The History of Reggie the Lion: KCL's Mascot

If you’re doing a degree based at the Strand Campus, then chances are you’ve seen Reggie. The original statue from the 1920s sits in the Student Union, having been restored, now protected by a glass case, and one of several copy-cat Reggies guards the stairs in the centre of the King’s Building. Our red lion mascot has had a long and rather wild history, and it’s definitely one you need to hear.

We acquired ourselves a mascot because UCL had a mascot and if there’s one thing you need to know, it’s that we have a historic rivalry with our fellow London university. Don’t believe me? Here’s an actual photo of UCL and King’s students fighting in the ­Strand quad from the KCL archives:

UCL had a mascot by the name of Phineas MacLino, a 6ft tall statue stolen by their students from a pub on Tottenham Court Road. And what did the KCL students do? We stole their mascot when they insulted our uni rugby team in 1922. A battle ensued (that would be the one pictured above) for more than an hour until an armistice was agreed and Phineas was returned to UCL, minus an arm that had been lost in the fight.

But now UCL had their mascot back and KCL didn’t have one at all. For a brief stint we had the vaguely amusingly named ‘Bottled Youth’, a 6ft papier mâché beer bottle. Needless to say, it didn’t go down all that well with many of the other students and so Mary Edwards, a KCL student, set off to find a lion mascot to match the one found on our university coat of arms:

After much searching, a man named Ewarts Geysers sold them a beaten copper lion statue with his foot resting on a golden globe, for a pricy £7 (remember, this was 1923). We christened it Reggie, a change from the ‘Lucy’ that made little sense considering the statue’s mane, and he was embraced as the KCL mascot.

Unfortunately, UCL still remembered the time Phineas had been stolen, and they were keen to get revenge. He was stolen in 1927 and King’s students marched up Gower Street with a cart of rotten fruit to start a battle to return him. One thousand students were involved and Reggie was triumphantly returned.

When not being kidnapped by lawless UCL students, Reggie had a far more glamerous time. A small soft toy Reggie on wheels was gifted to Princess Elizabeth in 1929. The now queen was reportedly enamored with the toy and ‘refused to play with anything else.’ He was trampled by elephants in the following year (yes, real elephants) but he was swiftly repaired and was evacuated to Bristol with most of KCL for the duration of World War 2.

The Bristol university students, presumably inspired by UCL, took it upon themselves to be the next generation to attempt to kidnap Reggie during a uni debate. The man who spotted the would-be kidnappers and stopped them, D L Leete, was presented with a medal inscribed with ‘Salu Tibi Leonis Defensor’ or ‘Hail, O Defender of the Lion’. Reggie’s safety was a matter of great importance.

Two further lion statues were found in junk shops in Bristol to stand in for Reggie when he was unavailable, and were painted to match the original. Their whereabouts is currently unknown, but perhaps someone should check UCL… Once the war was over, all three lions returned to the Strand.

Post-war sombreness meant mascot theft wasn’t quite as rife amongst London university students at this time, although both Guy’s Hospital and (surprise, surprise) UCL kidnapped him before the decade was out, doing further damage to an already roughed up lion. The Engineering Society repaired him 1948 and he was filled with concrete in an attempt to make him harder to steal. UCL still managed to steal him and bury him in Hamstead Heath but he was found and returned home omce again.

In the 50s, Queen Mary, Imperial College London and LSE all joined the mascot wars, sending Reggie and Phineas around the country on various trains, with the Engineering Society chasing after Reggie to get him back every time. Eventually these kidnappings started to fade out, but in 1967 Reggie went missing with no leads and no tip offs. Months later he was found in a quarry in Guildford, pushed in and left with broken legs and tail, cracked and almost flattened. The unofficial mascot-stealing code said no mascot should be severely damaged and all raids must be reported to the owners of the mascot, but the unknown kidnappers hadn’t kept to the code. The Engineering Society fixed Reggie up yet again and in the early 80s, he was married, in a dashing top hat, to another lion statue wearing a veil. The female lion disappeared shortly after and hasn’t been seen since. (Again, has anyone checked UCL…)

UCL eventually bowed out of the mascotry wars after KCL might have gone one step too far in stealing the mummified head of UCL founder, Jeremy Bentham in 1989. The legend goes that they played football with it down the Strand, leaving it severely damaged and resulting in formal complaints and threats of expulsion. When the wax version of the head (the real one now locked away) was stolen in 1990, UCL complained again and backed out completely.

(King’s students with Jeremy Bentham’s head at Waterfront Bar. Our archives are a wild place.)

Reggie’s now over 90 years old, and the majority of his recent history has been pretty peaceful. Repaired and well guarded, you can find him in the Macadam building, barely looking a day over 85. Why not pay him a visit!