History of the Amersham Area

41 High St (Red Lion House)

This late 17th century timber framed house was resurfaced early in the 19thcentury, so the front is Georgian, the back is much older .  The age of the walls of the house can be seen by looking from the gap between the house and the house to its left.  It was bought by the Wellers in 1837.

In 1861, 1871 and 1881 censuses show that the house was used as a blacksmith as well as a beer house. In the 1891 census the publican was Henry Piddington aged 44. In the 1901 census the tenant was Frederick Tomkins aged 41. Two doors down lived Herbert Fountain, cycle mechanic, and between 1890 and 1910 the pub was also known as ‘The Cyclists’ Rest’.  Photographs below show the advertisement was painted prominently onto the Market Hall side of the building. Mark Grace, police pensioner was the beer house keeper in 1911.

It was sold in 1929 when the Wellers Brewery  and pubs were all sold.  See the auction particulars in the photo gallery below which show that the rent paid by the tenant, Mr Francis, was £20 a year. (See below for more information about Tom Francis.)  It became a private house in 1937 and was split into separate flats for a while.  It is now Su Chase’s shop.

This is an account of the Red Lion written by an unknown Old Amersham resident in 1985 for the Amersham Society/Amersham Museum newsletter

I well remember that over eighty years ago, the Red Lion, which as far as the exterior goes looked much the same as it does today, was occupied by Mr Tomlins, a genial man with snow-white hair, bushy white eyebrows and moustache of the same colour.  He was of average height and slightly portly build and always appeared in his shirt-sleeves which were clean and white as if to match his hair.  He had dark fawn trousers and a blue waistcoat with a heavy silver watch-chain from pocket to pocket across his midriff.  When he smiled, his eyes twinkled.

He specialised in catering for cyclists and, painted across the building in large letters were the words ‘The Cyclists Rest’.  Under the old Licensing Laws the Red Lion was what was termed a ‘beer house’, that is to say it was licensed to sell only ‘Beer, Cyder and Perry, On and Off the Premises’.

Mr Tomlins kept the Red Lion for a number of years during my youth and when he left we went up to White Lion Road, Amersham Common, to open what he termed ‘The Bijou Tea-Table’ (see photo to left) where now, in a very much enlarged building, is the Farm Shop (now One Stop), opposite Messrs Flack’s Garage (now the Audi garage).  He was followed at the Red Lion by Mark Grace, a retired police constable.

This fine old ale house was always the meeting place for the older workmen and pensioners of the town who came as often as they could afford to enjoy the friendly company.  On entering one was faced by a long passage to the living quarters.  The serving counter was right-angled and behind this was the rack where there were two large barrels where beer was drawn from the wood.  A long wooden form ran in front of the bar counter to the door where one entered the small parlour in which there was a clean white deal table and chairs and here the nightly game was ‘dominoes’.

I only wish space would permit to recall the names of all these older men who came for their relaxation, but maybe if I bring to mind one whom I have always remembered he will be typical of most of them.  He was a retired carpenter, one James Bigley.  He lived in one of the small cottages which were in the narrow part of the High Street, or perhaps it would be more correct to say the Broadway, in front of the cottages in Church Alley, between Whielden Corner and The Griffin, all of which were demolished in 1939.  The Memorial Gardens now mark the place where they were.

Jim Bigley could be seen each evening making his way along the street.  He wore a somewhat thinning brown tweed coat with a clean white handkerchief in the breast pocket, carried a walking stick and smoked a small briar pipe.  The most distinctive thing about him otherwise was that he wore an oval shaped hard felt top hat, reminiscent of a coach driver of the day of Charles Dickens.  His eyes were inclined to water because the lower lids had dropped a little and he would pause to remove the handkerchief from his pocket to clear the moisture.

The last landlord of the Red Lion was Tom Francis, also a retired constable.  Benskins took the pub over from Wellers and also the Kings Arms, a smaller building than it is now and flat-fronted.  When they were finally able to acquire the premises between the chapel archway and the Kings Arms – so enabling them to extend the inn and make the transformation to what we see today – they allowed the Red Lion to run down, did not renew the licence and eventually sold the freehold.

So all the memories and character of the old country inn were allowed to perish.  One wonders do Jim Bigley and his companions ever return to their old haunts?  Will someone ever see Jim in the place where he was wont to sit for his nightly game?  Truly the correct description of this old house would be ‘The Pensioners’ Paradise’.

 

Click on any of the photographs below to enlarge it and to see the description.  Then click on forward or back arrows at the foot of each photograph.  To close the pictures, just click on one.