Thornbury and District Museum: A history of the White Lion

April 02 2020
Thornbury and District Museum: A history of the White Lion

THE White Lion is in the centre of Thornbury High Street.

Yet the property now occupied by the pub was not located in the Borough of Thornbury and finding out about its history requires a trawl through the records of the Tything of Kington in the Parish of Thornbury. Surprisingly, despite not being in the Borough, the owner still had to pay the Borough Rent.

In the absence of the title deed, research based on documents related to adjoining properties, supplemented with census and other records, show that it appears to have been a pub since the 1830s or thereabouts.

The records of the late 1850s and early 1860s show that the name of the pub at that time was ‘The Lion’ and that in the later 1860s the pub was renamed the White Lion. The earliest reference we have found to the pub being called the White Lion was in a trade directory of 1868.

While the change of name may have been to differentiate the pub from the Black Lion in Castle Street, it may not be a coincidence that the publican and owner of the property during the 1860s was John White; it is possible that John added his surname to the name of the pub.

There are various stories about the white lion figure which stands on the porch over the door, and which has been a landmark in the town for so long. It has been said that celebration speeches from the winning candidate in elections were made from astride the lion and that on at least one occasion, notably in World War II, when the Maritime Regiment was stationed in the town, the lion mysteriously changed places with the swan on the pub opposite during the night.

The Bristol Mercury has an advert printed on 1st April 1876 showing that the White Lion was available to let, with immediate possession.

It was described as an established and well accustomed double licensed house where good business is being done”.

The advert continued: “The premises are well situated in the very centre of the market, have a bar and bar parlour, smoking-room, taproom, sitting room, bedrooms, kitchens, cellar, coach-house and stabling. There is a brewhouse, large bowling saloon, large clubroom, Foresters’ and Oddfellows clubs, with nearly 300 members and a good walled garden and yard.”

It is interesting to note that reference to a “brewhouse” suggests that the pub had made its own beer. The mention of the “bowling saloon” is the earliest reference we have found to a skittle alley in Thornbury.

In 1929 there were some important changes at the White Lion. The plans show that a coffee room had been created by dividing the garage, and that the hotel had a bar on the left of the porch (which was being re-configured) and a smoke room on the right. Improved toilet arrangements were installed, with their own treatment tanks replacing the cesspit arrangement. The building still had a stable, with three stalls.