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The Blackbirds Inn Hockliffe

The Red Lion in the 1960s [PL/PH/2/36]
The Red Lion in the 1960s  [PL/PH/2/36]

The Red Lion Inn stood on the east side of Watling Street in an area originally part of Chalgrave parish which was transferred to Hockliffe in 1929. It was originally known as the Blackbirds before taking the name Red Lion in the early nineteenth century. The first known reference to the property the record in the Hockliffe parish register of the baptism which took place on 25th September 1720 of William son of Mary Palmer, a stranger, "born at ye three Black-Birds in ye parish of Chalgrave". A deed of 1806 [Z1294/1/3] tells us that in 1746 Robert Mitchener of St. Margaret's Westminster had left £50 in his will for the use of the poor of the parish of Tilsworth, to be used to prevent the monument to his late wife and her first husband in the churchyard there from being defaced; the £50 was to be invested to provide an income of 40 shillings per annum to be paid to the poor of the parish. With the consent of the churchwarden and overseer of the poor for Tilsworth Mitchener's executors, his sister Martha Winter and nephew John Winter, paid the £50 to Sir John Chester of Chicheley [Bucks] to purchase an annuity of 40 shillings per annum secured on the income from a cottage in Hockliffe occupied by Richard Painter and known as Black Birds and two acres of pasture adjoining the cottage.

Ownership of these two properties appears to have remained with the Chester family until they were sold in 1806 to brewer John Bennett of Salford Ford, Aspley Guise for £300. In the sale particulars The Blackbird Public House is described as "consisting of a Brick, partly Tiled, partly Thatched Messuage, containing Two Parlors, Kitchen, Two Cellars and Brewhouse, a small Barn and Hog-Stye, Timber, Weather Boarded and Thatched, Site of Buildings, Garden and Croft". The tenant was Benjamin Hutchins and the property was liable for a quit rent of two shillings [AD534/4]. In 1815 Bennett sold the properties to William Bagley of Hockliffe, who himself sold them on to Thomas Carter, a straw hat manufacturer from Luton, in 1820. By this date the property had taken on the name by which it was known for the following two centuries. The Red Lion Inn on the opposite side of Watling Street had recently been demolished and replaced by Hockliffe House, and it appears that the former Blackbirds almost immediately adopted the name of this larger, long established inn. This deed of 1820 describes the cottage as a "messuage in Chalgrave formerly in occupation of Richard Painter, then Widow Foster, then Benjamin Hutchins now William Bagley and formerly called Blackbirds now Red Lion". It also makes clear that the property was still subject to the charge of 40s p.a. to be given to the poor of Tilsworth. Carter's will of 1827 left both the White Hart in Luton and the Red Lion, Hockliffe (now occupied by Daniel Osborn) to his wife for her lifetime.

 The site of the Red Lion or Blackbirds February 2013
The site of the Red Lion or Blackbirds February 2013

In 1913 the Blackbirds public house, now the Red Lion, changed hands from brewers Fuller, Smith and Turner of Chiswick to Alexander T. Hawes and others still with a charge of £2 per annum payable to the poor of Tilsworth. The Rating and Valuation Act 1925 ordered every piece of land and building in the country to be assessed to determine the rates to be paid on it. Chalgrave was assessed in 1926 and the valuer who visited the Red Lion [DV1/C15/34] recorded the owner as Benskins Brewery Ltd and the occupier as W. Ashby who paid a "fair" tied rent of £20. The licensed part of the premises consisted of a private bar, a jug and bottle department, a public bar, a cellar and a bar parlour. There was also a reception room and a kitchen downstairs and four bedrooms upstairs (a pencilled annotation states "now three bedrooms and a bathroom"). Three beds were used for lorry drivers. Outside there was a pig sty, a duck house and a hen house, a private earth closet, a public urinal and a public earth closet, all brick built, a small greenhouse. In addition there was a stable for three, a wash house and garage, all with a loft over. The valuer remarked that the house "has good draw up from the main Watling Street road". The rent included a grass field of 1.339 acres as well as the public house.

The trade carried out by the Red Lion was listed as an average of two barrels of beer a week, with two dozen ½ pint bottles, 3 dozen bottles of minerals, a gallon of spirits per month and 2 bottles of spirits a week. The valuer had no idea of the gross takings as no record was kept.

The Red Lion was still open in 2000 but must have closed soon after. The public house was demolished and has now been replaced by a modern housing development given the property's original name of The Blackbirds.


  • AD534/4: Sale particulars of Tilsworth Manor estate including Red Lion, Bull and Black Bird: 1804;
  • Z1294/1/3: Abstract of title of Charles Chester to Black Birds and adjoining land in Hockliffe: 1806;
  • Z1294/1/4-5: Conveyance from Charles Chester to John Bennett: 1806;
  • Z1294/1/9-10: Conveyance by John Bennett to William Bagley: 1815;
  • Z1295/1/12-13: Conveyance by William Bagley to Thomas Carter of Luton: 1820;
  • Z1295/1/15: Extracted will of Thomas Carter of Luton: 1827;
  • Z1295/1/17: Conveyance by Fuller, Smith and Turner to Alexander T. Hawes and others: 1913;
  • PL/PH/2/36: Photograph of Red Lion Inn, Hockliffe: 1967-1970

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:

1746: Richard Painter;
Widow Foster;
1806: Benjamin Hutchins;
1815-1820: William Bagley;
1822-1828: Daniel Osborn;
1847: Charles Bird;
1854: Thomas Baker;
1862: Charles Heckford;
1876-1888: James Cranmer/Creamer;
1888-1889: George Burnell;
1889-1892: Robert James Turner;
1892-1895: George Knott;
1895-1898: William Alfred Vale;
1898-1900: Edward Wardrop;
1900: Henry Fookes;
1900-1901: Edward William Ransdale: fined 10/- with 17/6 costs on 22 March 1901 for being drunk on own premises;
1901-1902: Thomas Eales;
1902: Frederick Ashe Everest;
1902-1903: George Yeatherd Ball;
1903-1904: Walter Septimus Pickering;
1904-1905: Harry Jocelyn van Tromp;
1905-1906: Levi Hyde;
1906-1907: Frank Jolly;
1907-1908: Frederick Mills;
1908-1909: Charles Archibald Bishop;
1909-1912: Vernon Grant;
1912-1914: Percy Samuel Unwin;
1914-1917: John Warrington Hannan;
1917-1922: Thomas William Huntley;
1922-1932: William Ashby;
1932-1951: Arthur George Rowbottom;
1951-1953: Harry Munday;
1966-1968: Alfred George Armitage;
1968-1971: Trevor Harry William Boss;
1971-1971: John Arthur Abbey;
1975-1975: Ronald Michael Harris;
1977-1979: Edward John Dalton;
1979-1983: John Andrew Perry;
1983-1985: Eline Amelia Costin;
1985-1990: Martin Leslie Johnson;
1990: Martin Leslie Johnson and Kim Diane Johnson