Vic Keegan’s Lost London 14: the South Bank Coade stone lion

by Dave Hill

This proud lion on a stone base on the Southwark side of Westminster Bridge by County Hall is not lost, even though it looks as though it belongs in Trafalgar Square. What is lost is a bit of its history. It is one of triplets manufactured in 1837 a few hundred yards away on the site of what is now the Festival Hall by sculptor William Woodington from Coade stone, a ceramic stoneware popular at the time whose manufacture was perfected by businesswoman Eleanor Coade (1733-1821). One of the mill stones from the Coade manufactory once resided outside the Festival Hall, but the curators of our culture have hidden it away somewhere.

More durable than real stone, Coade stone’s formula was guarded as secretly as that of Coca Cola. It was made from a ceramic compound of ball clay that had to be fired in a kiln for several days. Its staying power is proved by this lion and hundreds of other artefacts made from Coade stone that still exist all over the country, including in parts of Buckingham Palace and the tomb of Captain Bligh (of Mutiny on the Bounty fame) in St Mary’s churchyard, next to Lambeth Palace. The tallest example is a statue of Battle of Waterloo hero Rowland Hill in Shrewsbury, which stands on a column higher than Nelson’s. 

One of the other triplet lions has disappeared without trace, but the third was given by the Greater London Council to Twickenham rugby stadium (British Lion, geddit!) where it still graces the ground in painted gold splendour. Which is more than can be said for its South Bank sibling, which once adorned the Red Lion Brewery by Hungerford Bridge. It was later painted red by British Rail when it stood outside Waterloo station before it was stripped and moved to its present position. Here it still looks in pristine condition, as indeed it is, except that on the way it lost its manhood. But that’s another story.

All previous instalments of Vic Keegan’s Lost London can be savoured here.

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