The White Lion in Yate: A traditional pub with an uncertain future

April 01 2022
The White Lion in Yate: A traditional pub with an uncertain future

The permanent loss of the White Lion would be a body blow for local heritage, writes David Hardill.

WHEN I first came to work in Yate in 2000 there were deemed to be three traditional pubs of great antiquity, namely the White Lion, the Swan and the Railway.

The Lawns and Stanshawes Court, while in 19th century buildings, are relative newcomers on the pub scene: the Lawns opened in 1970 and Stanshawes in 1965.

As I daily walk past an empty White Lion, I can reflect on the changes wrought on the local pub scene in the last 20 years. Two of the most prominent pubs in Yate when I arrived were the Railway, serving the western side of the town, and the Swan in the middle. Both were creations of the Victorian era and as such were a constant reminder to the modern shopper that Yate was indeed “more than a new town”.

Today, the White Lion cuts a forlorn appearance and hopefully its closure from December 2020 is temporary. It would certainly be a body blow for local heritage. It is one of the few listed buildings in Yate which is neither a church nor a farm. The hulking wooden beams inside the building are a testimony to Yate’s only pre-Victorian public house.

The White Lion had been an inn and pub since the earlier half of the 17th century. Relatively little is known of its earliest history, but it clearly emerged as a significant local coaching inn. As the turnpike road system flourished, the White Lion was at a key road junction between modern day Station Road and Church Road, and was also adjacent to the actual turnpike building for receiving the tolls.

Although the White Lion site was smaller than the one we know today, it would nevertheless have stood out in the centre of the parish and would no doubt have been a busy hub for some of the time. It enjoyed the patronage of the local hunt (above), and we know the Yate Heritage Centre building was used as stabling in the later 19th century at least. 

The White Lion was also the venue for a “share out benefits” society, a sickness society providing some cover for its members. In some years, the profits of the society were spent on a procession around the parish, complete with silk banners, and a fete, games and dancing.    

Despite stiffer competition from other pubs in the area in the 20th century, the White Lion remained a cut above other Yate pubs for many years and continued to entertain the hunt into the 1920s. As late as 1970, the White Lion welcomed the Duke of Beaufort to open their refurbishment.

Today, the future of the White Lion and many other empty pubs is unclear. All future pub owners have to contend with a changing market, and so many venues have had to withstand the financial onslaught of the Covid pandemic. Let us hope that Yate’s most venerable pub will return in the future - something many of us would happily drink to.