Whatever Happened To The White Lion?

We have had work experience student Millie with us for the last fortnight. She has been looking into the history of the various public houses of Barnstaple, particularly the premises known as the White Lion, and the people who operated them. Here is what she found out…Barum Athena

Why did the White Lion go under? Looking at records of the time, they appear to have been a chain of flourishing pubs, I was a bit intrigued to see what could have happened to them over the years, and why they’re not here anymore-so decided to research into that. By 1840, the Shobrook family owned two such pubs on both Castle Street and the Quay, but now these have disappeared, fallen into memory and abandon.

Not only will we be considering the Shobrook’s own change of fortune, which meant they went from public house magnates to a halted family line, with either all descendants dead or else moved from the area, but also the alteration and evolution of pub frequenters at the time. If a new port was built to replace their existing regulars with rowdy sailors, or other establishments went under in the same era, these would provide significant basis for a hypothesis as to what really happened to the lion that could silence its roar forever.

Barnstaple (Colour)d
Barnstaple from Sticklepath c1740

Areas for exploration:

A compendium of the Public Houses in Barnstaple details all the pubs on record and it mentions a member of the Shobrook family as running 2 out of the 3 main White Lions at some stage, so it makes sense to start with their family history, and see what part they played in the pub.

  • Census and parish records – what actually happened to Shobrook lineage? Do they still live on in some other Devonshire area?

Most likely events:

  • All died with no offspring
  • All relocated
  • Had daughters who married into a different family, and thus the name did not continue.
  • All still live here, but went into different work.
  • Pub records: What others went under/ opened up nearby and did they steal their business?
  • Maps – how did the area alter over pub’s lifespan? Was there a point at which “the rot set in” and all 3 White Lions began to struggle?
  • A free house or brewery? If brewery, the supplier may well have had something to do with it.
  • Old North Devon Journal/ Gazette issues – were there any articles from the newspaper which could give us clues as to what went on in the pubs?
  • Shobrook family tree?

Pub Records:

  • White Lion #1 (Castle Street)= 1764 – 1870
  • White Lion#2 ( the Quay) = 1822-time uncertain, though still appears on 1843 map
  • White Lion #3( Silver Street)= 1837 – 1960 ( Fared better)

Parish records:

Next, I perused the baptisms, marriages and burials for the Shobrook family, as being a link between the two White Lions, they are one of our first leads, and may give us some extra information on the pub chain.

  • Elizabeth, daughter of Henry and Elizabeth Shobrook is born, 1721
  • Henry, Son of Henry and Mary Shobrook born 1745
  • James and Jane, son and daughter of Henry and Eleanor Shobrook born 1764
  • James, son of Henry and Eleanor Shobrook born 1767
  • Henry Shobrook dies, 1782

Did the White Lion(s) rise and fall with the Shobrooks? After extensive research in the Barnstaple Parish register ( 1538-1812) it appears that Henry and Eleanor’s only male heirs were James (1767), James (1764) and Henry (1745) . A John Shobrook died in 1787, but there was no age given, so whether this was young James or just another relation in the (seemingly quite large) family remains to be seen; the 1821 census may be the only thing available to shed light on it.

  • When Henry married Jane Thorne Greenslade in 1812, he was a widower, so Eleanor must have died in the intervening years.
  • The Barnstaple census of 1821 lists 2 male Shobrooks ( 30 -40 and 50-60 respectively) as well as two females, presumably their wives ( 40-50 and 50-60 in age.)

If the age range given is to be believed, the youngest Shobrook man should have been born around 1780-90, the eldest around 1760-70. The eldest is likely to be one of the James’, born ’64 or ’67 who, following this up, married Jane Major in 1802, and is listed as a trades person by the Census, so very likely he’s the man we’re looking for!

The first White Lion (of Castle Street) had Jas Shobrook as Landlord, the third at 19 Silver Street had his wife, Jane, to run it in 1844 – implying that the two establishments were related by more than just name, but blood ties too.

Though by the 1901 census, the last record in our armoury, Albert and Eliza Shobbrooke were living in Barnstaple with their 3 month old son, Albert. If they are related to James and Henry, the family did not continue in the beer pouring trade, as Albert was by this time a brick layer, his wife a seamstress; it seems the White Lion’s #1 and #3 were to be the last they held.

Yet the Silver Street Lion was still doing business through the 1950s, while a new generation of Shobbrooks were building houses and mending hosiery, implying that one was not entirely dependent on the other.

On top of this, we can also deduce that one White Lion didn’t relocate to form the next, thanks to the long period of overlap( 1837-1870) when both Lions#1 and #3 were running at the same time; so one just fell out of business 90 years behind the other – perhaps for the same reason, though much delayed.

Castle St and The Strand [BSPF-A4-06-0395]
Castle St and The Strand [BSPF-A4-06-0395]
Supposed times of closure:

  • The White Lion #1 1870 (approx.)
  • The White Lion #2 some time after 1843
  • The White Lion #3 1960

Taking public houses 1 and 3 (of which most is known) we can contrast goings on at both times, to see if the same changes could have permeated the centuries and caused both to topple.

Other Pubs that closed permanently around 1870

  • White Heart, Joy Street, 1870
  • Ring of Bells (2) Pilton, 1870
  • Salutation, Castle Street, 1878
  • Ship (2) Quay, 1870
  • Locomotive Inn, Castle Street 1870
  • Masons Arms, Hardaway head, 1866
  • Millers Arms, Boutport Street, 1866
  • North Molton Inn, bear Street, 1870
  • Prince of Wales, Newport, 1866

Making 9 that closed within the area with 10 years either side, half of which closed in exactly the same year as white Lion 1.

Pubs that opened around 1870

  • Albert Inn – Diamond street   1866
  • Brewery Tap – Taw Vale 1878
  • Farmer’s Inn – Hollond Street 1866
  • New Inn (2) – Silver Street 1878
  • New Inn (3) – Pilton Street 1878
  • Red Cow (2) – Hollond Street 1878
  • Weaver’s Arms – Silver street 1870
  • Windsor Hotel – Bradiford 1866

Making only 8 that opened within a decade’s vicinity either side, and 1 that opened the exact same year as White Lion’s closure. Yet if another nearby establishment were responsible for stealing its customers, chances are it would take a few years to have effect, so with the year 1870 itself discounted and any after it, only 3 new pubs really opened inside the right time frame – i.e. mid to late 1860s.

It seems then that more pubs shut along with the White Lion than sprang up to usurp business – meaning there’s a much greater correlation and chances are, whatever brought the first Lion down was in fact something that happened in the year 1870, something that had great effect all over Barnstaple.

North Devon JournalNorth Devon Journal newspaper articles from the time:

Looking through old microfilms of the North Devon Journal, and using the index to zero in on anything that pertained to our particular saloon, it seems there were quite a few events in the time leading up to the 1870 closure:

18th May, 1854, “Offence against alehouse licence, Robert Budd keeper of the White Lion beer house, serving beer too early on a Sunday, case adjourned for a fortnight.”

This short article tells us two things; one; that the Shobrooks had no qualms about selling their business on (to Robert Budd only a decade after Jane had it) meaning even if their lineage stopped, the Lion would not halt with them, it could just be leased elsewhere. Secondly, the White Lion had some comparatively serious issues with the law, and if these continued, it may have its licence revoked.

On the 17th August the same year, more offences were put down against the public house, as its now infamous landlord ejected a policeman (who purportedly came in only to enquire about a previous disturbance) from the premises, at the same time showering him with much abuse. In a bid to air his grievances, the policeman took Mr. Budd to court, and further articles like this do not reflect well on the Lion’s reputation. It’s possible that mere coincidence meant 5 pubs closed in 1870, as our chain seems to be doing more than enough by itself to warrant suspension, without any outside intervention.

These goings on don’t seem to have effected its status as centre of the community just yet though, as on the 8th January 1857, it was still being used as a hub for inquests and coroner’s reports- like that of Thomas White,72, who ‘died suddenly at home’. Had such bad publicity the previous year really tarred its name, cases like this would have been held at the Golden Fleece and its peers instead, who were already holding their fair share of inquests and could easily have stepped in if needs be to replace the Lion. The fact they didn’t have to shows that it came away from those previous disreputable events unscathed.

It was then sold on, according to an April addition of the journal, as Robert Budd was now deceased. By July, however, related stories still referred to his widow Jane as ‘of the White Lion’ until she finally sold it to William Hill in 1859.

However, in an article about a broken pane of glass at the lion, Charles Snow is cited as owner, and after further reading it appears that his is the Castle Street incarnation that closed in 1870, not Budd/Hill’s, which was in fact the Silver Street building that would go on until the 1960s. With the location not mentioned in every article, it takes a fair bit of sleuthing and cross analysis to figure out who was in charge of where. After the Shobrook’s time, they had nothing but separate owners, so the similarities were limited to area and name alone.

Mr. Snow then sold lion #1 on to a John Ellis in 1863 after legal measures had forced him to pay for costly reparations to the building in order to make it saleable.

All this begs the question, why did it fall out of favour less than a decade after such costly renovations?

Other pubs’ temporary closures at the time are more immediately understandable Newport Inn, salutation and Royal Oak all failed to get their licences renewed due to scandalous allegations of brothel houses being run from their premises ( the Royal Oak had it’s granted on the condition that there was no longer any communication with the brothel behind it, but contact continued so the licence was suspended.) The Bull was also suspended for ‘Sunday trading’, which highlights how lucky the White Lion was for getting away with its repeated offences.

Their reliance on ‘ladies of the night’ for added income is understandable given Barnstaple’s status as a port town, with sailors arriving at all hours of the evening to seek amiable entertainment ; there must have been a lot of call for that sort of thing and many pubs fell into the trap of supplying it.

Besides that, it’s also not surprising that one pub closed in Boutport Street around the allotted time, without another to arise in its place; as reports from 1863 claim the roadway to be flat and dirty, “resembling a quagmire” in times of rain, with broken pavement pitched so that it’s dangerous for quadrupeds and their drivers. This would not only divert most budding drinkers, as the awkward terrain seems like too much effort when there are many other establishments just round the corner, but would make keg delivery difficult too, as carts could come de-wheeled and horses felled by the jutting ground. While this could put some people off reaching Castle Street on the other side, there is no reason why they would even have to go through Boutport Street at all to get there, as it is not the only central road, so does not cut off the other side of town. Indeed, by this point, Castle Street was still a thriving area, so its proximity to Boutport Street was not a deterrent.

If it wasn’t the area or the Shobrooks (who as it turns out were just links in a long line of landlords) perhaps it was Henry Yeo that spelt the end for White Lion #1. On the 12th May 1870, Henry Yeo ( who had married John Ellis’ widow and inherited the tavern) woke up inebriated to find an innocent guest wandering lost about his bedroom. Not understanding that the man had merely bumbled in from the adjoining room, and suspecting an attack on his life, Yeo slashed at the man with a razor, lacerating his face and nearly hacking off his nose. The man ran to an employee’s abode, where Yeo set about carving into the employee’s back too. Sent away to Borough prison, Henry Yeo gave the Castle Street White Lion a grisly reputation and bloodstains down the hall to prove it. If it went under shortly after this horrific happening, the mystery could well be solved.

So if this was an isolated case, and presuming no other drunken rampages of a similar sort occurred in 1960, what different reason could there be to force Silver Street’s own feline to close its doors nearly a century later?

Other pubs that closed permanently around 1960:

  • Barley mow (2) – Boutport Street   1960
  • Carpenter’s Arms – Vicarage street   1960
  • Chichester Arms – Pilton Street   1960
  • Currier’s Arms – Vicarage Street   1960
  • Globe (2) – Queen Street   1960
  • New Inn (3) – Pilton Street   1960
  • Northgate – High Street       1969
  • Paltimore Arms – Boutport Street   1960
  • Queen’s Hotel – Boutport Street   1968
  • Rolle Arms – Bear Street   1960
  • Taw Vale Tavern – Taw Vale- 1960
  • Union Inn – Vicarage Street   1960
  • White Horse – Boutport street   1968

With 13 closing around a similar time, and 10 of these the same year as White Lion #3, it appears at first glance that many establishments were in trouble during the middle of the 20th Century. Yet, as we found out in the previous investigation first impressions can be deceiving.

The Globe Inn [Grimmett Collection A-096-33]
The Globe Inn [Grimmett Collection A-096-33]
Maps and development:

Using the Barnstaple periods of development map by Mr. Welsh of Queens University, Belfast, it’s possible to take down any locations that altered between 1950 and 1960, to see if any immediate changes took place that could drive away customers.

The clearance of slum areas in Belle Meadow were finally completed in 1963, but alterations were going on long before that, demolishing buildings to make way for a widening of the long bridge. This forced families to find homes elsewhere; pushing many from the area. The White Lion’s regulars were bound to be among them, as Silver Street was just around the corner from this old slum dwelling.

It’s possible that it had been struggling on for many years previously however, as the Iron foundry that lead onto Silver Street and no doubt populated the bar with hundreds of thirsty worker bees closed down in 1902 as well; yet if this were a direct reason, it took 58 years to bear consequence, so is more likely to have added to the problem than brought about such gradual change all by itself.

More recently, the saw mill and timber yards were also based locally on a map surveyed 1888, yet the last record we have relating to a timber merchant of any kind is dated 1942, implying that shortly after that, the timber yard met it’s demise, replaced by the residential housing there today. Whenever it did close, if around 1942, this may have worsened the White Lion #3’s prospects, as even more manual labourers were lost from its immediate neighbourhood. As it was the favoured haunt of timber sawyers and Iron founders before, then other people no doubt had their preferred haunts elsewhere, and even after the former groups became extinct, the latter would have no reason to leave their chosen local and migrate to the Lion just to fill in the gaps.

It seems then, that the Lion was a victim of changing times, and as one thing closed then another, it could not help but go the same way itself.

But why did other Inns in the exact same area code, the exact same town manage to hang on in spite of themselves? The reality is, of all the Inns listed on our compendium, only 25 made it to 1990:

  • Barum Castle (formerly the Golden Fleece) on Tuly Street
  • Barnstaple Inn (2) on Trinity Street
  • Borough Arms on Forches road
  • Countryman (formerly the Castle) on Castle Street
  • Exeter Inn (2) on Litchdon Street
  • Golden Anchor/ Pit Stop on Castle Street
  • Golden Lion Tap on the Square
  • Great Western on Trinity Street
  • Hearts of Oak (2) on Boutport Street
  • Horse and Groom on Boutport Street
  • Imperial Hotel on Taw Vale
  • Inn on the Strand (on the Strand)
  • Market Inn (Formerly the Nags Head) On Market Street
  • North Country Inn on Boutport Street
  • Reform Inn in Pilton
  • Rising Sun (1) on Boutport Street
  • Rising Sun (2) in Newport
  • Rolle Quay Inn on Rolle Street
  • Rose and Crown in Newport
  • Royal Exchange on Joy Street
  • Royal Fortescue on Boutport Street
  • Tavern in the town on Diamond Street
  • Three Tuns on the Highstreet
  • Windsor Hotel in Bradiford and
  • Wrey Arms in Sticklepath

That’s 25 out of the hundreds that began life centuries ago but evidently fell foul of much the same factors that felled the lions.

With the aforementioned problems that came with setting up shop there, it’s odd how many pubs in Boutport street stayed open to see out the millennium, yet their survival could be due to a number of things. For one, the article in the North Devon journal describing the wonkiness of its pavements and likening it to a “quagmire” may very well be sensationalism on the part of the journalist – trying to exaggerate that things were much worse than they were in a bid to make a news story out of it and fill up space on a slow week. Alternatively, everything he said could be based in truth, but the mention of the issue in a broadsheet may have brought it to the attention of a local council worker and inspired him to do something about it; leading to Boutport street’s complete overhaul where it became the accessible, pub friendly street it is today. Either way, this ensured that there are still some of our Early Victorian pubs open for business – things may have conspired against the others; be it unlawful connections, a propensity to serve beer during holy time, a razor-toting land lord, or just time itself, but no matter how much change an area sees over its lifespan, there’s always some memento of the past to keep it grounded, and remind people of how far it’s come.

Millie Sutherland-O’Gara


North Devon Journal microfilms (1850-1890)

Barnstaple pub compendium, by Brian Hilling

Barnstaple periods of development map by Mr. Welsh

Parish records (1538-1812)

1821 census

1901 census

Barnstaple map glass slides (13, 6.5- 1888)

Barnstaple map glass slides (13, 7.2- 1888)


2 Replies to “Whatever Happened To The White Lion?”

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