The City Of London Dragons: It's About Time They All Had Names

M@
By M@ Last edited 6 months ago
The City Of London Dragons: It's About Time They All Had Names
A collection of all 14 City of London guardian dragons in a grid
Click or tap for larger image.

The Square Mile's dragons have never been named. These are our suggestions.

The City of London is guarded by 14 watchdragons. These fearsome beasts stand over the major routes into the City, and are 3D representations of the dragons that feature on the City's coat of arms.

In all the best stories, dragons have names: Smaug; Haku; Mushu; Toothless; Norbert(a); Drogon, Rhaegal and Viserion. Even 'Dragon' in Shrek is actually called Dragon, and not just 'a dragon'.

But the City of London's dragons are anonymous. It's time someone breathed new fire into these guardian statues by granting them names. Here are our suggestions...

Bunstone and Bunning: The two guardians of the Victoria Embankment. The duo originally stood on London's Coal Exchange, a remarkable building on Lower Thames Street, criminally demolished in 1962. The architect of that building was James Bunstone Bunning. These originals were used as the models for most of the City's other boundary dragons, which are half their size.

Templar: The dragon that marks the site of the old Temple Bar (a Wren structure now in Paternoster Square) is of a different design to the others. Its name was chosen as it stands beside the Inner and Middle Temples, which were founded by the Knights Templar in medieval times.

A black dragon is in silhouette, on a tall plinth
Templar, in silhouette. Image by the author

Gresham: One of two dragons above Chancery Lane tube, we've named this one after Gresham College — a centuries-old institution that puts on free lectures for the general public, usually in nearby Barnard's Inn Hall.

Furnival: The other Holborn dragon is named after Furnival's Inn, like Barnard's Inn one of the ancient halls of residence for students of the law at the Inns of Court. Both Dickens and JM Barrie lived at the site, which is now taken by the glorious Prudential Assurance Company building.

Saffron: Named after nearby Saffron Hill.

Parrott: This dragon is named after the first ever four-minute-mile runner (possibly) James Parrott, whose route started beside the City of London boundary on Goswell Road and finished a shade under four minutes later at Shoreditch Church. Naturally, the achievement is disputed in favour of the better-recorded feat of Roger Bannister, but we feel he still deserves recognition.

Phoenix: The solitary Moorgate dragon has now returned after a decade of absence. It was removed around the time of the Olympics in 2012 to free up road space for Crossrail construction vehicles, and only returned in 2022. Hence, we've named it after the mythical bird that would rise again from the ashes. The surrounding area of Moorfields was also one of the main campsites for city folk who'd lost their homes to the Great Fire of London of 1666, adding a further connection to the fiery phoenix.

Norton: This boundary marker stands on the corner of Worship Street and Norton Folgate (the short stretch of road that links Bishopsgate to Shoreditch High Street).

A silver dragon clutching a shield with old buildings in the background
Another view of Norton, pictured by the author before the buildings in the background were smashed up

Wheatley: Close to the Aldgate dragon can be found a plaque to Phillis Wheatley, the first African-American woman to be published in English. Her publisher was based at this site.

Liberty: This dragon covers the approach to the capital's preeminent fortress — the Tower of London. The Tower is not actually part of the City, but traditionally occupied its own 'liberty', a small area administered independently from the surrounding authority. (Temple and Norton Folgate, also appearing in this list, are other examples.) The boundary is particularly important to the former liberty of the Tower, which still 'beats the bounds' (and presumably the dragon) every three years. The Liberty Bounds pub opposite the dragon reinforces the name.

Nancy: This dragon overlooks the stairs known as Nancy's steps on the south-west corner of London Bridge. It was here in Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist, that Nancy is beaten to death by her partner Bill Sikes. So a nearby plaque says — only that's not at all how it happens in the novel.

Spike: Nancy's partner to the southeast of the bridge is Spike. His name recalls the ancient practice of placing the heads of traitors on spikes at this end of the bridge. The modern stone spike that stands at the foot of the bridge is often taken to represent these gruesome decorations, but the architect says not.

A collection of ornamental dragons with red and white cross shields hand drawn
The Dragons of London by Matt Bannister

Doggett: The single Blackfriars Bridge dragon gets his name from the ancient river race of Doggett's Coat and Badge. The race has passed under this bridge almost every year, come war or pandemic, since 1715. The neighbouring pub, also called Doggett's Coat and Badge, is a well-known local landmark.

As those last three dragons attest, the Square Mile extends over to the south of the river in several places — a peculiarity we often forget. And finally... some bonus dragons

The Ordish Sisters (top of image): This pair (well, actually a quartet as they're mirrored on both sides of the bridge) are not boundary dragons like their cousins, but guard Holborn Viaduct. This Victorian bridge spans Farringdon Street and was engineered by Rowland Mason Ordish.

So, those are our suggestions for naming the 14 dragons of the Square Mile (plus the Viaduct beasts). We'd love to hear your own suggestions for any of them. If you come up with something better, as you surely can, we'll consider changing the name for a version 2.

All images by the author, except for 'Liberty', by It's No Game under creative commons licence, and the Dragons of London illustration (c) Matt Bannister. The names suggested above are of our own devising and are not officially recognised by the City of London (yet).

Last Updated 06 June 2022

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