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Rochester Bridge Lions Given a New Lease of Life

The bronze lions which guard the approaches to the Old Bridge across the Medway at Rochester are shrouded in tents as the Rochester Bridge Trust restores them to their former glory.

The Trust, who owns the Old Bridge, has appointed specialist bronze restoration contractor Antique Bronze to treat the lions as part of ongoing restoration work on the Old Bridge. This year’s work will complete the restoration and includes renovating the parapet on the upstream side and installing new lights to the original design, at a total cost of £1.2m.

The four lions date from the 1914 bridge reconstruction and are designed to sit in front of the four pillared porticos. They were probably cast by J.W Singer, a historic company which produced the statue of Boadicea on Westminster Bridge and the Scales of Justice over the Old Bailey.

Work to the lions started on Friday 20 February, will take about three weeks to complete and will cost about £25,000. The restoration process is as follows:

  • First the lions will be thoroughly cleaned, washed three times with a soap solution using soft cloths to remove pigeon droppings and soften the surface deposits.
  • Next a chemical stripper is applied to the painted surface to soften the paint layers and the existing paint will be gently removed using high pressure steam.
  • Corroded areas will be smoothed using pumice paste and special brushes or bronze wool.
  • The lions will then be repatinated using a traditional bronzing solution in a dark coinage shade to form a natural protective layer.
  • Finally the lions will be ‘hot waxed’ – heated with a flame and three layers of Micro-Crystalline Wax applied as a protective coating, buffing between coats with soft brushes and rotary brushes.

Dr Anne Logan, Junior Warden of the Rochester Bridge Trust said: “I hope people crossing the bridge will enjoy seeing the lions properly restored as magnificent bronze statues.”

Iain McLean of restorers Antique Bronze said: “We are delighted to be working on the lions, they are exceptionally high quality castings with fantastic surface detail. Although they have been painted, thankfully there are relatively low levels of corrosion and once finished they will proudly guard the Bridge once more.”

Information Notes:

Find out about the sculptor of the lions here.

The Rochester Bridge Trust is a charitable trust that exists to maintain the bridges and serve the local people of Medway. The Rochester Bridge Trust has served the people of Kent for centuries by providing crossings over the River Medway and making charitable and educational grants. Regulated by the Charity Commission, the Trust must use its income “for the passage over, under, or across the River Medway,” for the “maintenance of the banks and channels of the River Medway” and for “other charitable purposes primarily in the County of Kent.”

The Trust’s wardens, who are not paid, include members of all three local Councils in the area to ensure fair representation. Since 1999 a new Charity Commission scheme has provided for twelve wardens and assistants: three nominated by the Medway Council, two by the Kent County Council, one by the Maidstone Borough Council, and six assistants drawn from the local community and appointed by the Trust.

Antique Bronze, established in 1955, specialises in the conservation of 19th and 20th Century public sculpture and monuments. They recently carried out major conservation work to all of the the bronze sculpture in Trafalgar Square, including the lions and plaques on Nelson’s Column as well as the King George IV and the four mermaid fountains. They have also conserved many of the statues in Parliament Square as well as over 120 other statues and monuments throughout London including Eros, Boadicea and Cleopatra’s Needle. Many of these were cast by the Morris Singer foundry. Their client list includes English Heritage, Westminster Council, the Greater London Authority, Clarence House, The Natural History Museum, London Fire Brigade, The British Library and many local authorities.

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