Anyone walking past Westminster Council House on Marylebone Road a few weeks ago will have been horrified to see that the splendid art deco lions who have guarded it since it opened in 1914 had been brutally assaulted, with one losing a nose and the other an ear in the attack. Fortunately they have now been mended and thanks to an excellent cleaning job they look better than ever. Do give them a pat if you’re in the area.
But these fine fellows are not the only lions in Westminster – let’s have a look at some of the others. The most famous, of course, are the four guarding Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square. These were designed by the noted animal painter Edwin Landseer after a competition set by Parliament, despite the fact that, as The Times said, “Sir Edwin never had a chisel in his hand in his life, and never yet, we believe, attempted to model anything.” Read more about Landseer and his family (he was the youngest of seven children, all talented artists) in Oxford Art Online (you will need to log in with your Westminster Library card). The lions, of course, feature in the famous music hall song I Live in Trafalgar Square, which inspired the title of this blog post. Skip the boring introduction and listen to Richard Thompson’s rather splendid version instead.
But not all London lions are quite as big as those guarding Trafalgar Square and the Council House. London Pride by Valerie Colin-Russ attempts to list all the London lions ‘visible from the streets and public footpaths’.
While our neighbours in Kensington and Chelsea have 365 lions and Hammersmith and Fulham an impressive 1,323 (to put this into perspective the much larger Croydon has a mere 17), Westminster, you will be proud to hear, has a staggering 3,766 lions for you to find. Let’s look at a few of them…
Rather different to the placid creatures guarding Nelson is the lioness found in Grosvenor Gardens which is chasing an antelope. This was commissioned by the Duke of Westminster to celebrate the opening of the gardens to the public – what sort of activities he was expecting shall remain a mystery!
Lions turn up in all sorts of expected (The Red Lion pub on Parliament Street if spotting MPs takes your fancy) and unexpected places (the are sixty lion heads around the top of The Albert pub in Victoria Street. And you might want to take a careful look at the statue of World War I heroine Edith Cavell next time you pass the National Portrait Gallery. See how many of the other 3,700 or so Westminster lions you can spot next time you walk around the city.
London Zoo, on the border of Westminster and Camden, was once the home of real African lions but now only plays host to the smaller Asian variety. These were the lions known in Biblical times and which fought in Roman arenas so you still don’t want to mess with them. Of course you could always buy a ticket to The Lion King or Wicked which feature very different theatrical lions. Sadly it’s no longer possible to round off a hard day’s lion hunting with tea at a Lyons Corner House (though you can read about their fascinating history by clicking on the link) so you’ll have to make do with a Lion Bar.
If this sculptural safari has whetted your appetite for more hidden (or not so hidden) animals, why not broaden your horizons and take a look at a wider range of species… ?