Above: One of the newly-painted dragons on the east side of Smithfield Market.
Over the summer months some of the largest dragons ever cast in the City of London have been given some beauty parlour treatment. There are four of these magnificent beasts – two above each end of the Main Avenue running through the centre of the meat market at Smithfield. Scaffolding was erected and several months of work was necessary to clear the rust from the metalwork supporting the figures followed by a repaint of the dragons as they continued to cling to the two entrance arches of the market. When the work was last carried out is not known but the whole building was given a make-over some time before the millennium so it might have been on that occasion.
Two of them, facing east, now gleam in the morning sunshine. The other two catch the afternoon light but not a spectacularly as the east-facing ones. However, they are not as elegantly coloured as they were the last time they were spruced up. Didn’t the painters know that dragons should have purple in their wings? Surely anyone knows that! If you want the evidence then take a look at the picture below which shows the same dragon before its beauty treatment.
I have a suspicion that the colour now has to conform to a boring British Standard number – even worse some colour conforming to an EU directive for the precise colouring of dragons! I do know that the favoured colour for dragons in the City is silver but the additional colouring on the wings seemed to make the beasts look even more imposing and sinister than they are now.
Above: The same dragon photographed in 2015, showing how much renovation was necessary to the building.
At least the City of London is looking after what must be some of the largest dragon figures it possesses – maybe the largest in the whole of England. How did the artist for these sculptures get the idea for the poses in which they are shown? The building was designed by Sir Horace Jones, the Architect and Surveyor to the City of London. His most famous work was probably Tower Bridge. He was also responsible for Billingsgate Market, Leadenhall Market and for the Temple Bar Memorial.
Was Jones responsible for the design of the dragons on Smithfield Market? If so, he certainly had a vivid imagination. Come to think of it, Leadenhall Market has quite a few dragon figures also incorporated into its structure and, of course, the Temple Bar Memorial has a grand black dragon standing at the top, welcoming visitors from Westminster to the City of London.
Many people have the idea that Victorians were rather staid and probably quite dull. Anyone who can design dragons, especially the four large figures on Smithfield Market, are certainly not dull. There is every indication that they were some of the most fun-loving people that ever lived in the 19th century.