Barking & Dagenham Local History
                                                                                                           Where History is in the Past

Where History Is In The Past

Red Lion, 66-68 North Street, Barking

"The Lion Roars No More"

Above the Red Lion in 2007; the photo was altered in 2008 by I. Vickers

The closure of the Red lion in North Street took place in the first half in May 2008. The last drinks were poured by landlord Harry Smith, who let the final customers drink until the barrels run out! This closure, I'm afraid was just a sign of the times, especially in regions like Barking, Ilford, and East London in general etc. The change in population here is one whereby the local residents do not utilise public houses. Other factors include: the no smoking ban, rising drink prices, and the fact that many people now drink and smoke at home, which is far cheaper.

There are many theories how the 'red lion' obtained its name. Some say it came from the crest of John of Gaunt (1340-1399), but this appears unlikely as this man was directly involved in the Peasants Revolt in 1381, instigating its downfall. He became vilified and lost his  popularity.

 A second theory came about during James I reign.  The king had newly arrived from Scotland and  ISS (Inn Sign Society) says the following about the name Red Lion:-

… most Red Lions originate from the reign of James I. Already James VI of Scotland when he

 ascended to the English throne in 1603, on arrival in London the new king ordered that the heraldic red lion of Scotland be displayed on all buildings of public importance – including taverns, of course.

What is clear is that the Red Lion is one of the commonest pub names in Britain and indeed Essex, but both the above theories do not hold much credence. There appears no single, easy answer with each inn having a connection to a particular place. Each pub would have been named the Red Lion for its own definite reason, plus being generally linked to specific local concerns

A 'Redd Lyon' existed in North Street in 1609, being depicted in the survey of the manor for that year. It was the tenement of  George Blackwall at this period.  From it's location in the Survey, it is likely that this early 17th century structure was near to the tavern final resting place. It is apparent that the 'Red Lion inn changed its name at least once, as it was once called the Blue Boar' in 1714. 

The older-- 19th century-- Red Lion, prior to today's building, was set back a bit further onto the path. It is not known whether this was the original and archaic tavern mentioned above. Frogley's Barking describe's it as a small room, which was entered through an equally small door, with a tiny counter at the back, with a glass fronted cabinet above it. Outside a wooden sign projected, with 'two red-ramping lions' (i.e. sloped and upright), one on each corner. It had been run in 1822-1832 by William Spinks, and later run by the Bosworth family from 1851 for around 10 years.


Its demolition was commenced on 14/03/1898. After it was pulled down It was then rebuilt and opened towards the end of 1898-99; a process of around 7 months, at an estimated cost of £10,000. The Red Lion building which survives today (albeit in its altered form), is not ancient.  A period of 120 years may not appear that old, but as fabrics in Barking go believe me this is. 

The inside of this public house was quiet large with plenty of room, and in February 1965, 'The Berkynge Folk Club' opened its doors on the 24/02/1965, which was hosted in the Red Lion, being the towns first such club, taking place on a Wednesday evening. By May 1966 it boasted an 800 membership. The hall was dimly lit ant the walls of the venue were covered in record sleeves. Folk legend Paul Simon played here on 25th August 1965; in addition to folk singer and guitarist 'Al Stewart' in 1966. I have a track of his on this website for those interested. In spite of this membership, the club was relatively short-lived and soon closed around September 1966 the same year. 

A folk club resurfaced in this pub again on Friday 10th September 1971, this time as 'The Toad Hall Folk Club', and folk stars Johnny Silvo and Alex Cambell played it, amongst others on the circuit. I do not have a time of its closure unfortunately, but it was again almost certainly short-lived.

A few years later, in 1974, the power-cuts under the Heath government took hold. My brother tells the tale that he remembers going into the 'Lion' during one. There was no electric and the place was lit by candles, and there was a lady on piano, doing Mrs Mills type songs, #Roll out the barrel, #Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag etc. It was reminiscent of scenes that must have taken place 30 years earlier during WW2.

In a pub survey in July 1987 the Red Lion was described like, "... being down on the farm, because it's like a barn."  Entertainment though, was still provided in the evenings. The pub also had a small car park to the rear. However, it was clear things improved, as by 1992 it was renovated inside, it served only snacks, and the drinks, in the Good Beer Guide, were described as expensive.

I have been in there on a few occasions between 1971-1995, and there was never many customers, sometimes it was totally empty apart from the bar staff. Having said that, it comes as no surprise when they announced its closure, and the plan to transmogrify it into flats.

The Red Lion PH, was being refurbished into flats/apartments, being carried out at the time of my 2009 Survey. The exterior facade was by and largely saved, albeit vastly altered, but the interior was gutted and subsequently rebuilt. At the time of a supplementary survey on 23/05/10 this had been converted to flats numbered 1-6, and was being occupied by some tenants. 

In early 2018, the building was known as Red Lion House and Narcotics Anonymous UK had just moved there for meetings.These are open to everyone, and you can just turn up on the day.

Below shows a ticket courtesy of  website called "Simon & Garfunkel... time it was it was."