“Mum, what's a griffin?” It must've been around 1962 and we'd have been heading home from somewhere. Five-up in a Ford Anglia 105E. A dark blue one, with Mum and Dad in the front and we three kids wedged in the back seat – my brother on one side, me on the other and my sister in the middle with one foot either side of the transmission tunnel. No need for rear seat belts in those days. Even under the hardest of braking efforts the deceleration of 0.364 pico g produced by the eight-inch drum brakes would be far too small to generate sufficient force to overcome the coefficient of friction that existed between the sleeves of our hand-knitted jumpers. We were crammed in that tightly.
We may well have been coming home from my aunt's in Hurlford, or possibly returning from Gran's place in Cambridge. In fact we could've been travelling home from virtually anywhere east or north of Yarmouth as there aren't a lot of options, even today, to get to the sin city of the east.
This was in the days when the A47 wound its way through every village and hamlet and the journey would be carved up into sections in my head with certain landmarks acting as milestones; the Dog in Easton, the Griffin at Thorpe, the Globe in Blofield, the Stracey Arms on the Acle Straight...
Having traversed Norwich, and even if we'd taken the ring road, it was under the Norwich to Cromer railway line, past the Griffin and St. Andrew's Hospital and then on towards Blofield.
The pub with the large mythical creature on its sign which caught my attention that day didn't start its life bounded by a railway bridge on one side and a mental hospital on the other. Being recorded as the Griffon in the 1789 Register of Blofield, Taverham & Walsham Hundred licensed houses with one Henry Chamberlain in residence the Griffin's history dates back at least to the eighteenth century, although its original site was quite a bit further back towards Norwich. It used to stand opposite Thorpe Hall, the home at the time of the Pastons whose family crest features, surprise, surprise, a griffin. The original site is where Riverview Hotel now stands – 25 Yarmouth Road.
For some reason, around 1825, the Griffin migrated to a new site just to the east of the newly-built county asylum. It didn't stay there long for it was bought and demolished in 1846 when the hospital needed to expand. Madness must've been spreading in Norfolk. It was rebuilt on a one acre site to the west of the hospital where it continued to ply its trade. It did have the odd name change when that was fashionable in the 1980s, firstly to Gunga Din's and then to the Hungry Fox but it soon reverted to the Griffin.
In the early days of this millennium the pub was run by John Harris who also operated a coach company from the site which went by the imaginative name of Griffin Travel. If only Bedford were still making coaches he could've had a griffin-emblemmed coach with Griffin Travel branding operating from the Griffin.
John's tenure of the Griffin was short-lived and came to a tragic end in July 2003 when he was crushed and killed between one of his coaches and a lorry trailer in the car park. His son Matthew took over the license and the pub and continued to run it until September 2011 when he and the pub owners, Enterprise Inns, parted company. The Griffin closed the following year and EI put it up for sale in the spring of 2017, when it was also made an Asset of Community Value.
Continuing post-op purdah combined with Lockdown 2.0 has seen me trawling t'interweb even more than usual and it was coming across this piece in the local rag of the area which stimulated the thoughts leading to this post. For when the linked-to article disappears here's a summary: flatten it and build "a 98-unit extra care housing scheme... It will offer 98 affordable apartments for rental within a superb facility that provides a range of communal spaces, including a resident’s lounge, sun terrace, café/bistro, hairdressing salon, assisted bathrooms and guest suites." I can't help wondering what would happen if more than one resident wished to have a lounge.
OK, I accept that this is not necessarily a permanent bygone boozer just yet, but I won't be holding my breath until it serves its next pint. The following establishment is lost though.
Whilst digging into information about the Griffin I spotted another PH marked on the Ordnance Survey's map of the area. It's on the bottom left of this extract. I also spotted that the lunatic asylum required an annexe. Madness in Victorian Norfolk must've been spreading like Covid.
What was this pub? Did it still exist? It certainly wasn't one of my 'milestone' pubs and I couldn't remember ever seeing one along that stretch of Yarmouth Road although the Boat & Bottle, a bit nearer Norwich and still operating as the Rushcutters, is stashed away in the memory. It must be a historic closure.
Wrong! The Red Lion closed earlier this century although, as intimated earlier, I have to admit that I can't remember it at all. It opened in the 1830s, no doubt a product of the 1830 Beerhouse Act, and for many years it was part of Red Lion Farm, offering accommodation for both cattle and their drovers en route to Norwich. By the time that World War One broke out Herbert Blyth was the landlord and his wife, Ethel, took over the license when he signed-up. Herbert was back after the cessation of hostilities and when the couple retired their daughter, Beryl, and her husband took it on. I believe the shot below shows Beryl on the left with her dad in the doorway.
In the 1930s the pub was extended and obtained a full license. Nice to see that the cast red lion survived and continued to survey those passing through the door.
The Red Lion continued to serve both beer and live music lovers until 2002 when it called 'Time!' for the final occasion. It is still possible to get a beer there though. I'll have mine with a Calcutta Naga Chicken. Shame the lion's gone.
Thanks to Paul Green for the use of his image and to Jonathan Plunkett for the use of his late father's.
The image of the Griffin in 2011 is copyright Adrian S. Pye and is reused under this license.
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