13/24]

The Litten Tree Public House: 53-55 High Street, Bedford [formerly the Red Lion then the Lion Hotel]

There may have been a licensed building on the site of the current Litten Tree (53 to 55 High Street) for nearly five hundred years, with a break at the latter part of the 20th century. The site was occupied by the Red Lion Inn, later renamed the Lion Hotel. Today's building dates to the early 19th century and was listed by the former Department of Environment as Grade II, of special interest, in 1952. The building has a stucco front and comprises three storeys.

There were at least two other Red Lions in Bedford in the past, one in Saint Loyes, then other in Saint Mary's, which later became the Fountain. Thus one must be careful to check which Red Lion any record refers to! The first reference to the Red Lion in Bedford High Street is in a will of 1533 [ABP/R3 f.106d] when Thomas Knight devised the Red Lion "on the east side of the High Street" to Thomas, son of Richard Knight. He also owned the Ram Inn next door. The next reference comes in a conveyance of a property on the site of today's 57 High Street  which refers to the inn called the Red Lion abutting south [TW621-622].

In a hagable roll, i.e. a roll of property ownership, of about 1700 William Nicholls was listed as paying tax on the Red Lion [Fac8/1]. In 1707 he devised the inn to his son-in-law Thomas Perrin [W1464]. Nicholls died and his will was proved the following year. In 1769 the Newnham Manor court roll notes that Thomas Wood alienated the Red Lion in the High Street to Joseph Belcham or Belsham in 1769 [R6/1/12/1a]. Clearly at one time the inn had been a copyhold property held of the manor but it was, by now, freehold. The Manor of Newnham court roll of 1778 noted the death of James Belcham or Belsham [R6/1/12/1b]. In her will of 1776 Ann Belsham had directed that £400 be raised from the Red Lion, which she owned, as well as other properties to pay to her children. Her will was proved in 1781 [WL366]. Her death was reported by the Manor of Newnham court roll of 1786, five years after the event [R6/1/12/1b]. In 1788 the Red Lion was used for dinners given to the Bishop of Lincoln and his staff in one of their periodic visitation of the Archdeaconry of Bedford [P89/5/1] to check on the spiritual and administrative state on the church locally. In 1789 Thomas Belsham alienated the Red Lion to Henry Whittingstall and William Long who ran the Saint Paul's brewery [R6/1/12/1c]. Interestingly Whittingstall and Long leased this brewery, which had been established earlier in the century, from a William Belsham who had inherited it from a Thomas Woodward the younger. They began their lease by 1874 at the latest and Belsham sold the brewery to Long in 1800.

The following notice appeared in the Northamptonshire Mercury of 16th April 1796: "J. BLACKSHAW begs most respectfully to inform his Friends and the Public in general, that he has taken the above INN, and humbly solicits their Patronage and Favours, and also a Continuance of the Friends and Customers of his Predecessor Mr. RUFFHEAD; assuring them and all those who are pleased to honour him with their Support and Protection, that his utmost Endeavours shall be exerted to render their Accommodation comfortable and reasonable, and in every respect to prove himself their very obedient and humble Servant".

In 1803 William Long bought out James Whittingstall and among the licensed properties of the brewery was the "Red Lion Inn, Bedford, occupied by Mary Blackshaw, late the property of Rev. Thos. Belsham" - James Blackshaw had died on 12th August 1802 and Mary was his widow - she was still the licensee in 1830. In 1817 the Manor of Newnham court roll recorded that William Long alienated the Red Lion to a William Brown [R6/1/12/1d] though later in the same year Joseph Brown was listed as the Red Lion freeholder with William Brown as tenant [R6/1/12/5].

 The Red Lion in 1868
The Red Lion in 1868 [BorB156]

The Bedfordshire Times of 27th January 1849 reported a robbery in the Red Lion Hotel Yard: "Saturday last some pilfering scoundrel, having, it would appear, a strong penchant for groceries, but not very scrupulous as to the means of obtaining those useful articles, visited the gig of Mr, James Henman, farmer, of Bromham, in which were deposited a quantity of goods, purchased during the day at Mr. Hill's, of the High-street, and succeeded in carrying off two parcels consisting of tea and sugar. There was also a quantity of candles, which probably was too bulky for the thief's pocket. The memorandum book, which had been placed in the gig, containing a list of goods, was found by Mr. Coombs, the chief constable, in a building situated between the Ram-yard and the back premises of the Red Lion. A quantity of cheese was also abstracted from the gig of Mr. David Henman".

The Bedfordshire Times of 17th June 1854 carried the following advertisement for the Red Lion: JOHN JENKS, RED LION HOTEL, BEDFORD. Most Respectfully informs the Public that having opened Wine Vaults for the purpose of RETAILING WINE, SPIRITS, CORDIALS, ALE and PORTER at WHOLESALE PRICES for READY MONEY ONLY, hopes by selling an article of superior quality to obtain that patronage which it will ever be his study to deserve. The above Establishment having undergone very considerable alterations and improvements, stands unrivalled in the facilities it presents as a COMMERCIAL and MARKET HOTEL".

One wonders what Jenks deserved on study of the newspaper a few weeks later - in the Bedfordshire Times of 22nd July 1854 the Borough Petty Sessions of 17th July were recorded including: "ASSAULT - John Jenks, of the Red Lion Hotel, was charged with assaulting Charles S. Austin on the 10th inst. Complainant stated that on the morning in question he was going to Sandy with the 'bus. His son was with him. On the point of starting Mr. Jenks said he wanted two shillings more for his luggage. Having already paid him 3s. 6d. for two fares he refused to pay the extra demand, and told defendant that his luggage was not more than he was entitled to. It weighed 56lbs. Defendant ordered the luggage to be thrown down from the omnibus, when complainant said if he (defendant) had not been a bully he would not have acted in that way. He said, If you say that again I will pull your nose, or knock you down. Defendant then struck him for or five times. Mr. Lissack stated he was a passenger by the omnibus, and heard a dispute between the parties. Mr. Jenks wanted something more on account of the luggage, when complainant said "Do you wish to rob me?" They both went into the house and soon after came out again. Defendant put himself in striking attitude, a scuffle followed and then a roll on the ground. Thomas Reynolds, another passenger, confirmed the above, and in addition to the elegant "affix" already mentioned, said complainant accused defendant of being of the party who robbed him of four or five hundred pounds. Edmund Austin, son of complainant, deposed to his parent repeating the ugly expression after being cautioned by the defendant as to the consequences, and that the latter then fell upon him right and left. The defendant remarked upon the gross provocation given by the complainant, and called William Goodman, assistant of Mr. Apthorpe, who spoke to the abuse of complainant, and that he accused defendant of being an "agent for two thieves". The bench considered the assault proved. Fined 1s. and costs 12s." It is interesting that, as well as running the hotel, Jenks was running an omnibus which went as far as Sandy. The Apthorpe mentioned is probably James Apthorpe, recorded as a grocer in the High Street in an 1854 directory.

In 1876 the executors of Joseph Browne sold the Red Lion at auction. He was the Joseph Brown who was the freeholder in 1817. An abstract of title reveals [GA2036] that he had mortgaged the Red Lion and other premises to William Long in 1820, paying the mortgage off in 1833. In his will of 1849 he devised the place to trustees so that the rents and profits could serve as income for his daughter Anne Susan Boulton. Joseph died on 2nd December 1850 and his will was proved in 1851.

 Plan of the Lion Hotel in 1876 GA2178
Plan of the Lion Hotel in 1876

The sale particulars of the Red Lion [GA2158] described it as a commercial inn and posting house, now called the Lion Hotel with full licenses: "The House has recently undergone a thorough restoration and enlargement, affording every accommodation for the conduct of the first rate Business attached thereto, being replete with every convenience. It is provided with Two Public Dining Rooms, Private Sitting Rooms, Commercial, Coffee, Smoking, and Billiard Rooms, Bar and Bar Parlour, Superior Kitchens, 18 Chambers, bath Room, &c. Also a spacious Yard with Two Approaches, containing large Carriage Sheds, lock-up Coachhouses, 15 Loose Boxes, Washing and Singeing Boxes, Standings for Six Horses, Cowhouses, Straw, Hay, and Corn Lofts, Saddle Rooms &c., with through communication to Mill Street, in the occupation of Mr. John Harris, whose Tenancy can be determined Lady Day 1877".

 The Lion Hotel elevation - 1879
The Lion Hotel elevation - 1879 [BorBP722]

A curious elevation of 1879 [BorBP722] shows the Lion Hotel with a very ornate front and five storeys - nothing like today's building or that of about 1900 [Z50/13/24]. Presumably either the plan was not carried into action or money ran out at second storey level! About 1924 the hotel became part of the Trust House Limited chain and the last mention of it in a Bedford Borough Directory is in 1971/72. The property is then not recorded until 1975, suggesting that it stood empty. In 1975 Number 53 was Times Furnishing and 55 Youngsters children's shop. Today the Litten Tree public house occupies 53 and 55 High Street.

 53 to 55 High Street May 2009
53 and 55 High Street May 2009


  • ABP/R 3.f.106d: Red Lion devised by Thomas Knight: 1533;
  • TW621-622: noted as an abuttal to an property in the High Street: 1645;
  • Fac8/1: William Nicholls paying tax: c.1700;
  • W1464: will of William Nicholls devising the Red Lion in occupation of William Dodson  to his son-in-law Thomas Perrin: 1707, proved 1708;
  • QSR1751/42: alehouse licence for Martha Bailey: 1751;
  • CRT130Bed155: Martha Bailey licensee: 1752;
  • R6/1/12/1a: Manor of Newnham court roll noting alienation of the Red Lion from Thomas Wood to Joseph Belcham: 1769;
  • P1/12/2: Special Sessions for the Borough of Bedford held at the Red Lion: 1774;
  • WL366: will of Ann Belsham: 1776, proved 1781;
  • R6/1/12/1b: Manor of Newnham court roll noting the death of James Belcham: 1778;
  • R6/1/12/1b: Manor of Newnham court roll noting death of Ann Belcham, her son William not appearing: 1786;
  • P89/5/1: Red Lion used for visitation dinners: 1788;
  • R6/1/12/1c: Manor of Newnham court roll noting alienation of the Red Lion from Thomas Belsham to Henry Whittingstall and William Long: 1789;
  • Northamptonshire Mercury: J. Blackshaw has taken over the Red Lion: 16 Apr 1796;
  • BD815-816: William Long bought out James Whittingstall's share of Saint Paul's brewery and its licensed premises: 1803;
  • R6/1/12/1d: Manor of Newnham court roll noting alienation of the Red Lion from Sir William Long to William Brown, tenant Widow Blackshaw: 1817;
  • R6/1/12/5: Manor of Newnham court roll noting Joseph Brown as the Red Lion freeholder with William Brown as tenant: 1817;
  • CLP13: register of alehouse licences: 1822-1828;
  • PSBB1/1: licensees William Tibbs senior to 1843 and Mary Tibbs from 1844 in petty sessions: 1840-1844;
  • Robbery in the Red Lion yard Beds Times 27 Jan 1849;
  • Bedfordshire Times: advert for Red Lion Hotel: 17 June 1854;
  • Bedfordshire Times: John Jenks, Red Lion, assault 22 July 1854;
  • BorBP156: plans of alterations: 1868;
  • BorBP544: plans of stables: 1870;
  • GA2036: abstract of title of the trustees of Joseph Browne:1876;
  • GA2158 and WG2302: sale catalogues: 1876;
  • X758/1/14/16: auction sale held at the Red Lion: 1879;
  • BorBP722: additions to the Red Lion: 1879;
  • BorBP1322: additions to the Red Lion: 1885;
  • WL1000/1/Stev/1/3: Manor of Steventon court held at the Red Lion: 1893;
  • Z145/28: photograph: C20th;
  • Z50/142/331: photograph: c.1900;
  • Z50/9/596: photograph: 1901;
  • X758/1/14/16: photograph of the High Street from near the Red Lion: c.1904;
  • Z983/2: photograph: c.1905;
  • Z50/13/23-25: photographs of the High Street showing the Red Lion: 1907;
  • BorBP 6471: plans of alterations: 1920
  • Z554/1: floor plans: 1933;
  • Press Cuttings: 1944;
  • BorB/PH3/106: photograph: 1968;

List of Licensees: note that this is not a complete list; entries in italics refer to licensees where either beginning or end, or both, dates are not known:

1707: William Dodson;
1751-1752: Martha Bailey;
1796: Ruffhead
1796-1802 Joseph Blackshaw (died 12 Aug 1802);
1803-1830: Mary Blackshaw;
1841-1844: William Tebbs senior;
1844-1847: Mary Tebbs;
1849: William Jenks;
1850-1854: John Jenks;
1861-1864: Horace Ward Wilson;
1869-1894: John Harris;
1903-1920: Francis Hughes;
1924: Trust Houses Limited - Frank Carthew, manager;
1928: Trust Houses Limited - Bernard C. Hooper, manager;
1932-1971/72: Trust Houses Limited
Hotel closed about 1972