Boss pledges that the Red Lion in Yarnton will re-open in time for Christmas
A small Oxfordshire-based pub company, Oak Taverns, has bought its third pub in the county in less than a year with the purchase of the Red Lion in Yarnton. This follows the purchase of the Sun in Wheatley at the end of last year and the Crown in Marcham, which re-opened at the end of September having been closed for over a year.
This brings its total to 10 in Oxfordshire and 16 overall, all of which concentrate on real ale and none of which serve food, although most of them welcome independent food vans which park outside at busier times. The Thame-based company also operates the Cross Keys in Thame, the Cross Keys in Wallingford, the Red Lion in Chinnor, the Angel in Bicester, the Kings Arms in Wantage, the Swan in Faringdon and the George in Sutton Courtenay. Among its other pubs, all in southern England, are the Rising Sun in Haddenham, the Bird in Hand in Princes Risborough and the Greyhound in Whitchurch-on-Thames, near Reading. All these pubs were visited on two Oxford CAMRA minibus tours this year.
The Red Lion in Yarnton was subject to a community buy-out bid after it was closed by owner Admiral Taverns in the summer of 2022, when the previous tenant called time because of the cost of living crisis. This gathered vocal support and was featured on ITV Meridian local news, but the villagers’ share offer fell well short of target and they were unable to secure matching funding from the Government’s community fund. Oak Taverns made clear its interest at an early stage and kept the community group informed, and is likely to be welcomed as a committed independent owner of the pub.
Managing director Simon Collinson, whose father Ian founded the business in 1991, said: “We have completed the purchase and will move heaven and earth to get the pub ready to open before Christmas, although the garden will have to wait until spring. We have kept in touch with the community group, and when their plans didn’t come to fruition we were happy to step in. All the villagers really want is for the Red Lion to continue as a pub, not a private house. We are a pub company committed to running pubs and we’ve been doing that for over 30 years.”
Simon confirmed that food vans were planned to operate outside the pub, although it has some unresolved issues at its other pubs over whether food vans need to be licensed or have planning permission. Food vans have proved a successful formula at the Oak Taverns estate, where resources are concentrated on running traditional wet-led pubs rather than funding a kitchen and hard-to-find chefs. In Yarnton, as at most of its other sites, the Red Lion is not the only pub locally. The Turnpike, just outside the village on the A44 roundabout, is a food-led alternative.
“We have already appointed a manager, Jess Dixon, who is the daughter of the people who run the Red Lion in Chinnor,” added Simon. “We know her well and support her wish to run her own pub. We have also set up a link to our new acquisition from our company Facebook page.
“We want to replicate the success of the Crown at Marcham, which has been very busy since it re-opened, and garner the support of villagers in Yarnton. We have a tried and tested formula, and the success of the Crown gives us confidence as Marcham is a very similar village.”
The Crown is unusual as the only pub in the village, but is serving large quantities of real ale with four available last weekend – XT4, Animal Brewing Heron, Loose Cannon Number of the Yeast, and Timothy Taylor Landlord. The couple running this pub, Laura Goodwin and Ricky Dawe, said they were enjoying working for an independent company having previously been at Whitbread’s Applecart Beefeater restaurant in Didcot, and Greene King’s Boundary House in Abingdon.