The Red Lion, Fenny Lock

This attractive canal-side public house, standing by an almost unnecessary lock, is relatively new compared to some of the other pubs in Fenny Stratford, having a history of only about 170 years.  It has had a very short list of landlords, during which just three families ran it for almost 100 years.  I have used the spellings of surnames and village names as used in the original reports.  The name Red Lion has been used more than once for inns in Fenny Stratford.  There was an earlier one, location unknown, recorded as far back as 1635 but this Red Lion/Lyon had closed by the end of the 1700’s.

The Red Lion, centre left, stands by the swing-bridge over the canal at Fenny Lock.

Some of this research is based on a history of the Red Lion I have been provided with, believed to have been written by the late Ted Legg. Some of those facts seem at odds with the historical records I have seen which were not available at the time he was doing his research.  Other information was provided by local historian John Taylor and also the users of the “Fenny, Bletchley & Surrounding Area Old Timers” Facebook group, for which I am most grateful.

The Grand Junction Canal arrived in Fenny Stratford in May 1800 and work then continued northwards. Originally, the canal-sides north from Fenny had to be banked up with clay to help make them water-tight due to the local geology. This necessitated bringing in heavily-laden boats full of wet clay and these needed deeper water to be manoeuvred. Therefore, the water level had to be lifted and so a lock needed to be temporarily installed, which the canal engineers expected to be removed once the work was done. The rise in water level was only about 30cm and after the section was completed, it was decided it was easier (and cheaper) to leave the lock in place than to remove it again. A swing-bridge was put in here as the canal had cut through the land of a Mr. Lucas, who suddenly found the majority of his lands isolated on the other side of the canal which he still needed access to. To allow him to get to the swing-bridge, a new track was cut through from the main Simpson Road, eventually becoming known as Lock View Lane. Back in the 1840’s, a Mr. Poole owned the land around the canal.

1845 Henry Labrum

There were a number of local wharfs around Fenny Stratford for importing and exporting goods on the water network and boats had to slow down or maybe wait for their turn in the lock. Bargees would have appreciated somewhere to get refreshments and provisions, so the site beside the lock was well-placed and several cottage-owners began providing services from their homes here. Legg thought that it was possibly a Nicholas Maffey who started the beerhouse, as he is listed in an 1839 trade directory as a beer retailer, but with no location given or other records available, this cannot be confirmed.

Poole(?) put the whole area up for sale in September 1845, when the Hollier family lived there in a cottage running a coal merchant’s business and Henry Labrum had an already-established beerhouse nearby in his. This advert appeared in the Northants Mercury:

“To Wharfingers, Coal Merchants, Brickmakers, and Others. VALUABLE FREEHOLD PROPERTY, Near the Town of FENNY STRATFORD in the Parish of SYMPSON. Bucks., TO BE SOLD BY AUCTION, BY FLINT & SON On Monday the 29th day of September, 1845, at the Swan Inn, Fenny Stratford, at Three o’clock in the afternoon, in four lots:-
Lot 1. Small brick and slated HOUSE, convenient Warehouse, Sheds, Stable, and large Yard with a good Wharf Landing on the banks of the Grand Junction Canal, in the occupation of Mr. Edward Hollier, Coal Merchant, &c.
Lot 2. FOUR Good COTTAGES, and Piece of Ground adjoining the above.
Lot 3. A small CLOSE, now used as a Garden, with a Frontage to the Canal, and a Stratum of excellent Brick Earth 40″ deep.
Lot 4. A. good roomy HOUSE, in the occupation of Mr. Henry Labrum used as a Grocer’s and Beer Shop, large Stable, Warehouse, with Bakehouse and Oven, now doing an extensive Business and other Conveniences for Hay and Corn Trade, at the Grand Junction Canal Lock.
The above Property is situated within 200 yards of the Market Place at Fenny Stratford, the Road leading to Newport Pagnell, bounded on the East by the Grand Junction Canal, the projected Railway from Bedford to Bletchley passes close by it, and offers most desirable opportunity to persons wishing to engage in any of the above Businesses, or an Investment, as certain to pay a great Interest. 
May be viewed by applying to the Tenants; and further Information known of Messrs. Flint & Son, Auctioneers, Land Agents, &c., Leighton Buzzard, Beds. Particulars may be had at the Swan Inn, Fenny Stratford; George, Woburn; Swan, Newport; Bell Inn, Winslow; Cock, Stony Stratford.”

It seems likely that either the Hollier’s took over Labrum’s beerhouse at some point after this, or it closed and they opened their own in their house to fill the gap in the market. We shall probably never know which. The fact that a bakehouse is mentioned in addition to a beer-shop may be a clue, as both trades were certainly carried on in the house used as the Red Lion later, for many decades. There are no Labrum’s or Hollier’s mentioned in any trade at all in Fenny Stratford in the Robinson’s 1839 or the Pigott’s 1844 trade directories of Bucks.

To add to the Watling Street toll-road and Grand Junction canal, the railway did indeed appear nearby in 1846, as promised in the advert above, connecting Oxford with Cambridge and giving competition to both for passengers and freight.  There was a station opened nearby on the Simpson Road and a bridge had to be put in just a few dozen yards from the lock. The powerful canal company were very explicit about how the bridge was built so their bargees would not be inconvenienced in any way. The railway company were given 30 days to build all the foundations they needed under a penalty of £10 per hour for obstructing the canal for the first 3 days and £30 an hour if it went over that, such was the importance of canal traffic.

1850-1853 Edward Hollier

His name appears in only one trade directory showing “Beer Retailer” along with his coal business, that of Musson & Cravens in 1853.  His son, John Leeson Hollier, was a grocer & baker who also lived in a cottage by the canal.

The family of Edward Hollier appears on the 1851 census, listed under Simpson, as although we think of the Red Lion as being Fenny Stratford, the parish boundaries have fluctuated. Edward is 63 and listed as just a Coal Dealer, with no mention of beer, originally coming from Weedon. His wife Ann is 62, born at Hillesden and they live with Frances, their daughter, 18, born in Whilton, Northants. John Leeson Hollier, Edward’s son, already had his own house a couple of doors away. We don’t know which entry refers to the beerhouse at this point.  Was Edward or John running it? Then both Edward and his wife died in 1853.

1853-1871 John Hollier

When John Hollier obtained a full premises licence in 1864, he stated the house had been used as a beerhouse since 1850.  I am guessing that his father set it up and ran it until his death in 1853, then it was handed down to his son. John Hollier had married Mary Giles locally in 1849. They appear together in the 1851 census with their daughter, Jane, just 11-months-old. John was 21 and Mary 23.  He was born in Buckby Wharf while she just listed Northampton as her birth place. There is no mention of licensed trade in his occupation either, as it simply reads “Labourer”.

After his parents both passed away in 1853, his sister moved in with him and his expanding family. The Census came again in 1861, when still no inn-sign was used to identify it, but just below an entry for “Simpson Lock” is listed the household of:

John L. Hollier, 32, Hay & Corn Dealer, born Daventry
Mary Hollier, wife, 35, born Little Bourton, Oxfordshire
Mary J. Hollier, daughter, 11, scholar, born Fenny Stratford
Elizabeth Hollier, daughter, 9, scholar, born Fenny Stratford
Frances Hollier, daughter, 5, scholar, born Fenny Stratford
Edward J. Hollier, son, not yet a year, born Fenny Stratford
Frances Hollier, sister, unmarried, 30, born Daventry
Hannah Southam, widow, 67, born Bledington, Worcs.
William  Whitbread, unmarried, 28, Servant D[omestic], born Barton in the Clay, Beds.

The Hollier’s were only tenants, they did not own the building. Legg says that Mr. Poole had sold his interest in the land around the canal, including ownership of the beerhouse, to Mr. Thomas Chew by 1861, as Chew paid the Land Tax on it.  Chew then died and his estate went to his wife until she died quite soon after and in July 1863, an auction sale was held of the remaining estate of the late Mrs. Thomas Chew.  The Bucks Herald advert said that up for sale at the Swan Hotel by local land agent Mr. Gotto was: “Landing Wharf with Dwelling House, Storehouses, and stabling in the occupation of Mr. J. Baisley; Three Substantial Brick and Slated Cottages; a Piece of Valuable building Ground; Roomy Dwelling house and Beerhouse, with General Shop, near the canal lock, and a Close of Prime Meadow Land, containing about six acres.”

The Beds Mercury advert was slightly more detailed, describing the beerhouse as “doing a thriving Hay & Corn Trade, having a large yard with extensive stabling, also a very valuable Inclosure of Meadow Land containing 6a. 0r. 20p. more or less, in the occupation of Mr. J. L. Hollier.”

Legg says George Morrey was the purchaser and he allowed Hollier to stay on as tenant.  A Post Office trade directory of 1864 gives John Hollier as a Grocer.  Perhaps Morrey had given Hollier the assurance of a long lease, as Hollier was able to convert his beerhouse into a fully licensed public house at the Petty Sessions at Newport Pagnell in August that year. Described as being at Sympson, he told the Court that he had run it as a beerhouse for 14 years. At this time, some beerhouses had names and some did not, so if not before, this was probably the time the sign of the “Red Lion” was adopted for this pub, a very traditional British pub name instead of a canal-connected name you may have expected, but Fenny already had both a Navigation and Bridge inns nearby.

The original Red Lion, furthest from camera. (Dave Jackson – Fenny, Bletchley & Surrounding Area Old Timers – Facebook.)

According to Legg, Morrey took a mortgage out on the property among much other property, with Joanna Ann Curtis for £900 in 1864.  It was described as a “cottage late in the occupation of Thomas Windmill and now of John Leeson Hollier.”

A fully licensed pub was far more attractive to business speculators than a beerhouse and the Red Lion was back up for sale in May 1867. Unusually, the advert in the Buckingham Advertiser & Free Press does not give the name of the vendor. “Lot 1. That Capital Brick-Built and Tiled Public House, known as the “Red Lion”, with granary and loft attached, stabling, and small garden. Let to Mr. Edward Terry at £22 per annum. Lot 2. A very valuable Piece of Building Ground containing 3r. 7p. or thereabouts now used as a garden, let to Mr. John Hollier at £9 per annum.”

The other lots were wharfs and cottages nearby. It looks as if Morrey had leased the pub to Edward Terry.  Terry was a farmer on the Buckingham Road; a large local landowner, who sat on many local committees and boards. There is no doubt he was never a publican himself, he just sub-let the pub to Hollier. When a 12-Quarter Malting in Simpson Road was up for rental in October 1869, the advert stated that “two Publichouses, with a good trade, are under contract to take the whole of the Malt, and several others in the town and neighbourhood were also supplied.”  There is nothing to say one was the Red Lion, as there were many pubs around the Watling Street crossroads and even another by the canal near the road bridge towards Simpson, the White Hart.

John Leeson Hollier died during the first quarter of 1871, aged just 42.  This was just weeks before the next census was taken.

1871 Mary Hollier

The census showed the inhabitants of the inn as the next entry to that of “Lock at Fenny Stratford”, but it still wasn’t given by name. Present were:

Mary Hollier, widow, Publican, 45, born Middleton Cheynes, Oxfordshire
Elizabeth A. Hollier, daughter, Dressmaker,18, born Fenny Stratford
Francis Hollier, daughter, 15, born Fenny Stratford
Edward Jo Hollier, son, scholar, 10, born Fenny Stratford
Kate Hollier, daughter, scholar, 9, born Fenny Stratford
Jabez Robinson, Inn Servant, 16, born Milton Keynes

However, this arrangement did not continue for long.

1872-c.1886 Joseph Ashby

By the next year, Widow Hollier and her children had moved on after 21 years running first the beerhouse, then public house. This is recorded in a schedule of all licensed premises in Bucks, taken in 1872. Listed under Simpson, it gives the Red Lion as having been open since 1844.  The new landlord was Joseph Ashby.  The owner of the building was listed as being a Mr. James Hadley, of Watford, (possibly since the sale in 1867?) who had leased it to Mr. R. G. Ashdown, of Ashdown Brother’s brewery in Leighton Buzzard.

A terrible tragedy struck the Ashby family soon after taking the pub. Croydon’s Weekly Standard, (printed at Newport Pagnell and the forerunner to the Bucks Standard) ran this report on 26th July 1873:

“Inquest. – An inquest was held at the Red Lion, Sympson, on Monday last, before J. Worley, Esq., coroner, and a respectable jury, touching the death of a little boy two-and-a-half years old, named Harry George Ashby, son of Joseph Ashby, of the Red Lion, Fenny Locks. It appears that on the 19th instant the child was playing with another little girl of the same age, in the garden, which is divided from the canal by wooden rails. On Mr. Ashby going home to his tea, he saw the children at play, and shortly afterwards, not hearing their voices, he went to look for them., and the child was found drowned on the top of the water. It was at once taken out and every effort used to restore animation, but in vain. The jury returned a verdict of accidental death.”

Such a terrible accident to befall the family.  Inquests were often held in local pubs, but to have their own child’s inquest in their house must have been heart-wrenching, but they kept on running their business, having the reminder of the canal right outside. Within a year, Joseph was able to prevent a similar tragedy from happening again. This from the Bicester Herald, 15th May 1874:

“Fenny Stratford. Saved from Drowning at Simpson. – On Sunday afternoon, May 3rd, Annie Hawkins, 6 years of age, whilst playing with another child, accidently fell into the Grand Junction Canal at Simpson. After being in the water about 5 minutes, she was rescued by Mr. Ashby, an innkeeper, and Superintendent Head promptly used such restoratives as were at hand, and the child recovered in about an hour.”

Sadly, there was no such happy ending in October 1880 when another child was lost in the canal. Another inquest was held at the Red Lion under the district Coroner J. Worley. Catherine Saddler was the daughter of a boatman and aged four years old.  The boat was in the lock when her mother went to Mr. Wodham’s shop nearby to purchase some bread and sweets, leaving the girl inside the boat with her baby brother. She was gone three or four minutes. It was Joseph Ashby’s son Edward who saw something floating in the canal and dragged it to the bank with a shaft. The Fenny Stratford surgeon, Henry Ancell, attended but it was too late. It was thought the child had tried to follow her mother, but fell in. The jury returned a verdict of ‘Accidentally Drowned’.

The 1881 Census gives us details of the full Ashby family.  Listed as residing at the “Red Lion Inn, Simpson” are:

Joseph Ashby, Head, 46, Licensed Victualler, born Aldbury, Herts
Ann Ashby, 43, Wife of Victualler, born Aldbury, Herts
William  Ashby, son, 22, Master in Merchant Service (Seaman), born Aldbury, Herts
Elizabeth Ashby, daughter, 19, Assistant Housekeeper, (Int & Nav Serv)[?], born Aldbury, Herts
Edward Ashby, son 17, Canal Labourer, born Aldbury, Herts
Julia Ashby, daughter, 15, scholar, born Aldbury, Herts
Mary Ashby, daughter, 14, scholar, born Aldbury, Herts
Emma Ashby, daughter, 8, scholar, born Simpson, Bucks
Harry Ashby, son, 7, scholar, born Simpson, Bucks
Charles Ashby, son, 4, scholar, born Simpson, Bucks

Yet cruel fate had not finished with the Ashby family. This from the North Bucks Times & County Observer, 25th October 1883:

“SAD ACCIDENT. A BOY DROWNED IN THE CANAL. On Wednesday morning an inquest was held at the Red Lion Inn, Simpson Road, before E. J. Worley, Esq., deputy coroner and a respectable jury, of which Mr. A. Green was foreman, to inquire into the death of a lad named Harry George Ashby, aged 9 years, who was drowned in the canal on the evening of Oct. 22nd. The jury having been sworn proceeded to view the body and on their return the following evidence was given in which will be found the details of the case.
Edward Ashby, sworn, said: I am a son of Joseph Ashby, the landlord of the Red Lion, I work for my father. The deceased Harry George Ashby was my brother. On October 22 I sent him, about 3.30, up to the town of Fenny Stratford to fetch a man earned Alfred Sear to cut some chaff. To reach Sear’s house he could either go by the raid through the town or along the side of the canal. He went by himself, and I saw him go by the side of the canal. He would have about 400 yards to walk alongside the canal to get to Sear’s. I did not see him again alive after he left home at 3.30 for Sear’s house. The deceased ought not to have been more than 10 minutes in going to Sear’s, and not returning at 4 o’clock I went to inquire at Sear’s and found he had been there. I then went through the town of Fenny, but could hear nothing of him. On Tuesday morning, Oct. 23, we dragged the canal and found the body of my brother in the water under the Railway bridge on the canal, which is situated between our house and that of Sears. I found the body with the drags, there was several there when the body was pulled out of the water. I cannot say if the deceased had his hat on when pulled out of the water. The clothes were as usual not disarranged.
Jane Sear: l am the wife of Alfred Sear, a labourer, and we live at Fenny Stratford. Between 3 and 4 the deceased came to my door and asked for my husband to go to Mr. Ashby’s to cut some chaff. He was alone, and simply delivered the message and left. I saw him no more.
The coroner having summed up, the jury returned a verdict to the effect that “the deceased was found drowned in the canal on October 23, and that in their opinion he accidentally slipped in.”
Much sympathy is felt with the bereaved parents, this being the second child they had drowned in the canal within 7 years.”

This second Harry George Ashby had been born after the death of the first so named and had been given the same name as his deceased sibling. How terrible for the family for this to happen again, with another inquest in their own pub, on their own child! I’m not sure where the paper got their facts from, but it had actually been just over ten years since the death of their previous child in very similar circumstances.

Ashby’s daughter was also causing him problems. In December 1883, 21-year-old Elizabeth Ann Ashby was charged with having evaded paying for a railway ticket from Willesden to Fenny Stratford.  She was travelling in the company of William Hammond, also of Fenny Stratford. Unbeknownst to them, they were being watched by a railway detective who followed them from London to Bletchley, where they changed to a Cambridge train to Fenny.  Here, they alighted and Hammond went to the Station master’s office, while Elizabeth left the station. Hammond was found to have paid a 1½d. fare for himself, which covered only the Bletchley to Fenny-leg of his trip, but nothing for the trip from Willesden to Bletchley and nothing at all was paid for Elizabeth’s journey. The Detective then stopped Elizabeth and demanded her address, which he said she at first refused to give.  Once she had told him, he followed her home to make sure it was correct. Hammond at first denied knowing her, before admitting they had travelled together.  Elizabeth was represented by her father in Court, who said that she had thought Hammond was going to pay for them both when they arrived at Fenny. Hammond and Elizabeth were tried separately. He had previous convictions for the same offence and having now been convicted on this, Elizabeth’s case then rested on whether the bench believed she had honestly thought Hammond was going to pay for her ticket.  They did not!  She was fined £3 6s.  Hammond had been fined 40s., the 2s. 2d. fare and £1 15s 6d. in costs.

Bucks. Archives has some of the papers from Messrs. E. T. Ray, solicitors, of Stony Stratford which show that a Richard Gibson Ashdown, of Leighton Buzzard, took a 21-year lease of the pub from Bletchley Breweries on 25th December 1884, at a rental of £22 per annum.  Ashdown was in business with his brother as brewers.

The Kellys trade directory of 1883 gives “Joseph Ashby – Red Lion and Grocer, Sympson Road”.  His rented field across from the pub had been put to use as a cricket field, for which the Red Lion could then provide refreshments for, to players and spectators alike. The North Bucks Times 20th August 1885:

“On Tuesday last a very interesting and what proved to be a most exciting cricket match was played in Mr. Joseph Ashby’s field, near the “locks,” Fenny Stratford, between a team selected by Mr. T. E. Rowland, of Fenny Stratford, and a representative team of the Old Stone Bridge Cricket Club, London. It appears that the match was brought about by Mr. William Hammond, of this town and Harrow Road, London; and it was in every way most successful. The visiting team, accompanied by a few friends, to the number of about thirty, arrived at Bletchley station from Willesden junction about 10.45am in a fine class saloon, from whence they proceeded in vehicles to the cricket ground. At the top of the lane in the Simpson Road leading to the cricket field was an arch erected. decorated with evergreens, etc., and bearing the inscription in coloured letters, “Welcome Old Stone Bride Cricket Club”; while the. “Red Lion” was liberally decorated with bunting. In the field a spacious marquee was erected, where refreshments were provided by Mr. J. Ashby… The luncheon was served in the marquee where tables were conveniently arranged and beautifully decorated with cut flowers in a manner very creditable to Mr. Ashby. Mr. John Rawls, of the Old Stone Bridge Club, occupied the chair and Mr. T. B. Rowland the vice-chair at the repast, which was heartily enjoyed, at the conclusion of which the game was speedily resumed… The Old Stone Bridge men were unable to stand against the bowling … the home team, therefore, winning by 4… Tea was then partaken of in the marquee and a very pleasant and enjoyable time was spent, the proceedings being enlivened by the Fenny Stratford Town Band…”

Note that name William Hammond again, the same chap who had accompanied Elizabeth on her free rail trip! The last news articles I can find featuring Ashby by name were in the North Bucks Times. On the 15th July 1886, another cricket match was played on the field beside the Lock, between the Old Stonebridge and Fenny Stratford and Simpson Clubs.  Afterwards “…an excellent dinner was served by Mr Joseph Ashby in a marquee erected on the field”.  There was a small report of the Christmas Eve annual supper for the employees of Messrs. Rowland Bros., sawmills (next door) having been held at the Red Lion with an excellent spread provided by Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Ashby.

OS map 1885

The next year, an advert appeared in the Bucks Herald of 12th March 1887 for the sale of 5 acres of land with crops etc. at Aldbury, Herts., on direction of the executers of a W. Ashby, deceased.  As this is where the Ashby’s had originally come from, had his father or brother died and Joseph come into some money or land back where he came from?  Perhaps that’s why he left the Red Lion.

The next time the pub name appears in June 1889, it is under a “To Be Let” advert in the Leighton Buzzard Observer. “The Red Lion, Simpson. Full-licenced house: also Garden and six acres of Land near canal. For particulars, etc., apply to Ashdown Bros., The Brewery, Leighton Buzzard.”

This obviously didn’t attract anyone very quickly, as further adverts were run in March and April 1890 in both the Croydon’s Weekly Standard and the North Bucks Times. These added that there were stabling and outbuildings too.

The Red Lion was used for another inquest on a drowning in November 1890. George Chew had been seen leaning on the railings of the lock, when he “flung up his arms and legs and pitched into the water”.  By the time assistance was called to get him out, he was dead.  He had suffered from epileptic fits in the past and had no work and seemed very dispirited.  He left a wife and five children. No landlord was given for the Red Lion in the North Bucks Times article, but in the very same edition of the paper appears the first mention of the new landlord’s name…

1890-1891 William Morris

“Rescue – During the past fortnight, Mr. Morris, the landlord of the Red Lion Inn, Fenny Stratford, has succeeded in saving the lives of two lads, who accidently fell into the canal near the Locks.  The first case was that of a deaf and dumb lad, named Pollard, and the other a boy named French, who, in the darkness, instead of going onto the swing bridge stepped into the water. Mr. Morris, who is an expert in the water, on hearing of the accidents’ jumped into the water and rescued the lads, who would undoubtedly have been drowned had it not been for his prompt and brave action.”

Apparently, he was recommended for a Royal Humane Society medal for his actions in those two events. We find a bit more about him and his family in the census of 1891. The Red Lion Inn contained:

Walter Morris, 31, Licensed Victualler, born in Lambeth, Surrey
Rose Morris, wife, 29, born Orpington, Kent
Rose Morris, daughter,11, born Chelsea, London
Walter Morris, son, 7, born Chelsea, London
George Morris, son, 7, born Paddington, London

After more than 20 years in the ownership of James Hadley, on his death in 1891, his estate was sold at auction by the trustees of his Will. Amongst much property in Linslade and Leighton Buzzard is listed “Three plots of Building Land, Eight Cottages, in the occupation of Messrs. Nash, Hazlewood, Pollard, Mead, King, Ambridge, Lockwood, and Tanzley, situate at Fenny Stratford, abutting on the high road to Simpson, also the fully-licensed Public house and Premises known as The Red Lion, and a very valuable Accommodation Close of old pasture land at Fenny Stratford, the whole being two minutes’ walk from the centre of town.”

Bedfordshire Archives and Records Service has a copy of the catalogue for the sale (Z117/47) but sadly the part describing the pub is missing from it.

The call for a refreshing beer from workers on and around the canal was so great that by the end of the 19th century the neighbouring cottage-cum-shop of Thomas Wadhams had also been turned into a beerhouse. This is mentioned in the Croydon’s Weekly Standard when a bizarre occurrence was reported in February 1896. One night after the Wadham’s had closed, locked up and gone to bed in the Locks Beerhouse, which was just the other side of Lock View Lane from the Red Lion, they heard a strange moaning and found their house filling with smoke.  Think it was on fire, they rushed downstairs to the bar room to find the smouldering fire in the range had filled the room with smoke as the chimney was blocked.  They doused the fire, cleared the smoke and went back to bed.  Calling a local chimney sweep in the morning, it was found the brushes would not push up the chimney, so they lit a candle and looked up – to find the soles of a pair of boots up the chimney.  Sadly, the owner of the boots was still in them – a body was wedged in their chimney!  The police were called and the body extracted.  The man was George Whittington, a boatman originally from Abingdon, Berks., who had recently left the Army and was 28.  He had been drinking in the beerhouse that night. At an inquest held in the Red Lion, other boatmen said they had seen him in the beerhouse till 11pm, then he returned to his boat, quite sober, and was not seen again.  The police found marks on the roof where he had climbed up.  The local surgeon said he had died of suffocation and the coroner said there was no evidence of motive.  I guess that George just wanted one more beer but it led to his death!  The Locks Beerhouse eventually closed for good in 1913.

1896-1901 Jesse Smith

One of the Jury on the inquest was Jesse Smith and as he is the next named landlord of the Red Lion, it looks as if he was already installed by this point. Smith is listed in the 1899 Kellys Directory as running the “Red Lion PH, Sympson Road”, and he saw the building of the pub we see today.

It appears the buyers at the auction sale of 1891 were the local firm, the Bletchley Brewery Ltd.  Owner George Cave had once been the brewery manager for Holdom’s Brothers brewery on the same site and then took on the business on himself. He wanted to move into producing a brewer’s concentrate that could later be reconstituted with water into beer, a bit like our modern homebrew kits. To specialise in this, the existing brewery and pubs were no longer needed, so he sold up in 1897, selling the brewery and malting at the Wharfside, Fenny Stratford and all his freehold pubs, viz. the Swan Hotel, Bull, Bull & Butcher and Red Lion (all in Fenny), the Bell at Toddington, Fleur-de-lis at Hockliffe, Crocked Billet at Winslow, Rose and Crown at Deanshanger and the New Inn at Soulbury. It was ABC of Aylesbury who bought the pubs and the brewery at Fenny Wharf which they used as a depot to distribute their own beers. Ashdown’s Brewery of Leighton Buzzard surrendered the lease of the Red Lion back to Bletchley Brewery on 25th March 1898, seven years earlier than the full term. (Bucks Archives: D-RY/11) I wonder if ABC had demanded it as part of the sale?

Described only as “an innkeeper of Fenny Stratford”, Jesse Smith was fined £1 with 8s. 6d. costs for working a horse unfit to do so.  He had sent a man to Asley Heath with 18cwt. of timber when it was stopped by the police.  The driver was also fined as the horse was lame in three legs. (Leighton Buzzard Observer, 30th May 1899)

A June 1900 Bucks Advertiser had a report from the local council surveyors, who noted “A barn at the Red Lion was dangerous – Order issued to pull down.” The building that had originally been a cottage, then a beerhouse, then a full-time pub must have been feeling its age and become a bit dilapidated.  The owners possibly decided that if they had to demolish the barn anyway, they may as well demolish the whole thing and start again. From the Bucks Herald of 8th September 1900:

“To Builders and Contractors. The Aylesbury Brewery Company, Limited, is prepared to receive tenders for proposed Re-building of “The Red Lion,” Simpson, Fenny Stratford. Names of builders wishing to tender to be sent to the Architect, G. Herbert Manning, 6, Walton Street Aylesbury, before September 18th and Drawings and Specifications may be seen on and after then at the Company’s Offices, Fenny Stratford, or at the Architects Office, Aylesbury. Tenders to be sent to the Architect not later than Twelve o’Clock noon Thursday, Sept. 27th The Company will not bind themselves to accept the lowest or any tender.”

Legg had details of the five tender responses, which ranged from £650 10s. down to £545 by Mr. A. Taylor of Fenny Stratford, which was accepted with the addition of £10 for a beer engine (pump).  Work was completed in 1901 and a date can be found on a rain hopper on the front of the building.  Apparently, remains of one of the old building’s walls could still be seen in the ground until the lane was resurfaced.

Census time came again in 1901, during the rebuild.  There is no entry for the Red Lion (old or new), but there are for the beerhouse next door, still in the hands of the Wadham family, although Thomas had now died and his widow Amelia was running the “Lock Inn”.

Once completed and opened, it seems to have continued under Jesse Smith.  He was in trouble with the former brewery for an unpaid debt in November 1901. Richard Gibson Ashdown, described as “late brewer of Leighton Buzzard”, sued him for £9 for beer delivered but as yet unpaid. Smith didn’t attend to defend himself and was ordered to pay by instalments of 15s. a month.  Smith could not have stayed long after this as ‘To Let’ adverts began to appear in March 1902 and then every week until late July in the North Bucks Times:

“To Let, in March, the “Red Lion” Sympson. Full licensed house, newly built, capital accommodation. Good facilities for trade. Apply Aylesbury Brewery Co.’s Office, Fenny Stratford.”

The newly-erected Red Lion stands on the left, furthest from camera. The building beside it was the Lock Inn. (Dave Jackson – Fenny, Bletchley & Surrounding Area Old Timers – Facebook.)

1902-c.1903 James Shaw

The Bucks Advertiser of 27th September 1902 reports on the Petty Sessions, and that a transfer was granted for the licence of Red Lion at Sympson, but regretfully no names were given. However, Croydon’s Standard reported a month later that a Mr. J. Shaw of the Red Lion in Fenny Stratford had been elected a member of Licensed Victualler’s Protection Association and the 1903 Kellys trade directory gives “James Shaw, Red Lion PH, Sympson Road.”  He had taken over the Denbigh Hall Inn on 24th July 1900, staying for two years before taking the Red Lion. The census occurred whilst he was at Denbigh Hall in 1901, which tells us he was born in 1857 in Chesterfield, Derbyshire. His wife Caroline was born 1863 in Ireland. There are no other reports about James Shaw; he was not here for long, before handing over to a family that would be in charge for decades.

1900 OS map

1903-1942 Frederick Vaughan Snr.

New landlord Fred Vaughan was born in Northants but by the age of two, he was growing up at the Bull & Butcher public house in Fenny, where his parents were landlords in 1881. He went into the bakery trade at Olney, but after 20 years, having married Ada Aldridge in 1902 and started a family, he had now taken his own pub. He decided to capitalise on the position of the pub and arranged to let boats out to day-trippers, as advertised in the North Bucks Times, starting in June 1905. “Pleasure Boats Let on Hire. For Terms Apply – F. E. Vaughan, (Proprietor), “Red Lion,” The Locks, Fenny Stratford.”

The 1907 and 1911 Kellys trade directory listed “Frederick Vaughan, Red Lion PH, Sympson Road.”  The census came along again in 1911, furnishing more details about his family:

Frederick Ernest Vaughan, 33, License Holder, Baker & Publican, born Banbury, Oxf.
Ada Vaughan, wife, 34, born Olney
Annie Vaughan, daughter, 7, at school, born Olney
William Aldridge Vaughan, son, 6, at school, born Fenny Stratford
Fredrick Ernest Vaughan, son, 3, at school, born Fenny Stratford
Edward Vaughan, son, not yet 1, at school[!], born Fenny Stratford

Bucks. Archives has a Register Book (D-X724/1) of Messrs. A. Horley & Son, of Maidenhead, Berks., a public house brokerage. The Red Lion at Fenny Stratford is mentioned in it, but there are no obvious dates in the book so it is hard to tell when exactly they described it as “Red Lion, Simpson Road, Fenny Stratford, Bucks. Three minutes from station. House contains well fitted bar, kitchen and three bedrooms, large garden, and stables for six horses. Rent £15, set off saddle shop £2 yearly. Licence £8 5s 3d. Rates about £6. Brewers ABC, tied for spirits. Price £150.” The archivist believes it to be 1900-1910.

Vaughan was admitted to the North Bucks Licensed Victuallers Association in June 1913. Tony Clifton, a baker, who lived and worked with Fred Vaughan at the Red Lion was one of the first volunteers from Bletchley to join the military when the Great War was announced.  He signed up on August 11th, 1914. On the morning of Wednesday, 8th March 1916, a body of a man was reported to have been retrieved from the canal near Fenny Stratford locks. In fact, this was the fourth such fatality within a few weeks, and, as the coroner remarked; “there seems to be an epidemic of such occurrences.” Aged 45, the man had been a canal boatman, and had arrived from Marsworth the previous day at about 4p.m. with his wife and children. They had travelled with his brother and his boat, and due to the weather, they had decided to stay at Fenny Stratford, where he was stabling the horses as the other barges arrived. After his tea, the man and his brother went to the Red Lion, and there at about 10p.m. his wife paid for their drinks, before returning to the boat and bed, since her husband had not said when he would be back, but ‘like all the rest, he generally stopped till the last.’ Yet in the morning, she found that he had not returned and a little while later George Forster, the lock keeper, retrieved the body with a drag. Despite having been a boatman all his life the man was unable to swim, and – by the opinion of Dr. Nicholson – in the severe weather and with there being much snow about, the shock of falling into the water would have probably prevented the man from calling out, and he probably ‘sank like a stone.’

Deep into the War, the Red Lion was being used by the Royal Engineers stationed nearby at Staple Hall when it was used as a Signal Depot. This report from the North Bucks Times 19th June 1917:

“Alleged Theft – Patrick Peter Stephen Moran, sapper, Royal Engineers, Staple Hall Depot, was charged with stealing eight packets of cigarettes, the property of Ada Vaughan. wife of the landlord of the “Red Lion” Inn, Fenny Stratford, valued at 3s. 4d. on June 11. Mrs. Vaughan said that on June 11 accused came to the house, had some beer, and then went from the passage into the kitchen. She told him that was no place for him, and turned him out. He went into the tap room, where she left him while she went to the bake-house to “draw” a batch of bread. While there she heard the bar window opened. She went in and asked him what he had done at the window, and he made no reply. She ordered him out of the house, and on making a search, eight packets of cigarettes were missed. She reported the matter and defendant was brought to the house by a Corporal. When charged he denied taking the cigarettes, said he had none about him, and asked to be searched. This was done, and three packets of Gold Flake cigarettes, similar to the ones she had lost were found in his tunic pocket. He said that he had bought them at the canteen. She valued the cigarettes lost at 3s. 4d. – Corpl. Hill, regimental police, Staple Hall, said that on being searched three packets of cigarettes were found in his pocket. He had previously stated that he had no cigarettes about him. He said he got the cigarettes at the canteen. – Inspector Callaway said that when arrested the accused replied. “I did not steal them.” Accused stated that he had bought the cigarettes found on him at the canteen. The attendant there could prove that. – The Magistrates Clerk: You should have had her here as witness today. – The case was dismissed.”

A cold day on the canal at Fenny Lock, 1919. (Dave Jackson – Fenny, Bletchley & Surrounding Area Old Timers – Facebook.)

Bucks. Archives has a Mortgage, dated 17th May 1920, between the Aylesbury Brewery Company and Lloyds Bank, of around 30 pubs in Bucks., Northants. and Beds., including the Bull with orchard, the Swan, the Bull & Butcher, Red Lion all in Fenny Stratford, Crooked Billet in Winslow, Rose and Crown at Deanshanger and Fleur-de-Lys at Hockliffe. (D254/1/4/27). The deed lists how these properties came from Bletchley Brewery to ABC on 1st July 1899.

OS map 1924

Fred Vaughan’s wife Ada died in 1934. There are three people listed in the 1939 Register, taken to produce ID cards, for the Red Lion PH Simpson Road:

Frederick E. Vaughan, born 9th April 1879, Licensee, Baker & General
Frederick E. Vaughan, born 13th May 1907, Builder & Water fitter (Master) Special Constable No.518
Arthur Vaughan, 22nd November 1913, Electrician, Civilian St. RAF no.38827

Also in 1939, at the end of the year, Fred junr. was married to Kathleen Sarah Roskelly. There was still an occasional tragedy involving the canal at Fenny, as evidenced by the piece below from the Beds Times of 8th November 1940.

“The double funeral took place at the cemetery on Saturday of Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Scott, who were natives of Leighton Buzzard and who had lived at the Fenny Stratford lock-house for over twenty years. Mr. Scott, aged sixty-two. died after long illness. The next night Mrs. Scott, aged fifty-seven, was crossing the canal at a spot where there is a bridge when she fell into the water and was drowned. At the inquest on 31st October, conducted by Mr. E. T. Ray. Coroner for North Buckinghamshire, a verdict of death by misadventure was returned. This is the family’s second tragedy in three months, as a son, Mr. Henry Scott, a member of the A.F.S., died suddenly his post at Bletchley Fire Station.”

Perhaps it was the blackout regulations or perhaps even a broken heart?

Fred Vaughan snr. suffered from ill health for three years and gave up the bakery business in which he had been involved for many years. He eventually died on 21st April 1942, leaving £321 8s. 3d. in his effects.  There was a small note in the Beds Times: “The funeral took place on Saturday of Mr. Frederick Ernest Vaughan, who had been licensee of the Red Lion inn, Sympson Road, for forty years. He also carried on a bakery business. He was sixty-four and leaves four sons and two daughters.”

1942-1960 Frederick Vaughan Jnr.

Frederick jnr. took over the Red Lion, making three generations of Vaughan’s who had been landlords in Fenny. When his mother had died in 1934, she had left some shares in the ABC Ltd Brewery which were now auctioned along with local cottages, according to a report in the Bucks Advertiser in July:

“On the same day at the Red Lion, Bletchley, [Wigley and Johnson] offered a pair of freehold cottages, together with extensive ranges of buildings and gardens abutting on to the towing path of the Grand Junction Canal Co., and also 350 preference shares in the Aylesbury Brewery Coy., Ltd. The sale was on the instruction of the trustees of the late Ada Vaughan. “Lock View” and “Pine View”, Simpson Road were sold to Mr. W. S. Fortesque at £600. Messrs. Valentine Sexton and Barden purchased 350 5% preference shares of £1 in the Aylesbury Brewery Company., Ltd., dated June 26th, 1934 for £455.”

OS map 1953

Fred junr. carried on at the Red Lion until he too passed away in October 1960, leaving £1218 15s. 7d. to his widow Kathleen.

The Red Lion with original outbuildings, possibly stables? (Dave Jackson – Fenny, Bletchley & Surrounding Area Old Timers – Facebook.)

1960-1963 Kathleen Vaughan

The license was transferred to his widow on 3rd November 1960 and she carried on for another three years before the Vaughan’s tenancy of the Red Lion finally ended after 60 years.

1963-1968 William J. Brockwell

The next family managed just five years before moving on. There are relatively few newspapers available online to research from and nothing else is known about this family.

1968 George & Ruby Bristow

The Milton Keynes Pictorial of 30th June 1972 reported that publican and Bletchley Labour Councillor George Bristow would be organising topless Go-Go dancer nights in the Red Lion!  He had found four girls willing to dance, who would be paid £5 a session. He had even gained the support of the ABC brewery.  He said he had seen similar pubs in London on the television and a member’s-only club would be formed to control access.  His wife said she didn’t mind and two other councillors had told him it was a good idea!  Whether it ever happened or not is unknown…

His next idea definitely sunk. The Bletchley Gazette of 24th January 1975 reported the Red Lion’s new bar barge. The 42-foot barge, named “Mississippi Comfort”, had been fitted out as a floating bar, half owned by George Bristow and half by Bill Chapman, who had built it from scratch from ¼-inch plates of steel. Sadly, it had mysteriously sunk outside the pub, just before its maiden voyage. Until it was re-floated, they would not know if it were an accident or sabotage.  Damage was estimated at £8,000.

That same year in September, the Red Lion was given Listed Status, as Grade II.  The official description is:

“Red Lion Public House, Simpson Road (East Side) Fenny Stratford. The Red Lion Public House SP 8834 2/56 II GV 2. Set back from road by Grand Junction Canal. 1901 simple Georgian style. 2 storeys, red brick ground floor with entablature and roughcast 1st floor. Gable end tiled roof with brick eaves and parapet south gable end. Corniced chimneys. 2 and 3 light wood casements. Ground floor cut away at south east corner to form porch with squat columns with strong entasis, supporting corner, rising from brick wall. Listed for group value on canal side. The Red Lion Public House, Lock View, Pine View, The Lock, Lock Keeper’s Cottage and Toll House form a group.”

A local postcard used in 1981.

1984 Colin Major

Local memory recalls landlord Colin Major and his wife, who (allegedly) were somewhat liberal in their interpretation of opening hours! On Friday evenings his mother would belt out old favourites on the piano, and a regular fixture at the bar was a rather portly helicopter pilot – somewhat worrying! The Milton Keynes Gazette reported on 12th October 1984 that the Jarvis Group construction firm were erecting three cottages and an office block on Lock View Lane. Local residents, including Colin Major of the Red Lion, had complained of the noise and vehicles blocking their lane.

2007-18 Guy Plumb

Guy had an amazing range of ciders and ales always in stock and was regularly featured in CAMRA literature. He also hosted an evening with comedian Al Murray, aka “The Pub Landlord”. MK Citizen, February 2016:

“Staff at The Red Lion were delighted to be visited by The Pub Landlord after winning a competition in partnership with pub operator, Punch, and brewer, Ramsgate Brewery. The popular comedian helped Guy Plumb and his bar staff by serving behind the bar, meeting customers, taking photos and signing autographs. Guy said: “We are a huge fan of Al Murray and his visit to our pub was a real treat. It proved a big draw for customers as well as a vehicle to raise awareness of our pub.”

2018-present Karen Foster

Punch Taverns considered renaming the inn as The Narrowboat when it was refurbished.  The refurbishment went ahead, but they stuck with the old name. Karen Foster has run the pub for the last few years, making the canal-side gardens a very picturesque feature of the pub. At the time of writing the COVID-19 lockdown has just ended and the Red Lion has been busy again serving local and passing pleasure boaters.

Landlords        (Dates refer to known years operating, not necessarily start and end dates)
1845?               Henry Labrum?
1850                 Edward Hollier opens his cottage as a beerhouse (according to 1864 Licence application)
1853                 Edward dies, son John Hollier takes over
1864                 John Hollier gets a full licence
1871                 Mary Hollier, widow of above
1872-c.86         Joseph Ashby
1889                 To let
1890-91            Walter Morris
1896-01            Jesse Smith (rebuilt 1901)
1902                 To Let
1902-03            James Shaw
1905-42            Frederick Vaughan Snr.
1942-60             Frederick Vaughan Jnr.
1960-63             Kathleen Vaughan
1963-68             William J. Brockwell
1968-75            George & Ruby Bristow
1984                 Colin & Marge Major??
??                     Paul Goss
c.1995-05         Fred Buckingham
2005-07         Mark & Pawanee Smedley
2007-18            Guy Plumb
2018-                Karen Foster


Page last updated July 2021.