Originally known as the Black Swan Alehouse, there has been a hostelry on the corner of the High Street and Clay Street in Soham since at least 1620. The package of dusty old parchment deeds handed over when the property was purchased in July 2015 provide a fascinating insight into the mixed fortunes of the building over the past 400 years.
The oldest part of the Red Lion, with its low oak beamed ceilings, huge inglenook, and thatched roof dates from the early 1600’s. In around 1820 the old fashioned oak frame was re-faced with a fancy new brick facade, and at roughly the same time a spacious modern extension was added - our Victorian dining room.
Old buildings have to adapt to changing times and the Red Lion was no exception. Unfortunately however, some of these adaptions stored up problems for the future. Important structural tie-beams were cut to allow better internal circulation. Traditional building materials which need to breathe were covered up with modern plastics. Gradually the walls began to be pushed outwards and the timber frame started to rot away. Never had the Red Lion felt so sorry for itself.
There is a popular urban myth in Soham that only the Grade II listed telephone box was preventing the gable end of the Red Lion from collapsing. This turned out to be not far from the truth. Work started in September 2015 and saving the gable end was given immediate priority.
For the next two years layer upon layer of decaying materials were removed, revealing generations of bodged repairs, until the original bones of the building were ﬁnally uncovered. One could almost hear the building breathe a sigh of relief.
Our aim in the refurbishment of the Red Lion has been to let the building tell us how it wants to look. We have taken the original bones, cleaned them up, made them safe and tried not to impose anything on them with which they will feel uncomfortable. The old yellow Cambridgeshire pamments on the ﬂoor of the main dining room were salvaged from a local cottage. Ancient reclaimed oak beams have replaced any that were lost or damaged. The Red Lion is now ready to face the next 400 years. We hope you will enjoy being part of this next chapter in its history.
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