The Historic Reason Hundreds Of UK Pubs Have The Same Name

At the time of this publication, the U.K. is home to a whopping 516 pubs called the "Red Lion." (Has anyone ever seen a red lion?) According to the U.K. news outlet Mirror, one Preston-based barfly called Cathy Price took it upon herself to visit every single Red Lion pub in England, a task she successfully completed in 2015. It was a journey of over 100,000 miles and it took her four years.

There's a historical reason why the name is so common. In the U.K., businesses didn't start assigning names to different pubs until the 1100s. The only problem was, at that time in history, most people couldn't read, so pub names were commonly indicated with a symbol. In 1393, then-King Richard II officially made it a law that pubs have signs for distinction.

Fast forward to 1603 and King James VI of Scotland takes the throne as King James I of England. It might've been a smooth transition, except for one crucial backstory detail: James' mother was Mary Queen of Scots. In case you missed it, Mary Queen of Scots spent 18 years imprisoned in England for plotting to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I and was then beheaded. (Yikes.) Considering the various brands of retribution that the now-king James could have potentially exacted on the country, the one he did choose seems pretty tame: Put the image of a Red Lion (the symbol of Scotland) on every important building in the U.K.

A nod to the motherland

The red lion symbol has been part of the Royal Banner of the Royal Arms of Scotland since the 1200s. By plastering the image everywhere in sight, reasoned James, no Englishman would ever be able to forget their king's Scottish roots. A man of discerning taste, "important buildings" included every single pub in the country. Yet this isn't the only theory as to why so many pubs bear the name Red Lion. Some historians speculate that the red lion symbol might have been inspired by knight John of Gaunt (founder of the royal House of Lancaster in the Wars of the Roses) who had a red lion symbol in his coat of arms. This motivation would have far predated King James' influence, as Gaunt died in 1399.

Today, though many bars may go by the same name, their vibes are often different. The Red Lion Pub in Avebury, England is revered as one of the most haunted pubs in the country, located inside an ancient circle of mysterious Neolithic stones. Zoom across the pond and the Red Lion's influence has stretched to a pub on Bleecker Street in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, where they're watching European football games on flatscreen televisions and serving baskets of fish and chips.