On the Southbank
The original 1951 Lion and Unicorn Pavilion at the South Bank Exhibition aimed to describe the British character and way of life as well as pointing out their contradictions. The lion of the title represented bravery and courage while the unicorn represented imagination and independence. At the heart of the installation was a sculpture of a flight of ceramic birds, symbolising migration and freedom of speech.
As a homage to this piece, our 2011 Lion and Unicorn installation has been made by artist Gitta Gschwendtner working with 50 young refugees, whose poems - written and spoken - reinterpret the original themes of strength and imagination. A flock of white birds – or are they aeroplanes? – fly down the outdoor corridor linking Waterloo Station with Hungerford Bridge and comes to rest next to Royal Festival Hall.
Participants are from: The Refugee Council, Refugee Youth, The Refugee Home School Support Project, and The Klevis Kola Foundation, working with Joelle Taylor, Karen McCarthy Woolf, Philip Wells and Yemisi Blake.
The Lion and the Unicorn.
The lion and the unicorn were fighting for the crown
The lion beat the unicorn all around the town.
Some gave them white bread, and some gave them brown;
Some gave them plum cake and drummed them out of town.
Nursery Rhyme and History
Origins of "The lion and the unicorn" in British history
The Lion and the Unicorn lyrics date from 1603 when King James VI of Scotland became James I of England unifying the Scottish and English kingdoms . The 'Virgin Queen' Elizabeth 1 named the son of Mary Queen of Scots, James, as her heir. The union of the two countries required a new royal coat of arms combining those of England which featured two lions, and Scotland whose coat of arms featured two Unicorns hence "The lion and the unicorn". A compromise was made thus the British coat of arms has one Lion and one Unicorn and the poem about hence "The Lion and the Unicorn" was created.
The picture depicts the Lion ( with the crown) and the Unicorn Coat of Arms. The centre of the Arms depicts the lions of England in the first and fourth quarters, the lion of Scotland in the second and the Harp of Ireland in the third quarter. The motto around the centre means:
" Evil to him who evil thinks" which relates to the Order of the Garter.
The motto at the bottom means:
" God and my Right "