Leeds nostalgia: the tale of the Town Hall lions

Leeds, 15th July 1972

Used YEP letters page

The lions in front of Leeds Town Hall get a hosedown.

This is to soften the stone for cleaning.
Leeds, 15th July 1972 Used YEP letters page The lions in front of Leeds Town Hall get a hosedown. This is to soften the stone for cleaning.
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In 1921, Lt Col Kitson Clark had some harsh words for the Leeds Town Hall lions, describing them as “extraordinarily poor, mawkish” and “miserable looking”.

The lions were carved by William Day Kayworth Jnr, of London and Hull and erected in 1867 - the first two on February 15, the other two on June 7 - at a cost of £550. Kayworth reportedly spent six months at a zoo studying lions before carving them. Indeed, their doleful appearance and general lack of elan have long been remarked upon.

Leeds: 13th May 1945. People had found vantage points on Leeds Town Hall steps (or on the lion) to watch the Victory Parade, part of the VE Day celebrations.

Leeds: 13th May 1945. People had found vantage points on Leeds Town Hall steps (or on the lion) to watch the Victory Parade, part of the VE Day celebrations.

There was some debate about what they were carved from. In letters to the Yorkshire Evening Post in 1937, stone mason James Raw said the blocks were quarried from his grandfather’s land in Wath, Nidderdale and that his father helped quarry them and even made scale models from the same stone, pictures of which resides in the YEP archive. But this was questioned in 1948 by H C Versey, senior lecturer in geology at Leeds University, said the stone was too soft to withstand erosion in a city, he said they were carved from white limestone, which was indistinguishable from Portland stone.

Whatever their composition, the lions have endured the elements, manmade pollution and even bombs from the last war, one of which damaged the two facing Calverley Street, when it was said they were struck by several fragments of debris.

As the YEP reported on the even of their centenary in 1966: “Much maligned, they may be mangy but they are the best lions we have got.”

The now rather weathered lions were originally erected to guard the entrance to the town hall and there is a well-known urban myth associated with them, which has it that when the town hall clock strikes 12 at midnight, the lions come alive to roam the city.

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