The South Bank Lion, also known as the Red Lion, is a Coade stone sculpture of a standing male lion cast in 1837. It has stood at the east end of Westminster Bridge in London, to the north side of the bridge beside County Hall, since 1966. Painted red between 1951 and 1966, the paint was later removed to reveal again the white ceramic surface underneath.
The statue is about 13 feet (4.0 m) long and 12 feet (3.7 m) high, and weighs about 13 tonnes (14 tons). It is made of Coade stone, a type of ceramic stoneware that resembles artificial stone and which is very resistant to weathering. The fine details of its modelling still remain clear after decades of exposure to the corrosive atmosphere in London throughout the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries caused by heavy use of coal. The statue was made in separate parts and cramped together on an iron frame.
The lion was originally mounted on the parapet of James Goding’s Lion Brewery on the Lambeth bank of the River Thames; Hungerford Bridge spanned the Thames nearby from 1845. The Lion Brewery closed in 1924 and the building was demolished in 1949, to make way for construction of the Royal Festival Hall as part of the Festival of Britain. The lion was removed, revealing the initials of the sculptor William Frederick Woodington and the date, 24 May 1837, under one of its paws. It was painted red as the symbol of British Rail, and mounted on high plinth beside the entrance to the Festival of Britain near Waterloo station.
The statue was removed from outside Waterloo station in 1966 to allow the station to be extended. The red paint was removed, and the statue was moved to its current location on a large granite plinth beside Westminster Bridge. The plinth bears the inscription “The South Bank Lion”. The statue was given a Grade II* listing by English Heritage in 1981.
A wooden red lion statue in Cambridge was created as a prototype for the Lion Brewery statue. The wooden statue was found in Woburn in the 1970s, before being moved to Cambridge, and displayed at Lion Yard from 1974 to 1999. It was kept in storage until late 2014, when it was moved to Cambridge University Rugby Club’s ground on Grange Road.
A second, similar Coade stone lion was removed from the Lion Brewery when it was demolished, removed from an arched gateway leading to a second brewery site on the south side of Belvedere Road, on the corner of Sutton Walk. It was presented to the Rugby Football Union in 1971, its centenary season, by the Greater London Council and unveiled in 1972. It is now located above the central pillar of the Rowland Hill Memorial Gate (Gate 3) to the west of Twickenham Stadium. It was covered in gold leaf when England hosted the 1991 Rugby World Cup.
The Lion Brewery also had a third Coade stone lion, over the arched entrance to the south of the main brewery site, on the north side of the Belvedere Road. It was present in 1930, but was missing for some years before the brewery was demolished, and is believed to have been destroyed.
A recumbent Coade stone lion, made in 1821 to a different design by Thomas Hardwick for King George IV, is mounted above the Lion Gate at Kew Gardens. It is partnered by a Coade stone unicorn, which surmounts the Unicorn Gate at Kew.
Gold lion and other statues at Twickenham Stadium
The Lion Gate at Kew Gardens
- Historic England. “The South Bank Lion at east end of Westminster Bridge (1068742)”. National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 21 November 2014.
- From brewery mascot to king of the bridge: South Bank Lion, Westminster Bridge, SE1, hidden-london.com
- Coade Stone Lion, Waterloo Railway Station, Waterloo, lambeth.gov.uk
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- Lion Brewery, The Vauxhall Society
- Coade’s Artificial Stone Works, in Survey of London: Volume 23, Lambeth: South Bank and Vauxhall, ed. Howard Roberts and Walter H Godfrey (London, 1951), pp. 58–61. British History Online
- Lambeth Waterworks and Lion Brewery, in Survey of London: Volume 23, Lambeth: South Bank and Vauxhall, ed. Howard Roberts and Walter H Godfrey (London, 1951), pp. 51–54. British History Online
- Plate 32: Lion Brewery, north-west side of Belvedere Road, 1930, in Survey of London: Volume 23, Lambeth: South Bank and Vauxhall, ed. Howard Roberts and Walter H Godfrey (London, 1951), p. 32. British History Online
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