[T]his Sunday is the start of the Chinese New Year when we enter the year of the Tiger; it is the sign of courage, a fearless and fiery fighter revered by the ancient Chinese as the sign that wards off the three main disasters of a household: fire, thieves and ghosts.
The Chinese have a culture seeped in animal mythology from nine headed birds to numerous dragons, so for today, to wish you Happy New Year and CabbieBlog gives you London’s mythical creatures, starting with a dragon for fire:
The City of London – Dragon or Griffin?
There is some confusion in identifying dragons and griffins in The City of London. Certainly both are mythical winged creatures. A griffin is the offspring of a lion and an eagle, it has the head, shoulders and legs of an eagle, while the body is that of a lion, so think beak and talons on a large cat – with wings. Traditionally, griffins have kept watch over hidden treasure, not much of that left in The City. While a dragon is a ‘winged crocodile’ or scaled creature with a serpent tail, capable of breathing smoke or fire, so for this one think teeth, flared nostrils, scales and a snaky tail – with wings. Symbols of these creatures can be found at: The boundary to the Square Mile either standing or on plinths; at Temple Bar on the top of the Bar; Holborn Viaduct has them incorporated in the bridge spans; while Smithfield Market’s Grand Avenue they are breathing fire; at the entrance to Guildhall, Bank Underground Station and Leadenhall Market; at the Monument and on the weathervane atop St Mary-le-Bow Church – scary.
This French mortar mounted on a cast-iron dragon can be found on Horseguard’s Parade. It was a gift of the Spanish government to the Prince Regent in memory of the lifting of the siege of Cadiz following the defeat of the French forces near Salamanca in July 1812 by the Duke of Wellington’s army.
At Embankment Garden there is another strange looking beast. The Chindit Memorial statute depicts the Burmese mythical beast Chindit who is the guardian of Burmese pagodas and temples. The statue commemorates the Burmese campaign during World War II in 1943 and 1944 with the Chindit Special Force, their motto features on the plinth ‘The Boldest Measures Are the Safest’, a lesson they should have put into practice in Afghanistan.
Cleopatra’s Needle Sphinx
Having nothing to do with her at all, but still called Cleopatra’s Needle, carved in 1475 BC over 1,000 years before London was named, is by far the capital’s oldest man-made attraction. Standing over 60 feet high and weighting 186 tons. Presented to the British in the early 1800s against its wishes. It was loaded onto an iron pontoon and showed its obvious displeasure at being moved from the shores of the Mediterranean by nearly sinking off The Bay of Biscay. The obelisk was saved but six seamen died in the ferocious storm. We eventually erected it in 1887. It is now the most popular suicide spot on this stretch of the Thomas, come here at night to witness two ghosts who are seen jumping into the river. You cannot help but feel that the needle is waiting for the day when it can return home to stand proud under the hot Egyptian sun.
Crystal Palace Sphinx
The Great Exhibition of 1851 was the expression of a society at the zenith of its prosperity and power. Paxton’s Crystal Palace was a huge iron goliath with over a million feet of glass, containing such industrial exhibits as the jacquar loom, courts depicting the history of art and architecture from ancient Egypt through the Renaissance as well as exhibits from imperial territories like India and Australia. Major concerts were held in the Palace’s huge arched Centre Transept, which also contained the world’s largest organ. The central transept also housed a circus and was the scene of daring feats by world famous acts such as the tightrope walker Blondin. The Crystal Palace itself was almost outshone by the park in which it stood, which contained a magnificent series of fountains (the water pumped through a set of towers designed by Brunel) and the park’s original trees. Today, it is a rather different matter, moved to Crystal Palace after the exhibition it burned down in the thirties; all that remains are a set of empty terraces, with headless statues gracing the steps and Sphinxes guarding the entrance way to nothingness.