by Ron Dale

I have stated earlier that it is doubtful if this pub has always carried the name of Red Lion. Further research into pub signs confirms this may be true. Most travellers on the road from the 12th century onwards were pilgrims, often travelling in groups. They usually expected to be accommodated overnight at monasteries and abbeys, but this led to the monks being unable to accommodate these large numbers of travellers. Many purpose-built inns were built by monasteries or abbeys to provide accommodation and refreshment and they soon proved to be a good investment.  (Elaine Saunders, A History of Britain in its Pub Signs).   If this were the case with our Red Lion, then this would account for the legend which has transcended the centuries that it used to be a monastery, although it could have been built by the canons of Waltham Abbey for the purpose just outlined. The existence of an abbey in the village is certainly not true.  Both Ron Davies and I have investigated this and found no truth in the implication.  Also I can find no evidence for the possibility of it once being the manor house, another myth without evidence.  This suggestion came about due to the English Heritage description of the original building being constructed in the style of a manor house.

    To discover the truth it is necessary to trace the history of pub signs. Also we have to consider what was happening in the country at large in 1538, the date on the exterior of our Red Lion Inn.  In the 16th century the general public were illiterate and painted wooden signs were hung over the door, copying the Roman habit of tying a holly bush over an inn door. These first wooden signs would reflect the ownership by the monastery by having religious pictures on the inn signs, pictures people were used to seeing on the windows of their churches such as saints, angels or arks.  But when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and seized all church lands, such signs became inappropriate.  In order to conform, any pub sign reflecting the Catholic faith would be avoided and a new spate of pub signs came into being. Church lands were sold off by Henry VIII and new lords took over. Publicans, anxious to please their new lord might have named their pub the Duke of Norfolk or used his coat-of-arms for their sign, for example. Many were named The King’s Arms  (as at Rye House) or the Crown,  to be on the safe side  of the ruthless Henry VIII, and some signs reflected the entertainment to be had at the pub by advertising bears or cocks in the pub name, when bear-baiting and cock-fighting were regular and popular pub entertainments.

     The sign of a red lion is obviously a very popular coat of arms in the heraldry of several countries. Pubs of this name are to be found all over the Home Counties. However, the dates when this change of name took place are very significant. The Dissolution took place between 1536 and 1541.  The date on our Red Lion pub is 1538, in the centre of the Dissolution period. It seems clear that the Red Lion name dates from this time and we shall never know what name it had before this date, if it was indeed an inn.  If it was earlier used by the abbot of Waltham for some other purpose as has been suspected, then this date is when they lost the property and it became a privately owned inn. We know that the building dates from the late1400s, it must have had a life of some kind before the date on its exterior,one possibly being that it might have been used as a malting, for example. It seems obvious that all Red Lion inns are not named due to loyalty to one particular family. Names such as James I, John of Gaunt, the Duke of Bedford, all used the Red Lion insignia and all have been suggested as patrons, but with no historical or sensible evidence. The Red Lion was one of the more popular inn names from this early period and it is certain that the reason for its use on any particular inn would be different for each Red Lion pub. (Martin Cornell, Zythophile, The Inn Sign Significance of the Red Lion, 2007). From 500 years ago we have no chance of discovering the true reason for the name of our oldest surviving inn. It may just be that they liked the sound of it and as we did not already have one...                                         

    John Taylor, the Water Poet, became famous in the 17th century writing and selling poems and penny news stories in London. One of his published books is a list of taverns in and around London. It is a tiny book only about five inches by three inches and a very rare copy is housed in the British Museum. Its verbose title was reduced and is known today as Taverns in Ten Shires, published in 1636. This has become interesting to us as one of those shires is Hertfordshire. He claimed to have travelled round the shires on foot, but this may be true or not. If it was true it was certainly a remarkable feat, but I suspect he made some short cuts. In our locality he recorded the following:

SAWBRIDGEWORTH: John Burr, no name of tavern. STANSTEDE ABBY: John Giver, no name of tavern. HERTFORD ‘hath three taverns: Will Scant at the Bell, Ann Vimmunt, Thomas Noble, Henry Chelsey and Henry Butler, these four persons do inhabit the other two taverns, being the signs of the Glove and the Angell.’ HODDESDON: John Sydes at the Black Lyon and Francis Williams at the Chequers.

It is interesting that in some cases he does not give the name of the tavern. It appears to me that he did not actually visit these villages personally and simply asked in the nearest town for the tavern keeper’s name. He quotes the tavern names in towns, but not in smaller villages, which is significant. Also he misquotes the name of our village as Stanstede Abbey. But this has occurred several times with other writers. This may not be the case, but why would he fail to record the inn sign if he was actually there. Whatever the accuracy of Taylor’s list, historians in London and the Home Counties still owe him a debt of gratitude as his listing is the only record of taverns in our towns and villages at the time of Charles I. Our local pub may not have always worn this name. I am still searching for Boar House mentioned in the handover of the manor from Waltham Abbey to Henry VIII in 1531!


1882 Thomas Abbott.  1884 Edward James Hitchcox, 1890 Charles Newton. 1891 census: Charles Newton (34) born Brighton, licensee, wife F. Newton (33) born Haggerstone, London, John Springham (60) yardman, born Stanstead Abbotts. Ellen Shambrook, general servant (18), born Ware. 1894/95 Charles Newton, 1912 Charles Henry Hooper, 1922 Thomas Bear, 1937 Alfred James Thorn.

Ron Dale, June, 2017