Just north of Holborn Tube station is Red Lion Square. There is nothing particularly amazing about it, nor is there anything bad about it. It is made up of period houses, some new office buildings and a building of note which holds talks and other events; the Conway Hall. However, the origin of Red Lion Square is interesting and in some ways almost unbelievable.
The land was first bought by a developer by the name of Nicolas Barbon around 1684. He intended to build houses around a green square which would suit lesser aristocrats and people with some money to their name such as successful tradesmen. However, the neighbours were not that happy. In fact, they were livid and decided that the building must be stopped.
So, who were these neighbours from hell? They were none other than lawyers and barristers from Gray’s Inn further up High Holborn. In those days, the Inns were more than offices for barristers; most of them lived there too. Being in the law as it were, they soon took Barbon to court…and lost. This was because he was able to show that he had purchased the land legally and had permission to build his houses.
So, when work began, the barristers decided to take things into their own hands and act like a pack of wild animals. Mobs attacking other groups have been known down the centuries and of course, there are still such incidents on a too regular pattern. In recent years, gangs of football supporters would meet and decide who was best by beating the hell out of each other. But the thought of your average barrister wielding sticks and cudgels is hard to picture.
But they did. In fact, a few hundred of them attacked the builders who had to run for their lives. Building work was halted. But Barbon wasn’t ready to give in. He hired some “professional” hardmen and hid them under tarpaulins when his builders returned to continue their work. It didn’t take long for hundreds of barristers to reappear with their weapons ready to scare off the builders again.
But they were in for a shock. The professional muscle suddenly appeared from their hiding places and tore into the attackers. Barristers are not really known for their fighting performance but hardmen are. The barristers were soon repulsed and they realised that Barbon had won the day. The houses were completed and today, there are still two of the original houses surviving.