“Justice and Strength”: the Smithfield Lion

herbert and sons lion sculpture in west smithfield london

Just across the street from where the new London Museum (nee Museum of London) is emerging in copper-covered glory from the old Poultry Market is a rather glorious carved lion.

Its left paw is resolutely clamped on a shield that features a union jack and the words “justice and strength”, with its right foot resting on a plinth that bears the rather more prosaic “trade mark”.

(The lion’s right paw seems peculiarly limp-wristed, but more on the reasons for that later)

This trademark (number 78117 if you’re counting) was granted to the firm of Herbert & Sons, manufacturers of scales and balances (as well as suppliers of various butchers’ paraphernalia) in 1888, just before they rebuilt these premises at 6 & 7 West Smithfield.

The Herbert family had started out making scales used to check the accuracy of the weight of gold coins, but expanded into the manufacture of larger pieces that would weigh, for example, sacks of sugar in the London Docks, or shipments of coal.

In 1867 they bought out the older firm of scale and balance makers Woods of West Smithfield and expanded the business from their old HQ, redeveloping numbers 6 & & in 1889, over which still stands our lion.

From the herberthistory.co.uk site

Although it moved from the site in 1960 the company still exists in Haverhill in Suffolk, and continues to make (presumably excellent) weighing devices to this day. You can read more about its history on their dedicated website here.

Early photographs of the Smithfield building, as well as other uses of the trademark, also tell us why the lion’s paw is as it is; it was originally holding – justice-like – a set of balance scales. It is not known when these were lost.