26 October 2001

TIME UP

Its the people behind the bar as

much as the beer that makes a good

local as Red Lion regular

Michael Charity knows. He bids

farewell to the family who have run

this riverside inn for the past 60 years

THE Red Lion, an inn on the banks of the River Severn in the tiny hamlet of Wainlodes three miles from Glouces-ter, has changed hands after being in the same family for over 60 years.

It was in 1940, the year allied forces were evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk and German troops marched down the Champs Elysees, that 20-year-old Joan Mitchell and her new husband Griff moved into the time-warp premises, complete with open-range cooking, log-fuelled fires, well-drawn water and oil lamps for household illumination. A way of life, it would seem, reminiscent of the charm projected in the television version of &#42 E Batess book The Darling Buds Of May.

In reality, life on the banks of Gloucestershires premier river was far from perfick…The young couple – faced with the privations of wartime and lack of trade, many customers being called up for service – battled on to keep the business afloat.

As Joan, now 81 years of age, recounts: "It was very hard in those early days, takings for the first weeks trade amounted to £4. Some nights, if there were six customers in the bar we had a rush on. But we were determined to make a success of our new venture.

"We kept chickens along with pigs and a couple of cows to supplement food rationing. When in the spring and summer, families cycled down to the riverside, we offered afternoon teas at 1s 6d (7p) a head. Often caught short of milk, my husband would have to rush off and milk the cows to meet the demand."

&#42 Six decades

But recently, the Mitchell family, calling time for the last time, sold the lease to the popular country pub, severing a unique six decades of service behind the bar. The move has marked the end of an era in which Joan became Gloucestershires and one of the countrys longest serving landladies, while her 53-year-old son John, who has held the licence for some time, has clocked up 35 pint-pulling years at the helm of the inn.

Although now an octogenarian, Joan has always maintained an active part in the business she developed over the years into todays success story. Sitting in her favourite bar seat, her still-sharp mind and retentive memory ever ready to reflect on her life and times at the inn, she spoke of events over the years. "During the war, life was very quiet and sometimes quite lonely but this all changed in 1944 when hundreds of American troops commandeered the area for D-Day training to prepare for the assault on German-occupied France.

"We made many friends, some who we still hear from, but our new arrivals were no good for trade,.The pub was out of bounds to the troops; we even had armed guards accepted.

"During the 50s, when folk had little money and overseas holidays were unheard of, families used to flock down to the pebble and sandy beach adjacent to the pub, which was known locally as Gloucesters Lido. Sadly it has eroded away."

Just 10 years after arriving at the inn, Joans husband died, leaving her with two children, six-year-old Ann and two-year- old John. Undaunted, she continued running the pub and bringing up the children single-handed, her sharp business mind developing the river bank fishing, camping, caravanning and catering side of the trade into one of the most popular and successful country pubs in the region.

Over the years, visitors from all over the world have turned up at the inn, some to camp or caravan – it is a registered caravan club site – others in search of real ale in a traditional English pub.

One year, members of the London

Philharmonic Orchestra playing at Gloucesters Three Choirs Festival arrived with tents. The strange sight of musicians dressed in black tie and tails, complete with instruments emerging from their canvas homes, caused the locals to smile and eventually to sing during impromptu night time sessions!

For seven years, I and my wife, Gillian, lived in the village. The Red Lion Inn, with its roaring winter fires and bustling summer trade became very much our "local".

We struggled through snow and flood water for the warmth and welcome in the bar, watched National Trust jockey Terry Biddlecombe demonstrate his riding prowess on the pubs rocking horse and joined locals in the call to rescue snow-trapped sheep on nearby farms. The emergency over, the grateful farmer would repay us with a round of warming whiskies.

We witnessed full immersion religious river baptisms, took part in myriad fancy dress functions over Christmas and New Year celebrations or quietly raised our glasses to a deceased villager. Joans ever friendly "good evening" welcome to each customer and her sons tongue-in-cheek "Straight home, mind" at closing time, are familiar reframes they will no longer render to "locals" in the Red Lion Inn.

But Joan plans to stay within the village, while her son John and his partner, Sheila, who has worked with him for 26 years, will retire and take the opportunity to create new interests. The new landlord, Gerry Skilton, and his wife, Denise, have no plans to change what has proved to be, without doubt, a winning formula at this inn for all seasons.

We at Farmlife certainly think country pubs are a vital part of village life and a great British asset that is well worth celebrating. So, if your local is a bit special and is popular with farmers – let us know.

Call 020-8652 4928 or

e-mail tim.relf@rbi.co.uk

Last orders: Joan and John outside the popular pub.