The Bestiary Of London



I have a book somewhere of all London’s stone lions, but there are many other carved creatures lurking around the eaves of the city. These include gryphons, dragons, elephants, sharks, unicorns, beavers, eagles, sphinxes, ants, mice, fish, grasshoppers, ships, angels, farmers, camels and something outside the Natural History Museum that looks like a pterodactyl.


In some neighbourhoods houses which have been built by a single planner have objects incorporated into them, like the obelisks and sphinxes of Barnsbury.

Outside the Royal Automobile Club is an angel driving an early motor car. The Michelin Man remains a symbol of South Kensington, and Leadenhall Market has more cross-breed dragon-creatures than you can wave a stick at.

The Albert Memorial has an entire menagerie, intended to represent the riches of the empire, and there are pack-camel benches all along the Victoria Embankment.


The new ones that appear, from the gold divers of Leicester Square to the horses of Camden, which represent the canal horses that used to tow the barges (Camden being on a canal network) tend to be rather anodyne and safe. The main reason, I think, is because we no longer venerate politicians on pedestals. The annual fight to preserve the dignity of Sir Winston Churchill on Pall Mall is just one example of political protest.


This winter angels have made a big return to the capital, and the ones on Regent Street with flapping wings are especially spectacular. As opposed to the glowing globes on Oxford Street, which are now so old and tired you wonder if they’re not kept in a biscuit tin somewhere.


Winter has bypassed London this year, so now’s a good time to go bestiary-spotting. Here’s one of my favourites – the grasshopper is the crest above the Gresham family’s coat of arms. This insect has sat on successive versions of the Royal Exchange since around 1565 when it was first built. The original building was destroyed in the Great Fire of London (1666) but the grasshopper still survives.

The only statue I can remember seeing of an animal in situ was the one of Guy the gorilla at the London Zoo. If we were to build a new statue to a person in London, who would you choose to honour and how?

7 comments on “The Bestiary Of London”

  1. Rachel Green says:

    David Bowie with a dancing astronaut in red shoes

  2. admin says:

    I’ll go with that.

  3. Davem says:

    @Rachel wonderful

  4. Wayne Mook says:

    I like the above but I’d also like to see Boris Karloff, or even Cushing & Lee,


  5. Jan says:

    The lamppost surrounded by small animals beavers, foxes and others on top of the old Hat factory in Oxford street are in the strange but good category. Like Narnia is on a city roof.

  6. Jan says:

    The boy on the dolphin down on Chelsea Embankment is my favourite statue in London. I always think he’s on the wrong side of the road though. He backs onto a car showroom.and opposite him backing on to the river is a,sea nymph or mermaid. Think she would be better with the cars behind her like a stone version of the models at the motor show and the boy being drawn along by the dolphin should be closer to the water.

    Another thing …..about London statues of great military men on horseback is that there a strange code which lets you know whether said general died at home in his bed or on the battlefield. I can hardly remember it now ( cos of advancing age) but it’s to do with with whether the rider is on a saddle and whether he’s carrying or wearing a hat……honestly not making this up

  7. snowy says:

    There is thought to be a ‘legs code’:

    2 legs raised, died in battle
    1 leg raised, died of wounds
    0 legs raised, died in bed

    Unfortunately it is a myth, if you dished out nags at random you would get it ‘right’ about one third of the time just by chance.

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