These nineteenth-century dragons originally stood on the portico of the Coal Exchange until its demolition in 1962/3, at which time these were placed here. At the same time, half-size copies were cast in aluminium to mark other boundary points, mainly on former sites of the City gates. The Architect who designed these originals, J.B. Bunning, was appointed Clerk of the City's Works in 1843 (the name of that post was changed in 1847 to City Architect).
The dragons stand on simple, step moulded, Portland stone plinths, embellished with gilded lettering and bronze plaques that describe the purpose of the dragons and their history.
Dewer of London produced the solid iron castings in 1849 and the back of the shields bear their maker’s mark.
Prior to conservation, the dragons’ paint surface was in poor condition (see photo left) and the north plinth had suffered damage, causing cracks in some of the stones and their joints, that would require partial dismantling in order to make effective repairs.
Having acquired the necessary permissions, the dragons were carefully removed to the studio for treatment.
The first step was to take numerous paint samples from all areas of the iron’s surface for analysis. The results showed that the dragons had been painted at least twelve times since 1849, originally in a dark stone colour, presumably to match the façade of the Coal Exchange.
A change in the decorative scheme coincided with their removal from the condemned building and their relocation to the Embankment, when their appearance was altered to the scheme we see today.
A post-1970s maintenance treatment had further changed the positioning of the red paint on the dragons’ wings but after further research, this error was corrected as part of our conservation treatment.
Following this, the old paint was removed by grit blasting to standard SA 2.5 in order to remove all loose and active rust accumulations and to thoroughly inspect the surface of the sculptures, which were found to be in good condition.
The dragons were then primed, filled and repainted in the City livery colours of silver, red and white.
The stone plinths were cleaned and rebuilt, carefully repairing all the damaged existing Portland blocks with stainless steel cramps, negating the need to replace any original stone. All joints were re-pointed with colour-matched hydraulic lime mortar.
The bronze plaques were restored and security fixed, and the carved lettering re-gilded.
The dragons were reinstalled overnight in order to minimise traffic disruption, in time for them to welcome the Olympic visitors to the City. Having now been placed into excellent condition, the dragons and their plinths will henceforth be maintained regularly as part of the City of London’s Planned Maintenance Programme for Public Statuary.
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