10 Things You Don’t Know About the British and Lyon

There’s More British History in Lyon Than You Might Think

 

In preparation for Lyon’s big royal visit from Prince Charles and the Duchesse in May, This is Lyon is bringing you 10 facts you probably don’t know about the Lyon-Great Britain connection.

 

1. King Richard Cœur de Lyon destroyed the only bridge across the Rhône.

In the 12th century, Richard Cœur de Lyon (1157-1199), who ascended the English throne in 1189, decided to join the third crusade in the Holy Land with French king Philippe Auguste. Accompanied by a third king, perhaps Conrad de Bavière, their procession would have passed through Lyon to reach Marseille.

diagram of the first bridge across the rhone in Lyon

The first bridge across the Rhône crossed the river near where the Pont de la Guillotière sits today.

At the time, only one bridge made of wood boats allowed passage across the Rhône, at the end of the current Rue Confort. According to legend, the bridge collapsed when the crusaders passed, just after the kings arrived on the other side.

The three kings would have slept in an inn located on the current Grande Rue de la Guillotière, which at the time was the intersection to the south of France. Today, a plaque attests to the existence of an “old hostel of Three Kings.”

A stone bridge was constructred in the 13th century at the spot of the current Pont de la Guillotière.

 

2. There is a British cemetery in Lyon.

It’s more precisely located in Saint-Germain-au-Mont-d’Or, just north of Lyon. During WWI, injured British soldiers were gathered in a meadow in Saint-Germain, close to the railroad.

They were hospitalized in a convent that had been turned into a British military hospital. In October of 1917, a British military cemetery was created in the cemetery of Saint-Germain, enclosed by a wall and overlooking the Saône Valley.

 

3. Winston Churchill and Great Britain honored in Lyon’s streets

On the left bank of the Rhône between Quai Charles de Gaulle and Quai de Serbie is a street called Avenue de Grande Bretagne, named after WWI to thank the English for their help.

It leads to Pont Winston Churchill (1874-1965), a bridge inaugurated in 1983 and named in honor of Britain’s Prime Minister for his role in the defeat of Nazi Germany.

the winston churchill bridge in Lyon

The Winston Churchill Bridge sits up by Lyon’s Parc de la Tête d’Or.

Additionally, Lyon is sister cities with the United Kingdom’s Birmingham.

4. No more British consulate in Lyon

Great Britain closed its consulate in Lyon in 2012. It is now necessary to make a trip to Paris or Marseille for administrative matters. To compensate, the country opened an economic delegation and a British Council cultural organization at Part-Dieu.

 

5. Is there an English restaurant in Lyon? 

Not really. You can find some specialties in pubs, like haggis at the Wallace Bar or fish and chips on Rue Victor Hugo. But an Englishman did manage to get the Capital of Gaul interested in British food some twenty years ago. In the late 80s, an English translator called Tom Higgins and his wife Sue opened the restaurant “Mr. Higgins” on the Croix-Rousse plateau.

It was the first place in the city where you could get a Sunday brunch. In 1996, he published a book about his amusing adventure: “Plat du jour: An English Restaurant in Lyon,” also sold on Amazon under the name “Spotted Dick S’il Vous Plait: An English Restaurant in France.” The restaurant ended its run about 15 years ago and was replaced by “Mr. Edgar.”

 

6.  Edouard Herriot and the fake duchess of Cornwall

In 2017, when the Lyon archives department began to classify all the correspondence of former Lyon mayor and prime minister Edouard Herriot, they found a strange letter dating from May of 1932.

The letter is signed by a certain Kelly or Nelly Christina (of Wales), Duchess of Cornwall. She talks of Herriot’s last electoral victory, the collapse of the retaining wall on the Cours d’Herbouville in 1932, and explains that the police are on her heels under the order of her mother-in-law.

a letter to edouard herriot from a fake duchess of cornwall

The Lyon archives department uncovered this letter written by someone impersonating the Duchess of Cornwall. (c) Histoires Lyonnaises

If she is the Duchess of Cornwall, and therefore the wife of the Duke of Cornwall, the title given to the heir apparent, her mother-in-law can be none other than the queen herself. But the archivists did a little digging.

In 1932, the Duke of Cornwall was Edward, the son of King George V, and he wasn’t married. No one held the title of Duchess of Cornwall between 1910 and 1981, when Lady Diana married Prince Charles. The letter was signed by an imposter.

 

7. Lyon’s only British grocer’s shop just closed

“Little Britain,” the only British “epicerie” in Lyon, just permanently closed. After 15 years in Scotland, Christophe opened a corner store in the Brotteaux neighborhood (6th arrondissement) where people could stock up on Bovril, Marmite, and kidney pie.

The shop closed in March of 2017 but continued on the Internet. Unfortunately, the website also closed in mid-May 2018. Luckily there are now more and more UK products stocked in supermarkets like Monoprix.

 

8. For her birthday, the Queen drinks Beaujolais

For the 90th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II, Buckingham Palace ordered 600 bottles of Crémant de Bourgogne Côtes du Beaujolais from Château de l’Hestrange, produced in Blacé in the Rhône.

Winemaker Laurent Metge-Toppin simply wrote to the palace to suggest that they taste his wine. He did the same thing in 2012 for the Queen’s Jubilee and the palace served three of his wines at the Windsor Castle festivities.

 

9. The British, the first athletes of Lyon

lyon's lou rugby team

Lyon’s LOU Rugby team is a popular spectator sport now, but Lyon’s sports culture first started with British players.

In Lyon, the first outdoor sports clubs began in the 1890s with the arrival of rugby and football. But it was the British who created one of the first modern-day sports clubs with the founding of the Cricket Club of Lyon in 1864 under the sponsorship of Napoléon III. Clubs like the Lyon Football Club and the Ampère Sports Union quickly appealed to the British to play in the first rugby and football competitions.

 

10. A Lyonnaise jewelry maker attracts the Royal family

In 2007, Lyon-native Béatrice de Montille created a jewelery brand in London named Merci Maman. Her designs attracted the British family, including Pippa Middleton and Kate, who was photographed with a jewel engraved with the name of Prince George.

The company even won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in 2017 and was received by Queen Elizabeth herself.

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