An Old-School Boozer
Do you ever enter a pub out of unquenchable curiosity? An A-board on the roadside advertising Oakham Ales should help you along..
Frosted windows keep the interior of The White Lion in Apsley a closely guarded secret, something only known to those who venture in off the pavements of London Road. London Road is awash with small-businesses; high-fi, hardware and hair extensions can be found dangling in shop windows, interspersed by the occasional takeaway. The London Road in Hemel Hempstead tails off from a large business park adjacent to the A41 and can be seen as a gateway into ‘New Hemel’.
Apsley Lock has enjoyed substantial rejuvenation in recent years and now boasts many brand-spanking-new homes and ‘marina nightlife’; with restaurants and pubs decorating a spotlit curving bridge, akin to newer parts of canal side central Birmingham.
George, a vetted regular of The White Lion, would argue that Aplsey is a gateway to the town’s past also.
There are records of a ‘White Lion’ pub in Apsley dating back to the 1600’s, at the time Apsley was a village, just like Boxmoor and Leverstock Green and also Hemel Hempstead old town. It was not until later in Hemel’s lifetime did it see the amalgamation of these suburbs and the creation of many more. In the 1600’s Aplsey was independent of Hemel Hempstead, and many local residents, including George, still sight distinction between local borders.
Politics (no matter how localised) don’t belong in the pub right? Back to The White Lion.
Records from the 1600’s show a ‘White Lion’ pub selling beer in Apsley at the time, it is interesting to note however that the pub is said to have been in Featherbed Lane, a couple of (small) roads away from where The White Lion proudly stands today. I could only rely on the landlords’ knowledge to solve this gap in the pub’s timeline.
Peter and his wife Caroline took on The White Lion three years ago seeking to make a change for local drinkers. Although they saw the old-school charm of this boozer, they felt the offering to be a little dated – in a bad way.
Previously a tied bar, Peter and Caroline applied for permission to curate their own beer pumps at the Fuller’s public house. Over a year since and the couple have not once looked back.
Peter professes to me that he is not a drinker himself, and I believe that implicitly, so why would a dry landlord want to curate a range of real ales?
Because Peter and Caroline are devoted to their regulars, that is why.
With Watling Street, Paradigm, Tring, Haresfoot, Mad Squirrel and many more local brewers regularly on rotation through the four handpulls, drinkers of cask ale will never get bored in this beautiful street corner establishment.
Beery memorabilia graces the wooden backbar, peppered with several presentation cases of Fuller’s Vintage Ale, looming in the shadows.
The wooden backbar accompanies the wooden front bar, which accompanies the wooden booths with seating in the form of wooden stools. The frames of the booths (which used to divide the lounge bar and the saloon) hold up beautiful stained glass windows. In the darkest of nights, glowing orbs of soft lighting can be seen floating and dancing in the beautiful panes.
Back to the history..
In the middle of the 20th century (just after World War II), close to 500 people signed a petition to extend the licensing of The White Lion, changing it from a beer house (exclusively) to a premise that could sell both beers and wines. Clearly the establishment had become a hub within the Apsley community.
It was in the mid-1840’s when The White Lion relocated from Featherbed Lane to its’ current address on London Road. The move was due to the construction of the London and Birmingham Railway Line which required the upheaval of much earth throughout both Apsley and Boxmoor.
The move would see the pub open its’ door to construction workers utilising what is now Aplsey’s main road, a road which falls directly in front of Frogmore Paper Mill.
Frogmore Paper Mill houses the world’s first mechanised paper machine, and was owned by the industry leading ‘British Paper Company’ during the 20th century. When the whistle blew in Apsley, there were many, many workers in need of liquid sustenance!
At this point I have pestered Peter and Caroline on a busy Friday night for long enough. Content with my findings, I retreat to finishing my pint of Watling Street (which had been kept in excellent condition), before disappearing into the night. This is where George comes in.
A tall silhouette falls on the outside of the frosted glass, already Peter can tell it is George and begins pouring his favourite brew into his jug of choice. Peter then proceeds to the entrance to give George a hand in. Sitting entranced by my mobile phone in the company of other drinkers in this ‘old-school boozer’ simply felt rude and inappropriate, I engaged George while polishing off my pint.
Four pints later and George is still going, explaining to me the geographic boundaries of Aplsey, how his father used to drink in this very pub (and probably his father before him), and that the pub had once been a Mann’s tied house, before becoming a Benskins’ tied house. As George opens up the secrets of the pub’s past (some unknown even to the landlords), others begin to horseshoe around – we have an audience. It’s not just me asking the questions anymore. George entertains the whole front bar with the history of The White Lion.
Anyway, back to my drinking experience. I left The White Lion with a renewed appreciation of local history and a strong idea of where the pub itself had played a role.
I had relished in the fact that Peter had offered me some Pope’s Yard ale, the first batch from a former Watford based brewer who have now set up production seconds away in Frogmore Paper Mill!
I had drunk with people I had never met before and shared stories over numerous pints of well-kept local ale.
What was meant to be a pitstop flyby for a short-read piece had quickly unravelled. This piece became about a pub with one foot in rich heritage, the other in the grassroots of Hertfordshire’s growing beer scene. The continually sidetracked nature of this narration is a perfect homage to the pub itself.
Take a trip to The White Lion in Apsley. Venture beyond the frosted windows. Peak around the stained glass booths and you might just fall down a very beery rabbit hole…