Over recent months the public house at the end of Lion Street in Stourbridge has been transformed from a local watering hole to a smart residence containing several apartments; a complete metamorphosis from The Lion Inn to simply Lion House, but a renovation project that has been sympathetically undertaken, as the accompanying photographs reveal.
For those who live in this quarter of the town, or who walk down Lion Street to reach one of the main pedestrian crossings on the Stourbridge ring road, the work has seemed a gradual, lengthy process. But for those travelling along the ring road on the odd occasion, the change from public house to private housing seems to have been completed very quickly. After deciding to stop and record the renovated premises for the Bugle archives, we thought we'd take a closer look at how the lion has left a lasting impression on the town of Stourbridge.
The name Lion Street first appeared when turnpikes were introduced to this corner of the Black Country in the 1760s, and one of the most important improvements to the road system in Stourbridge was made in 1773 when the ancient town hall/market building, which had stood in the middle of the High Street for centuries blocking a major junction, was taken down, making it possible to widen the openings of the roads leading from it.
Crown Lane was therefore widened, partly with the help of £1,000 donated by Lord Stamford, whose home at Enville Hall was the road's ultimate destination (it was renamed Enville Street a century later), and New Street was opened as far as the present day Lion Street, making Lion Street at least 240 years old. The reasoning behind naming the street Lion isn't clear, although it is feasible it was named after the pub. Pubs named after animals, especially those of an heraldic nature, were very common.
But whether it was the pub or the street that came first, the lion may well originate with the local gentry. The Earl of Stamford owned a lot of land, some of which was in this neck of the woods, and the lion could therefore have referrd to the three lions passant that occur on the Stamford coat of arms (a peerage that was created in 1628), thus continuing an historic link with an ancient landowner.
Lion Street is joined by the non-vehicular pathway Lion Passage, and at the centre of the passage stand two iconic bollards that were manufactured by Foster, Rastrick & Co. in the early decades of the 19th century. Foster and Rastrick are famous as creators of two of the most famous steam engines ever made, the Agenoria and the Stourbridge Lion. The days of the stagecoach were drawing to a close as steam locomotion and railways began to be developed, and in the early 1820s Foster, Rastrick & Co. were at the forefront.
In 1828 the firm received an order worth $2,915, a colossal amount of money at the time, from the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company of North America, and immediately began to build an 0-4-0 gauge locomotive which was named the Stourbridge Lion after a workman, it is said, painted a red lion on the boiler to cover up a bump or defect. The engine was finished and ready for its journey to America by February the following year, and after leaving Liverpool aboard one of the mighty sailing ships that crossed the North Atlantic, the Stourbridge Lion reached New York on May 13th 1829 and was immediately assembled at the shops of the West Point Foundry Association. It made its inaugural trip on August 8th 1829 to become the first commercial locomotive to turn a wheel on American soil and was to begin its life employed by the Delaware and Hudson Canal Co. for a short coal rail road in north-eastern Pennsylvania. Unfortunately the Stourbridge Lion proved to be too heavy for the light tracks and was retired after only a few test runs had been completed.
It is hoped that in the future the works where the Agenoria and Stourbridge Lion were built in Stourbridge will be developed into a medical centre and called the Stourbridge Lion. That king of beasts also appears in Stourbridge sport in the name of Stourbridge Lions rugby team, who play in the Midland Division — Midlands 3 West (North) and who are currently placed third in the league. The lion’s prescence remains an important aspect of life in Stourbridge.