- Ask Steven
The famous golden lion at TwickenhamJohn GriffithsMarch 6, 2014
What is the history of the "Lion Gate" behind the West Stand at Twickenham? TH, England
The gate originally stood at the south-west approach to the stadium concourse and was unveiled on Saturday October 5, 1929 to perpetuate the memory of Sir George Rowland Hill, who had served the Rugby Football Union (RFU) from 1879 until his death in 1928.
The opening of the Rowland Hill Memorial Gate (with bronze plaque) was marked by a special England/Wales v Scotland/Ireland match featuring many of the players who at the end of that season would tour New Zealand and Australia with the British/Irish Lions. The Scottish/Irish combination won 20-13.
The programme notes from the match described Sir Rowland Hill as occupying "a position which has seldom been the lot of anyone who has had a long association with any administrative body. To say merely that he was a strong man would scarcely do him justice. His opinion and advice were of such importance right to the very last that it was seldom anyone who had Rugby Football at heart found himself in opposition to his views".
He was knighted in 1926 - the first to be recognised for services to Rugby Football -and he died on April 25 1928, aged 73. He had championed the cause of the Union game through the bitter arguments over broken time payments which led to the breakaway and formation of the Northern Union (later the rugby league) in the 1890s and in its obituary, the Times described Sir Rowland as "an amateur of amateurs and a Tory of Tories".
The lion which now adorns the gates came later, presented to the RFU in its centenary season (1971) and unveiled shortly afterwards. It is a Coade stone lion (like the one at Westminster Bridge) and was given by the former Greater London Council who had acquired it from the old Lion Brewery on the South Bank. It was given a coat of gold leaf in 1991 when England hosted the second Rugby World Cup.
The gates were moved to their present position behind the centre of the West Stand when the ground was redeveloped during the 1990s.
John Griffiths is a widely respected rugby historian and is the author of several sports books, a regular contributor to the Daily Telegraph and co-author of the IRB International Rugby Yearbook. He has provided insight for Scrum.com since 1999.