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The Mayhead family and the Lion Hotel

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The Mayhead family and the Lion Hotel

20th century
(see long history)

My grandfather, Basil Mayhead, was the last owner of the Lion Hotel on the north side of the High Street before it was sold in 1936 and partly demolished. It had been owned and run by the family since my great-grandparents, William Henry and Alice Mayhead, bought it in 1911 and it was where my father and his sister spent their childhood.

William and Alice Mayhead had been the licensee tenants of a hotel and inn in Reading.  They acquired the Lion Hotel in Abingdon when they had to move because the owners of the Reading building decided to sell it. In a letter William described The Lion as

 “…. one of those old-fashioned houses that you see in pictures of the olden days a large wide gateway leading into a yard with racks fitted in the ceiling to keep the joints of meat and bacon on….”. 

Tragically, that winter William developed influenza and then pneumonia and he died at The Lion on 24 January 1912, aged fifty‑five.

A few months later my grandfather had given up his career as a surveyor and had moved to The Lion to help Alice to run it. It is through the recorded memories of my aunt, Joan Ballard, that we know something of life at The Lion when she and her brother Bill, my father, were children.

The annual Michaelmas fair was very exciting for them with gypsy caravans and rides coming in and being set up, paraffin flames lighting the booths, the loud pounding noise of the steam engines which ran the big rides, and all the crowds of people.

Life at the hotel was busy. Guests included some travellers and some parents for the various schools in the neighbourhood such as Radley.  Daytime customers included racing drivers from MG and Joan remembered hearing their high-powered cars driving into the yard under the gateway. Monday was market day and was especially busy. Joan and Bill watched the cattle being driven through the town to the market place, and the hotel put on a special lunch for the farmers.

“In the yard of the hotel there was a passageway that went up into the market – so we could get through to the market and on Mondays we used to put on a special lunch for the farmers and the man we called the ostler in the yard used to go and ring a bell at 1 o’clock in the market to tell the farmers that the lunch was ready.  There was quite a big trade going on Mondays and people who came in with their horses and carts used to put their horses in our stabling and their carts in the yard.”

A carrier used the yard of the hotel too.

“Once a week a carrier’s cart used to come in and stand in the yard and if people had any parcels or anything for the villages around they used to bring them in and pay the carrier so much and he used to be in for several hours and used to take all the things around to the villages for them.”

The hotel provided transport to and from the station.

“At one time we used to keep a horse and carriage especially to go to the railway station at Stert Street to fetch people to come to the hotel and we had a Mr Jenkins who used to be the man looking after the horse and he used to go in his livery up to the station and meet people and then we had another man in the yard who was called the ostler and there was a bell in the gateway that you rang if you wanted him or you arrived with your horse and carriage and wanted it taken down to the stables, you rang the bell and he came up.

“Then he was the one who had a large barrow and used to go up to the station behind the horse and carriage to collect the luggage and bring it back to the hotel.”

After leaving boarding school in Thame, Joan worked in the hotel for five years to help her parents and in order to learn the hotel trade. She left at the age of twenty-two when she married Teddy Ballard.  Referring to the staff that worked in the hotel, Joan said that the girls who worked there were lovely girls and some were quite young.  Her mother was very strict with them because she felt responsible for them as they lived in.

My grandparents sold the Lion in 1936 to the F. W. Woolworth Company. Tragically for Abingdon, the part of the building with five gables to the west of and including the vehicular entrance was demolished in the latter part of the 1930s to make way for the construction of the chemists Timothy White and the Woolworth’s store. The offices for Pearl Assurance were on the first floor.

 

Jenny Taylor (née Mayhead)

© AAAHS and contributors 2019

(see short history)

My grandfather, Basil Mayhead, was the last owner of the Lion Hotel on the north side of the High Street before it was sold in 1936 and partly demolished. It had been owned and run by the family since my great-grandparents, William Henry and Alice Mayhead, bought it in 1911. Although my family were involved with this hotel for only a fairly limited period of time it was where my father and aunt were brought up and I grew up hearing interesting stories of life at The Lion.

William and Alice Mayhead had been the licensee tenants of the Ship Hotel and Lower Ship Inn in Duke Street, Reading. They had brought up their family of three children, Basil, Winifred and Reginald, in the Ship Hotel.  Road widening plans necessitated the alteration of the front façade of the Ship, and the owners of the building decided to sell it.

 On 29 October 1911 William wrote to his son Reginald, who had emigrated to New Zealand, with a description of the Lion Hotel, which he had acquired during the summer.

“It is one of those old-fashioned houses that you see in pictures of the olden days a large wide gateway leading into a yard with racks fitted in the ceiling to keep the joints of meat and bacon on, a real Dickens House, it has a 100 feet frontage to the High Street. With about six [really seven] gables – built in Stucco….. The entrance to the commercial side of the hotel is on one side of the gateway and the family side on the other, there is no entrance from the street except the gateway. There is a nice billiard room plenty of stabling and nice passing trade, there is an opening from the yard into the Cattle Market which is immediately at the back & is held every Monday & from which we get a good trade. Last week we had between 60 & 70 traps put up besides Motors & 7 bikes, a good market ordinarily and the usual drink trade so that we get one busy day every week, ….. it is close to the river about 6 miles from Oxford.”

The hotel was bought in the summer of 1911 and managed by Alice for six months, whilst William spent much time in Reading settling his business affairs. At that time he ran a hotel, a public house, a butcher’s shop and a fishmonger’s.  He finally settled at the Lion on 24 December 1911. Tragically, it seems that the hard work and stress of the move overcame him and he developed ‘a chill’, which eventually became influenza and then pneumonia.  He died at The Lion a month later on 24 January 1912, aged fifty-five.

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      picture_2b.jpg                                 

William Henry and Alice Mayhead

© From the author’s private collection

 

 

Thereafter, Alice found running the hotel was too much for her.  In a letter to her son Reginald, dated 1 February 1912, she says :

“… but as you would know I feel I cannot stay here in the house without a man about to see to things for me and especially the Books and the men and horses and carriages in the yard, so Basil is coming here for a time until he can turn himself around and find something near here so he can do something himself and look after me at the same time.”

My grandparents, Basil and Florence Marie (Maar-ree) Mayhead, were married in 1908 and lived in Putney with their first child, Joan.  Basil was a surveyor and auctioneer. By mid-1912 Basil and his family had moved in to help run the hotel.  My father, William Henry Challinor - Mayhead, was born at the Lion in February 1913.

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Florence Marie  Mayhead with Bill and Joan (left)
Basil Stuart  Mayhead (right)
 
 
© From the author’s private collection
 
Basil served in the army during the First World War in the Aeronautical Inspection Department at Hendon, and for some time in Greece. It is believed that Basil and Marie bought the Lion Hotel from Alice after the First World War as Basil is listed as proprietor of the hotel in the 1920 Kelly’s Directory.  Letters from Alice, dated 1917, suggest that she was the owner at that time.

The time between 1911 and the sale of the Lion in 1936 is not written up in any detail but I can refer to the recorded memories of my aunt, Joan Ballard who had some interesting things to say about life in the hotel.

Preparation for the annual Michaelmas fair, which took place in the High Street outside the hotel and down Ock Street, was very exciting for Joan and Bill.  She had memories of the gypsy caravans and rides coming in and being set up. This could be seen from the hotel windows.  Paraffin flames lit the booths and the music was organ music. The big rides were run by steam engines which made a loud pounding noise, and she was excited to see all the crowds of people.

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The Lion Hotel in about 1929
© Postcard printed by W H Hooke and posted in 1929.                    
 
    From a private collection. Scan kindly provided by the owner.

Joan’s childhood memories are of

“….a place of twisty staircases and dark corners at the top of the building, a place of tremendous bustle and comings and goings in the daytime, of savoury smells from the kitchen and the clip-clopping of horses’ hooves over the cobles in the gateway….”

Guests at the hotel included some travellers and some parents for the various schools in the neighbourhood such as Radley.  And Joan remembered the daytime customers.

“Quite a few people coming from the MG. When Mr. Kimber was there he used to come in for lunch most weeks and bring the racing drivers.  I can just remember hearing these very high-powered cars rushing in under the gateway. It was a biggish hotel with seven gables so it stretched quite a long way along the pavement and there were two sides to it.

“It was a busy town in those days, especially on Mondays.  Monday was the market day and they even used to drive the cattle through the town because there wasn’t the transport in those days, so that was exciting for children.

“In the yard of the hotel there was a passageway that went up into the market – so we could get through to the market and on Mondays we used to put on a special lunch for the farmers and the man we called the ostler in the yard used to go and ring a bell at 1 o’clock in the market to tell the farmers that the lunch was ready.  There was quite a big trade going on Mondays and people who came in with their horses and carts used to put their horses in our stabling and their carts in the yard.

“Once a week a carrier’s cart used to come in and stand in the yard and if people had any parcels or anything for the villages around they used to bring them in and pay the carrier so much and he used to be in for several hours and used to take all the things around to the villages for them.

“The area of the High Street around The Lion was normally very quiet and only horses and carts were about and cars were few and far between in those days. I think really the general feeling was the peace outside and just the livery people coming. And I can remember the man coming to light the gas lamps.  He used to come around on a bicycle with a long pole and he used to turn them on in the evening then come around in the morning and turn them off again and as children we watched him from the window.

“At one time we used to keep a horse and carriage especially to go to the railway station at Stert Street to fetch people to come to the hotel and we had a Mr Jenkins who used to be the man looking after the horse and he used to go in his livery up to the station and meet people and then we had another man in the yard who was called the ostler and there was a bell in the gateway that you rang if you wanted him or you arrived with your horse and carriage and wanted it taken down to the stables, you rang the bell and he came up.

“Then he was the one who had a large barrow and used to go up to the station behind the horse and carriage to collect the luggage and bring it back to the hotel because in those days there were no taxis, no cars. Very few people had cars.  I think the doctors were the first to have them otherwise everyone went about in horses and traps or carriages.”

Joan also wrote about the Ock Street garden.

“The Ock Street garden was a joy to us children and our friends. It was some distance from the hotel on the banks of the (small )river Ock and we were allowed to go there and play whenever we wished, having been instructed first not to pick the fruit from the trees but to eat the windfalls, advice which mostly went unheeded…….”

After leaving boarding school in Thame, Joan worked in the hotel for five years to help her parents and in order to learn the hotel trade. She left at the age of twenty-two when she married Teddy Ballard.  Referring to the staff who worked in the hotel, Joan said that the girls who worked there were lovely girls and some were quite young.  Her mother was very strict with them because she felt responsible for them as they lived in.

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Maids at the hotel, probably about 1930.
Their names are not known.

© By kind permission of Bruce Ballard

 

The arrangement of the rooms during the family's possession must have changed as the years passed but Joan described it as it was when she and Bill were small. On the top floor were the day and night nurseries, a maid’s or cook’s room and a letting bedroom.  There were family and letting bedrooms on the first floor with the dining room over the carriage entrance. A smoking room, a commercial room for salesmen, a coffee room and a residents’ lounge, and also a family room, were on the ground floor.

There was electric light, hot and cold water but bathrooms were not en-suite in those days and there were separate lavatories.  

The yard behind the Lion contained stables and it must be remembered that at the turn of the twentieth century most people travelled by horse and carriage or trap, or by train, or walked!

 

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A corner of the lounge

© From the author’s private collection

 

 

 

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The dining room over the carriage entrance

© From the author’s private collection

 

The family are still in possession of items of silver, linen, furniture and china from the hotel.

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Hotel cruet set

© From the author’s private collection

 

 

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Hotel spoon warmer

© By kind permission of Stuart Mayhead

 

 

My grandparents sold the Lion in 1936 to the F. W. Woolworth Company. Tragically for Abingdon, the part of the building with five gables, to the west of and including the vehicular entrance, was demolished in the latter part of the 1930s to make way for the construction of the chemist’s Timothy White and the Woolworth’s store. The offices for Pearl Assurance were over Timothy White.

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The two narrower gables in the centre (now 13 and 15 High Street) are all that has survived of the Lion Hotel and the earlier King’s Head.

© Elizabeth Drury 2018

My grandparents spent their latter years at West Lodge, Featherbed Lane at Milton Hill.  When widowed in 1955 Marie moved to live at 9a Park Crescent near the Albert Park.  

Alice and William Henry were buried at the Spring Road Cemetery, Marie and Basil in the crypt at Milton Church. 

 

Jenny Taylor (née Mayhead)

Sources: the author’s family records

© AAAHS and contributors 2019

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