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.

Lombard Street Martins Bank sign grasshopper

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.

11 comments on “5 Unusual London Objects No.7 (Animal Edition)”

  1. Vivienne says:

    Grasshoppers were the company symbol of the Midland Bank – was this founded by the Greshams? so many more used to be around. These banks are now HSBC. There are many lions on Holborn Viaduct, on the railings as well as winged ones above, if my recollection is right. The Sikh community have added to London’s collection, and I think I can always find at least one lion on every walk in London I take (even if it’s only the humble doorknocker). He definitely beat the unicorn all round town.

  2. Vivienne says:

    Sorry – that was Martin’s bank.

  3. Dan Terrell says:

    Thanks for another ramble.

  4. admin says:

    You’re welcome, Dan. And Vivienne, let’s have more unicorns!

  5. Helen Martin says:

    The pictures of the removal are great. So glad it happened; I’d just been sitting here muttering about the way wonderful things can be just smashed to pieces with no one lifting a hand.

  6. Helen Martin says:

    The Gresham article suggests that the grasshopper is a rebus for Gresham, graes being Middle English for ‘grass’ they say. It’s an incomplete rebus, though, and would need a drawing of a ham to complete it.

  7. jan says:

    Yes Vivienne i was going to write about the grasshopper and the martins bank i can remember the symbol being about a lot when i was a kid. i can remember seeing the grasshopper symbol outside banks and wondering about it……..

  8. jan says:

    Thats a coad stone lion isn’t one of those near the old county hall Ken’s palace of varieties of yesteryear? i think coad stone was sort of a “coad|” name for some old dodgy corncrete invented in Lyme Regis of all spots……

  9. Vivienne says:

    Coad stone is wonderful stuff – it looks just like stone, was invented by Eleanor Coad and the recipe died with her. It needed a sort of ground up stone and boiled linseed oil or similar. Most of the ‘stonework’ decorating Victorian terraces are made of this, and the lion used to be outside the Red Lion Brewery, near Waterloo, and he was red.

  10. glasgow1975 says:

    As a Scot I’m all for more unicorns! (It’s our heraldic animal for some reason)

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