A City Safari! | City of London Animals and the Stories Behind Them
Are you familiar with confirmation bias? The idea that when you plant an idea in your head you see evidence for it everywhere? Well, on a walk in the City of London recently, I saw a couple of animals. Then, the more I looked, the more I began to realise that the City is basically crawling with creatures!
Here is a round up of some of my favourite animals to spot in the City of London. I’m sure there are plenty more so do let me know any others in the comments!
The Dragon is the symbol of the City of London and they guards its historic entrances, most famously atop Temple bar. But you can find these fearsome creatures all over the City.
Some of my favourites can be found in the rafters of Leadenhall Market, a 19th century poultry market designed by Horace Jones.
You can also find one in flight atop the steeple of St Mary Le Bow. The church (rebuilt by Wren and then gutted during The Blitz) reopened in 1964, but the golden dragon dates from 1679.
As you will see throughout the post, a common source of animals in the City is as symbols of the Livery Companies, trade guilds that formed in the Medieval period and still have huge amounts of power, wealth and property in the City today.
On Gresham Street you can find the Wax Chandlers’ Hall. As you might have guessed, traditionally they traded in beeswax. Candles might be the first product to spring to mind but they were also involved in creating seals and medicine.
In 1530 the company was granted supporters for its coat of arms in the form of two unicorns. Even the Wax Chandlers themselves are unsure of the exact reason behind the choice. It’s either a reference to medicine or perhaps an allusion to purity.
The winged horse of Pegasus is the symbol of Inner Temple, one of the four surviving inns of court which constitute the heart of legal London. Each has an animal as their symbols; the lamb and flag for Middle Temple, a Griffin for Gray’s and a lion for Lincoln’s.
Explore more of this magical London neighbourhood in my post here.
Close to St Paul’s Cathedral, along Warwick Lane, you can see two lovely elephant knockers.
They’re the doors to Cutler’s Hall, another of the City’s livery companies, which had an elephant as part of their coat of arms.
The Cutler’s dealt in anything with a bladed edge but the elephant connection come from ivory – used for the finest handles on cutlery. Read more about the Cutler’s here.
Above the entrance to the former churchyard of St John Zachary you can spot a golden leopard’s head. This is one of the symbols of the Goldsmith’s Company.
Their hall stands opposite this garden and for centuries it’s been the location for assessing the quality of precious metals.
If the metal met the standard, the mark of the leopards head would be pressed into the product. It’s where we get the phrase hallmark from.
Another Company to use big cats in their coat of arms is the Worshipful Company of Dyers. Their supporters are panthers which in heraldry have coloured spots, apt for a company that until the 19th century regulated the trade of colourful dyes.
Their coat of arms above the entrance to their hall on Dowgate Hill
Along Eastcheap, look up to spot three camels walking in a line.
This is the former Peek House, home to Peek Brothers and Co. in the late 1880s. They imported tea, coffee and spices and this was their logo.
Carved by William Theed the Younger, this is the sole reminder of their business that stopped trading in the 1970s and was dissolved in 2004.
A short walk away on Threadneedle Street you can find more camels!
These beautiful carved spandrels are a nod to the Oriental Bank Corporation, a short-lived Indian Bank established in 1845 which closed in 1892.
On the opposite side of the street are yet more camels, this time the supporters of the Merchant Taylors Coat of Arms.
Originally just a fraternity of tailors working in the City, their full name was ‘the Fraternity of St John the Baptist of Tailors and Linen-Armourers’.
The camels are a late addition to the coat of arms, appearing from 1586. They are either a reference to John the Baptist (who by tradition wore a camel skin coat) or a nod to their expanding trade with the East.
Near Aldgate, the Eastern edge of the City of London is an impressive former drinking fountain.
Though it’s no longer operational (and for good reason!) the water once flowed from the wolf’s jaws.
It doesn’t look quite as fearsome as usual because someone has stuck some googly eyes on, but its inclusion is supposedly to commemorate the last wolf shot in the City of London. A phrase often repeated online but for which I’m afraid I don’t have a conclusive source.
At 69 King William Street is a fairly grubby looking building which needs a bit of tlc. It was previously the home of the Australian Bank of Victoria (pictured here) and so bears the Australian national animals of the kangaroo (sadly missing a bit of its face)
and an emu!
Back onto Dowgate Hill where we saw the Dyer’s Company, look up and you’ll see the coat of arms of the Skinners, first recorded in 1295.
Above the swags of lion’s skins you’ll see two wild cats, both prized for their luxurious fur. On the left is a Lynx and the right is a Marten sable.
A little further down from the camels on Eastcheap, you can also spot a boar’s head if you look up above no.s 33-35.
Although the building is a (recently restored) 19th century office building, the animal is a reference to the Boar’s Head Tavern, a pub mentioned in Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part I which was destroyed during the Great Fire of London. Read more here.
Look up along Bishopsgate and you’ll spot a golden beaver!
It’s there as a reminder of Hudson’s Bay Company, who primarily dealt with fur, beaver’s being especially popular for felt top hats. They held their headquarters in London from 1668 until 1970 when they became a Canadian Corporation and moved across the pond. The building is now home to a variety of hi-spec office space inside, with the original facade of by Mewes and Davies dating from 1926.
One of my favourite sculpture in London, in Gough Square off Fleet Street you can find Hodge, the pet cat of Dr Samuel Johnson.
Hodge looks out onto No. 17, where Johnson lived for 11 years in the middle of the 18th century. It was from here that he wrote his famous English Dictionary, which Hodge is happily sitting on.
On the Cheapside facade of No.1 Poultry is an extraordinary frieze that was saved from the original Victorian buildings.
Carved by Kremer in 1875, you can read more about their Royal connections here, but I enjoyed the two ordinary dogs enjoying the pageantry, one of which looks like a pug (below).
Before street numbers were uniformly organised, London addresses used to be far more poetic. For example you could arrange to meet someone at the sign of the three squirrels on Fleet Street.
Still visible today, this was the symbol for small family bank, founded in 1650, and based on Fleet Street from the 1740s. It became part of Barclays in 1896.
This pair also happen to be the smallest sculpture in the City, they’re very hard to spot but can be found on Philpot Lane, close to the base of 20 Fenchurch Church aka the Walkie Talkie. They’re a reminder of a tragic Victorian story which you can read all about here.
On the side of the Royal Exchange – former hub of London’s trade – you can find this sculpture of a grasshopper.
It’s there because it’s the heraldic symbol of Thomas Gresham, founder of the Royal Exchange in 1571. Today the building is an upmarket shopping mall, but next time you’re there, look up to spot the golden grasshopper weathervane too!
This modern carving on Cheapside stands over the Medieval street; Honey Lane. The site was the location of Honey lane Market which confusingly didn’t sell honey at all but was a meat market. Elsewhere in London, if you see bees or beehives in architecture they’re usually a symbolic reference to collaborative work.
Tucked in amongst the Barbican Estate is the historic Ironmongers Hall, the HQ of the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers whose earliest records date back to the 1300s.
The lizards can be seen in their coat of arms (in stone above the black gates) but reproduced below.
Image from Public Domain – Wikimedia Commons
The ironmongers company use lizards because these little critters are sometimes thought of as being born from fire. This is because they hide inside logs and when you set them alight they dash out! As ironmongers are working beside white hot fires the association came from there.
A short walk from Liverpool Street Station is the former archway of Cooper’s Wool Warehouse, built in 1863. Although the warehouses were turned into offices in the 1980s, the – extra fluffy – merino ram was saved. You can find it at 21 New Street.
Walk a little further up Bishopsgate and you’ll find the Leathersellers Hall, now housed within 7 St Helen’s Place. Outside their front door you can find two lovely sculptures of their heraldic supporters; the Ram and the Roebuck.
The bronze statues were made by Mark Coreth in 2000.
Probably the most common animal to feature throughout City architecture, I thought I’d pick out two examples.
First is this lovely if surprising sculpture in Devonshire Square. Called the Knight of the Cnihtengild, it’s a reference to 13 knights that were gifted this area of land by King Edgar in the 10th century. Unveiled in 1990, it’s by Denys Mitchell.
Skipping forward a couple of hundred years, we arrive outside the Minster Court near Tower Hill, famously home to Cruella de Vil in the 1996 film 101 Dalmations.
Also from the 1990s are the three epic horse sculptures by Althea Wynne. Known as Stirling, Dollar and Yen they’re a reminder that we’re in the financial heart of London.
Walk along a narrow stretch of Lime Street in EC3 and you’re surrounded by the glass and steel of skyscrapers built in the last few decades. However, on the side of a wall just before you reach Billiter Street, this chunky little pig takes you by surprise!
The panels were originally carved by James Woodford in the 1950s and depict Air, Sea, Fire and Land. You can see more of his work on RIBA’s HQ.
First carved to decorate the old Lloyd’s Building (previously to the Richard Rogers one) they were placed high out of sight until they were relocated here, on the side of the new Scalpel Building.
Thanks to the brilliant IanVisits for the info on these panels, you can see more details and read more about them here.
High above Poultry (that’s a clue) you can spot this statue from William Reid Dick entitled Boy with Goose c.1930s.
Commissioned by Edwin Lutyens who was the architect of the former Midland Bank – now the Ned Hotel and Private Members Club. This stretch of Poultry was formerly a poultry market.
Outside St James Garlickhythe Church you can find this curious little sculpture by Vivien Mallock, unveiled in 2007.
Again, we find a reference to the City’s Livery Companies, this time an ancient tradition rather than a coat of arms.
The tradition is swan-upping, a ceremony which has taken place along the Thames since the 12th century. Involving the Vintners Company and the Dyers Company (of panther fame above), these two companies exercise their right to claim ownership of swans (traditionally all owned by Crown). Still occurring each July, instead of choosing swans to enjoy at a feast, today it’s a more ecological exercise, counting the numbers of swans along the upper reaches of the Thames.
68 King William Street has most recently been occupied by House of Fraser, but when it was first built (1920-22) it was the home of Guardian Royal Exchange Assurance.
The owl appears a few times above doorways and most strikingly in gold above the central clock, a symbol of the company’s values of stability, dignity and awareness.
Do you have any other favourites I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments! And, as ever, keep looking up!
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