Most people know that St George is the patron saint of England. Have you considered that most ‘George’ pubs almost certainly were once called ‘George and Dragon’ or even ‘St George and the Dragon’ ?
Walk down Borough High Street and have a look at two signs that hang outside the George Inn. Both show the ‘George and Dragon’ symbolism. The great thing about dragons, from an artistic point of view, is that they don’t really exist and so the artist is completely free when drawing one to put almost any details that he wants to.
Two dragons are shown as ‘supporters’ on the City of London coat of arms and this has led to plenty of dragons being sculpted, usually in iron or stone, and placed around the City of London. Every lamp-post in the City of London bears the shield of St George – the red cross on a white background – who is the patron saint of England. Every approach road to the City of London has a dragon either side of that road, marking the boundary of the City of London.
Until the 1960s there was a large attractive building standing opposite Billingsgate Market, known as the Coal Exchange. It had been erected in Victorian times. Over the main entrance were two quite large metal dragons. When the building was demolished, the two dragons were mounted either side of Victoria Embankment to mark the boundary of the City. They are still there today. Their shape was used to make smaller versions which are now to be found at the southern end of London Bridge and also beside other approach roads to the City.
That is not the end of the story of the dragons. Splendid versions of dragons are to be found incorporated into the decorative work on Leadenhall Market. Probably the largest pair of dragons are to be seen above the entrance to Grand Avenue at Smithfield Market. Some of the smallest dragons have, in recent years, been seen decorating the tops of lamp-posts in front of the Royal Exchange.
Not wanting to be ‘left out of the running’ Transport for London have also made their own contribution. Monument Underground Station has dragon motifs on the cream tiles on the two platforms. At the bottom of the staircases which lead down to Bank Station from the streets above are bas-relief panels with pairs of really impressive dragons on them (see picture above).
Well, that’s a start. There are plenty more to be found. Keep your eyes open and you will be surprised how many dragons are lurking around the City of London. There are, of course, many ‘George’ pubs and some of their pub signs are also decorated with a dragon.
By the way, if you thought that these dragons should be called ‘griffins’ it might be worth pointing out that they are dragons. A griffin was a mythical beast, with the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion, that derives originally from Egyptian sculptures.