The Lions at the Fitzwilliam Museum- Celebrating 200 Years

Nov 23, 02:28 PM

This history trail audio is narrated by the poet Michael Rosen, with script researched by Helen Weinstein and the team at Historyworks. This recording is part of a series of Cambridge history trails which have lyrics inspired by 'history beneath our feat' performed by local schoolchildren, with poems by the top poet Michael Rosen and songs by the funny team at CBBC's songwriters commissioned by Historyworks. To find more trails and further information, go to

Since the very early years of the Fitzwilliam Museum’s existence in the Victorian era four stone lions have been positioned outside the museum, two at the north steps and two at the south steps In 2016 the Fitzwilliam Museum celebrated 200 years since Richard, VII Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merrion, gave enough money to build a museum to house his library and art collection for the University of Cambridge. His aim was to further "the Increase of Learning and other great Objects of that Noble Foundation". It’s free to go in, so pop inside and dip in to past worlds via the collections of coins and medals; arms and armour, glass and ceramics , paintings and much much more.

Life moved much more slowly in pre Victorian times and although Viscount Fitzwiliiam made his donation in 1816 but it still took more than 20 years until the the Vice-Chancellor laid the foundation stone of the Fitzwilliam Museum, below where the northern lions now rest, and the building could begin. In that same year ,1837, the year Queen Victoria started her reign, the sculptor William Grinsell Nicholl became involved in work carving decorative details on the Corinthian columns and the decorative aspects of the façade at the front of the building , but then in 1839 he sculpted the four iconic lions that guard the south and north steps to the Fitzwilliam Museum’s portico entrance. Do you know there is a legend that at night the lions come alive a wander the streets. I’ve written a poem celebrating the secret life of the four stone lions here at the Fitz - those words also feature in a short film about Cambridge and a song – go to the website to enjoy them – but not before you’ve experienced the glories within the museum itself.

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