One of the saddest of London’s lost buildings is the former Lion Brewery, which once dominated the view south of the Thames by Waterloo Bridge. The building itself was handsome rather than beautiful. What gave it grandeur was the huge statue of a lion – one of two at the brewery – surveilling the river from the roof of the building – a true British icon.
It is difficult to complain too much about this loss, because the brewery, founded by James Goding in 1836, had fallen on hard times and the building itself was derelict. It was demolished in 1949 to make way for the Royal Festival Hall, the only lasting memory we have of the 1951 Festival of Britain. The shot tower on the left of the photo above was demolished with all the other exhibits.
The lions themselves weren’t destroyed. They merely went for a walk: one to Waterloo Station and afterwards to the southern end of Westminster Bridge, where it still proudly stands stripped of its red paint and, in deference to Victorian values, its private parts. The other one, now painted gold, stands sentinel outside Twickenham rugby football stadium, doubtless an inspiration when the (human) British Lions play there.
Both of the lions were made of the highly fashionable artificial Coade stone manufactured in a factory almost next door to the brewery. At the time, the ingredients of Coade stone were kept secret like the core of Coca Cola is today. But the stone, manufactured by the redoubtable Mrs Coade, one of the great entrepreneurs of the time, has proved its claim that it weathers better than natural stone, as is evident from hundreds of examples up and down the country.
There is one other curious memory of the Lion Brewery that still exists. Hoare and Co, the banking dynasty, which was one of the oldest businesses in London purchased it in 1923. They already owned the (unconnected) Red Lion Brewery down river at Lower East Smithfield which was once the biggest breweries in London with a history going back to Tudor times.
Charrington, the huge brewery chain, purchased the breweries from Hoare in 1933. They later ceased brewing at the Lion but kept one of Hoare’s trade marks, a Toby Jug, and even extended it to their Toby Inn pub food chain. Hoare’s Bank is still going strong today at its offices in Fleet Street. The big brewers have long since left Central London which is a great shame. But at least there are numerous micro breweries springing up to take their place.
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