A City surrounded by dragons

The City of London is surrounded by dragons but why?

A City surrounded by dragons


How are dragons perceived in western culture?

In classical legend, dragons are associated with guarding something. For example, in Greek mythology, a ten headed dragon guarded the golden apples, in the Garden of the Hesperides. In medieval romance dragons spend a lot of time guarding pretty, captive women i.e. the princess in the tower story we all know so well.


How are dragons portrayed in literature and language?

Dragons are mentioned in the book of revelation where the devil is referred to as being a dragon. 

Do you know the difference between a griffin, a wyvern and a dragon? I have heard and read the City dragon ­to be called a griffin. This especially applies to the statue at Temple Bar. The term ‘east of the Griffin’ was once commonly employed to mean ‘east of Temple Bar’, i.e. in the City of London:

“If something unexpected did not happen, it meant another visit to a little office he knew too well in the City, the master of which, more than civil if you met him on a racecourse, … was quite a different person and much less easy to deal with east of the Griffin.”

Alfred Watson: Racecourse and Covert Side (1883).

A griffin has the backend of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle.  Remember the Midland Bank adverts? That was a Griffin. I would think it more plausible to confuse a dragon with a wyvern. Can you tell the difference between a dragon, a wyvern and a griffin?  A wyvern is characterised as having scales and a barbed tail, like that of a dragon. A dragon has four legs whereas a Wyvern only two.

Dragons in the City of London. Credit: Hazel Baker


Where do the City of London dragons come from?

The origin of the dragons isn’t clear. Some say that they come from the story of George and the Dragon as St George is the patron saint of England. The sword and the dragons certainly distinguish the coat of arms of the City of London from those of England. In England, we associate St George with slaying the Dragon and indeed dragons guard the City of London and mark out the different gates around the city i.e Aldersgate, Bishopsgate, Temple Bar, Bridge Gate and Moorgate. As with dragons being used in stories to protect something i.e.; Smaug in J.R.R Tolkein’s 1937 novel The Hobbit protects Erebor (for himself) are the City of London dragons there to protect the city?

The City of London is the original heart of London having been established by the Romans in 55BC. The City of London is surrounded by dragons. The photo above is of one of the two dragons original statues from the Coal Exchange. These two dragons lived under the entrance to the Coal Exchange in Lower Thames Street until when it was demolished in 1863. After that they took up residence on either side of the Victoria Embankment.


What is the earliest image of the crest of the City of London?

The oldest known image of a crest is from 1539 when they are used on the reverse of the common seal of the City. The oldest image, however, is not very clear, by the end of the C17th, the crest had developed into the dragon wing.


The Lord Mayor’s Dragon Awards

Now in its 30th year the scheme recognises and celebrates community engagement, provide examples of best practice and to inspire others to get more involved covering Greater London. The results of the Awards are announced at a prestigious banquet, hosted by the Lord Mayor, held at The Mansion House. All Dragon Awards applicants receive a complimentary invitation to the dinner.  www.dragonawards.org.uk


Hunt down dragons in the City of London

Do you have a favourite dragon? Or perhaps you haven’t had the chance to hunt them down?

Hear more about the dragons of London on our London History podcast.


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