In the heart of Nottingham there are two large art-deco stone lions, resting either side of the Council House steps, guarding the entrance and surveying the historic Old Market Square.
Nottingham’s superlative Council House, with its 200 foot high dome and ten and a half ton bell called Little John, was designed by the architect T Cecil Howitt, but the lions, and much of the sculpture, were by Nottingham sculptor Joseph Else (1874-1955). Joseph Else was the principle of the Nottingham School of Art on Waverley Street between 1923 and 1939.
The lions have been a popular symbol in Nottingham for many years and since 2006 Nottingham City Council has used the lion on some of its promotional
material, in campaigns and on stationery.
To local people meeting at the ‘Left Lion’ has been an indispensable part of life in Nottingham since the Council House opened in 1929. The ‘Left Lion’ is the one on your left as you face the steps and entrance at the front of the building. A Nottingham arts and listings paper is called the Left Lion.
The two lions are known locally to a few people as Leo and Oscar, although some would say Menelaus and Agamemnon, and you would be hard pressed to find anyone from Nottingham who doesn’t recognize them.
Local legend has it that the lions roar when a virgin walks by.
A poem from the BBC’s ‘A Sense Of Place’
Clifton poet Lynn Adgar has written a special poem to allow the lions of Nottingham’s Old Market Square to tell us their story.
Nottingham’s Pride – Lion Watching by Lynn Adgar
I’m tired, tired of sitting here all day, Staring at my brother who has no thoughts of his own
He’s just like stone!
He sits contentedly with his lot – gives not a jot for pigeon poo, graffiti too
Daubed across our stately hue.
I grace the hub of city power, to welcome and guard a host of fame
Dignitaries and royalty, pause before me, caress my mane……
A tour of the city is not complete, unless you meet
The Council Lions………….
A pigeon told me
Before we arrived a market thrived,
coster banter filled the air, trading wares.
Mad Harry selling stale cakes cheap
Soap box religion vied with buskers strange.
A man displaying muscle brace would fall on his face
Marking the spot with black chalk on his nose.
I think this shows
Just how needed we were to raise the tone.
1929 So, this was now home, a bland slab square
But something had to be done with this drab looking blur
I craved flowers and music to enhance the grandeur.
Yes, I’ve seen some improvements over the years
Witnessed laughter and tears from my solitary post
Never quite being involved, not that I’m cold
it’s quite simply beneath my station to display elation
be it victory time
or when Little Johns chimes
to herald a new years birth.
Expression mute as I execute my guardian role
But joy touches my soul
And this great heart of mine fills with pride
when the city gathers before me to share the moment.
Nottingham Council House’s guardians have a late night chat…
via Nottingham arts and listings paper the Left Lion.
A passing final thought; Nottingham’s lions were designed and sculpted in the ‘Roaring Twenties’.
As you paws by the statues fur a moment, consider their felines; they’ve been lion in the roar cold air in front of the Council House as the mane attraction for many years.
For other information about Nottingham click here
MumblingNerd’s Nottingham destination print
If you want to know more about Nottingham’s past there is further information in ‘Events and dates in Nottingham’s history’ and through these websites:
The Nottinghamshire Heritage Gateway
The Thoroton Society of Nottinghamshire
Nottingham Local Studies Library