Helstonia – The Red Lion Inn
“The Red Lion is the badge of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the fourth son of Edward III. He lived from 1340-1399 and the Red Lion began appearing as pub sign during the following century. The Red Lion of Scotland is quartered on the shield of Britain and is there shown as a red lion rampant on a gold field. It is normally shown as the heraldic red lion on a plain background but is occasionally depicted as a real lion or humorously.” [from Pub Signs by Paul Corballis, Lennard 1988.] Until fairly recently The Red Lion in Helston’s Church Street displayed two signs; one mounted on the façade of the building, the other hanging over the pavement. Both showed a handsome heraldic lion on a pale green background. The hanging sign had been refurbished in workshops attached to the Helston visitor attraction Flambard’s. The present Red Lion signage cannot be said to constitute any improvement – aesthetic or artistic – on its predecessors.
The Red Lion is – with the possible exceptions of the 15th century Blue Anchor in Coinagehall Street and Meneage Street’s Bell Inn – the town’s oldest continuously licensed inn. An early 18th century document (certainly pre-1732) catalogued by the late H.L. Douch, author of Old Cornish Inns and past secretary of the Royal Cornwall Institution, entitled An Account of the Taverns, Brandy Shoppes and Ale Houses in this Borough’, names Mr. John Tressider, innkeeper at the sign of The Red Lyon. Helston Borough licensing recognizances list Edward Wheeler as licensee from 1777 through 1783. These records make it probable that the inn dates from the late 17th or early 18th century.
The architecture of the building is quite mixed and the interior has undergone many changes over the years. The main frontage probably dates from the mid-to-late 19th century although parts of the building are much older. Renovation work undertaken several years ago uncovered a striking 18th century fireplace holding a fine ironwork fire basket of the same period.
Edward Wheeler appears to have been prominent in Helston affairs over a long period, holding property additional to the inn at Sithney and elsewhere. That his house was an important one in the town may be guessed from the following advertisement that appeared in the Sherborne Mercury of 25th February 1782.
“FOR SALE, at Mr. Edward Wheeler’s, the Red Lion, in Helstone, on Tuesday the 12th day of March next,
by three o’clock in the afternoon,
The Good Cutter Privateer
H I N D’s T E N D E R;
With or without her warlike stores; now lying at Gweek, and there to be delivered; burthen about 35 tons, more or less; about six years old; a prime sailer; remarkable strong and tight; and would suit well for the coasting trade.
For particulars apply to Stephen Penberthy, auctioneer, Helstone; or John Golsworthy, Gweek.”
Hind’s Tender was one of six Gweek-based privateers that had seen service during the American War of Independence, ending in 1781. As a military vessel she had been captained by Richard Richards and carried a crew of 25 men and four four-pounder guns. The owners were Wills, Johns, Passmore & Carne. The application for her Letter-of- Marque listed the ship’s surgeon as Thomas Addonleg. Similar documents of the period named ship’s surgeons as Andrew Hurt, John Carbuncle and Abraham Morearm. Subsequently the Hind, another considerably larger one of the militarily redundant privateers, was used by the Preventative Service as a patrol vessel for the interception of smuggling boats.
The Royal Cornwall Gazette of 26th September 1807 reported: “DIED – On Wednesday at Helston, of a lingering illness, Mr. Wheeler, who for many years kept the Red Lion Inn in the town.”
Following Edward Wheeler’s thirty-plus year tenure, the next named licensee of The Red Lion is Thomas Sleeman who appears in the town directories for 1822-’23 and 1830. The Sleeman family, as well as being freeholders of The Red Lion through much of the nineteenth century, were also brewers and wholesale wine & spirit merchants with premises adjacent to what is now 68 Meneage Street , presently occupied by Whirlwind Sports.
The Royal Cornwall Gazette of 18th Sept. 1824 ran the following Notice: “Died – Last Sunday at Helston, aged 44, after a lingering illness which she bore with Patience, Mrs. Sleeman, wife of Mr. Sleeman of the Red Lion at that place.”
In due course, Mr. Sleeman appears to have recovered from the loss of his wife as the same periodical reported on 15th March 1826: “Married – At Helston, on Monday last, Mr. Sleeman of the Red Lion Inn, to Miss Gilson.” A similar announcement appeared in the West Briton.
The West Briton of 24th Nov. the following year ran the following advertisement:
“TO BE LEASED for [a] Term of 99 years, determinable on the death of Three Lives of the Purchaser’s nomination, all that long-established and well-accustomed Inn or Public-House
Known by the Sign of THE RED LION
Most desirably situate in the centre of the Market Place of the Borough of Helston,
Now in the occupation of Mr. Thomas Sleeman. ….For leasing the premises…a Survey will be held at the Red Lion Inn, on Wednesday the 3rd day of December next by three o’clock in the afternoon.
…For further particulars apply to Mr. Plomer, Solicitor, Helston
Dated 20th November, 1827.”
That Mr. Sleeman was ready to give up being a day-to-day publican is indicated by this advertisement in the West Briton of 14th June 1833:
“RED LION – Market Place, Helston –
This eligible Inn and Premises, now and for many years kept by Mr. T. Sleeman, who is about to retire from public business, will be let at Michaelmas next, or sooner if required.
For particulars, and to treat for same, apply (if by letter, post paid) to Mr. T. Sleeman.
This will be advertised but once. T.S. Sleeman will continue the Wholesale Trade, as before.
Helston June 11 1833.”
The next recorded licensee of The Red Lion is a Mr. Perkins, the Royal Cornwall Gazette of 10th August 1839 recording: Births – At Helston on the 5th inst., the wife of Mr. Perkins of the Red Lion Inn, of a son.”
By 1843 the license had passed to William Stephens, named in Pigot’s Directory of c.1844. The West Briton of 28th April 1843 announced: “TO BE LET – at Midsummer next, for a term of 7 or 14 years, the above Inn, which is admirably situated in the centre of the Borough of Helston, opposite the Market House, and was for many years kept by the late Mr. Sleeman. The present tenant, Mr. Wm. Stephens, will show the premises, and for particulars apply to Mr. Wm. Sleeman, Spirit Merchant of Helston. April 20, 1843.”
Subsequent landlords include Oliver Hocking (Williams Directory 1847 and Kelly’ Directory 1856) and William Sleeman, (Harrison, Harrod Directory 1862.)
Mr. Sleeman’s inclusion indicates that he, as freeholder of the inn, may have been having trouble finding suitable tenants. The following appeared in the West Briton of 30th Sept. 1869: “RED LION INN, Helston. At once To Let, this old established and well-accustomed Inn or Public House, situated in the Market Place of the borough of Helston. Rent £24. Apply to Mr. Sleeman, spirit dealer. Dated Sept. 28, 1869.”
The Red Lion, in common with all of Helston – some stern Methodists excepted – has always observed Flora Day. In the mid-19th century under the Sleeman family it was one of the inns from which couples emerged for the Early Morning Dance – in those days largely performed by domestic and other servants. After dancing down Coinagehall Street to Lower Green, around Castle Way and Nansloe to the Green Downs and back through Meneage Street they would return to the inn from which they started for a hearty breakfast.
Kelly’s of 1873 listed John Pearce as landlord of The Red Lion. His successor was Charles Snell, who was incumbent by 1878. In April of that year the West Briton carried this report:
“HELSTON POLICE – On Saturday Henry Simmons of Torleveen, Sithney, was summoned for being drunk and riotous and also assaulting P.C. Wedlock and tearing his clothes on the 6th inst. Defendant did not appear. Mr. Snell of the Red Lion Inn, said Simmons came to his house and had some drink; he became very violent and assaulted persons present and smashed some glasses and jugs. He was got out after considerable trouble. He then went down Coinagehall Street, tried to injure several persons, and when spoken to by P.C. Wedlock he caught him by the throat and, but for the timely assistance of bystanders, would have throttled him. He was fined £5 including costs, or two months imprisonment, for the assault on the police officer and £1 and costs, or one months imprisonment for being drunk and riotous.”
P.C. John Wedlock was for many years Helston Borough Constable – sharing the post for a period with James Fitzsimmons, father of the future World Heavyweight boxing champion, Bob Fitzsimmons. [See previous Helstonia chapters Two Lawmen of the Old (Cornish) West which include the above report.] The attack on him by Henry Simmons was not unprecedented. Two years earlier a labourer who had been over-celebrating Whitsuntide in the Seven Stars Inn, Coinagehall Street, assaulted Wedlock, his wife also attempting to strangle the put upon policeman.
Kelly’s Directory records that by 1883 the inn’s license had been taken by John Harvey, concerning whom the following intriguing report appeared in the Royal Cornwall Gazette of 18th January 1884: “POLICE INTELLIGENCE – Harvey, the landlord of the Red Lion, was brought up charged with assaulting his wife, but as the prosecutrix did not appear he was discharged.” A report of the same incident appeared in the rival West Briton. The 1880s appeared to see an epidemic of Church Street publicans beating their wives. A year earlier Alfred Gilbert, landlord of the nearby New Inn, was convicted of assaulting and threatening the life of his wife. The first policeman on the scene in that case was part-time borough constable William Fitzsimmons, elder brother of Bob. [The full newspaper report of this incident is also included in Two Lawmen…]
Two poignant newspaper reports concern the next recorded landlord of The Red Lion. The West Briton of 17th January 1889: “Deaths – At the Red Lion, Helston, January 11th, Henry, third son of John Wearne, aged 19.” The West Briton of 15th January 1891: “SUDDEN DEATH – Mr. J. Wearne, landlord of the Red Lion Hotel, Helston died suddenly on Sunday morning. Whilst dressing he fell to the floor. Dr. Wearne [Helston’s Borough Medical Officer of the period] was at once called but deceased never rallied and died at noon.” The paper’s Births & Deaths column recorded: “Wearne, At the Red Lion Hotel, Helston, January 11th, formerly of Wendron, aged 64.” It will be noted that Mr. Wearne died two years to the day after the death of his young son.
The 1893 Kelly’s names John Wills as licensee of The Red Lion, while a Helston Police Court report in the West Briton records the transfer of the license from Mr. Wills to William Berryman. A similar item in the 20th April 1905 Royal Cornwall Gazette reports the transfer of the license to Mr. James Thomas of Redruth. Subsequent licensees include Leslie Allen, 1910; Richard Henry Curnow, 1914-’19; Patrick George Sweeney, 1923-’30; Frederick G.M. Whittle, 1935; Mrs. E.M. Williams 1939. In the period between the end of World War II and the present names on The Red Lion license have included Richardson, Verah, Poultney, Willey and Stanicombe. Barrie and Zia Trevena, held the inn’s license from 2005 to 2008.
The successive ownership of The Red Lion freehold is not entirely clear, although some inferences may be drawn. It seems probable that Edward Wheeler held the freehold during his tenure and that ownership then passed to the Sleeman family. After that, circa the 1880s, the freehold was probably acquired by one of the local breweries active at that period. The Redruth Brewery and W. & E.C. Carne of Falmouth are possibilities. In any case, at some time, possibly during or following the 1914-’18 Great War, the inn became part of the public house estate of J.A. Devenish & Co. of Weymouth. Punch Taverns, acquired the inn from Devenish, or its successors, following the disposal of that company’s licensed estate in the 1990s.
NOTE: Having been shut for a period since late 2015, the building housing The Red Lion was sold at auction on 22nd March 2016. It is believed that the public house licence of the inn had previously been acquired at one point by the JD Wetherspoon organization, presumably in anticipation of the opening in November 2015 of that company’s new establishment in the Coinagehall Street building previously occupied by the Oliver & Son furnishings concern.
FURTHER NOTE: Happily, following a sensitive and tasteful refurbishment, Helston’s Red Lion Inn reopened in October 2016 under the proprietorship of Haley Nicholas and Michaela Cooke.