I hear the Red Lion in Bloxham is likely to be purchased by the current landlord of the Joiner’s Arms which is opposite to the Red Lion. If this is true, I think it is good news for Bloxham village. Quite some time ago, the Red Lion was run by Paul and Carol Cooper. Lynda and I were very regular customers and the service was wonderful. They were lucky enough to sell the pub and to move on to Broughton where they ran another successful hostelry. However, the Red Lion nose-dived spectacularly after Paul and Carol and never recovered its reputation or clientele. Eventually, the brewers closed it and the site soon became sad and neglected.
This has left Bloxham with just two pubs, the Elephant & Castle and the Joiners Arms. Whether this is enough for a village of Bloxham’s size and given social trends is a question that is difficult to answer. I always think of the Elephant & Castle as a drinkers’ pub with a hard core of locals who like their pint while the Joiners Arms doubles up as bar and restaurant and does well at both. The village has reacted strongly to the closure of the Red Lion, less at the loss of a hostelry and more at the threat of the site being sold for housing development. The Parish Council has done all that it can to prevent the sale of the site and has encouraged the formation of a Red Lion Appeal Hub whose aim was to preserve the Red Lion as a community resource. Cherwell District Council was persuaded to name the site as an Asset of Community Value which made it much more difficult for Fullers, the brewers and owners of the site, to sell it.
A good number of Bloxham residents attended public meetings held by the Red Lion Appeal Hub to display their desire to prevent housing development and, therefore, the retention of a public house on this site that most of them had never supported while it was open. Some put their hands in their pockets and purchased shares in the Hub to support the purchase of the site as a community asset. The Red Lion Appeal Hub never raised enough to make an offer that Fullers would accept and I always feared that they would never have sufficient funds to renovate a building that was in need of considerable investment plus the working capital to run a working pub and restaurant.
I also had fears that a pub owned by a collective of village residents and run by a committee headed by a leftie lawyer and with a number of local worthies but not a lot of expertise from the licensed trade would struggle to create a viable business out of one that had destroyed a prior reputation for excellence and withered away until it closed. I think Bloxham has now got the best of all worlds. The successful purchasers of the Red Lion, Mark & Sandra Page, have established a good reputation at the Joiners Arms and offer a product that clearly works. Providing they have the resources to develop the Red Lion – and there is plenty of potential on this large and central site – they should be presiding over a modest gold mine. Meanwhile, the challenge for the owners of the Joiners Arms will be to avoid the dreadful mistake that Fullers made after Paul and Carol Cooper left the Red Lion.