The reinstallation of the lions and unicorns
The most visible part of the restoration was not inside the church. Our scheme called for the reinstallation of four massive heraldic beasts, two lions and two unicorns, that were part of the original design. The sculptures were intended as a symbolic comment on the Hanoverian succession, with the lions representing England and the unicorns Scotland fighting for the crown of England. Considered to be too frivolous for Victorian taste as well as being potentially unsafe, the ‘beasts’ were removed from the tower in the 1870s and lost. Only the weathered statue of George I dressed as a Roman Emperor was still in residence.
We were determined to re-create these fantastical beasts and, in October 2002, we held an architectural competition. The winner Tim Crawley (of Fairhaven of Anglesey Abbey craftsmen) had previously carved the acclaimed “Modern Martyrs” for the front of Westminster Abbey, and was charged with bringing the lions and unicorns back to life from contemporary drawings. His sculptures are dramatic to say the least. Each of the four creatures is over ten feet tall and weighs eight tons.
Clearly visible from the ground, they form a dramatic and playful part of Bloomsbury once more.