by John Clancy
One of the oldest inns in Sittingbourne is the Red Lion in the High Street. In the not-too-distant past, when Margaret and Roy Reed were ‘mein hosts’, they published a leaflet telling of the inn’s past history and I’m grateful to David Colthup for lending me his copy. Unfortunately David cannot recall when he picked up the leaflet, other than it must have been in the 1960s when he did some sketches of the inn. We no longer know the whereabouts of Margaret and Roy but despite this, I am sure they would not have any objections to my reprinting their history of the Red Lion.
“Undoubtedly Sittingbourne’s oldest house for the entertainment of man and beast” is how the Lion Hotel in the High Street was described by Canon Scott Robinson MA, the rector of Elmley. On March 4th 1878 he read a paper to the Sittingbourne Literary and Scientific Association in which he gave some deeply interesting historical facts about the Red Lion.
The Red Lion, he said, has been an inn on one and the same site in Sittingbourne for 500 years. In Nov. 1415 King Henry V was entertained here on his return from the Battle of Agincourt by Squire Nortwode of Milton. The bill for this banquet is said to have come to nine shillings and nine pence but in those days wine was just a penny a pint. Seven years later, on 3rd October 1422, this and the other inns of Sittingbourne were crowded with travellers who were sadly paying homage to the memory of the same great king; Henry V died at Vincennes and, his remains were brought with great solemnity and honour from France to Westminster Abbey.
The procession was headed by King James I of Scotland and Queen Catherine of Valois, Henry’s widow. Hearses were erected and the body lay in State at Canterbury, Ospringe, Rochester and Dartford. There was not such a magnificent a ceremony at Sittingbourne but even here when the great king’s remains passed through the town, the Bishop of Norwich performed a solemn funeral service in the church.
King Henry VII came here in 1492 and on other occasions. Cardinal Wolsey wrote from here in 1514 and Cardinal Campeggio, deputed by the Pope to preside at the trial of Queen Catherine, also lodged at the Lion in 1518. There were 500 horsemen in his
train. In May 1522 Henry VIII was here, as was the Emperor, Charles V. No fewer than 2,000 persons are said to have formed the retinue of these two monarchs on that occasion.
Henry VIII returned ten years later when it’s recorded in his Privy Purse expenses, on 19th November 1532, there was paid ‘to the wife of the Lion in Sittingbourne, by way of reward, four shillings and eight pence’.
In 1486 the inn was the property of Thomas Garrard and in 1550 it was owned by his son, Lawrance Garrard who in his will, ‘leaves it to his son Thomas’; to his wife he leaves ‘all his plate, 160 ounces, but all my harnesses, cows and bulls to remain with the Lion for the use of my heirs’.
In 1562 the ‘Lyon’ was owned by Sir William Garrett, Knight, a Sittingbourne man who had been Lord Mayor of London in 1555. He died in 1571 and bequeathed it to his son, Sir William Garrett in 1574 but in 1633 it passed to Mathias Taylor, son of William Taylor, a citizen and fruiterer of London. It is then described as ‘The Lyon hospicium with a barn, orchard and garden adjacent’.
The pub’s earlier sign. The stone red lion is still just visible on the parapet fronting the roof . It’s red colouring has long since faded and is now little more than a pink smudge on the towns skyline. See if you can spot it.