Legendary New Forest Stratford Lyon myth evoked after claims of recent 'beast' sighting at the Red Lion pub in Boldre
A HUGE blood-red lion with a wild mane, yellow saucer-like eyes and sporting giant stag antlers.
That is the mythical beast which, according to little-known legend, still stalks the New Forest after it was unwittingly pulled from the ground near Boldre by young aristocrat John de Stratford more than six centuries years ago.
The story goes that having been disturbed by his tug on its antlers, the huge beast emerged from the earth and charged – only for de Stratford to dodge the antler-thrust and jump on the creature’s back.
Furious, the beast bucked and charged three times around the Forest boundary, trying to throw off its rider. But de Stratford clung on and finally wrestled it into submission, upon which the animal pledged its service to him and his ancestors until Doomsday.
The legend of the Stratford Lyon, born in the late 14th or early 15th century, has fascinated myth lovers ever since, amid claims the creature appears on the birth and death of every Stratford or whenever the family meets with triumph or disaster.
There are tales talk of it racing through the landscape with the ghost of John de Stratford on its back, or peering in the windows of the nearest pub to where it first emerged – the Red Lion Pub at Boldre which is supposedly named after the beast.
The watering hole, still nicknamed by some as “The Stratford”, also used to have on its wall antlers apparently shed by the monster, and the story was the subject of a verse ballad by Lymington author Henry Doman in the 18th century.
None of the surviving Stratford family wanted to talk to the A&T about the legend.
However, Pat Bishop, a friend of the late Effie Stratford, recalled her claiming to have played childhood games with the mythical creature.
“Effie told me that she and [her brother] Ethelbert used to go into the forest as children and play with the Stratford Lyon as it was only tame for them being of Stratford blood. But after she had grown she saw it only three times more in her life,” Pat said.
“She told me that she saw the Stratford Lyon on the death of her father William in 1948 and on the death of Norman Frank Stratford in 1952 when he was only in his 40s. Norman Frank Stratford owned a large chain of estate agents which were called Martin and Stratford and were well known.
“Effie also saw the Stratford Lyon after the funeral of Ethelbert. I never knew Ethelbert but Effie told me she saw him riding the Stratford Lyon in the Forest in the distance that night.”
Pat even claimed to have seen it herself, “in the distance but only for a moment”, at Effie’s funeral in 1991.
Another entirely unverified encounter was reported to the A&T earlier this year by a woman claiming to have been on holiday from London and who previously knew nothing about the legend. She said it happened after she and her partner had enjoyed a meal at the Red Lion.
“It was weird, it felt like everything else just sort of faded away slightly, and it was just us and the countryside around us; then suddenly in front of us we saw a huge, red, animal,” she said.
“It was about the size of a single-decker bus, and looked like a sort of big cat or lion, but with a huge, disproportionate mouth and massive stag antlers on its head. It stared at us and then roared a huge roar, and everything around us seemed to shake. Then it just ran straight at us!
“We tried to scream but nothing came out, then as it was about to hit everything just clicked back to normal, and we were outside the pub, and there was no sign of the monster, or whatever it was.”
She added: “I don’t believe in anything like that, but I can’t explain what we saw. It sounds crazy, I know, but it was real and I have no way to explain it!
“I asked the lady at our Airbnb about it, and she said it was a local ghost story called the Stratford Lyon and that other people have seen it too.”
Red Lion owners Alan and Amanda Pountney said they had never heard of the legend in their 16 years running the pub.
Alan laughed: “I just think it was maybe a deer with antlers and it has made a loud noise or something.”
Although sceptical about the Stratford Lyon, the Pountneys said they had ghosts of their own.
Amanda said: “A nurse who tended to soldiers by candlelight during a war centuries ago was killed here when it was a barn, as the legend goes.
“We regularly go and unlock that room in the mornings and find candles which have been lit in the night.”
Legend also has it that the pub hosts a young dispatch rider, who stopped for a drink in the 17th century having been sent by the Duke of Monmouth to drum up help for his rebellion, only to be seduced by a local girl and murdered for his gold.