History of the Red Lion, Martlesham and Woodbridge

Located in the leafy village of Martlesham, Woodbridge, just eight miles from Ipswich, the Grade II listed Red Lion pub dates back to the late 1500s, an iconic landmark on the old London to Yarmouth turnpike road.

A former coaching inn, when it was an overnight stopover for the Royal Mail, the post would be locked away in the pub’s safe until the next day. While parts of The Red Lion date from the 16th century, the pub has an early 19th century wing to the right, and a thriving Victorian brewery was once located at the site.

The Red Lion’s famous figurehead, prominent on the pub’s exterior wall, is said to have been taken from a Dutch ship captured at the Battle of Sole Bay, and the expression: ‘As red as the Martlesham lion,’ is a well-used local saying. This large naval battle, between 75 ships of the Dutch fleet and 93 ships of a combined Anglo-French fleet, took place in 1672 just 40 miles north of the pub at Sole Bay off Southwold, and ended inconclusively with heavy losses on both sides. Up until 1720, all Dutch ships used a red lion figurehead, but the Martlesham lion would originally have had a golden mane.

Martlesham itself is an ancient village, recorded in the Domesday Book but thought to have earlier Roman roots based on a number of finds in the area. Several attractive walks and nature trails take in Martlesham and The Red Lion, including scenic routes along unspoilt Martlesham Creek and the Deben Estuary, and the Suffolk Sandlings walk across some of the last remaining coastal heathlands.


With 1,400 years of recorded history, the riverside market town of Woodbridge has retained much of its maritime architecture. The River Deben is a mecca for boating of all kinds, while its ancient working Tide Mill is a fascinating site to see, especially when the grinding wheels are in action! The town has a long history of association with boat-building, using oak from the Suffolk forests, and trading and fighting ships were built here. The 48 gun Mary Rose and the ship of the line The Antelope were both built and launched at Woodbridge and later took part in the Battle of Sole Bay, the source of The Red Lion’s iconic figurehead.

Woodbridge is perhaps most famous in recent times for the remarkable 1939 excavations at Sutton Hoo, an Anglo-Saxon royal burial mound that contained a magnificent ship burial, together with an astonishing collection of objects including gold and silver brooches and dishes, drinking horns and a great helmet, shield and sword. The National Trust now manages the site with an award-winning exhibition and replicas of some of the finds.

Buttrums Mill is the tallest surviving working windmill in Suffolk, and the splendid 15th century St Mary’s Church, with its bold dramatic tower, is where you’ll find the tomb of Woodbridge’s wealthiest benefactor, Sir Thomas Seckford, one of Elizabeth I’s most trusted courtiers.

Historic Woodbridge is a gem of a town, with much to explore within the town and beyond. Located at the heart of the Suffolk Coasts and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the town is the gateway to a great diversity of landscapes from wildlife-rich wetlands and ancient heaths to windswept shingle beaches.

At the heart of this historic part of Suffolk, The Red Lion country pub provides a welcoming stop for tourists and a delicious pub menu with seasonal specials, relaxing Sunday lunches and an excellent range of wines and cask ales.

Directions to the Red Lion

You can find the Red Lion pub on the Main Road in Martlesham, Woodbridge. Situated by the River Fynn and Martlesham Creek just off the A12, minutes from the Suffolk Coast. Key IP12 4RN into your satnav to find us.