This area was originally Red Lion fields, so called because they were at the back of the local pub, the Red Lion (Lyon) Inn.
Legend has it that it was to this very inn in 1661 that the bodies of Oliver Cromwell, his son-in-law Henry Ireton and the judge John Bradshaw were carried before being taken to Tyburn to be hanged the following day. Cromwell had died in 1658 and had originally been buried in Westminster Abbey. However, following the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, the new Parliament ordered the bodies of Cromwell, Bradshaw and Ireton to be disinterred, posthumously tried and executed at Tyburn. They were seen to be the men chiefly responsible for the execution of King Charles I.
And so Cromwell’s body was removed from Westminster Abbey and, according to several sources, brought on a cart with the other two bodies to the Red Lion Inn, where they remained overnight before being hanged at Tyburn. After being gibbetted, the bodies were beheaded before being buried in a pit by the gallows. The heads were then displayed from the roof of Westminster Hall. However during the night at the inn, the bodies were allegedly exchanged and the true remains buried in a pit in the fields behind the Red Lion Inn. Indeed, rumours abound of the ghosts of Cromwell, Bradshaw and Ireton haunting the square…
The renovated square became fashionable and popular with the professional classes. In 1817 over half the houses in the square were occupied by solicitors, lawyers and doctors as well as wealthy merchants.
The garden in the square has been managed by London County Council since 1895 and is open to the public. A pleasant place for a cup of tea or coffee (there is a small café), it contains various commemorative statues including a bust of Nobel laureate and philosopher Bertrand Russell and a statue of Fenner Brockway, politician and anti-war activist.