This Holborn square was laid out in the 1680s by property speculator Nicholas Barbon and took its name from the Red Lion Inn which once stood here.
The inn, incidentally, is said to be the place where the exhumed bodies of Oliver Cromwell, his son-in-law (and Parliamentarian general) Henry Ireton and John Bradshaw, president of the parliamentary commission to try King Charles I, lay the night before they were taken to Tyburn where they were desecrated (there’s a story that the bodies were switched that night and the real men lay buried in a pit in a square).
The square was laid out on what had been known as Red Lion fields and there were apparently some physical scuffles between the workmen, led by Barbon, and lawyers of Gray’s Inn who objected to the loss of their rural vistas.
The square, meanwhile, soon became a fashionable part of the city – among early residents was Judge Bernard Halle – but by the mid-19th century, its reputation had slumped only to move up again in later years.
Famous residents included Dante Gabriel Rossetti in 1851 and William Morris who lived in a flat on the southern side of the square with Edward Burne-Jones in the later 1850s. The art deco Summit House was built in 1925 on the former residence of John Harrison, inventor of the marine chronometer. Jonas Hanway, the first man to walk London’s streets with an umbrella, apparently also lived on the square.
The square today is home to the Royal College of Anaesthetists and Conway Hall, home of the Conway Hall Ethical Society (in fact, it was Conway Hall which was at the centre of one of the most famous incidents in the square – clashes between anti-fascist protestors and National Front members and subsequent police response which took place on 15th June, 1974, and left a university student, Kevin Gately, dead.
The garden in the centre of the square features a statue of anti-war activist Fenner Brockway and a bust of philosopher, essayist and Nobel laureate Bertrand Russell.