Spotlight on pub which inspired city centre street name

Jonathan Hooton, the Norwich Pub Detective, outside his favourite Norwich pub, the White Lion in Oak Street

Jonathan Hooton, the Norwich Pub Detective, outside his favourite Norwich pub, the White Lion in Oak Street. - Credit: Sonya Duncan

He is known as the Norwich Pub Detective due to his fascination with all things to do with the city's famous pub legacy.

In a new series, Jonathan Hooton, a member of the Norwich Society, will shine a light on a different pub which has since closed its doors.

This week he looks at the Red Lion, which inspired the naming of the city centre street, and later became the Cricketer's Arms.

There are many streets in Norwich which are named after pubs, many of them no longer there even though the street name remains.

Red Lion Street is just such an example.

The Red Lion had been an important Norwich pub since Tudor times but ceased trading halfway through the 19th century.

According to Walter Wicks it stood partly where the Cricketer’s Arms, also no longer with us, stood. 

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The Red Lion also had a large yard where travelling players performed and it came to prominence in 1583 for an incident concerning the Queen Elizabeth’s Players.

On June 15 they were performing a play in the yard of the Red Lion Inn and amongst their company was Dick Tarleton, the most famous clown in Tudor England and a favourite of the Queen.

Whilst Tarleton with two other actors, Bentley and Singer were on stage, all armed with swords (the title of the play was not mentioned in the legal case) word reached them that a man called Wynsdon had tried to get in without paying and in the ensuing struggle with the gate-keeper the gate money had been spilled on the floor.

All three actors leapt off the stage and ran over to where the dispute was taking place. Bentley struck Wynsdon on the head with the hilt of his sword. Wynsdon ran out of the Inn pursued by Bentley and Singer.

A bystander threw a stone at Bentley hitting him on his head and in the resulting fracas the stone thrower was attacked and later died of his wounds. This led to an enquiry, the result of which is not known.

It was incidents like this that gave the inns that supported travelling players a bad name and they were suppressed by the puritans later in the next century.

The Red Lion continued as an inn but lost its former importance and by the latter part of the 19th century had become the Cricketer’s Arms.

Red Lion Street in Norwich showing the former Cricketer's Arms pub before the road was widened in 1900 for trams.

Red Lion Street in Norwich showing the former Cricketer's Arms pub before the road was widened in 1900 for trams. - Credit: Derek McDonald

In 1900 the eastern side of Red Lion Street was demolished, in order to widen the street for trams.

That is when the Cricketer’s Arms and any remaining traces of the Red Lion disappeared. Another pub, the Orford Arms, also disappeared in the clearance.

The first new building at the northern end was Anchor Buildings commissioned by brewing company Bullard & Sons and designed by Edward Boardman.

Two of the three gables display the Brewery initials (an entwined B and S) while the middle gable has the brewery emblem, a tilted anchor.

One floor lower there are three broad white friezes; the middle one still has the lettering Anchor Buildings. The others are plain white.

However, they used to have the lettering Orford Arms and Cricketers Arms since the two pubs were rebuilt below on the ground floor.

The old lettering of the Cricketer's Arms on Red Lion Street, Norwich. 

The old lettering of the Cricketer's Arms on Red Lion Street, Norwich. - Credit: Jonathan Hooton

The ghostly remains of the former lettering can still be seen from an angle in broad daylight, as reminders of the former pubs just as the road name commemorates the former inn.

There was also the Coach and Horses further along Red Lion Street which was also rebuilt after road widening. None of these public houses survived the 20th century.

The Cricketer’s was the first to go, closing in 1959. The Orford Arms survived until 1974.

It at least encapsulated the sixties when its music venue in the cellar played host to some famous names, including Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix.

An archive picture of the former Orford Arms on the corner of Orford Place and Red Lion Street in Norwich. 

An archive picture of the former Orford Arms on the corner of Orford Place and Red Lion Street in Norwich. - Credit: Derek McDonald

The Orford cellar was known as Norwich’s Cavern continuing the tradition of the Red Lion as an entertainment centre as well as a hostelry.

It was the Coach and Horses that was the last to go, closing finally in 1984.

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