Dragons that fell prey to London's traffic

Four stone dragon heads from Bishopsgate in London on the lawn at Wallington, Northumberland

Severed heads of four giant dragons lie on a lawn at Wallington in Northumberland.

Ancient beasts

What should we make of them? Is this a crime scene or one of conquest? Was this the work of the sword-wielding St. George?
 
The heads, massive and carved from stone, grin enigmatically like Cheshire Cats from Alice in Wonderland. They seem blissfully unaware that they have no bodies, no wings and no tails.
 
Visitors young and old love them: mysterious, surreal, even comical. What are they, where do they come from and why are they here?

Gate guardians

The dragons were once part of a group of sculptures that stood on top of one of the gates that guarded the City of London, Bishopsgate. Too narrow for London’s growing traffic, the gate was demolished only thirty years after its erection in the 1730s.
 
Sir Walter Calverley Blackett, the owner of the Wallington estate, bought the dragons as architectural salvage, along with other bits of sculpture and shipped them as ballast on a coal barge up the coast to Newcastle.
 
They have been grinning in Northumberland ever since. Visit them, if you dare.

Find out more

David Adshead reveals more about the dragons' heads in 'Dragon's on the Lawn The Afterlife of London's City Gates at Wallington', National Trust Historic Houses & Collections Annual, 2007.