This account begins with (Godfrey) Martin King, landlord of the Red Lion, Preston
in the 1970s. Mr King was a widower and a past chairman of Hitchin and District LVA.
In the late winter of 1979, he returned to Preston with a new wife – his childhood
sweetheart, Nita Jennings. They had married in the register office of their native
Bromley, Kent where Mr King had been deputy superintendent registrar before the war.
Less than two years later, in the summer of 1980, Mr King died, aged fifty-nine.
His death was the catalyst for a turbulent period in the history of the Georgian
pub. The owners, Whitbreads, decided that they should sell the Red Lion.
Ray Scarbrow (near right), who managed the Luton pub, The Somerset Tavern, and The
Bull at Gosmore, decided he could turn the Red Lion into a large steakhouse-style
restaurant. He therefore applied for planning permission for building extensions
to the pub, a fifty-vehicle car park and a forty-one-seater restaurant.
These plans met with intransigent resistance from locals. A protest meeting, that
lasted 2½ hours, was held at the village hall in August 1981. It was attended by
most of the residents and chaired by Jack Raffell (far right), the chairman of the
parish council, who had postponed a trip to Devon. Mr Raffell said, ‘It’s every village
in North Herts with a nice village green and a pretty area that is in danger. They
are all under the same attack as we are now....If he (Mr Scarbrow) wants to keep
on, we shall keep on and wear him down’.
The consensus was that Preston was a working village and needed a working village
pub – not a roadhouse. They wanted a simple place where the cricket team, the darts
team, the Hunt and the Morris dancers could meet and make merry. It was thought that
the influx of outsiders to the restaurant would destroy the peace and charm of the
village, cause noise late into the night and make the narrow lanes of the village
a danger to children. New street lighting and pavements would spoil the character
of the Green.
Marjorie Pugh (of ‘Applegarth’, the Green) said, ‘We shall have car doors slamming
late at night, parties coming at lunchtime and it will alter the character of the
village completely’. Victoria Sowerby (of ‘Pryor House’) agreed, ‘To plan a two-acre
site in a village of 350 souls is dreadfully worrying’. Betty Palmer (of ‘Kenwood
Cottage’, the Green) said that her cottage would be affected on three sides by the
proposals’. Mike Kellard (then, of ‘The Old Forge’, Church Road) added, ‘This is
not a question of saving the Red Lion. It’s a question of saving Preston’.
It was decided to write to the Director of Planning asking him to meet the village
to discuss the plan and that home-owners in Preston should contact all thirteen members
of the North Herts D.C. planning sub-committee claiming that the plans would significantly
change the village and the conservation area and would not be in keeping with the
character of the village.
The planning committee was invited to another public meeting - when Preston Parish
councillor, John Cook, intended to give them ‘an earful’. In a further strategic
move the Parish Council also decided to approach the Hertfordshire Society and the
Council for the Preservation of Rural England for help.
The village gave Mr Raffell the go-ahead to approach a solicitor for legal advice
and promised financial backing from their own pockets.
For his part, Mr Scarbrow denied that the Red Lion would become anything but ‘a very
nice pub with food. We certainly have no intention of it becoming another steak house.
With the amount of money I am contemplating spending, the last thing I want is for
it to become a disco. It will be a nice pub with dining facilities’. He added that
he was not seeking a supper licence and did not envisage the premises being emptied
any later than normal licensing hours.
Mr Scarbrow continued, ‘It is an eyesore as it is. It is a pub that has been let
go and is in desperate need of having money spent on it. The villagers will say they
are all using it, but they are not. The trading figures show they are not....There
are a lot of rumours of dances and discos. This will not be the case at all...I am
sure we will win them over eventually’.
At a later meeting with just two planning councillors, held six days before the application
was heard, Brian Waters, (of ‘The Chequers’, who was in the chair) said, ‘It’s a
good working pub, it’s not at all pretentious and we value it. It’s the social centre
of the village and we need it’.
Councillor Fred Peacock, told villagers that although they had conducted a fine
campaign they had ‘to find some valid reason to turn it down. It is unfortunate that
the majority of objections that have been presented do not come into planning consideration.
My reading of it is that it will be very hard to turn it down. I would lay two to
one on it going through’. Councillor Ron Lodge added, ‘If this was happening in my
village, I would be with you; you have done a really good campaign’.
It was recommended that either a case was made that the extended pub damaged the
conservation area or that the restaurant would constitute a significant change to
the pub. However, planning officers were recommending approval of the scheme.
The area planning committee met in the Council Offices, Grammar School Walk, Hitchin
where one hundred people crowded into a small committee room. Many were from Preston
(their arrival is shown, right), but there were around fifty from Hitchin and Gosmore
who supported the planned changes.
It emerged that the planners had been informed that the Secretary of State for the
Environment had decided to make the Red Lion a statutory listed building. This meant
that as well as obtaining planning permission for the alterations, an application
for listed building consent would also have to be heard. It emerged later that the
villagers had been instrumental in this decision being made. However, the listing
of the pub was to have implications later, as we shall see.
Various objections were raised by planning officers: ‘I cannot remember such public
response regarding a conservation area’; ‘Here we have public participation. We either
believe people have a voice in local government or we don’t. I think they have done
a wonderful job’; ‘I do not believe the village roads could stand the extra traffic’;
‘A village pub would be turned into a roadhouse’.
The committee unanimously refused the application, with one abstention (the vote
is shown below).
After the meeting, Mr Scarbrow said he would appeal to the Secretary of State, which
would mean a public enquiry – ‘Even if it makes me bankrupt, I will go as far as
the High Court’. He added, ‘Jack Raffell stated at a recent public meeting that they
would wear me down. There is as much chance of that happening as a chocolate fireguard
protecting their best carpet from hot cinders’. He also questioned Mr Raffell’s position:
was he an unbiased member of the planning committee or a biased resident of Preston?
Mr Raffell (who had lived at Preston since 1945 and of ‘Westleigh’, Church Lane)
responded, ‘I dealt with this matter at the meeting firstly as a member of North
Herts DC planning committee, secondly as a member representing Hitchwood, thirdly
as a member of the Parish Council and fourthly as a resident of the village’.
Most of the Preston people attending had been pessimistic before the meeting, believing
that planning permission had been recommended. The clerk of Preston Parish Council,
Robert Young, said ‘The great turnout of villagers for the meeting was far more than
we expected’. Parish councillor, Frank Pugh, added, ‘We shall keep on fighting, even
against the appeal. We will also fight Whitbread for improvements to the pub’.
Mrs Carol Baines (right) said that she and her husband had already decided to sell
up. They have a seventeenth-century house next to the pub - ‘We moved here in March
to live in a quiet village, but it will never be like that again. On Thursday we
received a phone call from a locally born man who wanted to buy a house in Preston,
but he wanted to know the outcome of the planning meeting. He was delighted with
the result and said he would continue with his plans despite the appeal’.
Despite the fears of the villagers, North Herts DC rejected Mr Scarbrow’s application
for planning permission. He promptly appealed the decision to the Department of the
Responding to this with the need to raise funds, one Sunday, the villagers sacrificed
a pig to save a ‘Lion’. They had a pig roast, carved by Brian Waters, at Preston
Green attended by around 200 people that raised about £100. (Shown below. To the
right of Mr Waters are Ian Clark and Chris Newell)
An organiser, Richard Beharrell (of ‘Chequers Cottage’), said, ‘We have got to have
professional advice and it’s got to be paid for. We are trying to get people involved
and make them aware that these things don’t just happen. The money has got to be
produced by the villagers and I am glad to say they supported the event very well.
It was extremely successful’. Whitbread’s noted these events. Because of the nuisance
value of villagers, they decided there was no future in the plan for a steakhouse
and so they offered the pub for sale as a free house.
Mr Beharrell explained that what happened next was not a case of a Preston resident
stepping forward with an idea of buying it. ‘It didn’t happen quite like that. We
made it clear that we would resist all changes no matter who bought the place. So
the brewery said, “All right then, why don’t you buy it yourselves?”’
Would villagers who were prepared to put protesting pens to paper now be prepared
to put their hands in their pockets? Whitbread’s priced the Red Lion at £125,000.
A further £10K was needed for initial operating expenses. £95K was raised in Preston
and a bank loan of £40K covered the shortfall. The response of locals laid to rest
any doubts about what Preston thought of their pub. Retired builder, Frank Pugh who
had lived in Preston since the end of the Second World War said, ‘It doesn’t take
a genius to work out that if 92 households raised £95K a lot of people put in a lot
more than £1’.
All villagers living within three miles of the Red Lion had the right to own shares
if it was their wish. All but a handful of the 130 Preston households took up their
right contributing between £1 and several thousands of pounds. This was important
as Whitbread’s had sought a reassurance that at least 80% of the householders would
be involved including voting rights.
A company, ‘Red Lion Limited’ was formed. All investments of £2 or more were divided
equally between shares and loan stock. Once an initial outlay was made, no-one was
liable for anything more. Any dividends would be paid on a sliding scale, depending
on shares purchased. Any issues that arise, including the election of directors,
are dealt with on the basis of one household, one vote.
In December, the holding manager at the Red Lion, Scotsman John Gallacher (shown
right), commented, ‘I have heard nothing from the consortium about my position here’.
Shortly afterwards, he took over the Adam and Eve at Bancroft, Hitchin. He said,
‘We had mixed feelings about leaving the village because we made many friends and
got on well with everyone’. (See postcript below: John and Marian Gallacher)
By Christmas 1982, the Red Lion belonged to the people of Preston. But what were
they to do with their new possession?
‘Whitbreads kept their manager in until after Christmas and the pub closed on 4 January
1983’, said Mr Beharrell. ‘The place was in a terrible state because when a business
is not doing well, one tends not to take a lot of trouble with it, so there was a
lot to do. We had problems with the roof and the insulation – we had to change the
staircase, the kitchen would not have met the health requirements and we had to create
living quarters for the manager.
‘One of the problems was that during our campaign against the brewery we had the
building listed, but of course that meant that when we took it over, we had to overcome
all sorts of restrictions ourselves. We had to make major internal alterations but
still maintain the external character of the building. But we did have a master builder,
John French, who is one of the best people available at restoring old buildings.
‘We’ve been lost without it. There’s been constant activity here since we went into
the drought on 4 January with people working from the top to the bottom of the building.
Some people have put in so much work it’s been unbelievable. It’s a great credit
to the enterprise of the village.
From attic to the cellar, the pub was redecorated – walls were knocked down and a
bar was made from a kit and an old church pew from Yorkshire. Everyone who was able
to lend a skill – carpentry, decorating, expert advice or moral support – was mobilised.
Older folk, who were unable to help, donated plants and trees.
The professionals said they were very impressed with the way novices picked up new
skills. ‘It was really quite amazing,’ said patternmaker Chris Newell, ‘Apart from
a handful of us, no one had any experience but they knuckled down. I don’t think
they knew quite what they were taking on’.
John French and his partner, Richard Maylin said that they had to replace perished
timbers and brickwork and discovered in the nick of time that if they had stuck to
the original plan to remove a fireplace, the whole building could have come toppling
Victoria Sowerby, Ann Clark (of ‘Castle Farm’), Sue Griffiths (of ‘Windrush’, Back
Lane), Margaret Cashin (of ‘Thurstaston’, Church Road) and Paddy Coleman-Smith (of
‘Latchetts’, Butchers Lane) reckoned they hung enough wall paper to cover the village
Despite hiring some experts, work that would have cost the brewery between £50K and
£70K was completed by volunteers for £30K. With jubilant celebrations, the Red Lion
re-opened on 19 March 1983 – the final touches having been completed at around 05.00
over a bottle of Scotch. Youngest villager, three-month-old Gemma Newell (of ‘Elm
Cottage’, Chequers Lane) ‘knocked’ on the front door which was opened by newly qualified
managers, Roy and Kathy Hart. They had been selected ahead of fifty other candidates
for their ‘youth, enthusiasm and energy’. Mike Bradley-Russell (of ‘Drift Acres’,
the Green) said, ‘ Because they seemed to have exactly the same sort of aims for
the pub as we did’.
Farmer Ian Clark, who had tended 400 acres at ‘Castle Farm’ since 1969 summed it
up, saying, ‘You’ve heard of the Archers and of the Bull at Ambridge, well that’s
just what we want’. Mr Beharrell admitted that the first few months of the new enterprise
were ‘a little shaky’. There were plans to turn an outbuilding into a children’s
room and to improve the gardens.
The renovated Red Lion is much bigger than it was, with a side room now a cosy bar
and the new bar against one wall. It is basically one large room mainly carpeted
but with a bit of stone flooring by the door. Two open fires create a cosy atmosphere.
The villagers though had their wish – the Harvest Festival is held in the pub every
year; the cricket club meets there as do the Enfield Chase Hunt and the Morris Men.
The Queen Mother sent a letter praising the citizens of Preston for their enterprise.
The story of the first community-owned pub in Great Britain was carried in the national
and local press and has been featured several times on TV.
In the 1980s the pub served a range of real ales including Greene King, Tetley, Youngs,
Adnams and even Whitbreads. It has since earned several awards such as the ‘Pub of
the Month’ award and ‘Pub of the Year in Hertfordshire’ from the Campaign For Real
The exploits of the villagers resulted in their winning third place in a Village
Venture Competition in Hertfordshire. The submission noted, ‘Everything is being
done to ensure a rural, family atmosphere in the Red Lion where country hospitality
can be extended to visitors...in short a village which could have been fragmented
is now united and knows that it can maintain its rural atmosphere’.
Mt Beharrell concluded, ‘It is supposed to be a hobby. The shareholders see it as
a way of conserving something that is important to the village, not as a great investment.
But as with anything, business or club, if you don’t work at it, you will lose it.
We don’t want to lose our pub’.
In 1986, on the third anniversary of the buy-out, a party of sixty people celebrated
the success of the venture (shown below). The latest landlords were Alex and Carole
Korodi. Carole said, ‘One or two sceptics said in 1983 the pub would last six months
to a year but it has lasted a lot longer’.
Just before ‘last orders’ on that opening day, Preston Hunt arrived at the door and
the Master took a stirrup cup of beer.
Mr Hart (shown right with Kathy) declared, ‘We now have all the things we love most.
We are back in a village in the trade we love. It’s a smashing place. We intend to
bring up our children (girls aged 2 and 4) and make our life there and become part
of the community. We are thrilled to bits. It’s a dream come true’. Five months later
the Hunts were succeeded by John Martin.
Sixty-nine-year-old Harry Clark, who claims to be Preston’s oldest poacher – ‘I still
carry my catapult with me in case I see a rabbit – said, ‘I bought my first pint
in the Red Lion for 4d when I was 14. I didn’t want to see the pub changed. My motor
doesn’t know its way from the other places like it does from here’.
(Below, l to r) Richard Beharrell, Robert Young, Nick Ashman and Ian Clark.
(Right) Carole and Alex Korodi and Caroline Woods
Information about ‘Red Lion Limited’
The company number is 01672560.
The original directors included Robert Young, Richard Beharrell, Ian Clark, Brian
Waters, Norman Harvey and Richard Sowersby. Since the inauguration of the company,
directors have come and gone.
Three new directors were appointed in 2003 and in 2008, the following were appointed:
Andre Loustad, Clifford Cooper, Michael Knight, Leslie Edwards, Matthew Barnes, Philip
Trinder, John Gill and Alison Jeffers. In 2008, the following directorships were
terminated: Richard Sowersby, John Cook and Robert Young.
As at 28 February 2011, the directors were: Andre Loustad, David Clark, C Cooper,
L Edwards, Richard Gill, Alison Jeffers, Alex Knight, Howard Trinder, Brian Waters
and Mark Waters.
According to the 1998 accounts, shares valued at £95,390 had been issued and were
held by 115 individuals, estates and companies. The number of shares owned per person
ranged from £1 to £19,348.
Graph showing the number of shares owned by individuals in 1998
0 - 10
11 - 100
100 - 500
500 - 999
By February 2011, the number of shares issued had decreased to £92,392. The number
of individuals (not households) holding shares had changed considerably (160) when
compared with 1998 (115) - which reflects the movement of people in and out of the
village, the deaths of some and other factors. Around forty of the 1998 shareholders
do not appear on the list, but more than 80 new shareholders are noted. The number
of shares in new hands was more than £40,000. If the holding of the majority shareholder
is excluded, then almost 60% of the shares had been redistributed in 13 years.
In the year to 28 February 2011, turnover was £177,133 (2010, £193,506) and the net
profit was £4,373 (2010, net loss of £15,559)
Writes Marion Gallacher: John Gallacher (right) and I were Holding Managers at the
Red Lion from August 1980 until December 1982. The villagers were in discussions
on what to do with the Pub at this time.
Sadly Whitbreads in their infinite wisdom moved us out in the December to run the
Adam & Eve in Hitchin and would not permit us to stay over the Christmas and New
Year with our friends in the Red Lion – they put in a Relief Manager for 3 weeks
until the closure in January 1983.
When we moved into the Red Lion in August we were given the run down on what goes
on by various locals - Harvest Auction being one of them - that was to be held
on 2 October (five weeks by my calculation) for 2 people not knowing what on earth
it involved, we did well. Around £200 was raised that night, a very successful evening,
and we looked forward to the following two.
Generally it was a quiet, friendly pub catering for the locals and their needs: village
days, Royal Wedding, darts nights and occasional events were well and truly catered
While John and I were running the Red Lion we got married and had our son Stewart,
an original Prestonite, born April 1982.
It was a sad day when John and I left the Red Lion. We visited frequently and returned
to the village in March 1987 . . . . frequenting the Red Lion yet again