A Virtual Stroll Around the Walls of Chester

The Vanished Pubs of Chester Gallery

the red lion

The Red Lion Inn (later Hotel) stood for centuries at no 7 Lower Bridge Street, near the corner of Pepper Street, and across the road from St. Michael's Church and the equally ancient Falcon Inn.

olderst picture of the red lionIn November 1771, one John Manwaring, retired butler, let it be known that he had taken "the old and well-accustomed inn, the Red Lion, late of Widow Penstone's". In its time, the Red Lion was full of company when elections were on, being a 'Grosvenor' house.

Right: this faded image is the earliest known photograph of the Red Lion Inn, looking very different to the later building.

A contributor to a 1927 edition of the Cheshire Sheaf wrote of the Red Lion, "although built in the middle of the 17th century, it bears no external sign of antiquity in consequence of restorations and structural alterations. In the interior, however, some idea of the age of the building may be gathered from the oak beams, floors and staircases, particularly those of the upper stories, which are in a fair state of preservation. On the first floor, at the front, there is a room containing an ornamental plaster ceiling... framed by a beading of plaster at the four corners of which, projecting towards the centre, are fleurs-de-lis on long stems. The centre of each panel is occupied by designs in relief but many coats of whitewash have all but obliterated them..."

The Red Lion was listed in Cowdroy's Directory in 1789 when the licencee was William Hancock. In 1822 the licencee was Robert Roberts, in 1850 Samuel Pilston, in 1857, the interestingly-named David Thom Millions, in 1880 Elizabeth Norris, in 1902 John Lloyd Jones, in 1910 Robert Johnson, in 1914-34 Thomas Miley (of whom much more below), in 1942 Ernest G Bennion. For over 300 years, the inn occupied a set-back site at the top of Lower Bridge Street until the alterations which turned Pepper Street into Pepper Row and the Inner Ring Road. Since then, this prominent site has been occupied by the large and hideous office block / hairdressers premises, Windsor House.

It was at one time one of numerous pubs belonging to the Chester Northgate Brewery.

Denny Colley wrote to us in August 2002 asking if we had any photographs of the old Lion as she was born there in 1944. "My aunt was the licensee but in partnership with my father. It's a shame that they pulled it down, it still had the stables at the back where the coach horses where housed". If anyone can help, contact her directly.

The venerable Chester historian Len Morgan spoke of it to us as the 'notorious' Red Lion, "the scene of many a conflict of fisticuffs, and that's putting it mildly. It was not exactly the place to take a girlfriend or go for a quiet drink". He also added that, such was its reputation during the war, it was the only pub in Chester where US Servicemen wouldn't go, and that it was carpeted throughout in red- "for good reasons!"...

Reader Paul Adamson wrote to tell us that "I used to participate in a game of darts in there and the occasional jar of course. The elderly couple that ran the place up to its demise in 1968 were named Swallow. I used to go to school with their grandson Melvin who was a canoeist of some repute and who, I believe, was up to Olympic Standards in the early 1970s. In turn his parents ran the Albion Hotel opposite the General Station- now called The Town Crier".

red lion"I would agree with Len’s comments. My father used to call the Red Lion the worst pub in Chester for trouble and one to give a wide berth to. (I didn’t dare tell him I went in there!!) However, I think this reputation was born in an earlier age, most probably during the war. American Servicemen featured but I’m not sure whether they were responsible for the Wild West Scenes or they refused to use the place because of them. In any event I was still young in the late sixties and part of a group of motorcycle lads and lassies who frequented the pub. We weren’t welcome in most places on account of our apparel, but we were there and even had our own darts team called the “Wheelers”. We took on other pubs’ second teams and in the Angel (Brook Street) one night I recall throwing a winning dart after being stuck on double one with my opponent for an eternity. A huge Irishman, one of the Red Lion regulars, congratulated me with a pat on the back that I can still feel today. Heavens knows what he would have done if I’d have lost!! After they called last orders for the last time we moved onto the Black Lion in Boughton. This became our new HQ with occasional visits to the Ring O’ Bells in Foregate Street".

Readers Roger and Gill Brooks have kindly loaned us some unique photographs of the Red Lion, its landlord and his family, dating from around the start of WW1.
Gill wrote, "My great-grandfather was Thomas Miley (portrayed below), landlord of the Red Lion pub from 1914 to 1934. Previous to this, he had been the licencee of the Fox & Barrel in Grosvenor Street (now a Brazilian-themed restaurant). He was married to Mary, whose maiden name was Stanley. My grandmother, Annie Margaret Sims (nee Miley), helped her father and mother to run the pub. My mother, Marjorie Sims, was born there, as was my uncle, Stanley Sims" You can see photographs of Annie Margaret and her parents on the Fox & Barrel's own page.

"My grandmother told me lots of stories about the Red Lion and the billeting of soldiers there in the 1914-18 war and how several of the young soldiers were her "young men"! One in particular, Edgar Roberts from Liverpool, she called "her sweetheart". Of course, many of these young men, including Edgar, did not return from the war.

red lionMy grandmother eventually married Ivor Sims, who was quite a bit older than she was. He died, aged 47, during an operation, and she never married again.

In August 1934 she bought a house in Marlston Avenue, off Lache Lane, for her elderly parents and her children to live in. Presumably this was when the Red Lion was passed on to another landlord. Her parents eventually died and Nana (as we called her) lived there until she died in 1991, aged 92.

Left: a view from the 1970s showing the Red Lion in relation to the other buildings in Lower Bridge Street.

After leaving the Red Lion, my grandmother had a job for many years at the Music Hall cinema in St. Werburgh Street (now a shop), first in the ticket office and later as the manager's secretary- first with Mr Mulvey and later Mr Newton, who she was very fond of as they shared a good sense of humour. When it closed she was very upset and worked for a while in the bingo hall (in Frodsham Street?) She received a silver box from the Rank Organisation for 25 years service.

She had a good singing voice and performed in many Gilbert & Sullivan productions with the Chester Operatic Society.

My mother and uncle are also dead now so my last links with Chester are gone, but I still remember Nana's tales and have these photos from an earlier age to remember her by".

Thanks Gill. Here are your pictures (the fine view of the pub at the top of the page belongs among them too)...

group outside the Red Lion pub

A well turned-out group sitting outside The Red Lion on an unknown special event, possibly the occasion of Thomas Miley taking over the pub in 1914. Notice the sign on the wall: "T. Miley, formerly of the Fox & Barrel, Grosvenor Street. He had been licencee there since at least 1910, when he was listed in Kelly's Directory.

old bus otside the red lion
This image is captioned "Grandad Miley. First Wrexham Transport bus".

mounted ww1 soldier outside the red lion

A mounted soldier outside the Red Lion- one of Annie's "young men"?

thomas miley

Thomas Miley: landlord of the Red Lion 1914-1934

red lion
A Northgate Brewery dray delivering to the Red Lion on a sunny day long ago.

bus outside red lion

red lion 1971
Two rather sad views from the winter of 1971-2 showing the last days of the Red Lion

red lion 1972

red lion

windsor house
This dreadful building, Windsor House, stands on the site of the old Red Lion today

Do you have any more information about this old pub?

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