The Grosvenor Arms started life as The New Inn, first appearing on maps of Shaftesbury in 1553.
By 1700 the New Inn had been renamed The Red Lion and at this point the town had 27 inns or ale houses serving a population of 1,000. Business at the inn continued fairly normally until 120 years later, when the innkeeper of the Red Lion was refused a new lease by his new Landlord, Earl Grosvenor. The Earl had just invested heavily in the town as part of a wider political campaign to gain control of votes through acquiring land and buildings. The Earl redeveloped the Red Lion, renaming it The Grosvenor Arms and much of the current building dates from this period (1820), although parts of the original medieval structure still remain.
During the mid-19th century the balcony on the front of the building was used for political speeches high above the crowds in The Commons. It was also the place where the men from South Western Railways came to discuss plans to build the railway from London to Exeter and eventually replace the Stage Coach traffic – which had driven much of the town’s growth. The Grosvenor also hosted the annual meeting of ‘The Association for Protection of Persons & Property & Prosecution of Offenders’ – a group of local landowners who offered rewards to fight local crime. A typically 19th Century form of self help.
By early in the 20th Century the car started to replace the train and The Grosvenor Arms was connected to Semley Station (between Shaftesbury and Warminster, now closed) with an omnibus.
Poignantly, the hotel was also the meeting point in 1914 for the local volunteers of Lord Kitchener’s Army who were presented with a pipe, tobacco and cigarettes before being driven to the station and the First World War.