by Joe Earp
Two large stone lions guard the Council House steps. These lions have become a famous meeting point for many decades for thousands of Nottingham residents.The ‘Left Lion’ in particular has long since been adopted by locals as a meeting place.
Nottingham’s Market Place or Old Market Square as it is now known has been at the centre of Nottingham life for nearly one thousand years. Throughout history, it has been a meeting place for people of Nottingham as well as the location for local events. For hundreds of years the square played host to the market.
In the late 1920s Nottingham Corporation made the decision to move the market and the 18th century Exchange building was demolished. The square was redeveloped and the Exchange building replaced by the Nottingham Council House. The 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. The foundation stone (behind the left-hand lion as you approach the building) was laid by Alderman Herbert Bowles (Chairman of the Estates Committee), on 17 March 1927. The building was officially opened by the Prince of Wales (later Kind Edward VIII and the Duke of Windsor on 22 May 1929.
Th Council House as we have already learnt was designed by Howitt. The lions, and much of the sculptures surrounding the Council House, 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.
Over the years the Lions have proudly been ‘guarding’ the Council House. They perhaps have become as iconic locally as Robin Hood or the Goose Fair. Just imagine the amount of people who have climbed over them as children and used them as a meeting point with friends and ‘dates’ in adulthood.
There is a lot of local folklore connected to the Lions. Perhaps the most famous is the tale of the lions roaring every time a virgin passes. There is of course the well known phrase, “meet you by the lions”. Which itself has become a local saying in its own right. For some unknown reason over the years the Left Lion has become the most famous of the two. A lot of people get confused as to which the Left Lions is. It is easy to locate, just simply face the Council House from the square and the Left Lion is the one on the left!
Over the years the Lions have become famous in local media and press. There is now a local website named after the sculpture and of course the now famous local magazine. In 2006 Nottingham City Council used the lion on some of its promotional material, in campaigns and on stationery.
There are alternative ‘names’ attached to the Lions, some people call them “Menelaus”and “Agamemnon”. Other names been given to them have been “Leo” and “Oscar”. Many of Nottingham’s residents over the years when planning a meeting point in the City have used the expression “meet you by the lions”. This saying in itself has subsequently become part of the local dialect of the City.