The Dragons Of London
The weather is delightful at the moment so I decided to stroll down to Smithfield Meat Market, as you do, in a combination of research and nosiness. After blogging about the place recently I wanted to see if the work on the Museum of London had started. Something big has begun because the entire area was buried under JCBs, traffic cones, barriers, cranes and hoardings.
As a result I ended up not walking around the market at all, but heading for St Paul’s via the backstreets. A stroll to the cathedral is about 25 minutes, not long enough to clear your day’s steps (and I needed to because the previous day’s steps were actually 0). The walk set me thinking about dragons and devils.
St Peter Upon Cornhill is the oldest church site in the City of London’s Square Mile. In the nineteenth century its vicar, clearly a vindictive old sod, noticed that plans for the building next door extended by one foot onto church territory, so he forced the architect to redraw his design and added three leering devils to the building facing Cornhill from the South.
The dragons aren’t strictly such; there are a lot of chimerical beasties on buildings, half-and-half mythical creatures, especially gryphons, which have the body, tail, and back legs of a lion, the head and wings of an eagle and an eagle’s talons for front feet. The lion was traditionally the king of the beasts and the eagle the king of birds, so the griffin was thought to be even more powerful.
I could get close to this one because it’s on Holborn Viaduct (which is once again the the centre of a maelstrom of building works – when is it ever not?), but opposite the viaduct are dragons that cast the shadows of devils. They are, however, impossible to get close to. Does anyone know what this building is?
There are winged lions guarding the bridge, a sort of gryphons in reverse, but frankly their wings don’t seem large enough to get them off the ground. There are plenty of other dragons lurking about, including these on the bases of lamps, painted in their original gaudy colours.
The viaduct is there because there’s actually a steep hill on the west side where the ground was raised to cover the Fleet valley. The bridge contains pipes, cables and a passage. It’s also extremely beautiful, its painted ironwork contrasting with the faceless new boxes being built around it.
The bronze figures atop the viaduct represent Fine Art, the Sciences, Commerce and Agriculture. All are women (Victorians always surprise you like that). There are many other figures dotted around, mostly boring mayoral types. There’s one missing. There have been promises to put it back, and I daresay it will arrive by the time the museum transforms this quiet corner into a tourist hellhole.
Anyone wishing to know more about London’s ridiculous abundance of sculptures should visit Bob Speel’s more detailed area-by-area website here.
At Bank Station I was shocked to see the Bank of England about to be dwarfed by immense new buildings. The Square Mile will look very different soon, with some 500 new towers to be built across the city. I had headed to the Bank of England to find something else – I’ll post what I found later this week.