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'We don't need saving, we need security': Islington's famous Old Red Lion Theatre Pub for sale for £450,000

A pub has stood on the site of The Old Red Lion since 1415, according to Historic England (Adam Bruderer/Flickr)
A pub has stood on the site of The Old Red Lion since 1415, according to Historic England (Adam Bruderer/Flickr)

Islington’s Old Red Lion Pub —one of London’s oldest pubs and an important fringe theatre— is for sale for £450,000.

Listed with commercial property advisor Christie & Co, the sale includes the Grade II-listed pub and its 50-seat, black box theatre, a two-bedroom flat, two bedsits and a trade kitchen. The property is offered on a new 15-year lease from the freeholder, Star Pubs & Bars.

A pub has stood on the site on St John Street since 1415, with the current building constructed in 1899, according to Historic England. The theatre opened in 1979 and has provided an important platform for emerging artists since, presenting new work from playwrights, directors and performers like Kathy Burke, Joe Penhall, Penelope Skinner, Nina Raine, Abi Morgan, Simon Longman and John O’Donovan.

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“After 40 years, the Old Red Lion Theatre continues to be committed to supporting and presenting ambitious theatre and is particularly focused on making both the programming and ability for artists to stage work at the Old Red Lion Theatre more accessible, inclusive and diverse by offering a range of in-kind support,” the theatre wrote in 2019. “This focus firmly establishes us as one of the most acclaimed Off-West End venues for powerful and vital theatre.”

'It's a proper Victorian pub,
'It's a proper Victorian pub," says Chaplin. 'The slightly worn but well-loved Old Red Lion.' (Christie & Co)

The Old Red Lion has been family-run for over 25 years. Its owner, Damien Devine, also listed the pub for £575,000 in 2019, and has since negotiated the new lease and undertaken “considerable remedial works” to the building over the last 18 months. This, says Chaplin, includes repairs to the roof and redecoration of the exterior.

Chaplin says that the 15-year lease is “longer than most”, with rent —currently fixed at £80,000 per year— to be reviewed every five years. At the end of the lease, the buyer will be offered the right to renew on the same terms at no extra cost. The pub and theatre staff will transfer with the business.

After 25 years running the pub, Chaplin says that Devine, 63, “is planning for later life”. “He’s not retiring – but he’s looking for a change of scenery.”

When the pub was listed in 2019, Chaplin says that the previous lease was coming to an end and the freehold underwent a change of ownership, which made selling more difficult. The pandemic affected the running of the theatre, which, as he puts it, was “treading water”.

Now, with its new lease and with the theatre back up and running normally, Chaplin is optimistic that the pub will find the right new owners.

“Every time we put it on the market, it’s been the theatre that’s the main draw,” says Chaplin. “There are plenty of pubs in Islington, but what makes this one different —not just in Islington, but in most of London— is that it’s a theatre pub. It’s one of the bigger ones, and it’s also a permanent theatre – not just a temporary affair.”

“And there’s its age,” he adds. “It’s one of the oldest pubs in London – there has been a pub on the site for over 600 years. It’s got great history, it’s got great potential and the theatre is well-loved…The pub will remain, but I think the way it’s looking, there will be a theatre person behind it.”

Zombie Movie Star at the London Horror Festival at the Old Red Lion Theatre in 2018
Zombie Movie Star at the London Horror Festival at the Old Red Lion Theatre in 2018

Jack Robertson, the theatre’s artistic director, commented on the sale on X: “Don’t assume this theatre is dwindling, we’re thriving. This year alone we've had sold out runs, transfers, a festival of new diverse writing to rival Vaults, plus a UK premiere and a touring revival coming up.

“We don’t need ‘saving’, we need security to continue doing our amazing work in this incredible and vital fringe theatre.”