The Pub's Tale
Explore the history of our pub through the years
Imagine, it is a hot day, a Friday in 1858, and you are on the uphill track leaving Whitchurch.
Perhaps you are riding a horse, or driving a horse and buggy or have a wagon pulled by a horse, or even perhaps you are walking? What is your purpose, is it for work or for pleasure?
Where are you going? Perhaps to one of the Manors or Farms in the area, or to a business like the brick kilns or a workshop of some description?
You crossed the Thames at Whitchurch by the newly built bridge and paid the toll (2 old pennies per wheel and a halfpenny for a person or animal). You then moved through the little village of Whitchurch passing the shops and post office and the few pubs on the high street and start up the hill.
Finally you reach the top where the common land used to be, you pass the church and make the next climb towards the next junction.
At the top of the hill, by the junction, there is a piece of common land and a pond and a pump. A good place to stop and refresh both you and your animals.
You also have the luxury of a refreshing tankard of beer at one of the beer retailers situated in the hamlet of Crays Pond before you march on.
A few years ago there was no such possibility, but following the ‘Beerhouse Act’ of 1830 there are now two houses licenced as such situated in the area, allowed to sell beer or cider from their own cottages.
You pick the one across the junction, just by the corner. Perhaps you have been there before, perhaps you know the family involved?
You go in…..And so the Pubs Tale begins.
And in the beginning...
This map (OS Map 1830) shows properties at the junction in Crays Pond in the 1830s, the start of our tale.
Census records show a few properties occupied at this time, some are businesses (shop, baker, leather and chair maker), but mostly cottages occupied by Agricultural Labourers, or Woodsmen and their families, as the area was dominated by manorial ownership of most of the land.
We find the first indication of the Beerhouses of Crays Pond in the 1851 Census, as both John Ilberry (previously a Labourer) and his wife Sarah, together with a Thomas Frewin and his family were both ‘Retailers of Beer’. Both are listed in the Gazetteer and Directory for Oxfordshire printed in 1851 although John is shown as Ilbury in this document.
Opening a Beerhouse was a profitable concern as long as you could afford the Two Guineas for the Licence (broadly around £200 today) and many individuals earned sufficient to buy or rent the property next door to live in while their original property was turned into bars and lounges for the customers
The difference between the offering and surroundings of the Beerhouses in Crays Pond and say the offering of Charlotte Harris ‘a publican’ in Shirvells Hill (The Rifleman Inn) and Herbert James ‘victualler’ at the Miller of Mansfield in Goring can only be imagined.
The offering of Johns Beerhouse would have been simple Beer or Cider normally home brewed, but not always. This was usually served in jugs or straight from a tapped wooden barrel in the corner of the room. Also it was usual for beer and cider to be served in pewter tankards as this hid the bits of sediment that floated around in it, so less off putting. The beerhouse offered a place for travellers to refresh themselves and locals to drink and smoke tobacco. A very basic concern.
For some years ‘Beerhouses’ served their purpose (which originally was to turn the population away from Gin and the problems that was causing) and many formed the basis of our Public Houses of today especially when the Beerhouse Act was repealed in 1869, and the licensing system we know today started to evolve.
The White Lion seems to exist in its own right from before the 1871 census. In this, through either poor communication or a slip of the quill pen, it is shown as the ‘White Lyon’ and George Bushnell and his wife Eliza are running both the public house and a grocers, so more of a community enterprise serving the locals of Crays Pond, like some of the Community Pubs we know today.
Eliza Bushnell was the daughter of John and Sarah Ilberry (also Ilbury or Ilbery) the first retailers of beer mentioned in the 1851 census. She married George (who was the son of the Innkeeper of the Sun at Hill Bottom (Charles Bushnell) and they both took over the pub after the death of John Ilberry in 1856, probably with the initial help of Sarah (particularly if she held the Beer Licence). Sarah died in 1863 and she and her husband are both buried in Goring Cemetery.
Moving from a Beerhouse to a Public House or Inn would mean some changes to the White Lion as it was usual at the time was to have differing rooms for the status of the customers (a bit like the Trains of the time, 1st Class, 2nd Class and 3rd)
So the fashion was for a Lounge or Saloon bar, public bar or tap room and /or a snug. Pubs in larger villages or towns and cities went this way allowing the good old English class system to flourish and the Innkeeper to be able to charge more for drinks in the higher class rooms.
Given the rural location of the White Lion, and that it was a shop and home as well it is possible that these changes were limited and came later and only a public bar and a saloon bar were created as they moved towards the 20th Century.
As the pubs expanded and sold a greater range of drink (and basic food) home brewing declined and the need to obtain supplies from a commercial source increased. Hence breweries evolved and became larger concerns, such as the Goring Brewery just down the road, the Henley Brewery (Breakspears) and Simonds in Reading.
The Census of 1881 shows Eliza running the pub with the help of a domestic servant, George having died in 1875. She dies in 1890.
In 1891 the White Lion is being run by Edwin Bush (a Licenced Victualler) with his wife Elizabeth and their 4 children. This family reside in and run the pub until the 1940s as one son, Edgar Francis Bush, takes over on the death of his father in 1925.
This period sees some changes in the world of Pubs as breweries now take a greater interest in owning pubs, and the White Lion is purchased by Simonds and Co around the turn of the century, prior to World War 1.
There must have been rivalry abounding in Crays Pond as the other Beer house of the 1850s turns into the Stag and Hounds, originally owned from 1887 by the Goring Brewery and eventually owned by Breakspears until it was sold off in 1955. Competition between breweries at this time was the name of the day and a long period of expansion of Pubs funded by breweries buying up existing and creating new pubs as an outlet for their products followed.
The early 20th century saw this fundamental shift in pub ownership accelerate, and Free Houses declined and the ‘Tied House’ expanded its grip on the industry.
Let’s look at the earliest photo of the White Lion we can find. It was provided from the Simonds and Co archive and shows some interesting features, other than the man waiting under the tree for the pub to open!
We think this was taken in the early 1900s It shows the ‘2 cottages’ aspect which could have come from John Ilberry making enough money from beer retailing to own or more likely rent the next door cottage for family use.
The small extension to the front of the first cottage could have been done to allow for a saloon and a public bar. The Simonds sign is just visible on the end wall of the building.
Edgar Bush and family have the tenancy of the pub, from 1925 to the 1940s, but there our Pubs Tale has a gap, due to a lack of records, so if you can add any information of this time it would be welcome.
However, with the 1939-45 war in full swing we can recount that those serving at RAF Woodcote (situated around Long Toll) were regulars (from memoirs) and more locally as Great Oaks (now the preparatory school) was used as an outstation of the BBC at Caversham during this time, those billeted there used the White Lion. One Dennis Faulkner recounts that when billeted at Great Oaks he and others ‘nipped down the back lane to our local at Crays Pond’
We can pick up the tale in the 1950’s when John S Stokes is shown as Landlord in 1956. His tenure seems to have run until 1973.
One of our supporters Pam Soley recounts ‘I do remember this being a ‘heart of the community’ pub in the past, I remember Jonny Stokes having a thriving business, the rally held meetings there, they also did traction runs from it. If I remember rightly they also did maypole dancing’.
She also remembers he did ‘Off Licence’ sales and his wife opened and ran a village grocers shop across the road, which was later turned into an antique emporium.
Above the Pub in the early 1950’s and below in 1955 with the shop across the road.
Times change in the brewery world
We now move into a time of great change in the Pub Industry, as during this period breweries were amalgamated at best, taken over at worst, and Simonds fell into the clutches of the Courage Brewery in 1960 and so the pubs moved under a new management. Whilst some joint marketing was used in the early days the Simonds name, sadly, gradually disappeared. In the 1980’s only six large brewers remained, including Courage.
During the period of the 1960s to the early 1980s the White Lion had the following tenants-
1972 Still John Stokes (a popular Landlord by all accounts)
1973 to 1981 EP Jewell
1981 to 1984 JA Vought
As the 80’s marched on we are missing some information on all the landlords and tenants. The Pub industry, dominated by the big 6, obtained a greater grip on the Tied Houses, and Free Houses suffered. In order to increase the number of Free Houses the government passed the Beer Orders Act of 1989.
As with many laws it had unforeseen consequences as the ‘Big 6’ melted away into other sectors, selling off their brewing assets and spinning the Tied Houses into branded pub chains, which were not subject to the Beer Orders law. So tens of thousands of pubs remained ‘Tied’. The Beer Orders Act was later repealed.
The White Lion was sold by Courage (along with 700 pubs) to Greene King (who had pubs spread nationally). Initially Greene King did some development, enlarging the restaurant area, and the car park, and modernising the kitchens.
And now perhaps a golden age for the White Lion before Greene King and others moved to managing their property assets rather than focusing on supplying and running so many pubs nationally.
In a period in the 2000’s Stuart and Caroline Pierrepont became tenants and ran the pub and restaurant very successfully for many years, and made many friends in the area before moving off to other opportunities.
Latterly the pub was run by some tenants who under Greene Kings’ terms could not make it work, and then a series of managers and closures (we expect you know the names). Oddly some of those involved now appear to run successful operations elsewhere in the country, so we can only surmise what the issues with Greene King were.
The White Lion closed and was sold to a private owner in 2014, who has since tried to develop the land for residential use.
And so to the future...
The White Lion has a long and interesting history, serving passing and local trade in so many ways since the 1850s. It has modernised and changed with the times, been successful and then less so.
Modern times and industry changes have seen the revival of pubs, particularly, but not exclusively, country pubs by using a community pub model sponsored by the Government with law (The Localism Act) and with millions of pounds of community funding, and local council support.
Community pubs are usually run as co-operative enterprises with owners (the community) and tenants (the professionals) working together, conscious of each other’s needs and to an extent turning the clock back when pubs were the hub of the community, but with a modern outlook, a modern relevance.
Our choice is to return the pub to being that hub, to serve the community, and the hundreds of supporters, who have registered through this website, agree with us.
Let’s not allow Our Pubs Tale to end ignominiously in another housing estate built for private profit not community value, and if you too agree with us register your support now.
We would like to acknowledge the following people in the creation of this picture page
Emma O'Brien for all the work on the webpage
The Simonds Family Archive
The Francis Frith Collection
Mr John Rodger
The Stokes family, Pene, Julian and Rowena