A History of the Public House in Avon Dassett
The first time the public house in Avon Dassett, known as the Red Lion for most of its history, appears in the written records is in the decennial census registers which start showing details in 1841. However, it is very likely that the pub had a longer history as almost all early modern villages possessed two key institutions: a pub and a parish church!
Earlier records such as the Domesday Book, Hundred Rolls, Lay Subsidies and Hearth Taxes demonstrate that Avon Dassett was a wealthy settlement with a population throughout its history about the same as the current number of people resident in the village.
Most landlords of the village pub were tenants and many carried out other trades in addition to supplying food and drink to the locals. The earliest landlord on record is Charles Barnes who was born and bred in Avon Dassett.
Charles married Elizabeth Cooper in 1813. Elizabeth is another member of a long standing village family and her descendants still live in the village. Charles is not described as a publican in the 1841 census, but as a stone mason, and the Red Lion is not listed as an address. However, in 1851 he is shown as a ‘proprietor of land and beer house keeper’.
It is likely that Charles carried on his work as a stonemason alongside running the pub. Charles Barnes died in the village and was buried in St John the Baptist Church on 28th April 1854. Charles was directly succeeded by his son, Henry.
Henry was baptised in Avon Dassett on 29th July 1819. Henry is described as a carpenter in both the 1841 and 1851 censuses. He married Anniss Cooper (another relation to Elizabeth) on 24th April 1843 in Avon Dassett. Henry was the innkeeper in both the 1861 and 1871 but appears to have relinquished the tenancy at some point after 1871.
In 1881 he was living in Avon Dassett and again described as a carpenter. Like his father, he was probably a part-time landlord and carried on working as a carpenter throughout his tenancy. Henry died in Avon Dassett and was buried on 19th January 1889. One of the reasons we know Henry did not own the Red Lion is that he is not on the electoral register for the village and thus not entitled to vote.
In the census of 1881, the Red Lion was run by George Hobbs. He was born in Banbury in 1827 and married Annie Maria Robinson in 1867. In 1871 he was running a pub in Horley also called the Red Lion. In 1881, he is described in the census as an innkeeper and hawker. George seems to have been a temporary tenant and by 1891 had moved to Leamington with his family and was working as a jeweller.
We know that George Hobbs had moved on from a sensational murder trial involving the pub from 1887. One autumn evening, Edward Mullis one of the agricultural labourers in the village went for a drink at the Red Lion with some of his fellow villagers. Also in the pub that evening were a father and son, named Francis and Bartholomew Begley, from nearby Daventry.
The Begleys were itinerant sweeps and travelled around the county looking for work. They had arranged with the new landlord of the Red Lion, Arthur Thomas, to sleep the night in the stable. At closing time, the men left the pub but entered into a heated discussion about politics outside. Mullis supported the Liberal politician Gladstone whilst the Begleys were Conservatives. This led to a fist fight and although Mullis was the weaker man, one of his punches led Begley to fall heavily. When he could not be roused the men called for the publican who found no pulse. A later post mortem examination by Dr Elkington of Fenny Compton found that Bartholomew Begley had died due to bleeding on the brain caused by the fight.
Edward Mullis was taken into custody and appeared four days later at a special court in Kineton. Here, the sitting magistrates sent him for trial at the Warwickshire Assizes. However, Mullis was allowed bail after a fellow agricultural labourer, George Hawtin, stood as surety and Thomas Perry of Bitham Hall, the Catholic priest and Vaughan Philpott the Rector of Avon Dassett attested to his good character. At the Warwickshire assizes later in November, Mullis pleaded guilty to manslaughter. However, after hearing the evidence, the judge bound him over to keep the peace for the paltry sum of £10, asserting that it was Francis Begley who bore most responsibility for his son’s death, for encouraging him to fight.
There are many interesting features of the case. Firstly, Mullis was portrayed as a man of good character, not given to drunkenness and someone who cared for his widowed mother. The census shows that he lived at home with his mother (categorised as deaf in the 1891 census) and sister, Betsy and was most likely the only source of income for the household. Edward and Betsy were still living together, unmarried, in the 1901 census.
The Begleys in contrast were outsiders and itinerant sweeps. Francis Begley was vilified for encouraging his son to fight on and inflict harm on Edward Mullis before the fight could be stopped by concerned onlookers. When Edward Mullis appeared at the court in Kineton, his face still bore bruises from the skirmish. Travelling sweeps were considered not much better than gypsies or vagrants and the Warwickshire police and justices took a firm line against such people.
The chief constable issued printed warnings to beggars to be displayed in all the lodging houses and public buildings in the county which he claimed drove a great number out of the area. Action against vagrants remained high with a special Vagrancy Committee later set up among the justices to keep an eye on the problem. Each police district had to submit quarterly reports on the state of vagrancy in their area. Secondly, the incident shows the importance of hierarchy in a village such as Avon Dassett.
It is not clear if Edward Mullis was a Catholic – a Eunice Mullis is buried in the Catholic churchyard but there are no other Mullises interred in either the Anglican or Catholic church – the leading Catholic landowner, Thomas Perry of Bitham Hall and the Catholic priest acted as character witnesses. Mullis also received support from the rector of Avon Dassett, Vaughan Philpott. In contrast, the Begleys could produce no local landowners or magistrates to attest to their good character.
Thirdly, there was much amusement in the court when it was told that the argument leading to the fight centred on politics. Mullis’s Liberal politics in some way reflects his independent thought. This was a period when agricultural labourers were becoming increasingly politicised. Joseph Arch founded the first agricultural labourers union from his home in nearby Barford in 1872. In contrast, the Begleys’ Conservatism tallies with analyses of other workers dependant on deference such as railway porters and servants.
The case of Edward Mullis shows a good deal about a small village such as Avon Dassett. Mullis found support from his fellow agricultural labourers who acted as witnesses and sureties for him. But he also gained approval from the local Anglican and Catholic elite. It was this latter group who probably carried more weight with the Grand Jury at the Warwickshire assizes. In contrast, the Begleys had no friends in high places and Francis was virtually accused of causing the death of his son by the judge at the trial.
Arthur Thomas was the landlord at the time of the murder and was still there in 1891. Arthur was born in Maidstone in 1857 and married Selina Beaufoy, a native of Knowle, in 1886. However, in the 1901 census, Arthur was no longer the landlord of the pub and was living in Avon Dassett with a farm labourer and his family. It seems he had separated from Selina as she had moved to Rotherfield in Sussex and described herself as a widow in the census. Arthur died in Avon Dassett and was buried on 24th November 1903. Selina remarried in 1904.
The 1909 Finance Act return shows that the Bitham Hall estate owned the Red Lion (along with most of the rest of the village) and had installed a tenant, Charles Turvey. Charles was born in Avon Dassett and was baptised on 21st September 1851. However, like many who lived in rural communities in the nineteenth century he left the village, presumably to find work, and is found in Church Lawton in Cheshire in 1878, on the occasion of his marriage to Annie Scraggs. Their eldest son was born in Birmingham but by 1881 Charles had returned to Avon Dassett with his family and was living with his widowed mother. At this point he was described as an unemployed gardener. In 1891, he entered the pub trade becoming the landlord of the Gaydon Inn before taking up the tenancy of the Red Lion at the end of the century.
We know that the Red Lion retained its name until the latter half of the twentieth century. In the 1970s it was renamed The Avon, presumably to distinguish it from the many other Red Lion pubs in the area, including in neighbouring villages, Northend and Fenny Compton. In the 1990s there was a brief flirtation with another name, the Prince Rupert, making connections with the area’s fraught links with the English Civil War, but this failed to impress visitors and the pub’s name soon reverted to The Avon. In 2017, a consortium of local shareholders purchased the property as a community asset, pledging to provide not just a pub but a range of further services and facilities to benefit the local community and the pub was renamed The Yew Tree.