ALE August/September 1996 No. 285

The Beerhouse Lives!

Back in 1830 the Duke of Wellington's Government passed The Beerhouse Act. This was aimed at eradicating gin shops by promoting a healthier alternative - beer, the duty on which was abolished. More importantly, beerhouse licences were taken out of the control of local magistrates, leading to an explosion in the number of pubs.

One of these new beerhouses was The Red Lion in Histon. In more recent years it was owned by Lacons of Great Yarmouth, then by Whitbreads. Nowadays it's a free house. Landlord Mark Donachy is determined to return to those early beerhouse ideals of promoting beer drinking in a convivial atmosphere.

Mark worked for S&N for thirteen years, finishing up as Area Manager in Central London. During that time he saw major changes in the real ale market. Back in 1980 when he was a rep. in North London, not a single one of his accounts took cask beer. The turning point for S&N was their acquisition of Theaksons, the national success of which convinced the company that real ale was a key product worthy of their committment.

Mark runs the pub with his partner Louise Simpson. After leaving S&N, they looked at 192 pubs before finding The Red Lion. It seemed to have the essentials of what they were looking for, though it had not, and still has not, reached its full potential. In their 20 months in charge they have significantly increased trade and the place has a real buzz. Long-standing customers have stayed loyal and new ones have arrived. The two bars are almost like two different pubs. The public is lively, youthful, noisy and games-oriented while the lounge has no music so that conversation can prevail.

Six real ales are on offer. Home Bitter, Theaksons Best and Everards Mild are permanent. There is always a Nethergate beer of some description, currently Bitter. The other two pumps accommodate changing guest ales, with Robinsons, Morlands Tanners Jack and London pride on the menu for August. The Home, unusual in these parts, sells at the bargain price of 1.35 a pint.

Food is served at lunchtimes only. In addition to a standard selection of snacks and hot meals, there are four changing daily specials - a soup, a pasta dish, a pie and a cook's special. There is a large beer garden, lit at night by old gas lamps.

Mark is, in his own words, "passionate about pubs" and by pubs he means real pubs - centres of the community where you can sup good ale in good company. In this age of theme pubs, megapubs, continental-type bars and licenced restaurants, we say more power to his elbow.

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