Why is There a Lion on Westminster Bridge?

Have you ever wondered what that massive lion is doing on Westminster Bridge? The tiny plaque on its plinth doesn’t give you much help, but it’s quite an interesting tale.

Lion on Westminster Bridge

Originally this hefty lion (it weighs 13 tonnes) stood atop the Lion Brewery from 1837. The brewery was a South Bank institution which used to stand where the Royal Festival Hall is now.

Lion on Westminster Bridge

The Red Lion Brewery and Shot Tower on the south bank near Waterloo, in June, 1932. By AG Linney.

Wait, it’s how old..?

Yep. Despite being built in the early 19th century the lion looks brand-spanking new. This is thanks to a remarkable material called Coade Stone.

What’s that?

It was Eleanor Coade who created a secret recipe for this weather-resistant stone in her South Bank workshop. Eleanor was a pretty remarkable women, taking over Daniel Pincot’s struggling stone factory in 1769 to found “Coade’s Artificial Stone Manufactory”. Pincot, who perhaps couldn’t deal with a female in charge, was fired by Coade in 1771 because he insisted on ‘representing himself as the chief proprietor’ – the cheek!

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Royal approval

The lion was in trouble when the brewery was demolished in 1949, and the only reason it’s here today is because King George VI stepped in to make sure it was saved! After a short stretch outside Waterloo station for the 1952 Festival of Britain, the lion found himself on westminster Bridge.

Can you find more Coade Stone today?

Short answer, yes! Testament to Mrs Coade’s hardwearing material, over 650 code stone pieces still exist today, happy hunting! There’s plenty of little faces to be found all over London as well as sculptural pieces across the UK at swanky country houses.

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7 Comments

  • Steve

    Reply

    A statute of a charity boy stands in the Garden Museum is made of Coade stone. Orginally it was outside Lambeth Boys school. Also the lion has had his manhood removed.

    March 12, 2017 at 7:39 pm
  • Eric Basire

    Reply

    I remember a student’s rag when red lion’s paw prints were painted along the riverside walk leading to the Westminster bridge. I think it made it appear the lion had jumped from St Thomas Hospital and walked to his plinth. Can’t find any reference to this story on the net.

    July 22, 2018 at 12:06 pm
      • David Pritchard

        Reply

        Wonderful story – so ‘Medical Students’!

        May 4, 2020 at 10:56 pm
  • anthony Carlyon

    Reply

    the lion was lifted into place in 1966 by mobile lifting services I was one of the crane drivers

    March 21, 2020 at 4:29 pm
  • Elizabeth Bradbury

    Reply

    My Great Grandfather was a drayman for the Lion Brewery. He lived in Ethelm Street behind Union Jack Club.
    Elizabeth Bradbury

    November 14, 2020 at 9:57 am

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