City of London dragons

Nuggets – bite size chunks of London

The dragons of the City of London

Since the ear­ly 17th cen­tu­ry a pair of drag­ons has sup­port­ed the crest of the City of Lon­don in its coat of arms; and in the lat­ter part of the 19th cen­tu­ry orna­men­tal bound­ary mark­ers were erect­ed at points of entry into the City, each sur­mount­ed by a drag­on clutch­ing the heraldic shield.

The drag­ons’ intro­duc­tion seems to have derived from the leg­end of St George – whose cross has been a City emblem since at least the ear­ly 14th cen­tu­ry – and may have been specif­i­cal­ly linked to a pop­u­lar mis­con­cep­tion that a fan-like object bear­ing the cross on an ear­li­er crest was a dragon’s wing.

The City drag­on is often incor­rect­ly called a grif­fin, or gryphon, even in some offi­cial lit­er­a­ture. It is not clear how the con­fu­sion arose but the mis­nomer has become so entrenched that some author­i­ties con­sid­er it to have earned a degree of legit­i­ma­cy. This espe­cial­ly applies to the stat­ue at Tem­ple Bar, where West­min­ster’s Strand becomes the City’s Fleet Street. The term ‘east of the Grif­fin’ was once com­mon­ly employed to mean ‘east of Tem­ple Bar’, i.e. in the City of Lon­don:

“If some­thing unex­pect­ed did not hap­pen, it meant anoth­er vis­it to a lit­tle office he knew too well in the City, the mas­ter of which, more than civ­il if you met him on a race­course, … was quite a dif­fer­ent per­son and much less easy to deal with east of the Grif­fin.”

Alfred Wat­son: Race­course and Covert Side (1883)

Hidden London: City Guardian by night by Barney Moss

* The picture entitled City Guardian, above, is cropped and slightly modified from an original photograph, copyright Barney Moss, at Flickr, made available under the Attribution 2.0 Generic licence. Any subsequent reuse is freely permitted under the terms of that licence.