News Items

The Story of the Red Lion Unveiled

Left to right: architect Caroline Stimpson, Vivienne Greenwood, Mayor Michelle Thomas, Jason Thorley (General Manager), and Leanne Silavant, both of the Relais.

Another masterpiece!

You may have seen them around the town, at the top of Gravel Hill, on Riverside, Greys Hill, outside the Chantry House, and against the Henley’s bridge. Funded by Henley Town Council, and overseen by the Council’s Parks Department, they are bright and interesting plaques packed with interesting historical information about places, people, and buildings from the past of the town.

The latest one, unveiled on Friday outside the Red Lion Hotel at the end of Hart Street, is as packed with information as ever. Its headline tells you that when James I became king of England in 1603, he ordered the emblem of Scotland, the Red Lion, to be displayed publicly around this new kingdom. Is this why the lion, already on the seal of Henley’s Corporation, went red? Now there’s a thought.

The plaques are the work of Vivienne Greenwood, a long-time member of the Henley Archaeological & Historical Group. It is wonderful how she manages to weave into her story an interesting mix of illustrations, portraits, photographs, maps, and diagrams.

The texts are based on Vivienne’s enormous knowledge of the history of the town, and each one involves intensive, and often original, research. For this latest one, she made more than forty drafts before she was satisfied with the end result. When asked why she spends so much time on them she answered, “It is just a privilege to highlight the history of Henley and to trace the journey of the beautifully restored Relais from the 15th Century to the present day.”

Vivienne presented the Red Lion, now restored by Grace Leo as ‘The Relais’, with an antique Apollinaris Bottle found on a local dig. Apollinaris was considered the ‘Queen of table waters’ and much loved by Queen Victoria. Vineyard owner Georg Kreuzberg discovered that at one time there was a special mineral water storeroom in the hotel at a period that matched the date on the bottle.
There is funding for only a couple more plaques. Vivienne is preparing them on the subjects of the English Civil War in Henley, and the Fairmile. We very much hope that that will not be the end of an enormously useful project, describing for those of us who live here, as well as to visitors, the rich past of our town.

Contributors to the plaque:
Graphic design by Mark Baker at
Architectural drawing by Caroline Stimpson of Simon Mack Architecture
Plan drawing of Red Lion by Ruth Gibson
Postcard of east-facing ‘Edwardian’ Red Lion river frontage and Regatta postcard courtesy of Peter Crook
Photo of early Red Lion by the late Ann Cottingham
Coat-of-Arms image courtesy of Mark Perry
19th C Henley railway station courtesy of Hilary Fisher
Postcard of east-facing ‘Edwardian’ Red Lion courtesy of Peter Crook