The town of Henley has been standing beside the River Thames since long before the Norman Conquest in 1066. No one knows exactly when the Red Lion Hotel came into existence, but it is believed that it was originally built in 1531 to accommodate the craftsmen and their apprentices who constructed the 16th Century Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin. Saint Catherine appears to have been a favourite Saint of Henley and a chapel was dedicated to her in the church.
The 14th Century Chantry House can be seen in the courtyard of the hotel. It was originally the home of the chantry Priests, built early in the 14th Century.
In 1664, it was used as a school room, the Grammar School being the upper half and Lady Purim's Bluecoats using the lower half. Later it formed part of the Red Lion Hotel for many years, before being restored to the Church as a memorial to Canon J F Maul, a former rector of Henley who died in 1915.
The earliest guest of note whose visit was recorded, was Charles I who stayed in the hotel in 1632 on his way form London to Oxford. The original Coat of Arms, painted above the fireplace in one of the rooms, has been preserved and glassed over following its discovery during alterations in 1889. These alterations included the addition of the porch upon which the effigy of the Red Lion was placed and the building of the central hall where previously an archway had led to the courtyard.
The Red Lion was, in the old days of slow travelling, the resting place of the Duke of Marlborough on his way from Blenheim to London. He furnished one room which was kept for his command on his stately journey through Henley. His furniture remained in the hotel until 1849 (over a century).
It is reputed that the poet Shenstone, whilst staying at the Red Lion in 1750, scratched with a diamond on a pane of glass his famous lines:
Wher'er his stage may have been,
May sigh to think he still has found,
The warmest welcome at an Inn.
The original pane of glass is no longer in existence, but a reproduction of the same can be seen. Mr. Boswell and Dr. Johnson stayed the night in the hotel in 1776. Mr Boswell was the son of Lord Auchinleck of Ayrshire and was famous for the writing of "The Life of Samuel Johnson". In the biography, he refers to the poem, "We happened to lie this night at the inn at Henley where Shenstone wrote these lines."
Henley Bridge, designed by William Hayward, is overlooked by the Hotel and was completed in 1786, several years after the old wood bridge was swept away by floods. The Honourable Mrs. Damar, Daughter of General Conway, carved the keystone of the bridge to represent the Isis (looking downstream) and Thamesis (looking upstream), the two rivers which unite into one near Dorchester.
The brick façade of the hotel was added in Georgian times. George III, having friends in the neighbourhood, was a frequent visitor to Henley and was familiar with the inn from his boyhood days. He took breakfast at the Red Lion on July 12th 1788, accompanied by Queen Charlotte, Queen Wilhelmina and Princesses Augusta and Elizabeth.
The Prince Regent, who later became George IV, is purported to have visited the Red Lion. On one occasion he ate no fewer than fourteen chops - for this, the hostess, Mrs Dixon, became famous.
On 15th June 1814, after the defeat of Napoleon, a procession of Allied Princes passed through Henley on the way to Oxford to receive academic honours. Lady Malmesbury of Park Place, who had taken up a position in an upper room at the Red Lion, asked for General Blucher to be brought to the inn. According to the letter written by Lady Malmesbury to her son, Lord Fitzharris. "The fine old man came up into the inn room, then walked to the window and drank to the people, who received the compliment with screams of delight." Twelve of Henley's prettiest girls were dispatched to entertain them. It is said that the Prussian General sought a kiss from one, Caroline Cooper, but was refused.
At one time, at least seventeen coaches and sociables stopped at Henley daily. With the opening of the Great Western Railway, two four horse coaches ran twice daily between the Red Lion and Twyford until the branch line opened in 1857. Then the hotel advertised that "an omnibus meets each train, and carriages of all sorts are to be hired." At this time, too, the hotel owned large boathouses where 'every kind of boat or rivercraft can be hired.'
The first University boat race was held at Henley on June 10th, 1829, when the old inn was crowded for the first time with University and rowing men. In 1839 the world famous Royal Regatta started. This picturesque sporting event is now one the largest international regattas in the world. Until the latter part of the last century, the finishing post was opposite the Red Lion. Today the hotel overlooks the crew tents, and the winning post is visible a little further downstream.
Sir Winston Churchill visited the Red Lion bar and a receipt from his stay and will shortly displayed in the Churchill archives in London.
These are some of the hotel's historic visitors who helped to enhance its reputation.
ROOM 105 - QUEEN WILHELMINA'S ROOM
It is recorded in local history that Queen Wilhelmina, with George III, Princess Elizabeth and Princess Royal, breakfasted at the Red Lion Hotel on the 12th July 1788.
ROOM 106 - RED LION ROOM
The Red Lion is of great historical interest and dates back to 1632 when Charles I is purported to have stayed here. His Royal Coat of Arms can be seen in one of the bedrooms. This was discovered in 1889 when alterations were being done. Other famous names connected with the Red Lion are Wellington, George III, Queen Charlotte, Prince Rupert, Dr. Johnson, Boswell and Shenstone the poet.
ROOM 107 - SHENSTONE'S ROOM
It is reputed that the poet Shenstone whilst staying at the Red Lion Hotel in 1750, scratched with a diamond on a pane of glass his famous lines:
Wher'er his stages may have been,
May sigh to think he still has found,
The warmest welcome at an Inn.
The original pane of glass is no longer in existence, but a reproduction of the same can be seen in this room.
ROOM 108 - CHARLES I ROOM
Charles I reported to have visited the Red Lion in 1632 and again in 1642 accompanied by Price Rupert, during the Civil War. In 1889, during alterations, the Royal Coat of Arms with King Charles' monogram in the centre and the date 1632 was discovered. This has been preserved in the glassed over panel and can be seen in this room.
ROOM 109 - DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH'S ROOM
The Red Lion was, in the days of slow travelling, the resting place of the Duke of Marlborough, on his way from Blenheim to London, he furnished one room which he kept for his command on his stately journeys through Henley. His furniture remained in the hotel until 1849 (over a century).
ROOM 110 - QUEEN CHARLOTTE'S ROOM
It is purported that Queen Charlotte, accompanied by George 111, breakfasted at the Red Lion when journeying from London to Oxford, it being notable Inn for good food and comfort.
ROOM 111 - GENERAL BLUCHER'S ROOM
When the General, in the company of the Duke of Wellington, victors of Waterloo, were on their way to Oxford to receive University Honours, a halt was made at the Red Lion for refreshments. Here twelve of Henley's prettiest girls were dispatched to entertain them. It is said that the Prussian General ought a kiss from one, Caroline Cooper, but was refused.
ROOM 112 - BOSWELL'S ROOM
Mr Boswell accompanied Dr. Johnson to the Red Lion in 1778, where they stayed one night. Boswell was The son of Lord Auchinleck of Ayrshire and first met Dr. Johnson when he was 23 years old. He is famous for the writing of "The Life of Samuel Johnson", which was published in 1719.
ROOM 113 - Dr JOHNSON'S ROOM
Dr Johnson was accompanied by Mr Boswell. They spent a night at the Red Lion in 1776. He was a great scholar, and was known as the 'Literary Lion'. A degree of 'Doctor of Law' was conferred upon him by the University of Oxford for compiling a dictionary. He lived in great poverty for most of his young life, and it was not until quite late his worth was recognised.
ROOM 114 - PRINCESS GRACE ROOM
The Princess formerly the actress Grace Kelly visited the Red Lion in 1947 when her brother Jack was competing in the Diamond Sculls at the Henley Royal Regatta, which he went on to win that year.
ROOM 115 - LADY MALMESBURY'S ROOM
On June 15th, Lady Malmesbury was sitting in an upstairs room of the Red Lion Inn watching the triumphant procession of General Blucher with Emperor Alexander of Russia, King of Prussia en route to Oxford. Lady Malmesbury sent Mr Dixon, the proprietor of the Red Lion, to beg Sir C Stewart to bring General Blucher into the Inn, a task in which he was successful.
ROOM 116 - THAMESIS ROOM
The figure head of Thamesis, one of the keystones of Henley Bridge, looking downstream, was carved by the Hon. Mrs. Damer, daughter of General Conway, typifying the fabled marriage, between the Thames and the Isis, when they unite into the river near Dorchester, Oxfordshire.
ROOM 117 - ISIS ROOM
The figure head of Isis on one of the keystones of Henley Bridge, looking upstream, was carved - with that Of Thamesis looking downstream - by the Hon. Mrs. Damer, daughter of General Conway, typifying the fabled marriage, between the Thames and the Isis, when they unite one river near Dorchester, Oxfordshire.
ROOM 201 - CAROLINE COOPER'S ROOM
It is purported that when Wellington and Blucher, victors of Waterloo, were on their way to Oxford to receive University Honours, they made a halt at the Red Lion Inn for a meal. Caroline Cooper was one of the twelve local girls chosen to entertain them, and it was said that General Blucher demanded a kiss from her but she refused.
ROOM 202 - CHANTRY ROOM
The old fourteenth century Chantry House can be seen in the rear of the courtyard of the hotel. It was originally the home of the Chantry priests. It was built early in the fourteenth century. In 1664 it was used as a schoolroom, the Grammar School being the upper half and Lady Periams Bluecoats using the lower half. Later it formed part of the Red Lion Hotel for many years. Then it was again restored to the Church as a memorial to Canon J. F. Maul, a former rector of Henley, who died in 1915.
ROOM 203 - ST CATHERINE'S ROOM
St Catherine appears to have been a favourite saint of Henley and her chapel was endowed by the corporation with a considerable annual rental. She is still commemorated by the Catherine Wheel restaurant in Hart Street, which was at first probably the sign of St. Catherine with her wheel. This Inn dates back to 1541.
ROOM 206 - PRINCE RUPERT'S ROOM
It is purported that Prince Rupert in 1642, during the Civil War, visited the Red Lion in the company of Charles 1, although it is known definitely whether the Red Lion was an Inn at that time or a private residence. His brigade at the time were stationed in Henley.
ROOM 208 - PRINCE REGENT'S ROOM
The lively young Prince Regent, who later became George IV, is purported to have visited the Red Lion. On One occasion he ate no fewer than fourteen mutton chops for which the hostess at that time, Mrs Dixon Was famous.
ROOM 209 - GEORGE 111 ROOM
It is purported that George 111 accompanied by Queen Charlotte breakfasted at the Red Lion in 1788, but he was known to have frequented it and been familiar with the Inn right from his boyhood days.