72 High Holborn WC1V 6LS
Nearest tube: Holborn
A pleasant-looking Victorian pub on a busy London corner. In other words: nothing to write home about – until you spot the understated plaque outside the front door.
EST: 16th century. Monarch: Henry VIII. Probably.
One of the most significant episodes in British history was when we decided to decapitate the king – the KING, mind you – and entrust our lives to Oliver Cromwell instead. After his death in 1658 Cromwell lay in state, king-like (hypocrite) before his burial at Westminster Abbey.
According to the plaque outside the Old Red Lion, Cromwell’s body was kept in the cellars of the pub for a few days after his death in 1658. This is just as likely as if a cortege carrying our current head of state’s coffin were to park outside a pub while the undertakers stopped off for a pint. However, it seems that the story may be true – only the dates are wrong.
Oliver Cromwell’s little detour to the Old Red Lion probably occurred in 1661 after Charles II had been restored to the throne. He decided to have Cromwell’s corpse exhumed, hanged and decapitated (as you do). So the Protector’s body was removed from Westminster Abbey along with that of his regicide son-in-law. But on their way to Tyburn the little group of couriers and corpses stopped off at The Old Red Lion either for a few drinks, an overnight rest or to await the arrival of a third regicide’s body. Some even say that Cromwell was eventually buried beneath or near the Old Red Lion. So one way or another, history definitely happened at this pub.
The shallow corner plot of this friendly pub creates an L-shaped bar where there’s no room for tables. Consequently everyone stands up or perches on bar stools which makes for a pleasantly buzzing atmosphere.
The other stuff
A Greene King pub, the Old Red Lion offers bar meals plus a plentiful beer selection. Upstairs there’s an atmospheric Cromwell Room but sadly, the cellars where his body (probably) lay have not yet been opened up for Hallowe’en parties and history talks. They’ve definitely missed a trick there.
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