South Bank Lion

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From brewery mascot to king of the bridge

South Bank Lion, Westminster Bridge, SE1


The South Bank Lion on a cloudy day
The South Bank Lion is 13 feet long and weighs 13 tons

After the Lam­beth marsh­es were drained at the begin­ning of the 18th cen­tu­ry, this stretch of the South Bank became home to a plea­sure gar­den and then to Lam­beth water­works. At near­by King’s Arm Stairs, in 1769, arti­fi­cial stone spe­cial­ist Daniel Pin­cot joined forces with the expe­ri­enced entre­pre­neur Eleanor Coade (whose back­ground was in linen and drap­ery) to estab­lish a ceram­ics fac­to­ry mak­ing dec­o­ra­tive mould­ings. After two years the part­ners fell out and Mrs Coade there­after ran the com­pa­ny sin­gle-hand­ed­ly under her own sur­name.

Her fac­to­ry spe­cialised in stat­ues, busts and orna­men­ta­tions for build­ings, such as key­stone masks, friezes and vas­es, all made from a mate­r­i­al that the pro­pri­etress brand­ed Lythodipyra – from the Greek for ‘twice-fired stone’. Most peo­ple sim­ply called it Coade stone.

Much admired for its firm­ness of out­line, creamy-white colour and dura­bil­i­ty, espe­cial­ly its resis­tance to frost, Coade stone was made from a fine­ly ground mix­ture of fired clay, flint, sand and glass, baked at a very high tem­per­a­ture for sev­er­al days.

The busi­ness pros­pered and in 1799 Mrs Coade opened a show­room near West­min­ster Bridge. She took on a series of busi­ness part­ners, most pro­duc­tive­ly her cousin John Sealy and lat­er a more dis­tant rel­a­tive, William Crog­gon, who assumed sole own­er­ship fol­low­ing Mrs Coad­e’s death in 1821 at her home in Cam­ber­well. She was buried in the Dis­senters’ grave­yard in Bun­hill Fields.

On his own death in 1835, William Crog­gon was suc­ceed­ed by his son Thomas John, who kept the com­pa­ny going for a short while before sell­ing out in the face of grow­ing com­pe­ti­tion from Port­land cement. Dur­ing Thomas John’s peri­od in charge James God­ing estab­lished the Lion Brew­ery on a neigh­bour­ing plot of land leased from the Arch­bish­op of Can­ter­bury, whose Lon­don res­i­dence is Lam­beth Palace.

God­ing com­mis­sioned the painter and sculp­tor William Fred­er­ick Wood­ing­ton to cre­ate an emblem­at­ic pair of lions for the brew­ery in 1837. Each was cast in sev­er­al parts at the Crog­gon works and then cramped togeth­er on an iron frame. They were among the last few items to be made in Coade stone. The beast now known as the South Bank Lion was mount­ed on a sub­stan­tial base incised with the sin­gle word ‘BREWERY’ and installed on the para­pet of the build­ing’s Thames frontage.

The Lion Brew­ery oper­at­ed until 1924, when the busi­ness was absorbed by Hoare and Com­pa­ny of East Smith­field. The main Lam­beth build­ing was seri­ous­ly dam­aged by fire in 1931, served as a store­house for waste paper for a few years and then stood derelict until its demo­li­tion in 1949 to make way for the con­struc­tion of the Roy­al Fes­ti­val Hall.

The South Bank Lion was saved – report­ed­ly at the request of George VI – repaired, paint­ed gloss red and mount­ed on a plinth out­side the Water­loo Sta­tion gate to the Fes­ti­val of Britain site. When the sta­tion was enlarged in 1966 the lion was relo­cat­ed to its present promi­nent posi­tion near the Lam­beth end of West­min­ster Bridge, and stripped to the bare stone.

And what of the South Bank Lion’s twin? It too was res­cued and now stands atop the cen­tral pil­lar of the west gate at Twick­en­ham Sta­di­um, paint­ed gold.

Hidden London: South Bank Lion removal, courtesy Nick Redman

The pho­to­graph above was kind­ly shared by Nick Red­man of Lon­don Pho­tos, whose grand­fa­ther (sec­ond on the left) was one of the scaf­fold­ers who helped move the lion from the soon-to-be-demol­ished brew­ery.

The South Bank Lion, Westminster Bridge Road, near County Hall, London SE1
Nearest station: Westminster (Circle, District and Jubilee lines)