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The Red Lion High Street Leighton Buzzard

27 High Street June 2008
27 High Street June 2008

The Red Lion Inn: 27 High Street, Leighton Buzzard

The first mention of a Red Lion in Leighton Buzzard is in a fragment of a document thought to date from the 16th century. It describes the Red Lion in Leighton Buzzard as being held from the Prebendal Manor [C2778/7] which, together with the Manor of Leighton Buzzard alias Grovebury was the principal landowner in the town before the 19th century. Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and 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] for the Manor of Leighton alias Grovebury and court rolls from 1448 to 1459, 1588 to 1591, 1611 to 1622, 1627 and 1631 for the Prebendal Manor [KK792-1798]. 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.

A document entitled "A List of Mr. Wingate's Rents" for 1621/1622 includes the Red Lion [X479/1]. Manor of Leighton Buzzard quitrent ledgers for 1656 [KK780] and 1664 [KK781] show Francis Wingate paying eight pence per annum "for the Lyon". Clearly the property was now freehold. The Leighton Buzzard parish register for 1659 lists the burial of Henry Radfford "hosler at lyon".

The next reference to the Red Lion is in 1696 when William Malcott sold it, together with a close of three acres on the north-west side of the house, to George Elliott  for £300 [BS2182]. A William Malcott had been ostler of the Ram in the High Street some time before 1669 [Z1118/1/1/1]. George Elliott owned the Black Lion in 1672 [BS2181]. Elliott's son-in-law John Woodfield conveyed his wife's third share of the Red Lion to his mortgagee Robert Ashwell in 1724 [BS2188]. Interestingly it seems that it was part of a row of six drinking establishments on the north side of the High Street in the 18th century which were, moving 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.

Another of George Elliott's daughters, Elizabeth Woodfield, sold her sixth share in the Red Lion and close to James Preston of Chesham [Buckinghamshire], innholder for £20 in 1731 [BS2190]. In 1738 Richard Ward of Leighton Buzzard and Anna Maria, his wife, became sole owners of the Red Lion, now divided into two tenements, the inn and a private house [BS2193-2199] - the same thing happened to the Raven in 1736.

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 describe a fire in 1746 which burnt down the maltings of both Black and Red Lions, though they do not quote their source.

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 mentions the Red Lion only once, on 1st April 1758: "Mr. Ward's great barn, belonging to the Red Lion, was burnt down and a rick of beans belonging to Ezekiel Gurney. This is the fourth time that malting has been on fire. Everything damaged was insured, except the beans". Did Salusbury smell a rat besides burning?

It seems as if these fires hastened the end of the Red Lion. In the Northampton Mercury of 19th January 1793 Leighton Buzzard publicans issued a resolution banning "seditious and disaffected persons" from their houses. No one signed for the Red Lion, suggesting that it had gone out of business by that date. Certainly by 1845 when the malting was leased to Charles Reeve [RY363] it was described as the former Red Lion.

 sketch of bank in valuers notebook
Sketch of bank in valuers notebook

The old Red Lion buildings were replaced in the late 19th century by the current National Westminster Bank building, which was listed by the former Department of Environment in 1975 as Grade II, of special interest. Under the terms of the Rating and Valuation Act 1925 every piece of land and building in the country was assessed to determine the rates to be paid on them. Leighton Buzzard was assessed in 1927 and the valuer visiting the building, then owned and occupied by the Westminster Bank [DV1/R56/62] found that the banking hall measured 18 feet 6 inches by 26 feet, the manager's office 14 feet by 13 feet and the strong room 9 feet by 10 feet. The private house included on the premises comprised an entrance hall, a dining room measuring 15 feet by 19 feet, a sitting room measuring 10 feet 9 inches by 12 feet 9 inches and a kitchen measuring 15 feet by 11 feet; there was "no basement". On the first floor was a drawing room measuring 15 feet by 21 feet 6 inches and bedrooms measuring 16 feet 3 inches by 15 feet and 10 feet 9 inches by 15 feet as well as a W.C. The second floor comprised bedrooms measuring 10 feet by 15 feet, 8 feet 9 inches by 15 feet, 14 feet 6 inches by 15 feet and 11 feet by 9 feet 6 inches as well as a bathroom. Outside stood a brick and tile two stall coachhouse with a loft over ["used for stores"], the valuer noting: "coachhouse too small to be used as garage". There was also a small garden with no back entrance. The whole premises was brick and slate and the valuer commented: "good repair, long frontage, small depth, poor frontage for Bank premises"

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 27 are as follows:

  • 1819-1826: owner/occupier George Green, maltster (with Number 25);
  • 1839: London & County Bank;
  • 1909: Westminster Bank;
  • 1969: National Westminster Bank


  • C2778/7: 16th century;
  • X479/1: list of Mr. Wingate's rents: 1621-1622;
  • KK780: Manor of Leighton Buzzard quit rental: 1656
  • Bedfordshire Parish register Series Volume XXXI page 61: 1659;
  • KK781: Manor of Leighton Buzzard quit rental: 1664;
  • BS2182: feoffment: 1696;
  • BS2188: conveyance: 1724;
  • BS2190: conveyance: 1731;
  • BS2192: mortgage: 1734;
  • KK333-334: Red Lion described as west of Kings Arms: 1738;
  • BS2193: lease: 1738;
  • BS2194-2195: conveyance: 1738;
  • BS2196-2197: conveyance: 1738;
  • BS2203: mortgage: 1748;
  • BS2204: endorsed reconveyance: 1779;
  • RY363: lease of malting: 1845  

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:

1621-1622: Richard Elliott;
1659: Henry Radfford;
1696: William Malcott;
1731: Thomas Webb;
Mary Hopcraft;
1748: James Skinner