A HISTON LOCAL - THE RED LION
The village pub has endearing and enduring characteristics - it has long been a debating place, somewhere to set the world to right, a sports venue, as well as providing entertainment and refreshments. In fact somewhere to escape from the nasty woes of the world outside.
One good example is the Red Lion in Histon High Street, which goes back to the year 1830 during the reign of King William IV (the name of another well-known pub in Histon), when the Act of Parliament was passed, known as the Beer Act, which reduced many of the restrictions on the sale of beer (Gin and other spirits were another matter). Licenses were granted much more freely amd the premises, many quite humble, were only used for the consumption of beers and ales. Yes, the differences between the two were known then. These new beer houses sprang up all over the country, and the Red Lion was one of these. To cater for the increasing trade, the old property was pulled down in the 1830s and the present building erected.
The Red Lion in the 1930s
By 1912 the ownwers were the brewers Lacon's (of Great Yarmouth) and the tenancy was renewable at thee months rent of £10 - now how much would that be today? Whitbread's took over the entire Lacon's estate in 1965, which included the Red Lion, but decided that it was not for them and offered it for sale as a Free House. This saved the pub from demolition as Lacon's had decided to rebuild it from scratch. Two dog owning New Zealanders, David and Elaine Heald bought the freehold. Its attractions included a large garden, a pond full of newts and a reputation for serving a decent pint of real ale.
29 years later the pub was purchased by the current owner, Mark Donachy, in November 1994. A history graduate, Mark hailed from Liverpool. After many years as a successful Area Manager for Scottish and Newcastle Breweries in central London (one of his pubs was the Buckingham Palace local - The Bag o' Nails), he decided to branch out on his own. Mark has two passions; beer and cricket. His experiences in London left him with decided 'views' regarding the way the industry was going. So coming to the Red Lion in an active community like Histon was an opportunity to buck the trend.
He built on the established repuatation for well kept real ales and soon earned a further listing by CAMRA. Lunches were and are still great - Wednesday's haddock and chips have become legendary. It's nice to see the old boys and youngsters mixing so well, all in a very busy atmosphere.
The traditional feel of the lounge bar has not changed but the bar area has been opened up. It is now full of period photographs and the result of years of his hunting down pub memorabilia adorn the ceilings, especially beer mats, and elsewhere, with stoneware pitchers and metal advertising signs, many of long forgotten cigarette brands.
In 1996 Mark laid on the first ever Beer Festival to coincide with the Histon Feast Week in July (later transferrred to the cooler first week of September). Now it is held from Monday to Saturday in a large marquee in the garden with local evening entertainment. There are 55 or so casks of real ale, plus continental beers and ciders, lined up behind the long bar. Glasses with their distinctive Beer Festival logo can be bought and are now becoming collector's pieces. Volunteers provide the muscle and man the taps, the profits go to charity,
The use of mobile phones in the bar within Mark's hearing is still a no, no and he's still forthright in his views. His tussles with bureaucracy have made anecdotal history, Mark's idiosyncratic external paint scheme, a sign writer's dream, sums the place up or "I run it my way".
The Red Lion in 2003
In 2011 Mark decided to put in further investment to ensure the survival of The Red Lion in the changing market of the future. The improvements included enlarging the old Club Room, meals in the evening and new loos, complete with a ski slope access to them! With the extensions, there is more focus on food but without taking away the importance of the ever changing choice of well-kept real ales from the battery of hand pumps and this local's unique atmosphere - giving The Red Lion an enviable reputation for miles around.
Geoffrey Smallwood (2013)