Saturday, 30 April 2016

Doris Jemison - Red Lion, Snargate

Doris last year, receiving her GBG 30 year certificate
I am sure that many lovers of traditional and unspoilt pubs will know by now, that Doris Jemison, the legendary and long-serving landlady of the Red Lion at Snargate, sadly passed away last Sunday. Her daughter Kate has advised that the pub will be closed until further notice, and our thoughts, of course, are with her and the rest of the family.

As an infrequent visitor to the Red Lion, I don’t feel qualified to write much about Doris, apart from saying that she was always there. Sometimes she would be serving behind the bar, but more often than not she would be sitting in a corner, close to the bar, either reading or knitting, but still with time to chat to the customers. On my last visit to the Red Lion, Doris's daughter Kate was behind the bar, but later on the lady herself put in an appearance, although she left the serving to Kate and her partner. Wherever she happened to be, her presence was always there, so it is no wonder the pub was known far and wide, simply as Doris’s.

Doris was an ex Land Girl, originally from London. After joining the Land Army when she was 18, she was posted to a farm near Snargate. She met her future husband in the village, where his father was landlord of the Red Lion. Doris and her new husband eventually took over the running of the pub, keeping it much as it had been since the beginning of the last century. When Doris’s husband died 30 years ago, she decided to keep the place just how it was, and today it serves as an example of a pub where time really has stood still.
My last visit to the Red Lion - March 2010

The Red Lion features on CAMRA's National Inventory of unspoilt Heritage Pubs. It has been run by the Jemison family since 1911 and, except for the odd lick of paint, has not been redecorated since 1890. It is situated on the busy B2080, close to the 13th Century St Dunstan’s Church in Snargate; a small village on Romney Marsh. The church was one of the many mediaeval churches on the Marsh that were involved with smuggling; their isolation making them good places for the smugglers to hide their contraband goods before their distribution.

Romney Marsh is a flat and sparsely populated wetland area which just out into the English Channel. The majority of the Marsh is situated in south-east Kent, although a small section to the far south-west lies in East Sussex. Romney Marsh covers about 100 square miles. The Marsh has been built up over the centuries, with land gradually being reclaimed from the sea. Because of its situation it is sometimes known as the “Fifth Continent”. "The world according to the best geographers is divided into Europe, Asia, Africa, America, and Romney Marsh" from the Ingoldsby Legends, written by Reverend Richard Harris Barham (Rector of Snargate).

Bar counter - Red Lion
The Red Lion is believed to date back to 1540, but unlike many old pubs of a similar age, the inside has not been modified and there are a series of inter-connecting rooms. The walls are decorated with a series of original World War II posters, and other memorabilia, and the rooms are also home to a selection of traditional pub games, such as "Devil Amongst the Tailors" and "Shut the Box". Although there is a set of three hand pumps on the marble bar top, they have not been used for many years. Instead all beers are served direct from casks stillaged behind the bar. Local beers feature prominently on the menu, with Maidstone brewer's Goachers being a firm favourite.

Apart from crisps and nuts, the Red Lion doesn't serve food, but Doris was always quite happy for people to sit in the games room and eat their own sandwiches and in summer time, there was always the sheltered garden behind the pub. The other thing for lovers of traditional pubs to note is the toilets are outside!

I have known the pub for many years, and whilst I don't visit it as often as I’d like, I do so whenever the opportunity arises. An excellent pub like this is not the sort of place to drive to, (for obvious reasons), but equally it is not somewhere which is readily served by public transport, because of its isolated situation. However, with a little forethought and slightly more effort, it is entirely possible to enjoy more than a few pints in the Red Lion without getting behind the wheel and breaking the law.

The Marsh-Link rail-line runs from Ashford, across Romney Marsh, down to Rye and eventually on to Hastings. I have walked to the Red Lion from both Ham Street and Appledore stations; sometimes across country from the former and along the road from the latter. However, the 30 minutes walk, from Appledore station, along the busy B2080, is not particularly recommended and sometimes requires quick-witted action to avoid speeding motorists who seem to regard the road as a race track. An OS Map though, will allow the keen walker to take the far more pleasant and scenic cross-country route from Ham Street station.
Games room - Red Lion

Although I am an infrequent visitor to the pub, there are plenty of tales I could recount of my experiences at the Red Lion. It’s the sort of pub where everyone gets drawn into the conversation, and like as not you will meet some real characters there.In view of Doris’s passing I will save these tales for another time, as for the moment thoughts must be with Kate and other family members and friends. As I mentioned earlier, the Red Lion is currently closed, but I am sure CAMRA’s WhatPub website will provide details of when it eventually re-opens.

In the meantime why not raise a glass to a lady who was one of the longest serving licensees in Kent, and whose name will live on as the unofficial title of the wonderful pub she ran for so long.

Photos - Ashford, Folkestone & Romney Marsh CAMRA;; Paul Bailey.


David Harrison said...

That is very sad news, Paul:I hadn't heard, and was even planning on going there earlier this week, but fate precluded it. I didn't go as often as I would have liked, but when I was last there about 18 months back Doris was holding court in good form. I don't know if you ever used the Man of Kent near High Halden in your East Kent days? The landlady-Cissie Milton - was another fiercely independent character.

Anonymous said...

That's a fitting tribute Paul.

When you write down the features of a great pub it all sounds very simple, doesn't it. The Queens Head at Newton (near me) and the Square & Compasses have similar qualities and continuity of ownership.

Lovely part of the world too.

Paul Bailey said...

Thanks Martin. There’s a lot to be said for continuity in an ever changing world, but ultimately things do change, and not always for the better.

I agree that Romney Marsh is a lovely part of the world. My wife is a big fan, but having grown up in East Kent, with the Marsh on my doorstep, I’ve always been a little blasé about the place.

My favourite Romney Marsh pub was the long closed Black Bull, at Newchurch; beer direct from the cask, a nice cosy saloon and a basic and unspoilt public room (no bar). With the wind blowing a gale outside and you snuggled up in front on the fire inside enjoying a pint or two of gravity-served Fremlins – heaven!

Paul Bailey said...

Unfortunately I never visited the Man of Kent, near High Halden, David. It may sound strange, but when I lived in East Kent, we tended to go to places to the east of the River Stour. Canterbury and its surrounding villages, was an obvious favourite, as was Folkestone and Romney Marsh. Going towards Tenterden and into the Weald, was almost unheard of, and definitely venturing into foreign parts!

I was eighteen when I moved away from Brook – the small village where I lived with my parents, just the other side of Ashford. When I returned to Kent, some six years later, it was to the west of the county; living in Maidstone initially, and for the past thirty years in Tonbridge.

It took me a while to fully explore West Kent, but I never managed to visit the Man of Kent, despite driving past on numerous occasions. I gather it is closed now.

Unknown said...

RIP Doris, and all strength to Kate, family, customers and friends.
A lovely pub, where time stood still. Many a happy hour or two spent there...

jill metcalfe said...

So sad to hear Doris has gone - we have happy memories of her getting her dog to play the piano for us, and of the wonderful old bar games. Doris once said that she could see the daffodils on her husband's grave over the road, whilst she was serving at the bar. We are so very glad to hear that Kate has opened the Red Lion again, and wish her all the best.
Jill Metcalfe and family.

hjørdis clark said...

We were planning to drive to the Red Lion the last few days- but having been critically ill in the past- there are good days and bad days.
I just got the news that lovely Doris has passed away, I must say I had to shed some tears- as I knew her rather well- she was a fantastic lady with a great sense of humor, great dress sense, witty and wise.
She was always so sympathetic,kind and had a great sense for younger people too, had kept her style, we admired her greatly and spent some fabulous times in the pub.
Our huge cat Marvin we often took him there in a cage was greatly admired and welcomed.
Sadly I never saw the dog playing the piano- but it fits the pictures.
We used to have some treasures of pubs near us in North London-with dressed up dogs, weasels on the bar-great London good old sing-alongs...its long gone-so we don't spare the trips to the Romney Marshes, especially to the Red Lion at Snargate, what a treasure,we will return and wish Kate and her family all the best!We are so very glad to hear that Kate has opened the pub again and hope it will remain the same as in Doris time.Doris RIP!We thank you for all the lovely hours we spent there and will do in the future! Hjørdis Clark ,HP,Theresa and Marvin

Unknown said...

I have been overseas however I am back now and wanted to add my condolences to Kate.
I have been going to the Red Lion when ever I could since my grandfather took me there as a young boy,I often got a taste of the mild and like my first taste of flying in a tiger moth from lympne Airport both have stuck with me and so I have been coming to the Red lion since 1947 of course I had to wait outside then, or there about. Its a sanctuary to meet old friends, so after 15 million miles of flying and many many pints of the excellent mild in the company of Dear Doris and Kate.
I have taken many friends there and always they have enjoyed the fantastic atmosphere of this real pub.
I last was there in the summer of last year and then was away until recently what a fabulous lady and what a time she was there, a record that the pub had two people still there from it being in the family for over 100 years amazing
Doris will bw sadly missed but Kate has the a beautiful smile and face that is always welcoming I shall be in touch Kate RIP Doris
Fred Finn
World's Most Travelled Person
Guinness World Records
15 Million Miles
718 Flights in "Concorde”

Clive Attenborough said...

RIP Doris. Happy to say that The Red Lion, Snargate was open for business as usual last Saturday 6th August 2017. Regulars were arriving constantly while our party was there after 2pm. We enjoyed some fine Romney Marsh ale. Nothing appears to have changed at this charming pub. Those standing at the bar stated that it had been closed for only a few weeks in 2016 'while things were sorted out'. I think it is Doris' grand daughter that is in charge of the pub now,together with her husband. Long may they run. Cheers.