Look up in London and a menagerie of animals greets you, from locusts and beetles to lions, dragons, camels and fish. There’s a statue of a deer at Wimbledon and another camel at Victoria Embankment, and a cat at Highgate Hill. Statues proliferate, especially if they’re animals, because they’re non-controversial. Signs tend to vanish. Many of them indicated the kind of businesses that were being conducted out of their buildings. At 105 Oxford Street there are beavers on the roof because felt hats were once made there.
There are also too many statues to count – or at least there were. The statues around Unilever House mysteriously vanished during the building’s refurbishment, and an earlier photograph shows that many more disappeared from it in a previous renovation. It seems that a fifth of the city’s buildings are being restored at any given moment, and when they’re returned to pristine glory they often seem denuded of ornamentation. And sadly virtually no new buildings have secret statuary.
There have been a handful of new surprises, like the Alfred Hitchcock mosaics at Leytonstone Tube, the Breathing Sculpture on Broadcasting House and the Baby in the Rock at St Martin’s-in-the-Fields, and I’m assuming the giant three-pin plug is still just off Carnaby Street.
Jamrach’s Tiger is one of the newer survivors – inspired by a local nineteeth-century tale, the seven-foot bronze of a boy and a tiger for Tobacco Dock appeared in the 1980s. A tiger escaped from Charles Jamrach’s exotic pet store on Ratcliffe Highway and picked the boy up in its teeth, but the boy lived to tell the tale. Tobacco Dock hasn’t been so lucky, and was abandoned due to lack of popularity.
But Soho is losing its hat company and soup company signs, and we won’t know for a while just how much the Crossrail works will change the look of London. Meanwhile, it’s good to see that the King’s Cross lighthouse is being rebuilt and will shine down once more on us.