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The Red Lion Castle Street Luton

The Red Lion August 2009
The Red Lion August 2009

The Red Lion Lodge and Brookes: 2 Castle Street, on the corner with George Street, Luton [formerly the Red Lion Inn and Red Lion Hotel]

The Red Lion Lodge, with Brookes public house, may be of the older hostelries in Luton. The first record of a Red Lion held by Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service is a lease of 1637 [X689/18]. Unfortunately the name is a common one and the description does not allow us to be sure that the inn is on, or near, the same site as today's establishment, though its position in the old Market Place of the town is a mark in favour of its being a well-established business. The lease was from Luton brewer William Puddifatt to maltster William Spencer and spinster Elizabeth Sellam for three years at a rent of £12 per annum [X689/18]. The building was described as "the messuage or inn called by the name of the Redd Lyon [sic] in Luton together with the malthouse, killhouse, garner, corn loft and all malt lofts, barns, stables, outhouses, edifices, buildings and cellars with free ingress, egress and regress to and for the said William Spencer and Elizabeth Sellam into, through and by the gates and yard belonging to the said messuage or inn and excepting and reserving to the said William Puddifatt all that his brewhouse, mill house and coal house belonging to the same messuage or inn with the great barn and also one ground chamber next adjoining to the said brewhouse with the orchard and garden thereunto belonging".William Austin in his 1928 book The History of Luton and its Hamlets stated: "One of the most ancient inns in the town; has been continually occupied since the dissolution of the monasteries. It was previously the "Brotherhood House" of the Guild of the Holy Trinity". Austin may be a little overzealous. A Lyon is recorded in 1665 when two cottages on Chippinge Hill were mortgaged [AD827]. They are described as being near the Markyate [Market] House between the "Brotherhood House alias the Lyon" and the "Crosse Keyes Inn". However, given that there seem to have been a number of different establishments called the Cross Keys in George Street should, perhaps, make one a little reticent of ascribing a Lyon of 1665 with the Red Lion of later years.

Austin continues: "John Smith was probably its first tenant as an Innkeeper (4 and 6 Philip and Mary) [1558], he was succeeded by Henry Payne. Richard Hopkins of the Red Lion issued his farthing token in 1650. It was subsequently sold in 1759 to Richard Windmill, and was kept by William Green in 1806. He discovered a volume published in 1785 called The Merchant's Miscellany and Travellers' Complete Compendium which noted that the Red Lion was also the excise office, the excise officer being William Green. Austin found a notice of a travelling theatre in May 1827 - the notice stated: "Mr. Brewer, of the Theatres, Kentish Town, Barnet, and Hemel Hempsted, respectfully announces that he has fitted up a temporary Theatre a  building situated on the premises of the Red Lion Inn".

The Red Lion appears in the countywide register of alehouse licences from 1822 to 1828 [CLP13] and in 1833 the inaugural meeting of the Luton Gas Company was held at the inn, Thomas Butlin, the landlord, being a prime mover behind the new company [X454/1]. In the same year the Red Lion was visited on Easter Sunday morning by Thomas Crawley and his son after Crawley had beaten and robbed an old man named Joseph Adams. Adams later died and Crawley hanged for murder.

In 1836 an auction sale was held at the inn [WB/Green4/1/Lu/CK1] of buildings and land occupied as part of Red Lion in 7 lots, Lots 6 and 7 comprising two pieces of ground with coachhouse and stables and certain rights of way, which were, together, bought by Richard Waring for £175 and later pulled down the buildings on the former Red Lion land, erecting a wagon lodge, warehouse and covered gateway communicating with rear of premises devised to him by Frances Mead. It looks as if the Red Lion's owner or owners were in need of money and hence sold off some of the spare land.

By the 1860s Luton brewer Thomas Sworder was owner of the Red Lion as a copy of the agreement of 1862 [X95/234] between him and his uncle, also Thomas Sworder, who was standing surety for him after he purchased Frederick Burr's old brewery in Park Street, gives a list of the properties the younger man owned, including the Red Lion. A further draft agreement between them in 1873 [Z210/81] also lists the Red Lion, then in the occupation of Eliza Edridge. The premises is described as being held in fee simple - in other words it was a freehold.

In 1897 Sworder sold his business to his competitor, Luton brewer John William Green. In the conveyance document [WB/S4/1/1/5] the Red Lion is described merely as being leased. This implies either that Sworder sold the Red Lion between 1862 and 1897 and then leased it back, or that the agreement of 1862 was wrong to ascribe the freehold to Sworder. Sadly, Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service does not have a conveyance or lease for the building from the 19th century which would settle the issue. The very full archive of J. W. Green Limited [WB] does not include any mention of the Red Lion after 1897 and this probably implies that it was simply leased rather than owned as the archive contains numerous lists of properties owned by the business and the Red Lion is on none of them. Interestingly Stuart Smith in his history of Luton licensed premises - Pubs and Pints - states that the Red Lion was owned by Lucas Brothers of Hitchin [Hertfordshire] in 1842 but, unfortunately, does not give his source for this information. Lucas Brothers was taken over by J. W. Green in 1921 which, again, makes it strange that there is no mention of the public house in the various lists of Greens' properties made after that time, notably around the time they merged with Flowers Breweries in 1954. 

By 1971 the Red Lion Hotel was owned by Henekey Inns of 21 Leicester Square, London. A leaflet advertised "45 bedrooms with gas or electric fires or central heating. 1 bedroom with private bathroom. Central heating in public rooms. Colour Television Room. Free hotel Car Park at owners risk. Multi-storey Car Park and Garage adjacent to hotel". Two "speciality restaurants" were due to open in early 1972: the Steak and Schnitzel served "complete meals from 56p" and the Coffee House with "light meals, all day service". A single room cost £3.25 and a double or twin £5.50 per night.

The Red Lion is still at the time of writing [September 2009] a public house. It was listed by the former Department of Environment in 1981 as Grade II, of special interest. The description describes the Red Lion as a "Complex group of late 19th century and Edwardian buildings". It notes that the main building is on the corner of Castle and George Streets, and "is in florid Edwardian style". It is Stucco faced with a hipped Welsh slate roof. It has two storeys with a panelled parapet divided into bays by plain pilasters and a heavy moulded dentil eaves course. Interestingly the Castle Street frontage has a cartouche bearing the date 1881. This, of course, strongly suggests that either the old building was demolished and a new one built on the site at that date or that the old building was so substantially altered as to appear 19th century, and then altered again when it received its Edwardian front.

 A Red Lion bill heading of 1838 [P35/5/2]
A Red Lion bill heading of 1838 [P35/5/2]


  • X689/18: lease: 1637;
  • CLP13: register of alehouse licences: 1822-1828;
  • X454/1: inaugural meeting of the Luton Gas Company held at the Red Lion: 1833;
  • LHE7: auction sale at the Red Lion: 1833;
  • G/DDA150/34: letter referring to meeting at Red Lion: 1834;
  • WB/Green4/1/Lu/CK1: auction ale at the Red Lion of part of the land occupied by the public house: 1836;
  • P35/5/2: printed billhead in Caddington parish archive: 1838;
  • X95/305: Red Lion owned by Thomas Sworder: 1860s;
  • Z210/81: in draft agreement between Thomas Sworder of Luton and Thomas Sworder of Hertford: 1873;
  • P85/28/1/4: auction sale held at the Red Lion: 1895;
  • P85/2/1/10: auction sale held at the Red Lion: 1895;
  • WB/S4/1/1/5: lease of the Red Lion assigned by Thomas Sworder to John William Green: 1897;
  • WB/Green4/5/Lu/PSWB31: photograph showing J. W. Green Limited offices also showing the Red Lion: 1986;
  • WB/Green7/7/1: included in LutonTown centre Historic Pubs and Breweries Trail pamphlet: 1990s

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: 

1558: John Smith?
1650: Richard Hopkins;
1806: William Green;
1822: Mary Waller, widow;
1825: Thomas Butlin;
1839: Robert Paybody;
1861: Sophia Paybody;
1869: C. Edridge;
1873: Eliza Edridge;
1929: George William Cole Hamilton;
1931: George Frank Burn;
1958: Audley Montgomery Archdale;
1959: Albert Arnold Harding;
1963: Stanley Joseph Allison;
1967: Anthony John Stephen Green;
1971: Joseph Lajos Kabler;
1974: Peter Charles Cromack and Derek James Burgess;
1977: Richard Francis Lion and Derek James Burgess;
1982: Timothy Meredew and Derek James Burgess;
1983: Timothy Meredew and Harold Gilbert Turner;
1985: Harold Gilbert Turner and Peter Edward Dixon;
1985: Thomas William Thomas and John Redfearn;
1990: John Redfearn and Michael Shifner.