Step into our history: Golden Lion, Port Isaac

T o kick off 2023, we’re travelling back in time to revisit the Golden Lion located in the picture-perfect fishing village of Port Isaac.

Having celebrated its 100th year as part of St Austell Brewery’s pub portfolio in 2022, we’re shedding a little more light on the pub’s rich history. Though, you may already recognise the pub from famously having featured in the ITV Doc Martin series. 

The beginning

The Golden Lion has served the busy coastal harbour village of Port Isaac since the 18th century. The inn has acted as a community hub for generations of locals working the harbour – from fishing and processing to other harbour services such as handling coal and timber consignments.

The Grade II listed three-story building dates back to the early-mid 18th century – we can delve even further with an early 20th century ‘Golden Lion Inn’ letterhead that dates the building precisely to 1715. A smuggler’s tunnel known as ‘Bloody Bones’ connects the cellar to the harbour; it remains unclear whether the property was originally built as an inn, but the deep basement plan suggests the original purpose required a good amount of storage.

Richard Cock is the earliest traceable tenant, running the inn at the end of the 18th century. He was one of six children born to John Cock, who was noted by a contemporary as ‘a desperate character who was wanted on a warrant from some crimes and who shot dead a constable when the constabulary tried to execute it’ – he was hung at Tyburn Gate, London, in 1768.

In 1813, the Royal Cornwall Gazette noted that the ‘well-accustomed house’ was offered to let:


. ..established inn, comprising a very large Dwelling-Home, Suitable Appurtenances, known by the Sign of the GOLDEN LION, situate in Port- Isaac, and now in the occupation of Mr. Richard Caesar Cock.

In the same year, several auctions were held at the inn, selling various items such as fishing right and household goods. Just a few years later in 1818, Richard Cock passed and his widow, Joan, extended the tenancy, running the inn with her daughter, Miss Sally Gray (from a previous marriage). Mrs Cock was again listed as ‘yearly tenant’ in 1834 when the lease was sold at auction in June – she gave up the business the following year.


Moving into the future

The census returns of 1841 and 1851 show that the publicans were John and Mary Bate, and Samuel and Rebecca Worden respectively.

But by 1861, Samuel Worden had instead become a butcher, and the inn was run by the Roose family. William Roose was a farmer of 50 acres and his wife, Elizabeth, was listed as a ‘farmer’s wife’. How William managed the time to also be an ‘innkeeper’ is not entirely clear as the only servant living in the inn, Hannah Thomas, was listed as a ‘farmer’s servant’. In 1862, the building was once again offered for let – the West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser reported:

‘Desirable Inn to Let for a term of 7 or 14 years, from Michaelmas next, THE GOLDEN LION INN, at Port Isaac, in the parish of St. Endellion, comprising Bar, three Parlours, Kitchens, Tap-room, Brewhouse, and a good Cellar.’

Richard Roose, who was previously listed as an ‘active sailor’, became the Golden Lion’s innkeeper in 1871 and lived in the property with his wife and two children. Coombe & Sons, wine and spirit merchants of Wadebridge, purchased the building in 1884 but Richard retained the license. He continued to run the business until his death in 1903, aged 85 – after his death the Cornish Guardian reported:


the licence of the Golden Lion Inn, Port Isaac (held by the late Mr. Rd. Roose to his daughter, Miss Mary Emma Roose [who is] well adapted to the business, having assisted her late father for many years.

Following Emma’s death in 1906, the license passed first to Glanville Brown and then in 1914 to Frank Rundle.


Exterior of the Golden Lion in Port Isaac

Part of the family

In August 1922, the Golden Lion became one of eight properties bought from A Coombes & Son of Wadebridge for £800. Mrs Rundle continued as licensee until 1924 when John Ware took over. Ware proved to be a very difficult tenant for the new owners. In his three years as a tenant, Ware was summoned to court for keeping a greater number of dogs than he was licensed to do, was warned by the brewery to remove his poultry, was reported for serving outside of hours, and pursued alterations to the building and bars without brewery permission. Alterations were however eventually carried out in 1926 with the brewery’s cooperation. On leaving in 1927, Ware demanded a return of past rent based on poor living conditions – the Cornish Guardian in 1930 reported Ware as being tried before a debtor’s court.

It was not uncommon for the newspapers to report damage to the village – in 189, the Royal Cornwall Gazette reported a severe flood below the Golden Lion washing part of the quay away, while in 1910, Cornish & Devon Post reported:

‘During the gale on Monday night the Golden Lion Hotel fared badly, many slates being torn from the roof.’

After inspection of the inn, there were several refusals by potential landlords to take the licenses, however in 1927, the brewery appointed Harry Irons as the new licensee. In his first year, he oversaw property improvements, sublet the old stables to local fisherman to store fish barrels, and fought a small kitchen fire. Irons continued as landlord until he retired in 1949.

Later landlords included Mr Wilkinson (who noted the importance of the holiday trade, selling 30 barrels of beer in July against three in October); James Pallister between 1954 and 1957; the Yorkshire grocer, Frank Ellis (notable for purchasing the pub’s first cash register); Stanley and Muriel Andrews between 1962 and 1964, and Mrs Spry who passed the licensee to her son Jack, who ran the Lion until 1990.


Could you take on the challenge of running your own pub? 

Today, the Golden Lion is a popular choice for both locals and visitors alike. Its prominent position in the famous fishing village, together with its traditional Cornish feel and fantastic customer service see it thrive year-round.

Make your pub tenancy dream a reality. Whether it’s in Port Isaac, the Isles of Scilly, or Bristol, take the helm of your own pub with our unrivalled support to guide you through the journey. Explore our current tenancy vacancies and find your next business venture.