Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
So wrote mystical London poet-artist William Blake, with a rhyming couplet that only really works if you're a Brummie.
To partly answer his speculation, this mortal hand and eye is about to frame 12 of the beasts, as spotted around the streets of London.
See also: Around London in 12 elephants
1. London's largest tiger
I've not been out and measured it, or anything, but I'd hazard a guess that the Tiger pub in Hackney features London's largest representation of a tiger. The Wick Road pub is dominated by a two-storey tiger's head which has dominated a prominent junction since 2017. It's the work of artist Jerome Davenport, whose other murals include the Sylvia Pankhurst painting on the Lord Morpeth pub, in Bow.
2. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Roundel
The platform walls at Charing Cross underground station are endlessly fascinating. Alongside the medieval stonemasons of the Northern line are the artistic flourishes of the Bakerloo. Here we find this reproduction of Henri Rousseau's tiger, which looks like it's straining to do a poo into a handily placed litter tray. You can see the original in the nearby National Gallery (minus the litter).
3. The real thing
London Zoo has long been home to genuine tigers, and is the only place in central London where you can see these majestic animals. The zoo is part of an international effort to increase numbers of Sumatran tigers, which are endangered in the wild (only around 300 remain). Several cubs have been born here in recent years though, including one in December 2021, to mum Gaysha and dad Asim. At time of writing, it's not yet known whether the cub is male or female, so it remains unnamed.
4. Tiger post
And while you're at the zoo, seek out this most unusual post box. A Victorian original has been specially painted to resemble the stripes of the tiger. As you can see from the photo, it's used for donations today, rather than mail.
5. Tipu's Tiger
Representations of tigers can be found in many of London's museums. By far the most popular, and peculiar, is surely Tipu's Tiger at the V&A. It shows a fallen British soldier of the East India Company being savaged by a tiger (who also happens to be a miniature pipe organ).
The model was created for Tipu Sultan ("The Tiger of Mysore"), who ruled the Kingdom of Mysore in southern India in the late 18th century. Tipu understandably hated the East India Company, who frequently launched attacks on his territory. The invaders eventually overcame Tipu's forces, took control of his kingdom, and brought the tiger model back to England. It immediately became a popular exhibit and remains an emblem of the V&A today, albeit one wrapped in a complicated and controversial history of imperialism.
6. Jamrach's tiger
This has got to be among London's weirdest statues. An upright, low-res tiger prepares to swat a young boy with its giant oven glove of a paw. You'll find the oddity inside the equally peculiar Tobacco Dock (a failed shopping mall turned event centre in Wapping). The sculpture recalls a notorious incident from Victorian times. In 1857, an adult tiger escaped from the premises of animal importer Charles Jamrach. Nine-year-old John Wade approached the beast with curiosity, as only nine-year-old boys can. The big cat grabbed hold of Wade and carried him off. Fortunately, the boy later escaped unharmed but sued Jamrach for his carelessness. It ranks among London's greatest animal escapes.
7. William Blake tyger tyger mural
In the backstreets of Finsbury (roughly, the area either side of Old Street) can be found this fetching mural to one of William Blake's best known poems. Blake is buried very close by in the dissenters' cemetery of Bunhill Fields. The mural isn't as well known as it should be. In part, this is because it's down an obscure side-street (Baird Street), but also because the mural is largely hidden by a fig tree. The fig is somewhat symbolic of Blake. The great man is known to have enjoyed the shade of the tree in his Lambeth garden, and a fine specimen grows next to his tombstone in Bunhill Fields. The mural artists (Paul Skelding and Tim Sanders) have included a fig leaf just beneath the tiger's head.
8. The other Tiger Tiger
The average lifespan of a tiger is just 8-10 years. The massive Tiger Tiger nightclub on Haymarket has lasted three times as long, having opened in 1998. Already one of London's most famous night spots, it hit national headlines back in 2007 after a failed car bomb attack outside. A true survivor.
9-12. Street art tigers
Like the glimpse of a tiger in a forest, works of street art are often ephemeral. They are here, and then they are gone. None of the following murals can still be seen on the streets of London. But the tiger is such a popular subject, that other striped cats are sure to feature on the walls of our city in the future.
All images by the author unless otherwise stated.
See also: Around London in 12 elephants