Maiwand Lion

Work starts on conservation of the Forbury Garden’s Maiwand Lion this week

  • Conservation work on the Mainwand Lion starts today.
  • The work is expected to take around 8 weeks.

READING’S most iconic monument, The Maiwand Lion in the Forbury Gardens, is set to undergo conservation work this spring.

Specialist conservation contractors, Cliveden Conservation – the experts who also work to restore, protect and conserve the Abbey Ruins - have been commissioned to carry out work on the Maiwand Lion.

Starting today (Monday 6 March) the work will include: 

  • Carefully removing two bronze plaques to allow for stone repairs;
  • Cleaning and waxing of the bronze plaques;
  • Repairing indents in areas of the plinth;
  • Removing any vegetation around the plinth;
  • Thorough cleaning of the statue and plinth;
  • Raking out and repointing of open joints.

Visitors to the Forbury Gardens will notice Heras fencing and banners surrounding the monument while the work is taking place for the safety of the public. The work is expected to take around 8 weeks.

This conservation work follows on from the series of High Street Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ) funded monument cleaning and conservation that has been taking place since February around the town centre, with work being carried out on The Queen Victoria Jubilee Statue by Reading Town Hall, the Jubilee Cross and the Zinzan Tomb in St Mary’s churchyard, and the Simeon Monument in Market Place.

Cllr Adele Barnett-Ward, Reading’s Lead Councillor for Leisure and Culture, said: “I’m pleased to see the work on the Maiwand Lion getting underway. The Maiwand Lion was placed in Forbury Gardens to commemorate those who died at the Battle of Maiwand but over the years the lion has come to mean so much more to the people of Reading, becoming a symbol of our town and spirit. I am sure we all look forward to seeing the restored statue at the heart of this summer's Forbury Garden’s festivities. This work also complements the conservation of several other landmark monuments in the town centre.

“Visitors to the Forbury Gardens will notice that the much-loved Forbury Bandstand is temporarily closed. This to facilitate conservation work to ensure it can be enjoyed by visitors to the gardens for generations to come. Specialist conservation experts will be working to improve the stability of the bandstand’s structure. The final touch will be a fresh coat of paint in its original colours of white and green.”

Ten fascinating facts about the Maiwand Lion:

  1. At the time of its unveiling, the Maiwand Lion was the biggest statue of a standing lion in the world.
  2. The statue commemorates the dead of the 66th (Berkshire) Regiment in the Afghan War (1879-81).
  3. The cast iron lion is a massive, 31ft from nose to tail and weighs approximately 16 tonnes.
  4. It is an urban myth that the legs on the lion are incorrect!
  5. The sculptor, George Blackall Simonds did careful research and the lion is based on actual lions in London Zoo.
  6. George Simonds was a member of the family of local brewers, synonymous with Reading and also created the jubilee statue to Queen Victoria that stands in the Town Hall square today.
  7. The statue was cast into 9 separate pieces, then assembled on-site and lifted by a crane onto its plinth.
  8. In the 1970s there was a proposition to relocate the sculpture to Reading’s IDR – thankfully rejected.
  9. In 1992 the lion inspired the Evening Post to print an April Fool’s article stating that the Forbury Gardens were to become a zoological park.
  10. Since 2003 it has also been possible to raise a glass to the Forbury Lion with his very own Loddon Brewery beer!

Learn more about the history of the Maiwand Lion in a booklet by local historians Mike Cooper, Katie Amos and Andrew Scott which shines a spotlight on the intriguing story of the Maiwand Lion, which has stood proudly in the Forbury Gardens since 1886.

The booklet is available from Reading Central Library, and branch libraries, for £3 per copy, or for £2 the library can send you the full-colour pdf version by email.  Pop in and speak to staff or email for more details.