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The Black Lion 23 High Street Leighton Buzzard

Ravenstone Chambers June 2008
Ravenstone Chambers June 2008

The Black Lion Inn: 23 High Street, Leighton Buzzard [previously the Raven Inn]

The Manor of Leighton Buzzard alias Grovebury was the principal landowner in the town before the 19th century. Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service has a full run of court rolls from 1393 to 1727 [KK619-715] and another full run from 1704 to 1867 [X288/1-23]. The service also has court rolls for other manor to own land in the town, the Prebendal Manor, from 1448 to 1459, 1588 to 1591, 1611 to 1622, 1627 and 1631 [KK792-798]. Detailed study of these would be bound to produce quite full histories for most licensed premises in the town. Unfortunately such study would take a very long time. Thus the histories of licensed premises in these web pages are quite summary and not necessarily the full story.

The Black Lion which stands today is the second public house of the name to stand in Leighton Buzzard High Street. Together the two establishments date back over three hundred years. The earlier Black Lion stood on the other side of the High Street on the site of Ravenstone Chambers and today's Number 23. Interestingly it was one of a row of six drinking establishments on the north side of the High Street which were, west to east, the Black Lion, the Kings Arms, a barn belonging to the Black Boy, which probably stood on the south side of the High Street, the Red Lion, the Mermaid, the Raven and the Cock.

A project called Our High Street Revisited 1819-2000 by Leighton-Linslade Local History Research Group [CRT130Lei58] aimed to use directories and census records to try to establish as full a history of use of the building in the High Street as possible. The results for Number 23 were as follows:

  • 1654: The Raven Inn;
  • 1671-1860: The Black Lion Inn (sold 1860);
  • 1861: Ann Flint, post-mistress;
  • 1871-1891: James Pettit, wine merchant;
  • 1894: house of James Pettit;
  • 1924: house of Edward Tattam;
  • 1931: Brian Clark, jeweller; E. & O. Hyde, customs and excise;
  • 1936: F. J. Pollard, grocer;
  • 1940: Green's Store, grocers; Sketchley Dueworks; W. M. Bayliss & Sons, accountants;
  • 1965: Jayella Sportswear; Donald Denton, insurance broker;
  • 1972: Gordon's Menswear;
  • 1986: Oxfam Charity Shop;
  • 1990: Froggy's ladies clothes; Oxfam Charity Shop;
  • 2000: empty; Relate Charity Shop;
  • 2008: 2 Sport; Relate Charity Shop

The building partly used as the Black Lion was, before the middle of the 17th century, known as the Raven (not to be confused with another, later, Raven a few doors up the High Street and first mentioned in 1669). In 1654 the western part of the former inn building, "on the Prebend Fee" was sold by James Mann to Anne Kimber for £36/10/- [RY321]. Mann had bought it from Steven Sedgwick, William Sedgwick and Thomas Zachary and it was noted as having previously been the property of Robert Wallop [RY321]. This means that the eastern part of the building is on the site of the other part of Ravenstone Chambers, Number 25. In 1668 the western part of the former Raven was sold by Anne Kimber to widow Mary Coles RY312].

The first mention of the Black Lion comes in 1672 when William Malcott, innholder, bought an acre of pasture which lay behind the Black Lion, then occupied by George Ellyott [BS2181]. In 1679 Mary Coles conveyed part of the west end of the former Raven called the Black Lion to her son Thomas whilst the remaining part of the western end of the former Raven, occupied by George Ellyott remained in her ownership [RY313]. It seems likely that Ellyott occupied the inn whilst Thomas was given simply living accommodation as in 1705 Thomas Coles conveyed this property, then called a cottage where Robert Emerton lived, being the west end of the messuage once the Raven, now the Black Lion, to Michael Higbid, maltster [RY314]. This building eventually became the site of 21 High Street.

Maureen Brown, June Masters and Tom Lawson wrote a book called The Old Pubs of Leighton Buzzard and Linslade which was published by Leighton Linslade Local History Research Group in 1994. In producing the book they used sources at Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service, Buckinghamshire Record Office, Northamptonshire Record Office as well as a number of published sources. The authors state that a fire on 2nd May 1746 burnt down the malthouses and maltings of the Black Lion and the Red Lion and note that records show that the two inns lost 880 bushels of malt between them.

In 1960 Bedfordshire Historical Records Society published a volume, its fortieth, dedicated to diaries. County Archivist Joyce Godber edited and published the diary of Leighton Buzzard Justice of the Peace John Salusbury (1713-1787) written between the years 1757 and 1759. He visited the Black Lion on 23rd May 1759 because a prebendal visitation was held there. These were inspections of the business of the Peculiar by the Prebend of Leighton Buzzard or, more usually, one of his officers such as the Registrar. He did not attend another meeting, on 7th November, because he was "not inclinable for company".

Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service has a formulary and notebook kept by 18th century attorney Benjamin Pyne which contains a list of twelve licensed properties in the town in 1761. Each inn also has a name beside it which appears to be the name of the licensee (who may both, of course, also have been the owner in some cases) is not stated. The Black Lion is linked with the name of Francis Yeoman.

In the Northampton Mercury of 19th January 1793 licensee of the Black Lion, Samuel Hopkins, subscribed to a resolution of Leighton Buzzard publicans banning "seditious and disaffected persons" from their houses. This presumably was in reaction to the events across the Channel in France (four days previously King Louis XVI had been sentenced to death and two days later he went to the guillotine). Samuel Hopkins was owner of the Black Lion and in his will of 1803 (proved in 1805) he left the public house to his eldest son Benjamin [BO1038]. Benjamin, in his turn, left the Black Lion to his son Samuel in his will of 1832 (proved 1836) [BO1036]. Samuel leased the establishment to Thomas King for seven years from 1843 [BO438-439]

Elizabeth Hopkins, wife of Benjamin, died in November 1853, having an annuity secured on the Black Lion [RY371]. In 1860 Samuel Hopkins put the Black Lion up for sale by auction on the premises [RY372]. The particulars described it as: "the Black Lion Inn and commercial house, situate in the centre of the High Street and in the heart of the Cattle Market". Also for sale were a cottage and bakehouse in North End and a farmyard in Workhouse lane (now Baker Street). The detailed description of the Black Lion was as follows: "All that very old established and well accustomed Freehold Property known as the Black Lion Inn … with commodious Premises thereunto belonging, and comprises a brick-built and tiled house, containing on the basement, very spacious Beer and Wine Cellars; on the ground floor, a Market Room with bay window, large Tap Room, Bar, Bar Parlour with bay window, Kitchen, Entrance Passage, Pantry, large Brewhouse; on the first floor, 3 Front Bed Rooms, Closet, 2 Back Bed Rooms, 2 Attics, and a large Dining Room; with a Slated Lean-to over back door. Small Yard, Pump of excellent Water, and a Garden behind. The out-buildings comprise a Large Slaughterhouse and Fasting Pen, Pump, Shed and Pump, 2 Loose Boxes, range of stabling for 8 horses, commercial stable brick and thatched, for 4 horses, with Loft over, Roomy Chaise House, Brick and Tiled Pigsties, and Small Yard &c. Range of brick and tiled stabling for ten horses, Lofts over, with a Slated Barn and Hovel, and a Large Yard enclosed by Folding Boarded Gates, also a range of brick and thatched stabling for 16 horses, conveniently subdivided, together with a small Dairy, and Loft over, Shoe house, Coal house, and Wood Barns, and the Yard approach from the Street. The Gateway is covered with Tiles, and the Yard is enclosed from the street by Boarded Folding Gates. The above Property possesses a frontage of 68 feet, and is worthy the attention of Maltsters, Butchers, Brewers, and Capitalists, its very commanding position being such as to always ensure a good Tenant".

The Black Lion was purchased by Stephen Henry Whichello of Linslade, merchant. He also owned a wharf on the Grand Junction Canal. He immediately sold the buildings and land behind the Black Lion to Charles Pettit [RY375]. Once Whichello took ownership the Black Lion seems to have closed - a new Black Lion opening on the other side of the High Street by 1864.

The Black Lion building no longer exists. The site (23a and 23b) is now part of Ravenstone Chambers. The building was listed by the former Department of Environment in 1975 as Grade II, of special interest. The building is late 19th or early 20th century and is constructed of red and grey brick with a tiled roof.


  • RY321: abstract of west part of Raven: 1654;
  • RY312: part of the west end of building formerly called Raven conveyed: 1668;
  • BS2181: Black Lion mentioned as an abuttal: 1672;
  • RY313: part of west end of former Raven now called Black Lion conveyed by Mary Coles to her son Thomas: 1679;
  • RY314: part of west end of Black Lion conveyed by Thomas Coles to Michael Higbid, maltster: 1705;
  • QSR1727/48: warrant to carry baggage of Lord Cobham's Regiment of Horse from Black Lion to Saint Albans: 1727;
  • RY315: cottage to east of Black Lion which fronted south on High Street mortgaged by John Higbid: 1735;
  • F89: Land Tax returns: 1750;
  • X171/206 page 126: name of landlord given: 1761;
  • Northampton Mercury: resolution of Leighton Buzzard publicans banning "seditious and disaffected persons" from their houses: 19 Jan 1793;
  • BO1038: will of Samuel Hopkins: 1803, proved 1805;
  • CLP13: Register of alehouse licences: 1822 - 1828;
  • BO1036: will of Benjamin Hopkins: 1832, proved 1836;
  • RY370: legacy receipt of estate of Benjamin Hopkins: 1836;
  • BO438-439: seven year lease: 1843;
  • RY361: conveyance of messuage in High Street bounded east by gatehouse of Black Lion: 1848;
  • RY371: account of succession to real property on death of Elizabeth Hopkins: 1853;
  • GA2116: auction sale held at Black Lion: 1859;
  • RY372: sale catalogue of Black Lion Inn: 1860;
  • RY373: conveyance of Black Lion Inn: 1860;
  • RY375: buildings and land behind Black Lion conveyed by Stephen Henry Whichello to Charles Pettit: 1860

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: 

1746-1761: Francis Yeoman;
1793-1805: Samuel Hopkins;
1805-1830: Benjamin Hopkins;
1839-1843: Samuel Hopkins;
1843-1860: Thomas King.