Friends of Red Lion Square Gardens

Author: Cromwell@RLS

Join the Friends

The next meeting of the Friends of Red Lion Square Gardens at 6 p.m. at the Tenants Association Hall, Lambs Conduit Passage (off Red Lion Square by Conway Hall, down the ramp by Tresham House, WC1R 4RE). Please come to support the Friends to help us make the Gardens, this small historic oasis in the centre of London, the green space to go for the locals, the residents and the workers, and the wider public.  Membership is free. Any queries, please contact Patricia Wager, Interim Chair, at

1960 – Present day

In 1955-56, the ruins of 35 Red Lion Square were transformed by Lander, Bells and Crompton into Churchill House, with Sir Winston Churchill laying the foundation stone on 24th April 1956. Commissioned by Cassells Publishers the building was enhanced by a bronze statue of a reclining nude Pocahontas by the sculptor David McFall, cast by the Gaskin Foundry. “La Belle Sauvage” remained on her purpose built plinth at the front of No. 35 until the 1980s when she was removed and later sold to a private buyer.

In 2006, Churchill House was acquired by The Royal College of Anaesthetists, which also purchased No. 34 Red Lion Square in 2009. No. 34 was the former architectural offices of Richard Seifert and Partners who are reputed to be responsible for more London buildings than Sir Christopher Wren, including the once tallest building in London, Centre Point.

In the 1960s, a further resolution to the bombing on the west side came with a major traffic artery flowing in from Theobalds Road and continuing southwards. The look and feel of the Square was now completely altered and as Barker wrote in his Three Hundred Years of Red Lion Square: 1684 – 1984, “The square ceased to be four-sided and secluded but became instead three-sided and quite open”, which is as it remains to this day.

No. 33 Red Lion Square, Kingsgate Mansions, which survived the blitz, had many residents in its subdivided flats. During the 1970s and 1980s Flat 6 was the home of Professor Theodore Cardwell Barker, Emeritus Professor of Economic History at the University of London, one of the founders of the Oral History Society, and his wife the soprano opera singer Judith Pierce.


In 1974, an individual tragedy struck. Kevin Gately, a second year student of mathematics at the University of Warwick died as a result of head injuries received in the conflict between a National Front march and protestors against it, of which Gately was one. He was the first person to die in a public demonstration in the UK for at least 55 years.

In 1980, an appeal was started by Sir A.J. Ayer, Lord Fenner Brockway (Chairman of the Appeal Committee), Peter Cadogan (Secretary), Lord Ritchie-Calder, Frank Dobson, John Gilmour, Dora Russell, Lord Willis  and Baroness Wootton to commission sculptor Marcelle Quinton to make a bust of Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970) for the gardens of Red Lion Square. The Appeal Committee stated at the time:

“Bertrand Russell, one of the most important philosophers of this century, awarded academic honors in many countries and the Nobel Prize for Literature, revered by multitudes all over the world for his untiring efforts for peace and human understanding, has not so far received the recognition that is his due.”

Camden Council granted permission and Robert Davis (President) with Peter Cranford (Chairman) of the Bertrand Russell Society in the US, plus members of Russell’s family gave encouragement to this venture.

Lady Marcelle Quinton, according to St Hilda’s College Oxford, where she graduated in 1952, is described as “a distinguished British artist whose work has been exhibited in Europe and America. Her sculptures are mainly in bronze and include the bust of Bertrand Russell which is on his monument in Red Lion Square, London. Other works for which she is known include the busts of Cardinal Newman in the Brompton Oratory, Harold MacMillan in the Houses of Parliament, and Lord Carrington at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Marcelle is also known for her sculptures of mythical animals and paintings.”

On 25th July 1985, the statue, by Ian Walters, of Fenner Brockway, was unveiled by Michael Foot, MP at the west end of the gardens of Red Lion Square. Lord Brockway (1888 – 1988) was present at the unveiling. The statue was conceived and erected by the Greater London Council in honour of Brockway’s “untiring efforts for peace and racial equality”.

On the night of 15th-16th October, “The Great Storm of 1987” felled a bough, presumably from one of the great London Plane Trees, onto the statue which damaged the bronze-work sufficiently – an arm was broken off – to necessitate restoration.

Stan Newens of Liberation, formerly the Movement for Colonial Freedom, launched an appeal fund for restoration at Brockway’s 99th birthday celebration at the newly named Brockway Room in Conway Hall. The plaque to commemorate the repair work and re-erecting records “Reinstatement by  Irene Chamberlain and others in memory of W.J. Chamberlain and all opponents of war, and also of Joan Hymans”. [W. J. Chamberlain was a member of the No-Conscription Fellowship and, with Fenner Brockway, was a leading conscientious objector to WWI. In January 1972, at the time of Bloody Sunday, Joan Hymans is reported as being in Belfast as Fenner Brockway’s secretary, sharing a platform with him, Bernadette Devlin and Rory McShane.]

The British Humanist Association provides the following summary of this humanitarian’s main achievements:

“Fenner Brockway was a humanist socialist politician who devoted his life to two causes, world peace and racial equality. He was imprisoned for his opposition to the 1914-18 war, and helped to found the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the World Disarmament Campaign. He played a leading role in bringing about the change from the old imperialist British Empire to the present situation where independent nations belong to the Commonwealth. He knew most of the leaders of the colonies seeking independence from Britain, including Gandhi and Nehru, the Indian leaders, and in his old age was a popular and inspiring figure amongst Indian communities in Britain.”

The sculptor, Ian Walters (1930 – 2006), according to the Guardian’s obituary, “was a deeply committed socialist whose work was motivated by his belief in peace, justice and human rights. He thought it important that his works should be displayed in an appropriate public space so that people could draw inspiration for those causes.”

Following the bombing of Pam Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie on 21st December 1988, a tree was planted in the gardens of Red Lion Square in memory of Alistair David Berkley, a law lecture at the Polytechnic of Central London who perished alongside 269 others that day.

On the site of Hanway House and No. 26 Red Lion Square, New Mercury House, designed by the Renton Howard Wood Levin Partnership for Cable and Wireless in 1988 was opened in 1990 as the new 26 Red Lion Square. At a massive 150,000 square feet, it is the single largest building on Red Lion Square.

Following the sculptural and construction developments of the 1980s, the gardens got their own enhancement by having new railings installed in 1990 by Alpha Rail and re-landscaping conducted by Charles Funke Associates in 1991.

In 2009, Naomi Lewis, the poet, essayist, literary critic, anthologist and reteller of stories for children, elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and and defender of animal rights died. From 1935 until 2007, she lived in Red Lion Square and possibly earns the acclaim of being its longest ever resident – some seventy-three years.

From at least 1952 there had been a workman’s storage hut, with a red tiled roof in the conservation area that is Red Lion Square. In the year 2000, Camden Council granted a lease for this ‘hut’ to be used as a café, the decision proving a very popular one with residents, local businesses and tourists all taking time to order a coffee and food to sit and enjoy the shade of the plane trees and this vibrant green space in the heart of the metropolis, at Red Lion Square.

1860 – 1960

Around 1860, John Philipps Emslie painted the east side of Red Lion Square, in particular Nos. 22, 23 and 24. According to Edwin Beresford Chancellor’s edition of The History of the Squares of London, 1907, No. 24 was the Ancient Baronial Court, held under the authority of the Sheriffs of Middlesex. “It is held monthly” (says the Gentleman’s Magazine in 1829) “before the Sheriff or his Deputy. Its power in judgment is as great as that of the present Courts at Westminster. It is more expeditious and less expensive; persons seeking to recover debts may do so to any amount at the trifling expense of only six or seven pounds.” From 1842, the Sheriff’s officer, and later Deputy Sheriff, of Middlesex was a member of the Burchell family. In 1890 the office became Deputy Sheriff of the County of London, still at 24 Red Lion Square, until May 1941 when the premises were destroyed.

24, 23 and 22 Red Lion Square, circa 1860, by John Philipps Emslie

Between 1886 and 1903, Charles Booth collated over 450 volumes of interviews, questionnaires, observations and statistical information for what was to become his Inquiry into the Life and Labour of the People in London. In 1889 this information was produced as a map.

Charles Booth’s Poverty Map – close up of Red lion Square

The map uses a spectrum of dark red to dark blue to map from rich to poor, with “Upper-middle and upper classes. Wealthy” picked in orange and “Lowest class. Vicious, semi-criminal” in black. Red Lion Square, at the time occupies the middle ground. Interestingly, Booth’s map also records the arrival of St John the Evangelist church to the west end between Orange Street and Fisher Street. Designed by John L. Pearson, the church was started in 1874 and completed in 1879.

In 1885, the Metropolitan Gardens Association planted a garden in the Square, which was made open to the general public. Prof. T. C. Barker makes the argument that “the switch from domestic/office/commercial use to commercial/office use” was encouraged by the improved transport links such as the widening of Theobalds Road (including the electric tramway system in 1906) and in 1900 the appearance of the Central Line and in 1906 the Piccadilly Line. The opening up of transport infrastructure meant that workers could travel to homes further away from the city centre and have personal gardens, allowing the general public to use the gardens in such squares as Red Lion Square. This Ordnance Survey map from 1914 illustrates both the parallel lines of the tram system on Theobalds Road and also the garden layout in the Square, presumably from 1885.

The first half of the Twentieth Century saw  several unique building construction projects on the Square. In 1925, Summit House was built on the site of No. 12 Red Lion Square for the Austin Reed Company. The Austin Reed menswear company was founded in 1900 and by the 1920s had a flagship store on London’s Regent Street. The company commissioned the architectural practice of Westwood & Emberton to design a London headquarters for the company.

Summit House, designed by Joseph Emberton and Percy James Westwood. Image by Richard Coltman.

In 1927, the South Place Ethical Society, now the Conway Hall Ethical Society, purchased the plot of 25 Red Lion Square and Numbers 14 to 20 Lambs Conduit Passage that both used to form part of the Strictland Estate and upon which used to stand a school.

Following a successful appeal fund from its members, Conway Hall Ethical Society raised enough money to realise Frederick Herbert Mansford’s architectural vision for Conway Hall.

F. Herbert Mansford’s vision for Conway Hall 1927 (with No.26 to the left)

In 1938, Hanway House, named one presumes after Jonas Hanway, was built upon 27 – 31 Red Lion Square according to Edmund J. Thring’s design and became a regional office for the Ministry of Labour.

Hanway House, 27 -31 Red Lion Square designed by Edmund J.Thring, 1938 (with No.26 to the right). 

Progress and fortunes seemed in full swing with new construction projects and transport infrastructure giving a different shape to the Square and its immediate surroundings. However, everything for the Square was about to change.

Red Lion Square schematic, circa 1930

Eighteen months after the start of World War II, Red Lion Square was bombed during the Blitz. On Wednesday, 17th April 1941, a parachute mine destroyed St John the Evangelist church. Over 1000 people died that night across London.


Then, on their last major London raids on 10th and 11th May 1941, the Luftwaffe once more bombed Red Lion Square. This time No. 23 and 24 were obliterated ending the Red Lion Square address for the Sheriff of Middlesex and later Deputy Sheriff of London. An unexploded bomb also crashed through the Main Hall roof of Conway Hall.

Blitz damaged on 11th May 1941 (Conway Hall can just be seen to the far left)

On the same night, another bomb exploded in Red Lion Passage destroying everything down the passage and also Nos. 18, 19, 20, and 21 Red Lion Square – the whole south-eastern corner. The passage used to be the province of second-hand book-shops as shown in the artist’s impression below:

Red Lion Passage, circa 1930

The Blitz had eviscerated half of the buildings on the Square – Nos. 35, 36, 37 and 38 had also been decimated. The Square was forever changed on that May night in 1941.

1952 Ordnance Survey map showing the extent of bomb damage to Red Lion Square during World War II

As London woke up, or more likely dared to venture out after a sleepless night, members of South Place Ethical Society were arriving for their regular Sunday meeting at Conway Hall. Their scheduled speaker for that morning, Dr J. E. M. Joad had this to say:

“My first thought as l approached Red Lion Square this morning was “My God! it’s gone…” And then to my immense gratification I saw that although our next door neighbours had gone, Conway Hall remained. Inevitably we are few this morning and I think the question might be raised whether we should hold a meeting and go through the forms or our service at all. We judged it right to do so (cheers)… It is our tradition to meet every Sunday morning, and in the words of propaganda it would be a victory for Hitler if we stopped doing so.”

In the 1950s, rebuilding started and Red Lion Square gained new apartments blocks in the two bombed out areas on the east side, whilst Red Lion Passage was lost to memory.

1760 – 1860

As the Eighteenth Century continued, Professor Theo Barker remarks that the Square “grew less fashionable” with some of the upper echelons of society moving away. For example, Sir Bysshe Shelley eventually moved away, and even built Castle Goring in Sussex, after living in the Square in 1753 where his wife gave birth to their son Timothy. (Timothy being the father of Percy Bysshe Shelley). The Square, it seemed, was becoming rather dour with the obelisk, iron fence and watch houses giving a “gloomy look” and, according to Barker, a visitor in 1771 compared the latter to “four family vaults and the obelisk to ‘the sad monument of a disconsolate widow for the loss of her first husband’.”

At some point, the following bizarre inscription was added to the monument “Obtusum obtusiores ingenii monumentum. Quid me respices, viator. Vade.” This translates as “A foolish monument to a more foolish deception. Why are you looking at me, traveller? Go away.” This suggests that the secret of the obelisk had been leaked, and royalists had attempted to denigrate the sanctity of this epitaph of republicanism. However, in August 1790, the Gentleman’s Magazine reported that the “monument” had been recently removed along with the “stone watch-houses at the four corners of the enclosure [Red Lion Square Gardens].”

Sutton Nicholls engraving, circa 1725, looking North, with North Street in the centre beyond the Square.

Sutton Nicholls, draughtsman and engraver, represented many of the squares in London for various surveys, such as John Bowles Prospects of the Most Noted Buildings in and about London (1724), London Described (1731) and the 1754 sixth edition of John Stow’s Survey of London. Red Lion Square is typical of Nicholls’ bird’s eye panoramic style and shows the watch houses but not the elusive obelisk. Hampstead, Highgate and Islington are shown on the horizon further north. A different perspective, by Richard Horwood, drawn up between 1792 and 1799 in his monumental survey of the whole of built-up London, offers no clarification as to the details of the Square’s accoutrements, but it does identify, as the assurance purpose of the enterprise demanded, a plan of the respective buildings surrounding the Square, complete with respective numbers.

Horwood survey, 1792-99

At No. 23 Red Lion Square, midway between Lamb’s Conduit Passage and Princes Street, Jonas Hanway, philanthropist and traveller, lived until his death in 1786 when he was given a public funeral, according to Edwin Beresford Chancellor’s, 1907 edition of The History of the Squares of London. The funeral, one is given to presume was due to his “amelioration of the lot of poor children” as opposed to the other recorded detail of his life, “his being the first man to habitually carry an umbrella in the streets of London.” In the late 1930s Hanway House was built at 27 – 31 Red Lion Square in his memory.

Jonas Hanway by James Northcote, circa 1785. © National Portrait Gallery.

On his eighty-third birthday, in 1776, John Harrison died in 12 Red Lion Square, or just round the corner in Leigh (or Lee) Street, now Dane Street. Over the course of sixty years Harrison built clocks and is remembered in history as the man who solved the problem of longitude. Harrison’s “Sea watch” know as “H4” enabled Captain James Cook to navigate on his second and third voyages. Harrison’s marine chronometer revolutionised navigation and greatly increased the safety of long-distance sea travel.

John Harrison

Around the time of his marriage, in 1795, the historian Sharon Turner moved to No. 13 Red Lion Square and researched extensively at the British Museum to write his History of the Anglo-Saxons in four volumes.

Sharon Turner by Sir Martin Archer Shee

By 1822, however, No. 13 was the Headquarters of the Mendicity Society, According to the 1850 edition of the Hand-book of London: Past and Present, by Peter Cunningham, “The society gives meals and money, supplies mill and other work to applicants, investigates begging-letter cases, and apprehends vagrants and impostors. Each meal consists of ten ounces of bread, and one pint of good soup, or a quarter of a pound of cheese”. Cunningham also records that “the affairs of the Society are administered by a Board of forty-eight managers”.

Perhaps the most famous residents of Red Lion Square are those recorded by their plaque at No. 17. Chancellor was particularly enamoured by this piece of history: “not only did Rossetti and Walter Henry [Howell] Deverell once live here; but later Burne-Jones and William Morris came to reside in the same house; such a constellation, indeed, as can be matched by no other residence, it is probable, in all London.”

In 1848, seven artists and critics, in the main recent graduates from the Royal Academy, formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB). On Dante Gabriel Rosetti’s behalf, Thomas Woolner, the only sculptor in PRB, enquired about lodgings at No. 17 on the first floor. The three rooms were available at 20 shillings per week (roughly £70 as at 2017). There was a stipulation from the landlord however, when he understood that artists were interested in his rooms: models were to be kept under “gentlemanly restraint” because in his opinion “some artists sacrifice the dignity of art to the baseness of passion”. Stipulations considered, Rossetti and Deverell took up residency in 1851 and lived there for a brief spell of six months.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti by William Holman Hunt, 1853

In 1856, Rossetti suggested to Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris, two of his fellow Mediaevalists and Arthurian Romanticists within the widening circle of the PRB, that they take his former lodgings at No. 17. For three years the two artists resided in Red Lion Square. During this time their maidservant, Mrs Mary Nicholson, became known as “Red Lion Mary”, and by all accounts put up with the bizarre and sometimes demanding behaviour of the two and their friends with great humour and loyalty.

Red Lion Mary by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, circa 1856-59. © Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery.

In 1916, Max Beerbohm created a series of drawings and watercolours entitled Rossetti and His Friends and illustrated how he imagined William Morris, ‘Topsy’, and Edward, ‘Ned,’ Burne-Jones amidst their own medieval themed designed furniture, in an otherwise sparsely decorated space.

“Topsy and Ned Jones Settled on the Settle in Red Lion Square” by Sir Max Beerbohm, 1916. © The estate of Max Beerbohm.

After leaving the Square in 1859, William Morris returned in 1861,  to No. 8 Red Lion Square, with some of the other PRB members to establish the headquarters of what would eventually be known as Morris and Co.

1660 – 1760

As Professor Theo Barker introduces in his Three Hundred Years of Red Lion Square: 1684-1984, “The laying out of Red Lion Square in June 1684 was marked by scenes of violent protest which obligingly enable us to date the event with some precision”. Barker also includes William Morgan’s map of 1682, which immediately predates the eventual construction and shows “all the land to the north of a thin ribbon of buildings skirting High Holborn.”

Red Lion Fields named after the original Red Lyon Inn and Red Lion Street, both off High Holborn.

The Red Lyon Inn, established in the Sixteenth Century (rebuilt in 1899), was reputed to be the most important hostelry in Holborn. Barker notes, “In better weather patrons engaged in energetic, thirst-making sports in Red Lion Fields or just took their drinks outside. The lawyers and their students at nearby Gray’ s Inn were also in the habit of seeking their recreation in this open space to the west of them.”

But the story of the Square really begins, it is rumoured, 23 years earlier. In 1661, Charles II ordered the bodies of the three signatories of his father’s death warrant, who had died natural deaths to be exhumed and tried at Newgate. These were Oliver Cromwell, Henry Ireton, an English general in the army of Parliament during the English Civil War, and John Bradshaw, one of the judges who sentenced Charles I to death. Still in their shrouds, the bodies were drawn on sledges to trial, condemned, and then dragged to the Red Lyon Inn: hence to Tyburn, where they were to be beheaded.  However, many believe that that their bodies never made it to Tyburn. Instead, the poet John Milton, with Dr Nicholas Barbon and Ebenezer Heathcote, were rumoured to have been involved in a plot to bribe the guards of the bodies at The Red Lyon Inn, substituting alternative corpses and then burying the Parliamentarians in Red Lion Fields with an rough and plain obelisk to mark the spot.

In 1684, Nicholas Barbon returns to ignite Red Lion’s Square’s history. This time, he is the cause of a battle his between builders and the lawyers.

He was the eldest son of Praise-God Barbon, author of Barebone’s Parliament, the last attempt of the English Commonwealth to find a stable political form before the installation of Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector, Nicholas trained as a physician and received his doctorate when studying in Utrecht in 1661. Three years later he became an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, in London. Medicine, however, was not to be his real vocation. Property development was the arena within which he made his mark upon history, with Barker stating that Barbon was “the most successful building speculator of his day.”

Following the Great Fire of London in 1666 and Sir Christopher Wren’s enthusiasm for redesigning, Barbon helped to shape The Strand and Bloomsbury and to connect the City with Westminster courtesy of swathes of housing and commercial developments. In 1684, though, Red Lion Fields came once more, if one believes the Cromwell tale, across his path. Barker describes Barbon’s flair for dividing up sites into “prestigious houses” set around “an airy central square”, with “more modest properties” densely packed on further perimeters to act as “screens” from the hustle and bustle of the “meaner dwellings beyond”.

His model set, Barbon could begin dividing up Red Lion Fields to create a new square with greater exclusiveness and commercial return. As far as he was concerned, he needed to screen off the south side from High Holborn’s noisy traffic of animals bound for slaughter in the City, and disregard various Acts of Parliament and Royal Declarations that might have prevented a less determined developer from demolishing existing buildings and rebuilding as he saw fit. Unfortunately, for Barbon, one hundred or so lawyers from Gray’s Inn physically stood in his way.

After losing their case in court, Barbon having purchased the land legally, the lawyers took to the field. Their resulting loss of “wholesome air” they deemed worth fighting for and fight they did. On the 11th June 1684 a pitched battle broke out between the workmen and lawyers armed with bricks and other sundry building materials. Both sides sustained injuries, but with Barbon himself leading the workmen they won and building continued. The first leases in Red Lion Square were granted in 1686 and, ironically, some of the early tenants were lawyers from Gray’s Inn!

Barker records that the “new square seems to have been highly successful in attracting to it men of quality as Barbon had intended”. As well as lawyers, doctors and other professionals turned to Barbon’s development to provide for their residential needs. The renowned surveyor Edward Hatton, in 1708, described the Square as “a pleasant square of good buildings, between High Holborn south and the fields north”. Another observer, writing in 1720, Barker discovered, “remarked favourably upon the rows of trees, gravel walks and grass plots in the square”, stating that they were “all neatly kept for the inhabitants to walk in.” By 1729, the rate book for the area showed that among the forty houses in the square, numbered anti-clockwise from the north-west corner, there were six knights and two titled ladies. One of the knights, Sir Robert Raymond, Barker notes, became Lord Chief Justice and died at number 23 on the east side.

Copyright National Portrait Gallery

A period of change seemed to creep threateningly in the 1730s. In a much quoted volume, A Tour through Great Britain, an unknown author states as follows: “This present year, 1737, an Act was passed for beautifying Red Lyon Square, which had run much to decay”. The Act of Parliament, Barker explains, passed a levy “upon all the residents in order to have the Square’s appearance improved”. He identified that the Square had become “a receptacle for rubbish, dirt and nastiness of all kinds and an encouragement to common beggars, vagabonds and other disorderly persons to resort thither for the exercise of their idle diversions and other unwarrantable purposes”. Barker concludes that around this time, or soon afterwards, “new railings were put up round the square and rather forbidding watch-houses put up at each corner.”

Looking East, with Princes Street (now Princeton Street) in the centre beyond the Square.


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