Some of the most enduring images of the Battle of Britain House in Ruislip Woods are those at its rear garden steps which can still be seen on the site. But what happened to the cast-bronze (some say they were lead) animals that once adorned the steps and patio area?
The impressive menagerie appears in many contemporary photos. It is likely that the animals were brought to the mansion by Meier F. Kline during his interwar residence at the mansion. Kline had business interests in Japan, and was a frequent traveler to major ports in Asia. Although there’s no clear evidence of the provenance of those bronze animals the statues look characteristically Asian.
The two lion-like creatures that used to be at the top of the steps resemble shishi (Chinese) or komainu (Japanese) guardian lions, a very common sight in Asian shrines, palaces and the residences of the wealthy. It is a notion that chimes with Kline and his affinity with Japanese culture : he did name the mansion Kokyo for a time, after the Japanese Imperial Palace in Kyoto. In colloquial English, these animals are frequently referred to as foo-dogs or lion-dogs, possibly as a result of the transliteration of the Chinese words fo (Buddha) or fu (prosperity). Or maybe owing to the somewhat “tame” postures they are often depicted : sometimes playing with a ball, or a cub, or sitting on their hind legs attentively, like a dog often does. The term does come from a time where people were more familiar with the posture of dogs than that of lions..
The lions appear in several photos and sketches of the house :
There was yet another cast-bronze animal sitting on top of one of the patio’s unsightly concrete gutter covers. It appears to be a best of burden of some sort, carrying a wonderful ornamented planter :
After the blaze
What happened to those wonderful – and probably rare – Asian statues after the 1984 fire remains unknown. In a 2011 report, written by Colin Bowlt for the Ruislip, Northwood & Eastcote local history society, it is mentioned that “The House was burnt down in August and the ruins of the charred shell were cleared in a remarkably short time”
Without knowing much about the ferocity of the summer blaze that consumed the mansion, one could assume that the bronze of lead statues were badly damaged during the summer blaze, and had to be cleared out quikly along with the other debris.
But others may think that the animals had a good chance surviving the blaze due to their position at the far end of the patio and atop the steps. If the animals – or indeed any other item – survived the blaze, where could these have ended up? Could the custodians of the mansion, the council or any other party who might have been involved in the site’s clearance know more about the statues ? In the end, could the statues have survived, maybe auctioned or sold off elsewhere? Is there a chance that these can be seen somewhere? It’s a fascinating premise, and one well worth looking into.
Help solve this mystery
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