The South Bank Lion, London

The South Bank Lion, London

The South Bank Lion stands proudly at the south-west corner of Westminster Bridge. Created in 1837 by W. F. Woodington, he's been about a bit, starting off as one of a pair on the Red Lion Brewery. When this was demolished in 1949 to make way for the Royal Festival Hall, King George VI took a shine to him and he was moved to Waterloo Station. But he wasn't there for long either. It was extended in 1966 and he ended up in his final resting place on Westminster Bridge near County Hall.

He also had a bit of a facelift on the way. When they were guardians of the Red Lion Brewery, both lions were red. The other one, which ended up on the Rowland Hill Memorial Gate at Twickenham Stadium, is now painted gold but the South Bank lion has been restored to show us what he's made of - Coade Stone.

Coade stone is a rather peculiar thing, not being a stone at all. Instead it’s a durable ceramic material which is resistant to the elements, explaining why our friend looks so sprightly today. Created by Eleanor Coade and first sold in 1769, it was easily produced in moulds, widely used, and hugely successful. Mrs Coade's Artificial Stone Company on Westminster Bridge Road catered for the high end of society, with its wares ending up in all kinds of high falutin' places, even Buckingham Palace.

However, Coade Stone's star waned as quickly as it appeared and in 1833 the company was declared bankrupt. Portland cement became a cheaper, more viable alternative and Coade stone was rarely used after 1840. According to records there are around 650 examples left, all over the world, with the South Bank Lion one of the finest. So for those of you crossing Westminster Bridge, this is no ordinary statue, this is one very special lion.

Photo by Alistair Hall. Used with thanks.

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The South Bank Lion is at the south-west corner of Westminster Bridge, on Westminster Bridge Road.

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