Meet You by the Lions!

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.

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Nottingham’s Left Lion, circa 1950s- Photo Credit: The Paul Nix Collection.

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.

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Nottingham Lions, Old Market Square, circa 1960s. This photo sent to us by Elizabeth Vincent amiably illustrates the point of how the Lions have become a focal point over the decades. Photo credit- Elizabeth Vincent.

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.

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The Lions have become so acclaimed locally even Nottingham City Council have used them for various advertising campaigns over the years, as can be seen from this one. Photo Credit- Nottingham City Council.

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.

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About nottinghamhiddenhistoryteam

Originally formed in 1965 to try to save or at least record before destruction the cave sites continually discovered during the major redevelopment of the City that took place in Nottingham in the 1960′s. Almost every day new sites were unearthed and destroyed before anyone was notified; last thing they wanted was someone telling them to stop what they were doing; TIME is MONEY. The word HIDDEN in the Team’s title is because a lot of what was being invisibly lost in the redevelopment was our early history in the caves, they are under most, if now all, of Nottingham. In the 80’s and 90’s the Team conducted with the help of Dr Robert Morrell and Syd Henley, research and work on Nottingham’s history, folklore and local archaeology. The Team published quarterly magazines on their findings. The Team lapsed for a few years after the death of Paul Nix who was the team leader for thirty plus years. The Team has reformed and is now back working on Nottingham local history. On this blog you will find a series of history, folklore and archaeological related articles and information. Most of the material published will be specifically related to Nottingham/shire local history.
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