Long-serving Dales landlady approaches another milestone

Rowena Hutchinson, left, and sister Marguerita Barningham.

Some people’s personal milestones make noteworthy history, and one such person must be Rowena Hutchinson, the owner and licensee of the Red Lion pub in the village of Langthwaite, in Arkengarthdale.

At the time of writing this, in June 2023, Rowena has been working at the tiny hostelry for 59 eventful years, the last 44 of them in charge, and today, despite approaching her 80th birthday in August, she has no plans to retire.

Rowena’s long run has defied the steep downward trend in the traditional licensed trade, which over the last 20 years in the UK has seen up to 1,000 pubs a year closed forever. Even more impressively, she has bounced back from the catastrophic deluge in the dale in 2019, which saw Rowena’s home and business flooded to a depth of four feet; and most recently she has survived the enforced shut-downs of the Covid pandemic of 2020/21.

Despite it all, Rowena carries on. Supported by her 75-year-old sister Marguerita Barningham, Rowena has refused to call time on the Red Lion. And since neither market forces, nor flood, nor pestilence could force her out, Rowena told me: “I’ll only give up when they take me out of here in a box.”

Her story at the Red Lion began in 1964 when her father and mother, Danny and Margaret Winkfield, bought the pub and, along with Rowena and Marguerita, moved in from their home in Liversedge, West Yorkshire. The Winkfield family had been passionate visitors to the Dales. The new full-time adventure became possible when Danny took early retirement from his post as a primary school head teacher. Margaret gave up a small poultry farm and plant nursery, while Rowena, then aged 21, gave up her job as a hybridiser of roses on a large estate near Brighouse.

Margaret became the licensee. Rowena helped in the pub while also establishing a rose-growing business of her own on land in the dale. She had a field of ten thousand roses. Rowena married a local gamekeeper in 1966. Marguerita, also helped her mother in the pub until she married a local farmer in 1971. Margaret was an enthusiastic student of the history of the dale. Her Brief History of Lead Mining in Arkengarthdale was published in 1995. She retired from running the pub in 1979, at which time Rowena gave up the rose business and took over the pub licence.

It was a particularly exciting period for everyone associated with the Red Lion. The pub had recently featured as a location in the Disney movie Escape from the Dark (1976) and had begun a run of appearances in the hit TV series, All Creatures Great and Small (1978-1990). Scenes shot inside and outside the pub brought it to much wider attention. Tourists were drawn to visit, and other film makers also came along. Notably, the Red Lion appeared in the TV serial A Woman of Substance (1984) and its sequel Hold the Dream (1986).

Film and TV fame has now largely faded away, but visitors to the Red Lion can still see photos of filming events adorning the bar walls. More importantly, it’s the unfailingly cheery welcome of Rowena and Marguerita that continues to attract locals and visitors to this gem of the Dales, which is a rare survivor among the rapidly declining numbers of traditional small village inns.

This article first appeared online on Swaledale History, a website created by amateur historian and journalist Will Swales. For more information click here

5 Comments

  1. I was introduced to the pub by my late wife, Rowena was known by my late wifes family. I have been a visitor for over 25 years due to Swaledale being my holiday home. Congratulations Rowena

  2. I have been visiting the Dales since the mid 1990s . We stayed in Reeth and our very first walk was Fremington Edge. We came across the Red Lion and knew nothing about it. Now we make sure we always drop in . What a wonderful spot to just sit outside and enjoy some refreshment and a rest before taking the easier part of the walk along the river backs to Reeth. The Red Lion is a very special place for so many people. Long may it continue.

  3. The number of times my Dad came home from going to get a packet of fags from the red lion and said “oh dash it I’ve gone and left my cap hanging on the door in the Lion I’ll have to pop along later and pick it up”!!! So many fond memories and so many great characters over the years, an excellent little pub, well Done Rowena for keeping the dale watered for all these wonderful years.

  4. The Barningham family are my ancestors. Our branch is in Newcastle upon Tyne. Grandfather John Barningham, born around 1900.

  5. A piece of Dales Tradition and Folklore, thank you Rowena for maintaining a traditional Dales Inn in these days of strip it out and go upmarket Gastro which appears to be the current theme throughout the Dales at present!

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