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Pub Visit - England

White Lion 1Saturday 1st April 2017

Bob Thompson

Said to be the oldest building in Hebden Bridge, and probably is, it was originally built as private residence for the King family around 1657. Back then it was known as King’s Farm. It became a pub and posting house during the middle part of the 1700s. As it was the best pub in the town it attracted a number of important visitors. One of these was Hungarian composer Franz Liszt who partook of breakfast here on 15th December 1840 whilst en route from Dover to Liverpool.

There were stables for visitors’ horses and for the stage coach that called in. Like most pubs of the age it possessed its own brewery at the back by the river. It also served the town’s residents well, and not just as a watering hole. The Old White Horse Friendly Society was founded here in 1781 and in the mid 1800s it housed a post office.

White Lion 2It was also the location for the gate to a toll road. That was in existence from 1765 to 1785. Looking at the building from the street it would appear to have been extended at least once, almost certainly more than that.

Whitaker’s Brewery of Halifax purchased the hotel in July 1897 at auction for £6,825 along with some surrounding land. As I am always interested in what beers these old pubs served, there is a history of Whitaker’s Brewery below.

The Brewery was started by Richard Whitaker in 1848. In earlier days he had a small brewery on Crib Lane in Halifax, later moving to the Stannary Inn.

The brand new Cock O’ the North Brewery was finished in 1867, located on Corporation Street. Almost at the same time G.B. Whitaker of the same family established a brewery at Brearley, near Midgeley around 1850.

White Lion 3G.B. Whitaker’s brewery was located in the valley bottom of the River Calder with good connections with canal and railway. Over the years they acquired many pubs in the Calder Valley so it can be fairly safely assumed that they were the buyers of the White Lion in 1897. In 1906 the two companies merged and brewing was concentrated on the Halifax operation.

Around the turn of the century prior to the amalgamation the Richard Whitaker brewery produced around 40,000 barrels (bbls) per annum.

In 1959 two nominated directors from Whitbread joined the Whitaker board and thereafter bottled beers were under the Whitbread name. Events then went the same way as all the breweries that followed this route.

White Lion 4In August 1968 Whitaker’s board requested a merger with Whitbread, in reality a take-over. They would have found trading hard against the like of Whitbreads and with a good offer they could give it up. The country lost so many excellent regional brewers in the decades from the 1960s to 1980s.

On 1st February 1969 the Halifax Brewery closed, 167 workers lost their jobs and it was demolished during 1973. By this time the draught cask bitter would be sold under the Whitbread Trophy Bitter name.

The pump clips were the same throughout the country. However, the beer dispensed was the original company’s product, mostly still brewed to their recipe. Mild also got the Trophy treatment.

White Lion 5After the closure of the Halifax brewery Trophy was brewed at Woodlesford Brewery, near Leeds. This Whitbread brewery was formerly Bentley’s Yorkshire Brewery. It ceased brewing in 1972 and completely closed as a depot in 1984.

The hotel’s current history is interesting. At time of the Beer Orders coming into effect Whitbread disposed of it to a pub-owning company.

Eventually it came to private hands. In September 2011 it was acquired by Michael and Rebekah Grimes who set about restoring it to former glories.

There’s a photograph in the collection of the Hebden Bridge Local History Society of the main room in 1962, instantly recognisable by the fireplace.

It was quite bare compared to now. The two hand pumps on the bar obviously dispense Mild and Bitter.

The same husband and wife team have now purchased the Waggon & Horses on the road crossing the moors between Hebden Bridge and Oxenhope. It had closed for around 18 months but has now been fully restored. I’d like to visit that pub sometime soon.

White Lion 6On this day I entered the pub and turned left into the main room. Nowadays this pub is exactly what you would expect from the archetypal market town hotel; lots of wood, stone floors, leather armchairs and fireplaces. The huge fireplace nearest the entrance at one end is no longer in use yet the one beyond the bar counter was blazing away.

At the back of the hotel there are a number of small comfortably furnished rooms. If you like this type of atmosphere and I do, you’ll love the White Lion.

White Lion 7Five cask beers are offered, at least two are regulars. These were Black Sheep (Masham, North Yorkshire) Best Bitter (3.8%) and Copper Dragon (Skipton, West Yorkshire) Golden Pippin (3.9%). White Lion Amber from a brewer unknown, as is its strength, is probably another.

Finally they had Marston’s (Wolverhampton, West Midlands) Wainwright (4.1%) and Timothy Taylor (Keighley, West Yorkshire) Boltmaker (4.0%).

As mentioned earlier this is a residential hotel with refurbished rooms. It offers a full menu and is very comfortable. It should be visited if you are in and around Hebden Bridge.

Important Information:

The White Lion, Bridge Gate, Hebden Bridge HX7 8EX. Tel: 01422 842197

Hours: Monday-Saturday 11.00-23.00; Sunday 12.00-22.00

Hebden Bridge station is well served by trains operated by Northern Rail. They go westwards to Rochdale and Manchester, also to Blackburn and Preston. Eastwards they go to Halifax, Bradford and Leeds.
From the station, cross to the station approach. Go over the canal and river bridge and turn right.
This is New Road. At a fork in the road bear right into Commercial Street.
The pub is on the left at the junction with Bridge Gate.

There are town buses that are often waiting outside the station to save you this walk.
Otherwise the main bus routes are the 590 and 592 from Halifax to Rochdale and Burnley respectively.

On the section through Hebden Bridge to Todmorden they often provide a bus every 10 minutes.
There is also the Route 500 Brontëbus over the moors to Haworth and Keighley, mostly every hour.
Arriving by bus alight in the town centre. Bridge Gate is to west of the stop just before the river bridge.
Turn right into it and continue, passing the Shoulder of Mutton on your left. The White Lion is just beyond.