Pub/Bar of the Month August 2016: The Red Lion, Snargate, UK
The Red Lion, Snargate, Kent, UK
If you ever need proof that a pub is more than simply a place with four walls that sells beer, then I suggest you head for the Red Lion at Snargate.
The Red Lion is not the most convenient place to visit, tucked away in that flat, majestic area of wetland known as Romney Marsh on the western side of Kent.
They call this part of the world ‘the Fifth Continent’, because of its distinctive flora, and it does have a rather different character and atmosphere to the rest of the county.
There are many fine pubs dotted around the soggy, sheep-grazed fields but the Red Lion is one of the undoubted stars.
This sixteenth-century, former smugglers’ pub was taken over by Alfred Jemison in 1911 and then bought by him in the 1950s.
Only a few months ago his daughter-in-law, Doris, who, after Alfred, had run the Red Lion for half a century, passed away, leaving her own daughter, Kate, to preserve the family’s legacy.
Doris may have gone but she has left an indelible mark on the pub. People used to travel hundreds of miles to meet this grand old lady and, from the material on display, it’s easy to see the impression she made.
The Red Lion is a shrine to Doris’s life. The three simple rooms are a living scrapbook of her eighty-seven years on this planet. There are family pictures on the walls and the Second World War, in which Doris – like other locals – played an important part, features prominently.
At the back of a pub is a hop-strewn games and music room, with shut the box and dominoes on the two tables and an upright piano ready for action.
Sheet music, mostly of wartime songs, is pinned to the walls, and an old air-raid siren recalls less tranquil times in this area, which – just a few dozen miles from the French coast – formed the first line of defence against Nazi invasion.
This room used to be a private family area but was opened up when the wall dividing it from the main bar area was moved to create more space around the serving counter.
In the bar, four ancient handpumps line the counter although their use is solely decorative these days, with ales instead drawn by gravity from casks stillaged behind.
Goacher’s beer is always available, joined by a changing selection from other small breweries, with the quality such that the pub has enjoyed more than thirty years’ selection for the Good Beer Guide.
Pictures of Doris and her family sit on a table in one corner, there’s an old bagatelle game on the opposite wall, the fireplace is surrounded by an impressive collection of awards certificates and old banknotes are clipped to the low, sagging ceiling.
Around the other side of fireplace is another room with table skittles, a dartboard and its own little hatch into the cellar.
This is where the wartime memorabilia really takes over with a large print of the Spitfire aircraft that once did such important duty in the skies above Kent and a framed display of Women’s Land Army photographs recalling Doris’s own wartime commitment.
There’s so much to attract your attention that you end up wandering from room to room as if in a museum, your eyes drawn to one intriguing item after another.
This means that, once inside, pint in hand, you may have to be dragged away but, before you go, don’t miss the garden.
This verdant little bolthole has an aviary and some impressive, shady foliage – big sappy leaves, swooping branches and even a fruit-bearing fig tree.
It was in April this year that Doris finally called time, falling asleep at the end of a Sunday lunchtime session surrounded by the photographs and memorabilia that encapsulated her life.
The tributes have been many and generous but the most fitting compliment to a life well lived comes in the form of the remarkable pub she has left behind.
The Red Lion, Snargate, Kent TN29 9UQ
Tel. (01797) 344648
Opening Hours: 12–3, 7–11; 12–4, 7–10.30 Sunday; closed Monday