Dragons, wyverns, wyrms and basilisks — they might seem the stuff of Hogwarts or King's Landing, but they're also right here in London. Hundreds of them. Sharpen your battle lance as we go in search of London's dragons...
1. London's most handsome dragons
We begin with this pair of absolute stunners. The crimson duo in gold trim stand guard over Holborn Viaduct. I say "guard", but these two winged Adonises are so well preened that they'd never lift a claw in protest, for fear of scratching their talon-polish.
2. London's most jealous dragon
This chap can also be found on Holborn Viaduct, facing towards the two resplendent reptiles we just met. He wears a countenance of utter distain for his exquisite neighbours. Those eyeballs might be painted red, but this is truly the personification of a green-eyed monster of jealousy.
3. The spandrel of terror
Much like Holborn Viaduct, Leadenhall Market is a Victorian building that considers ornamentation to be an extreme sport. Just, for a moment, ignore the dragon and look at the detailing on the other parts of the building. It's quite something. The dragon itself is a more fearsome cousin of Mr Jealousy from the viaduct. As if that roaring muzzle were not scary enough, then the wing mounted cannons will surely have you wetting your pants.
4. Ancient dragons
Oh, you know what? Those aren't wing-mounted cannons at all. They're crosses. The stone dragons at the base of the Monument sport a similar device, although here the cross is more prominent. These must rank among London's oldest dragons, carved in the years following the Great Fire of 1666, which the Monument, um, monumentalises.
5. The City guardians
You may have noticed that all these early examples are to be found in the Square Mile. The dragon is the City's mascot and appears twice on the official coat of arms, with a further dismembered wing sticking out the top for bad measure.
The most obvious City dragons are the ones that stand guard over the major thoroughfares. Thirteen can be found around the frontier, including those on Embankment, High Holborn, Bishopsgate, London Bridge and — as shown above — the site of the old Temple Bar, where Strand (Westminster) becomes Fleet Street (City of London).
6. How to TRAIN your dragon
Such is the importance of the dragon in the Square Mile that its realms extend even underground. Next time you're passing through Bank or Monument stations look out for the pairs of dragons-in-relief, supporting the station roundels. Is it just me, or do they look like they're climbing an escalator?
7. The Camden Dragon
Camden Town's OTT shop signs are a long-standing institution. One of the largest is the twisting dragon with the "Pringles guy" moustache, who welcomes patrons of an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet. Pity it didn't join in the fight when Marvel's Eternals got into a punch-up with the similar-looking Deviant, just across the road.
8. Etching callbox, hidden dragon
You'll find many further dragons over in Chinatown. The mythical beasts decorate any number of walls, gates and menu covers. But have you spotted the etched loong writhing across the glass panels of the K6 phone box on Gerrard Street?
9. London's most ill-tempered dragon
Richmond's eccentric monument to the RSPCA includes two of the angriest animals you ever did see. Its auric wyverns (two-legged dragons) appear to be shouting loudly at the lightbulbs, as though to scold them for stealing their fire. "Raaaaaaarghhhh!!!"
10. London's biggest George (and dragon)
This has got to be one of London's largest, yet least-seen, statues. The multi-storey effigy of St George slaying the dragon adorns the central tower of the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building in Wandsworth. Despite its prominence, this isn't a place you're likely to stumble across unless you're local. It's hidden away on a semi-private estate off Windmill Road. A similarly hidden dragon with George lurks largely unseen in the backstreets south of Fleet Street.
11. London's most dangerous dragon
Hang on a minute... so dragons can have their own cannons. And what a monster this one is. The "Cádiz Memorial" on Horse Guard Parade features a mortar captured from the French at Cádiz, mounted on a sculpture of the monster Geryon (who wasn't technically a dragon but, frankly, we wouldn't be quibbling cladistics if we encountered one of these in a dark alley).
This weird sculptural combo was championed and unveiled by the unpopular Prince of Wales, later George IV. As Wikipedia notes: "At the time, the slang term for a cannon or mortar was a "bomb", pronounced "bum". The Cádiz mortar was thus immediately nicknamed the "Regent's Bomb", prompting a flood of scatological puns associating it with the corpulent posterior of the Prince Regent."
We should also note that this is the closest dragon (and mortar) to 10 Downing Street, whose wall runs just alongside. Rumours that the mortar doubles as a wine cooler for garden parties have not been substantiated.
12. Lofty dragon
Belatedly, it occurs to me that we haven't yet seen a dragon in flight. Well, here's one — the golden weather vane on top of St James's Bermondsey (close-up photos here). A similar vane stands on the spire of the Wren church of St Mary-le-Bow... the one whose bells sound out the true Cockney.
Dragons, then, despite their exotic reputation, are an important part of London's character and identity. You'll find them all over the capital, sometimes in the most unlikely places. They even have their own dedicated website, Dragons of London, where you'll find many further metropolitan beasts.