Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Red Lion Taverns


In 1839, when the British Association met in Birmingham, several of its younger members happened, accidentally, to dine at the Red Lion, in Church-street. The dinner was pleasant, the guests well suited to each other, and the meeting altogether proved so agreeable, that it was resolved to continue it from year to year, wherever the Association might happen to meet. By degrees the "Red Lions"—the name was assumed from the accident of the first meeting-place—became a very exclusive Club; and under the presidency of Professor Edward Forbes, it acquired a celebrity which, in its way, almost rivalled that of the Association itself. Forbes first drew around him the small circle of jovial philosophers at the Red Lion. The names of Lankester, Thomson, Bell, Mitchell, and Strickland are down in the old muster-roll. Many were added afterwards, as the Club was kept up in London, in meetings at Anderton's, in Fleet-street. The old cards of invitation were very droll: they were stamped with the figure of a red lion erect, with a pot of beer in one paw, and a long clay pipe in the other, and the invitation commenced with "The carnivora will feed" at such an hour. Forbes, who, as pater omnipotens, always took the chair at the first chance meeting round the plain table of the inn, gave a capital stock of humour to this feeding of the naturalists by taking up his coat-tail and roaring whenever a good thing was said or a good song sung; and, of course, all the other Red Lions did the same. When roaring and tail-wagging became so characteristic an institution among the members, Mr. Mitchell, then secretary of the Zoological Society, presented a fine lion's skin to the Club; and ever after the President sat with this skin spread over his chair, the paws at the elbows, and the tail handy to be wagged. Alas! this tail no longer wags at Birmingham, and after vibrating with languid emotion in London, has now ceased to show any signs of life. The old Red Lion has lost heart, and has slumbered since the death of Forbes.

At the Meeting of the British Association at Birmingham, in 1865, an endeavour was made to revive the Red Lion dinner on something like its former scale; the idea being probably suggested by the circumstance of the Club having been originated in Birmingham. Lord Houghton, who is, we believe, "an old Red," presided; but the idiosyncrasy of the real Red Lion, and his intense love of plain roast and boiled, were missed: some sixty guests sat down, not at the Red Lion, but at a hotel banquet. Not one of the celebrants on this occasion had passed through his novitiate as a Red Lion cub: he was not asked whether he could roar or sing a song, or had ever said a good thing, one of which qualifications was a sine quâ non in the old Club. There were, however, some good songs: Professor Rankine sang "The Mathematician in Love," a song of his own. Then, there are some choice spirits among these philosophers. After the banquet a section adjourned to the B. Club, members of which are chiefly chemical in their serious moments. Indeed, all through the meeting there was a succession of jovial parties in the identical room at the Red Lion.[36]

[36] Abridged from the Daily News.

John Timbs
Club Life of London Vol. I
London, 1866