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The Old Red Lion Public House Kensworth

The Old Red Lion in the 1950s [WB/Flow/4/5/Ke/ORL3]
The Old Red Lion in the 1950s [WB/Flow/4/5/Ke/ORL3]

The Old Red Lion Public House: 86 Common Road, Kensworth

The Old Red Lion was the last of Kensworth’s public houses to close, early in the 21st century, leaving just two in the parish, the Farmer’s Boy and the Pack Horse, where once there had been ten.

The property was built about 1853. A list of deeds [X95/300] shows that the land was conveyed by William Roberts to Richard Roberts in 1809 and from Richard Roberts to Thomas Jones in 1837. In 1853 Jones sold the land to Frederick Burr and a deed of 1860 [Z660/D/1/4] states that the beerhouse, as it then was, was built Frederick Burr. In 1859 the estimated value of the Red Lion, as it was then called, was £450 [X95/303].

By 1860, when Burr conveyed the beerhouse to Luton brewer Thomas Sworder the tenant was already John Stanmer. Sworder and Stanmer were to continue as owner and tenant for the next thirty seven years, the tenant lasting longer than the owner. Sworder was not a good businessman and was reliant on his uncle, also called Thomas Sworder, and then his cousins to prop up his brewery. Against all the odds the business survived until 1897 when Sworder retired.

It was recorded [X95/283] that in 1867 Stanmer paid £35 per annum rent to Sworder and the beerhouse was worth 700 barrels of beer per annum [X95/304]. By 1889 Stanmer’s rent was down to £15 per annum [X95/322/21].

In 1897 Sworder’s brewery and all its licensed houses was sold by auction to his great Luton rival J. W. Green who is given as the owner of the Old Red Lion, as it was now called, in a countywide licensing register of 1903. The building was described as in fair condition, with small repairs needed and in a fair state of sanitation. It was 150 yards from the nearest licensed premises and had a front door and a door from the yard at the side.

The Rating and Valuation Act 1925 specified that every building and piece of land in the country was to be assessed to determine its rateable value. The majority of Kensworth, like much of the county, was assessed in 1927 and the visiting the Old Red Lion [DV1/C/110/49] found that the rent had declined still further to £1/5/- a quarter. Public rooms comprised a tap room and a club room. There was also a living room and a kitchen, with four bedrooms and a box room on the floor above. Outside stood a barn, a stable and a public urinal. Trade was one barrel of beer per week along with three and a half dozen bottles of beer.

In 1954 J. W. Green merged with Midland brewer Flowers and took the latter name. Flowers was taken over by Whitbread in 1962. A full licence was granted in 1960 converting the beerhouse into a public house. Whitbread divested itself of all its public houses in 2001.

The Old Red Lion April 2007
The Old Red Lion April 2007


  • WB/B4/2/1: conveyance: 1859;
  • X95/303: estimated value: 1859;
  • Z660/D/1/4: conveyance and mortgage from the legatees of Edward Burr to Thomas Sworder the elder: 1860;
  • X95/283: account of rents: 1867;
  • X95/304: rent in barrels: 1867;
  • PSL6/1: Register of Alehouse Licences - Luton Petty Sessional Division: 1872-1901;
  • Z660/D/1/6: conveyance to Thomas Sworder: 1878;
  • X95/270: mortgage: 1878;
  • X95/287: proposed arrangement of loans of Thomas Sworder and Company: 1889;
  • X95/300: schedule of deeds: 1889;
  • X95/322/9: mortgage: 1889;
  • X95/322/21: valuation: 1889;
  • X95/332a-b: abstract of title 1897;
  • X95/313-315; Z1510/1/18 and WB/S4/1/1/5: sale catalogue of Thomas Sworder’s brewery and licensed premises: 1897;
  • WB/Green4/1/VP1: conveyance to J. W. Green: 1897;
  • WB/Green1/1/1: list of properties of J. W. Green Limited: 1897-1936;
  • WB/Green5/5/1: register of successive tenants: 1897-1926;
  • Z883/8: photograph of a parade passing the Old Red Lion: c. 1910;
  • PSL6/2: Register of Alehouse Licences - Luton Petty Sessional Division but without Luton Borough premises: 1929-1954;
  • WB/Green6/4/1: trade analysis: 1936-1947;
  • WB/Green4/2/4: certificate of title of J. W. Green Limited to properties: 1936-1952;
  • WB/Green4/2/10: schedule of deeds and documents to J. W. Green Limited properties: c. 1949;
  • WB/Flow4/5/Ke/ORL1-4: external photographs: 1950s;
  • WB/Green4/2/16: J. W. Green Limited titles: 1952;
  • WB/Green4/2/5: list of J. W. Green Limited houses: c. 1952;
  • WB/Green4/2/17: J. W. Green Limited trust deed: 1952-1972;
  • WB/Green4/2/19: schedules of J. W. Green Limited properties: c. 1954;
  • Z914/7/1/1: elevations: 1959;
  • Z914/7/1/2: existing and proposed floor plans: 1959;
  • Z914/7/2/1-9: existing and proposed floor plans and elevations: 1960;
  • PC Kensworth 9/5 notice of transfer of licence 1969-1986;
  • Z914/7 Plans for alterations 1960.

List of Licensees: note that this is not a complete list. Italics indicate licensees whose beginning and/or end dates are not known:

1860-1906: John Stanmer;
1906: Emma Stanmer;
1906-1910: Job Burgess and William Smith;
1910-1916: Thomas Spring Thorpe;
1916: Jane Ann Spring Thorpe;
1916-1918: Walter Henry Saunders;
1918-1958: Henry Hillyard;
1958-1959: Kate Hillyard;
1959-1960: Charles William Carter;
1960-1961: Richard James Gooch;
1961-1965: William Alfred George Smith;
1965-1968: Sydney Charles Rissen;
1968: Walter Harry Taylor;
1988 David William Chatwin;
1988: David John Jones.