Seeking St George in London

27 February 2018

Mark King
How many links does England’s patron saint have to London?  The answer’s probably more than you think, according to London expert and Blue Badge Tourist Guide Mark King…

St George is woven into London’s very fabric. You’ll find references to him all across this great capital city of ours. You just need to know where to look. Here are a few things I’ve discovered while leading tours that exploring the world’s most fascinating city.

St George in art around London 

Two of my favourites can be found at the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. In Saint George and the Dragon (around 1470) he is pictured defeating a plague-bearing dragon that had been terrorising a city. The painting is by Italian artist Paolo Uccello. The second painting is also called Saint George and the Dragon. It dates from around 1555 and is by another Italian artist, Jacopo Tintoretto. The painting depicts Saint George about to defeat the dragon by the edge of the sea.

If you’re seeking three dimensional representations of St George, there are plenty around town. My personal favourite is the life-size statue of St George slaying the dragon in St John’s Wood. You’ll find it on top of the war memorial in the middle of Lord’s roundabout opposite the church (see photo).

A military icon

The Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) is based in the City of London, and is the oldest regiment in the British army. But originally it was called the Fraternity of St George and was set up by Henry VIII to train longbow archers. Today, the HAC is a fully operational company of army reserves and also has the privilege of firing gun salutes at the Tower of London, carrying out Guard of Honour duties for State visits to the UK and escorting the Lord Mayor resplendent in 17th century uniform!

Bravery and medals

The George Cross is the second only to the Victoria Cross in the UK’s honours system. It was set up by King George VI on 24 September 1940 and has an emblem of St George. In April 1942, the George Cross was awarded to the country of Malta. The King said it was to "bear witness to the heroism and devotion of its people" during the great siege in early World War II. Today, you’ll find a Malta Siege memorial in front of All Hallows by the Tower. It is the oldest functioning church in the City of London. It was placed there on 15 August 2005 by the George Cross Island Association.

There are 19 living recipients of the George Cross, including three Londoners. Eleven women have received the George Cross, four directly and seven after being changed from either the Albert Medal or Empire Gallantry Medal. 

Feast of St George performance

St George churches in London

There are several St George churches dotted around London. Worth a visit are two by Nicholas Hawksmoor, a leading English Baroque architect. St George in the East is a magnificent Grade I listed building in Limehouse. The other, St George’s Bloomsbury  has a pyramid on top with a distinctive sculpture of a lion chasing a unicorn, topped by a full-length statue of George I. I’d also like to mention St George’s Hanover Square, whose most famous parishioner was a certain George Friderick Handel.  It was also where many notable weddings took place, including that of poet Shelley to Harriet Westbrook (1814). Politicians Benjamin Disraeli (1839) and future US president Theodore Roosevelt (1886) were also married there.

St George’s Hospital 

St George's Hostpital was founded in 1733 at Hyde Park Corner. In 1798, Edward Jenner, an English physician and scientist based there, published his account of the effects of his smallpox vaccine. The hospital closed its doors for the last time in 1980 before being relocated to Tooting. Today, the old site is home to the famous Lanesborough Hotel.

By George, doesn’t London have a lot of signs of this saint!

Mark King is Chairman of the British Guild of Tourist Guides and author of The Blue Badge Guide’s London Quiz Book published by The History Press (2016)

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