Life growing up in a pub from bar cats to lamplighters

Merseyside has been home to hundreds of thriving pubs at the heart of our communities throughout the decades – and residents across the region still have fond memories of them to this day.

From historic establishments to new businesses starting to make a name for themselves, everyone has their go to place to get a pint and meet up with friends.

While some pubs are still going strong, all that is left of others is memories from former employees and customers.

The Red Lion, located in Prescot, has been a part of the town centre for centuries, living many lifetimes as a pub and more recently as a restaurant.

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It was recently announced that a £3.1m heritage-led regeneration project will help "breathe new life into the historic heart" of Prescot and see the repair, restoration and conversion of a number of historic building, focusing on the area around Market Place.

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Prescot High Street Heritage Action Zone, delivered by Knowsley Council with the support of Historic England, has already traced back the origins of a number of buildings and spaces, such as the town's first cinema.

Last week, the ECHO took a look back at the Red Lion on Market Place, from its first mention in early records to its exciting future.

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And ECHO readers posted comments about their memories and unique family ties to the former pub.

Here are some of your fascinating memories and tales from the families who ran the pub across the generations.

More than 200 years in business

The earliest known mention of the Red Lion is its recording in the earliest detailed record of publicans, innkeepers and victualers in Prescot, from 1790.

As records from the time only list the name of the publican, not the name of their premises or its location, it is impossible to know for certain in older records who was landlord or landlady of which pub.

But it is probable that there was a pub or inn on the site of the Red Lion on Market Place before 1790.

Prescot Market Place seen in the late 1800s

By the end of the 19th century, the Red Lion was owned by Greenall Whitley & Co and later demolished, with the present pub building being built in its place.

At some point, possibly the late 1990s, the Red Lion was sold to Punch Partnerships Limited and kept on as a tenanted pub and the Red Lion later ceased trading in August 2015.

Punch Partnerships later sold the Red Lion to a private owner.

For some time its ground floor was converted to a restaurant, Kingsmen Food, which opened in September 2018, but it closed its doors less than a year later.

"My great-grandfather owned the pub in 1910"

Born and bred Prescotian Karen Walsh, 65, has fond childhood memories growing up in the town and unique family ties to the area.

In 1910, her grandmother, Mary "Edna" Finney, nee Rothwell, moved to Prescot with her mum George, sister Linda and her dad John, who bought the Red Lion pub.

As a child, Karen said her gran would walk passed the pub and share childhood memories of when she lived there.

Karen told the ECHO: "It was my great-grandfather John Henry Rothwell who owned it. He had previously had a barbers in Southport and after that he had a pub in Park Gate on the Wirral.

"In 1910, when my gran was 12, he bought the lease of the Red Lion and the family moved to Prescot.

Mary Edna Finney with her father John Henry Rothwell, who owned the Red Lion pub in Prescot in the early 20th century and her two daughters Joan and Rhona

"Whenever we walked passed the pub with my gran she would tell us how she used to hang out of the windows.

"She used to clean the windows, there were a lot of windows. They were pretty high up and she would open them half way and reach out to clean the outside of them."

Karen said her gran left school at 12 and would work in the pub cleaning with her sister Linda.

She said Edna had a lovely life growing up in the Red Lion and that her role in the pub and upbringing was reflective of the Victorian era.

Karen said: "There used to be sawdust on the floor and spittoons that they used to spit in.

"My great-grandfather had his own horse and carriage that he took the family out in because they didn't have cars back then.

"The drayman also used to deliver the beer in a horse and cart and then they would roll the barrels down into the cellar.

George Ann Rothwell and her daughters Mary And Linda photographed alongside a relative. The family moved to Prescot in 1910 to run the Red Lion pub.

"The pub would've been lit with candles and gas lights because there was no electricity back then.

"The lamp lighter would also come and change the street lights, everyone knew the lamp lighter and he used a very big pole that he could lift up and light or extinguish the flames."

Karen's family has continued to have ties to Prescot over the years, such as family business Finney & Hall grocers in the town centre, which saw residents queue down the street to buy their famous loose butter, as well as danish bread, cheeses and more.

In later years, the Rothwell family went on to own and live in the Green Dragon pub in Whiston – which was knocked down in 2019 – where Karen's father Fred Finney was born.

Fred Finney, a former Prescot Cables and South Liverpool footballer, was also known for playing bowls in the area.

"It was the first pub I ever went into"

Yvonne Sedman, nee Bradshaw, 59, said her great-grandmother Mrs Robinson ran the Red Lion pub for years until the 1930s, when Yvonne's grandparents, Gertrude and Austin Bennett, took it over.

From around 1935, Gertrude and Austin lived and brought up their two children in the pub, which was a big part of the family's life for many years to come.

Yvonne said: "My grandma and grandad were living in Southport and then they had my mum and my uncle. My mum was called Imelda and my uncle was called Keith, he was the eldest of the two.

"The family moved into the Red Lion when my mum was four, around 1935.

"They were living with my great-grandma Mrs Robinson who ran the pub and then they took it over.

as a big part of my family’s life. My mum and dad had their wedding reception there in 1955.

Gertrude and Austin Bennett ran the Red Lion pub in Prescot from the 1960s. Left to Right: Lilian Bennett, Austin Bennett, Karen Morton neé Bradshaw, Lyn Bennett, Gertrude Bennett neé Robinson, Yvonne Sedman neè Bradshaw and Keith Bennett, circa 1960s

"My grandparents never had a holiday together because they didn't have anybody to mind the pub.

"They would go on holidays separately and planned to go on holiday together when they retired, but unfortunately my grandad passed away in 1965."

Yvonne said the family would call the pub the "RL" for short and that the Red Lion was the first pub she ever stepped foot into.

When you entered the pub, the bar was to the right and there was a wide staircase that went up to the function room.

At one point the pub also had plastic Bambi figures to advertise Babysham which was a popular at the time.

She said: "I know it was the first pub I ever went into, I was just a few months old.

"I remember there was a dominoes club there and my gran would put on sandwiches for the dominoes team.

"Everyone knew each other and it was a nice family pub where you could have a pint and talk to everyone in there.

"I do know they had cats called Punch and Judy that lived in an old unused oven.

"It was like a flat for them and they must have been really small cats, this was before my time. One cat was white and the other was black."

Yvonne said her grandma Gertrude also came from a family of publicans, with relatives also running pubs in nearby towns and that she is interested to see what the Red Lion building will become in the future.

She said: "It's nice to know something is being done and it would be nice to keep some of the original features in it too."

The future of the building

It was recently announced that a £3.1m heritage-led regeneration project will help "breathe new life into the historic heart" of Prescot.

Through the Heritage Action Zone funded by Historic England and Knowsley Council, there is an opportunity to restore and repair the Red Lion and find a new use for its bar rooms and meeting rooms, focusing on the area around Market Place, which for centuries was the commercial heart of the town.

The new heritage-led regeneration programme that will run until 2024 and work has already started.

Red Lion Hotel in Prescot. Taken April 2009

In terms of building grants, two early projects of the High Street Heritage Action Zone are two of its most prominent buildings at either end of Market Place, the former Red Lion pub, as well as the former HSBC bank.

Both buildings will undergo extensive external repair and restoration later this year and will see the ground floors converted to uses that will expand Prescot town’s evening economy.

Do you have any more interesting facts about the Red Lion in Prescot? Let us know in the comments section.