5 Unusual London Objects No.7 (Animal Edition)
1. The Lions
New York is your go-to city for gargoyles, but if it’s lions your after, there are approximately 10,000 of them dotted around the place. Some have wings, some are on Britannia’s helmet, some are sleeping or sad, some hold shields or wear crowns. Some are roaring, many are on pubs. There’s one on the newly refurbished Holborn Viaduct (and a similar one on Devonshire House, Piccadilly) that has a ball. There are several books on them, the most recent being ‘London Pride’ by Valerie Colin-Russ.
2. The Grasshopper
The golden Gresham grasshopper in Lombard Street has a history. According to an ancient legend of the Greshams, the founder of the family, Roger de Gresham, was a foundling abandoned as a new-born baby in long grass in Norfolk in the 13th century, and was found there by a woman whose attention was drawn to the child by a grasshopper. This, while picturesque, is unlikely. The grasshopper was part of the Gresham heraldic symbol. You wouldn’t knowingly pick it as a symbol for a company as the grasshopper is also a symbol of laziness, if you remember your Aesop’s Fables.
3. Elephant, Tiger, Shark & Gorilla
They’re all recent and live above the doorway of Allington House, Victoria Street. The Endangered Species Triptych was sculpted by Barry Baldwin in the 80s, and is due to become rubble thanks to upcoming works by property destroyers Land Securities, who have not to my knowledge agreed to save them. So the endangered species are themselves endangered.
4. The Really Ugly Fish
He seems to have lately lost his gilt finish, and he lives on top of the former Billingsgate Fish Market building on Lower Thames Street, which is now an events space, where he’s surrounded by fishy friends. There are, unsurprisingly, plenty of fish around London, from the Embankment’s lamppost dolphins to ones in ceramic tiles outside the few remaining original fish shops. And that naff one of the boy riding a dolphin near Tower Bridge. Oddly, most of them seem to be presented upside down.
5. The Camels
There are quite a few camels around, including the frieze of pack camels on Peek House, Eastcheap, but I like the ones holding up the Thames-side benches along the Embankment. I think they were made in the 1870′s by Berry & Son to go with the Egyptian sphinxes and Cleopatra’s Needle.
There are lots of other London animals, from the mythical – the grand dragons at the City of London’s boundary lines and the gryphons on more Embankment benches – to the various insects that adorn the Tropical Medicines building on Gower Street. Animals were often a symbol of outlying parts of the British Empire, like those on the Albert Memorial. More recently, horses have started appearing all over London, from Park Lane’s war heroes to the huge number of carved dray horses in Camden Market, and the fountain horses of the Haymarket. Here’s hoping that the architects busy knocking up endless glass boxes and ‘luxury loft living’ apartments think to add some interesting details to their buildings. Joke.