I am pleased to see that Cambridge local activism is alive and well. A campaign to restore the Red Lion to Lion Yard following the shopping centre’s refurbishment some years ago attracted a total of one signature. And failed.
I was unaware that the Red Lion had been removed, in fact, and only dimly recalled its existence. It seems it has now been donated to Cambridge Rugby Union Football Club, whose crest is, coincidentally I suppose, a red lion.
There is no particular Cambridge association with red lions. Lion Yard shopping centre, the oldest of the city’s three shopping centres, is so named for the pub that stood there until its demolition in 1969. The Red Lion was in fact one of the most famous coaching inns in the city, along with the Eagle and the Mitre/Baron of Beef (which used to be a single institution; the two pubs are now separated by an archway leading into Blackmoor Head Yard). By 1969 it had fallen into disrepair and had been closed for four years, and was not, it seems mourned – a pity, since what replaced it and some of the other older buildings on Petty Cury was probably the least prepossessing building in the city.
Along with the Red Lion, an inn called the Falcon was also demolished to make way for the shopping centre. Queen Mary (Tudor) once attended a play in its courtyard, apparently, and it was there that Ted Hughes met Sylvia Plath.
Only a tiny handful of pubs from before the 19th century in Cambridge retain their character and function, and it would a satisfying business to blame the collusion of developers and city functionaries (as some have done for the development of Lion Yard); but in truth it is the university that has swallowed up the vast majority – the White Horse, for instance, famous as a meeting place for early English reformers, was destroyed by King’s; the Dolphin by St. Catherine’s, the Green Dragon by the Senate House, and so on and on.
see an old photograph of Falcon Yard here