Home » London Sculptures » The Secrets of the South Bank Lion

The Secrets of the South Bank Lion

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

The striking large white lion statue at the south end of Westminster Bridge has watched over the Thames on the South Bank for nearly two hundred years but its original position was rather higher up, on the top of the Lion Brewery in Lambeth.

James Goding had the Lion Brewery built in 1836–7, the main building facing the river was five storeys high topped off with a large white lion made of Coade stone. The Lion did not have travel far because the Coade’s Stone Works were located nearby, the works opened in 1769 and was run for the first 25 years by the remarkable Mrs. Eleanor Coade. The factory flourished for over 70 years, most due to the fact that the ‘recipe’ for Coade Stone was a closely guarded secret.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Coade stone was not really stone at all but was rather ceramic stoneware that was considered a ‘wonder’ material in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Cheap to produce, It was mostly used for moulding neoclassical statues, architectural decorations and garden ornaments of the highest quality and remained resistant to the vagaries of the weather. It was popular with the Royal Family and was used on St George’s Chapel, Windsor; The Royal Pavilion, Brighton; Carlton House, London; the Royal Naval College, Greenwich; and Buckingham Palace. However the glory days of Coade Stone were over when large lion for the Lion Brewery was produced in 1837, in the same year, the artificial stone factory was closed down.

The Lion Brewery continued to operate until 1924 when it was bought out by Hoare and Co. brewers, of Wapping. The main building was seriously damaged by fire in 1931 and eventually the whole complex was demolished in 1949 to make way for the Royal Festival Hall.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

The Lion was saved from the building and was reused as part of the Festival of Britain. For some reason, the lion was painted red and mounted on a plinth near the entrance to Waterloo station. In 1966, during the redevelopment of Waterloo station, the statue was cleaned and red paint removed to bring it back to original colour and moved to its current location on a large granite plinth next to Westminster Bridge. The plinth bears the inscription “The South Bank Lion”. and the plaque gives further information about the Lion surviving the bombing in the Second World War and how he was preserved in the accordance with the wishes of His Majesty King George VI. The statue was given a Grade II* listing by English Heritage in 1981.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

The statue which is about 13 feet (4.0 m) long and 12 feet (3.7 m) high, and weighs about 13 tonnes (14 tons) is a reminder of long gone Lambeth industries and has been a reassuring landmark for generations of Londoners.

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