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The White Lion North Street Leighton Buzzard

The White Lion about 1905
The White Lion about 1905 [Z50/72/159]
the woman in the door may be Matilda Ayres

The White Lion Public House: 87 North Street, Leighton Buzzard

The White Lion public house stood on the site of the White Hart Inn. This is made clear by the deeds to the premises deposited with by Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Records Service by owners Charles Wells. The first deed is the sale of the north end of a cottage formerly called the White Hart by William Johnson to William Smith in 1808 [WL1000/1/LB2/1]. Smith devised the cottage in his will of 1841 to his son, also William [WL1000/1/LB2/4] who also devised it, in 1857, to his sons George and Thomas as trustees for sale [WL1000/1/LB2/5].

George sold the cottage to John Deacon in 1862 [WL1000/1/LB2/6] and he to James Deeley later that same year [WL1000/1/LB2/8]. Deeley then demolished the old premises and constructed a new building as a public house called the White Lion, mortgaging it in 1866 to help recoup some of the cost [WL1000/1/LB2/10]. The 1876 countywide Return of Licensed Premises notes that the public house was first licensed in 1864. On Deeley's death his executors conveyed it to William Deeley in 1874 [WL1000/1/LB2/11]. He put the public house up for sale by auction in 1875 [BML10/42/40] when it was described thus: "all that Substantially-built, Brick and Slated, Free and Full-licensed Public House, Known as the White Lion, admirably situate in the centre of the Town, with a commanding frontage of 30 feet to North Street. The House, which is doing a good trade, is well arranged and contains - in the basement, three dry and capacious cellars; on the ground floor, a well-arranged bar, with large plate-glass front, public and private bars, with entrance to each, a circular mahogany counter, shelves and fittings, an excellent and nearly-new 6-pull beer engine, and all the modern fittings of a London bar; smoke room, bar-parlour, and taproom, and three roomy bed-rooms, and large and pleasant sitting room over. In the rear is a paved court yard, in which is a pump, and well of excellent water, brick and slated wash-house, with copper and cooking grate, and pump and tank for soft water; also a most conveniently-arranged brick-built and slated brewhouse, in which is a nearly-new 146 gallon brewing copper, and the necessary brewing plant to carry on the business, with large workshop over, and closet adjoining, bounded by property belonging to Mr. George Smith and Mrs. Samuels".

There is also a list of fixtures as follows:

  • Bar: circular mahogany counter and fittings; six pull beer engine with pot and stand, waste pipe and piping to cellar; the stained deal shelves as fixed; two light gas chandelier; stained deal cupboard with mahogany top; window board; deal painted and glazed partition;
  • Front Parlour: register stove; stained cupboards with mahogany top either side of fireplace; gas bracket;
  • Top Room: gas bracket; grate with over boiler as set; towel roller; the seats round room;
  • Bar Parlour: grate with oven and boiler as set; the deal stained cupboards and drawers as fixed; gas bracket;
  • Cellar: two gas brackets; a 7½ hogshead cask; two four hogshead casks; the barrel stands; barrel slide;
  • Sitting Room: the grained deal cupboards on either side of fire place; two roller blinds and brackets; gas bracket;
  • Front Bedroom: blind roller and brackets;
  • Back Bedroom: grate as set;
  • Brewhouse: one hundred and forty six gallon copper with furnace as set; iron bound mash tub with false bottom; copper jig pump; two deal coolers; the platform to copper; two gas brackets;
  • Wash House: grate as set; copper with lead flashing and furnace as set; two deal shelves; stone sink.

The public house was marked "brought in", in other words, not sold and the following year the countywide Return of Licensed Premises still shows William Deeley as owner. In that year an abstract of title of Deeley's title to the White Lion was put together [WL1000/1/LB2/13] before the public house was sold to brewers Allfrey and Lovell of Newport Pagnell [Buckinghamshire], which later became the Newport Pagnell Brewery, before being taken over by Bedford brewers Charles Wells in 1928.

In the 1870s, in common with other public houses in the area of North Street (see the Nags Head in Mill Road), the White Lion was not the most salubrious of places. The licensing register for the period [PSLB4/1] notes that in 1877 the licence was endorsed to Evan Ball, George Stevens having given up, but before the transfer day on August 28th 1877 the house was so badly conducted that the transfer was refused and the house closed from October 1877 to October 1878.

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. The authors quote a letter to the Leighton Buzzard Observer of 3rd September 1878 shows how bad the public house had become: "What has induced the magistrates to grant the White Lion licence? … First, the character of the applicant is not helped by his signature - a cross; I suppose he cannot write. Secondly, the suitability of the premises, so limited that there is no lodging for travellers or soldiers on billet, no stable for a horse, nor yard or gateway for carts - in fact no accommodation for an inn, nothing but a 'drink shop'. The whole premises - bar, parlour, living rooms, yards and outhouses, and all standing on less than four poles. Thirdly, as to the requirements of the neighbourhood. The Bench might have decided, from their official experience that there was no deficiency in North End, already crowded with public houses … It may be urged that the house had been open before. Police evidence showed that the less said of that the better for the Lion". The letter was simply signed "a ratepayer".

Sadly, the ratepayer's fears were well founded. On 10th December 1878 new licensee Thomas Richard Fairbrother was fined £2 with 14/6 costs for permitting drunkenness. He left the White Lion next year being replaced by a Robert Todd, who did not even see the year out, being replaced by a William Vaughan who did manage to stay until 1880 then left to be replaced by Richard Keen who, almost as soon as he took over, on 27th July 1880, was fined £2 with 12/6 costs for permitting drunkenness. Overall, between 1877 and 1886 the public house had twelve landlords, an average of more than one a year before things settled down and James Ayres was licensee for nearly twenty years between 1886 and 1905.

The White Lion about 1928
The White Lion about 1928 [WL800/3] the people outside are, prsumably, the Gilbert family

In 1990 planning permission was given for a single storey rear extension. Charles Wells closed the public house in May 2007 and in August 2008 planning permission was given to Visao Limited to demolish the old public house premises and build eight one bedroom flats on the site though at the time of writing [March 2009] the old building, now derelict, was still standing.


  • WL1000/1/LB2/1: feoffment: 1808;
  • WL1000/1/LB2/4: devised: 1841
  • WL1000/1/LB2/5: devised: 1857
  • PSLB4/1: Register of Alehouse Licences - Leighton Buzzard Petty Sessional Division: c.1860s-1949;
  • PSLB4/3: Register of Alehouse Licences - Leighton Buzzard Petty Sessional Division: c.1860s-1956;
  • WL1000/1/LB2/6: conveyed: 1862
  • WL1000/1/LB2/8: conveyed: 1862
  • WL1000/1/LB2/10: mortgage: 1866
  • WL1000/1/LB2/11: conveyed: 1874
  • BML10/42/40: sale particulars: 1875
  • WL1000/1/LB2/13: abstract of title: 1876
  • HN1/20-1-3: position shown on annotated Ordnance Survey maps compiled for licensing purposes: early 20th century;
  • P91/28/48: indicated as being at 87 North Street in notes compiled on Leighton Buzzard public houses: early 20th century;
  • Z50/72/159: photograph: 1910;
  • PSLB4/2: Register of Alehouse Licences - Leighton Buzzard Petty Sessional Division: 1922-1948;
  • WL800/3: photograph: c.1925;
  • WL801/174: negative of above: c.1925;
  • Z1105/1: liquor licence traders survey form: 1962
  • WL722/67: reopening of White Lion in Charles Wells in-house magazine "Pint Pot": 1991
  • WL722/93: refurbishment of White Lion in Charles Wells in-house magazine "Pint Pot": 1998

The White Lion July 2006
The White Lion July 2006

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:

1869: William Deeley;
1877: George Stevens
1877: Evan Ball;
1878: Thomas Richard Fairbrother;
1879: Robert Todd;
1879: William Vaughan;
1880: Richard Keen;
1881: Robert Whitehouse;
1881: James Page;
1882: John Fordham;
1882: Charles F. Preswick;
1883: Temple Robert Harrison;
1886: James Ayres;
1905: Matilda Ayres;
1905: Ernest Edward Gilbert;
1934: Edwin George Wheeler;
1941: Florrie Wheeler;
1947: Edwin George Wheeler;
1950: Frederick Hartop;
1951: Stanley William Fowler;
1955: Harry Newton
1962: John Lynch;
1966: Michael Edward Melhuish;
1968: William Ferguson;
1975: John Anthony Lawrie;
1977: Paul Elmwood David Morris;
1980: John Parry;
1983: Christopher Turner;
1989: James Peter Kerr;
1993: Cliff Feasey.
Public house closed May 2007

The former White Lion June 2008
The former White Lion June 2008