The Garden Guide

Book: London Parks and Gardens, 1907
Chapter: Chapter 9 Squares

Red Lion Square

Previous - Next

Red Lion Square is an exception. It has a longer history, and now its garden differs from the rest, as it is open to the public, and a great boon in this crowded district. It takes its name from a Red Lion Inn, which stood in the fields long before any other houses had grown up near it. It was to this inn that the bodies of the regicides Cromwell, Ireton, and Bradshaw were carried, when they were exhumed from Westminster Abbey and taken, with all the horrible indignities meted out to traitors, to Tyburn. A tradition, probably without foundation, was for long current that a rough stone obelisk, which stood afterwards in the Square, marked the spot where Cromwell's body was buried by friends who rescued the remains from the scaffold. The houses were built round it at the end of the seventeenth century, but the space in the middle seems, like all other squares at this time, to have been more or less a rubbish heap, and a resort of "vagabonds and other disorderly persons." In 1737 the inhabitants got an Act of Parliament to allow them to levy a rate to keep the Square in order. A contemporary, in praising this determination to beautify the Square, "which had run much to decay," hopes that "Leicester Fields and Golden Square will soon follow these good examples." The "beautifying " consisted in setting up a railing round it, with watch-houses at the corners, while the obelisk rose in the centre out of the rank grass. The present garden, when first opened to the public, was managed by the Metropolitan Gardens Association, but since 1895 the London County Council have looked after it; the inhabitants having made a practically free gift of it for the public benefit. The nice old trees, flowers, seats, and fountain make it a much less gloomy spot than during any time of its history since the Red Lion kept solitary watch in the fields.