72 High Holborn WC1V 6LS
Nearest tube: Holborn 0.2 miles
Nearest attraction: Covent Garden 0.7 miles
A pleasant-looking Victorian pub on a busy London corner. In other words: nothing to write home about – until you spot this 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 put our trust instead into the rather dreary Oliver Cromwell. 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 this pub for a few days after his death, which occurred on September 3 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 quick pint. However, it seems that the story may be true – but the dates are wrong.
The late Oliver Cromwell’s little detour to the Old Red Lion probably occurred in 1661 after Charles II had been restored to the throne. Charles – understandably a bit miffed about Cromwell having orchestrated the execution of his father, Charles I – decided to have Cromwell’s corpse exhumed, hanged and decapitated. So Cromwell’s body and the corpse of one of his late cronies were taken from Westminster Abbey and loaded up on a cart. But on their way to the hanging, the little group stopped off at The Old Red Lion either for a drink, an overnight rest or to await the arrival of a third 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
Brewery: Greene King
Open: Every day except Sunday
Food: Midday till 2.30pm
Upstairs there’s an atmospheric room named, obviously, the Cromwell Room. Sadly, the cellars where Cromwell’s body is said to have lain have not yet been opened up for Hallowe’en parties and history talks. They’ve definitely missed a trick there.
And go to: King Who? for more info about the monarchs mentioned in this blog.