The Coaching Inns of Berwick

Red Lion Hotel, 1799

This was written originally as information for Roger Protz, the journalist, long-time editor of the Good Beer Guide and many books about beer and pubs.  He was visiting Berwick in December researching the Kings Arms for a new book about the coaching inns of the Great North Road (A1).  I was asked to give him some info about the Brown Bear but he didn’t know about the others in Berwick; the Red Lion, the King’s Arms and the Hen and Chickens.

The Red Lion

The first of these I can find any evidence of is the Red Lion situated in Marygate by modern Golden Square.  This first appears in notices in the Newcastle Courant in 1735 and was run by John Wilson.  It must have been a relatively substantial house and had assembly rooms for entertainment after events such as the Lamberton Races.  Bailey’s 1781 Directory lists the Red Lion as being a staging point for the Newcastle to Edinburgh diligence (a type of carriage).

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View of Marygate by Alexander Carse, from Dr John Fuller, History of Berwick (1799) The Red Lion is on the left behind the prominent building.

A notice in the Newcastle Courant in May 1784 advertised a new lease for the inn.  There may have been some financial problems as, “The Furniture and the Horses and Chaises-belonging lo the said Inn will be sold if the tenant thinks proper at a fair evaluation.”  It notes that, “This is the only Inn in Berwick that runs Post Chaises…” (A chaise was another type of carriage.)

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A typical post-chaise seen in The Elected M.P. on His Way to the House of Commons” by James Pollard, (1817)

The Red Lion remained an important centre of Berwick life for many years, regularly hosting official events such as the Mayor’s Dinner at which Viscount Grey once gave a speech.  The Hotel was obviously held in high esteem and held for memories for many.

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Marygate, c.1890s with the Red Lion to the left.

The building was sold in February 1919 to Mr CB Ford who had run the A & B (Alnwick and Berwick) Garage on the corner of Hide Hill and Silver Street—the first in Berwick.  He took the advice of the Berwickshire News and General Advertiser, which had written, “The new proprietors might do worse than call the place “The Lion” Garage.”  The building and nearby slum quarters were demolished in October 1936 to make way for the new bus station which is, in a way, appropriate.  The actual building site was developed by FW Woolworth in 1937.

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The Lion Garage, Marygate late 1920s.

The Kings Arms

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The King’s Arms can be traced to 1772 when it was used by the brethren of St David’s Freemasons Lodge for meetings.  The first landlord I can find is Mr William Parker in 1785 when he hosts entrants and their horses for the Lamberton Races (held since 1606 at least).  The Historic England listing states that an old stable block dates to 1782, so it probably existed somewhat earlier.  Parker must have had ambitions but became bankrupt in 1789.  The inn must have prospered after his tenure as Berwick’s first theatre was built at the rear, in 1794, and operated by Stephen Kemble, the highly successful theatre manager and Shakespearean actor.  Another celebrated actor, George Frederick Cooke, performed there.

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Left:  Stephen Kemble (as a rather portly) Hamlet, 1794.
Right:  George Frederick Cooke as Richard III, by Thomas Sully, 1811

Fire destroyed the theatre in 1845 and the present Assembly Rooms were built in their place.  It was here that Charles Dickens gave recitals in 1858 and 1861.  The KIng’s Arms Hotel did flourish and became Berwick’s premier coaching inn. It is now a Grade II listed building.

The Hen and Chickens 

Possibly the oldest of the three inns is the Hen and Chickens.  It can be traced to 1737 and Robert Johnson.  Until then, the building (or at least the site) had been occupied by tenements.  It, like the other pubs mentioned, had an interest in the Lamberton Races and had a large assembly room on the first floor.

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Notice from the Newcastle Courant, 1737. Pubs at this time were often known simply as “the [public] House of…”.  Later evidence associates Robert Johnson with the Hen and Chickens.

Not much is known about the pub: nothing of any great note seems to have happened there.  It closed in 2010.

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The Hen and Chickens, late 1940s.

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