This structure in front of the Royal Courts of Justice is called Temple Bar. It marks the spot on Fleet Street where jurisdiction of The City of London officially begins, and plays an important part in relations between the monarch and The City. Over the centuries the City has been given many special privileges – one of which protects the City from intrusion by the king or queen. When the monarch wants to enter The City, he or she must request permission from the Lord Mayor of the City of London. The Lord Mayor offers the monarch the City’s pearl-encrusted Sword of State as a token of loyalty. These days the ceremony only occurs on very special occasions and apparently it is no longer true that the monarch must request permission for each entry into The City.
There is a record of some kind of barrier on Fleet Street since 1293. The most impressive one was the triple arched Temple Gate commissioned by King Charles II and designed by Sir Christopher Wren. It was built between 1669-1672 and stood across Fleet Street until 1878, when the City authorities decided they had to widen the street. Temple Bar just wasn’t able to handle the modern traffic of London in the late 1800s – so down came the beautiful gate.
Luckily the City Fathers took the gate down carefully and stored all the stones. They were purchased two years later by a brewer who rebuilt the arch in the woods on his estate – Theobalds Park – and the arch stood there, forlornly, for 125 years! In 1984 the gate was purchased by the City of London Corporation for £1. It was carefully dismantled and then rebuilt in the new pedestrian area on Paternoster Square right next to St. Paul’s Cathedral, where the public can again walk through the arches. What a great story of Rising from the Ruins.
But – back to Dragons! Here’s another one – guarding the road at Tower Hill. Some people refer to them as Griffins – and say that they are appropriate because in mythology griffins were supposed to guard the gold of the Kingdom. However, others point out that griffins have feathers wings and an eagle’s head and the London dragons don’t.
I like the explanation that the Dragons came to London with King Henry VII – the half-Welsh upstart who became king by invading England and defeating Richard III at Bosworth. The red Dragon is the symbol of Wales, and the London dragon probably came from that.
Of course, dragons are also associated with the patron saint of England – Saint George. There are several statues in London that show Saint George fighting the dragon.
Here’s a nice depiction of Saint George in the Lady Chapel at Southwark Cathedral.
This triumphant Saint George (whom I think looks a bit like Joan of Arc) is on the Calvary of Empire monument in Hyde Park.
The sculptor was Adrian Jones, and the statue was made in 1924 from weapons captured in the First World War.
This modern sculpture of Saint George on Bouvier Street just off Fleet Street. It’s a huge figure and has an enormous serpent coiling around the column the saint stands on.
My favorite dragons are at Leadenhall Market – they are definitely the stuff of fantasy. You may recognize them because the market was used in some Harry Potter films. They are on the market because it was built by the City of London as a commercial market for the City. Leadenhall was the poultry market; Smithfield was the livestock market, Billingsgate was for fish. They all have dragons all over them.
The shield has the red cross of St. George on a white background, and the red sword of St. Paul in the top left corner. The motto on the banner “DOMINE DIRIGE NOS” means “Oh Lord, Guide Us”.
London is teeming with dragons and it’s fun to chase them, especially now that we can look at them as friendly little critters and not scary fire-breathing demons.
@Cathey Leitch 2015