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Mascotry is Born: Reggie the Lion

18 October 2019

Since the University of London was founded in 1836, King’s College and University College have always had a particular enmity for each other. It has been an uneasy marriage, not least among the students, who in the early 20th century had been itching for a fight for a very long time…

London, the turn of the 20th century: a sprawling mass of slum housing mingles with the finest heights of Victorian architecture in the world’s most exciting and dangerous city. Jack the Ripper’s murderous reign is still within living memory, and no one can be sure whether the lurking mists and London fog will reveal yet more horrors in these dark, tortuous streets and alleys.

Stumbling from an alley such as this, in the rainy, early-morning hours of a night in 1900, was a carriage-load of University College London (UCL) students, led by a man called Jasper Blaxland. They were on their way back from a Ball, and in buoyant spirits. On passing a pub on Tottenham Court Road they noticed a monstrous figure, standing over 6 feet tall, dressed as a Highland Infantryman. He was silent, un-blinking and never seemed to take a draught of his beer. But this man, Phineas MacLino, was in fact a statue. With great presence of mind and, regrettably we must admit, some skill, the students made off with Phineas to impress their lady companions.

Thus, Mascotry was born. How would King’s students answer this passive attack on their College’s honour?

On the first mascotry battle in history

In 1922, King’s students were stung into action by some blatant and unnecessary criticism of their rugby prowess. They devised a very simple revenge: they kidnapped Phineas. It was the first time a Mascot had ever been stolen, and was a direct challenge to the arrogance of UCL. King’s knew very well what was to come in return.

The students prepared to defend their capture by locking Phineas far from sight and building secret defences. But UCL had an extensive network of spies within King’s. After some ferocious hand-to hand battling and police intervention, King’s forced the invading UCL group towards the Embankment, breaking the balustrades on the East side of the Quad.

After more than an hour of combat, honour was considered to be even, an armistice was arranged and Phineas was returned to UCL, minus an arm that had been broken off in the battle.


Image: The battle between King's and UCL students in the Strand Quad rages... (Archives)

On the pressing need for a mascot

Despite the ensuing satisfaction felt by King’s, it became clear that the honour of the College had not really been restored. UCL had after all regained their mascot, while King’s had none.

Soon after, a giant papier mâché beer bottle, measuring about 5 or 6 feet in length, appeared at rugby matches. It was jealously guarded by the King’s engineers, who had been at the forefront of the battle for Phineas. They had ‘wittily’ called this new mascot ‘Bottled Youth’. However, Mary Edwards, King’s College Senior Woman Student in 1923, was not impressed:

‘It was a poor, ugly and pretty pointless thing and very inappropriate as the College Mascot. The Women’s Common Room and other students took a dim view of the Engineers’ choice and started an agitation to get rid of the beer bottle and replace it – a lion for instance, to be in keeping with the College Coat of Arms.’

Mary Edwards was instructed to find such a lion. At the time, ferocious-looking red lions were a popular inn sign in this part of London, and Mary well remembers setting off hopefully, early on a foggy morning, with the Women’s Common Room Secretary, Margaret Robinson, to ask any and every publican in the area whether they would care to surrender their lion. They tried Whitehall, the South Bank, Covent Garden, Drury Lane, Charing Cross Road and so on! They got nothing but blank refusals.

But Mary and Margaret were young, and had too much faith in human nature to give up. Eventually, Ewarts Geysers on Euston Road agreed to sell them his lion for the rather large sum of £7. It was made of beaten copper and his paw rested on a globe.

For some unfathomable reason, the lion was originally called ‘Lucy’, which rather neglected the fact that with his mane and other attributes of not inconsiderable size, he was unquestionably male. The Engineers’ took it upon themselves to protect this new Mascot and suggested ‘Rex’. Finally, at a special meeting of the King’s College Union Society in December 1923, the copper lion was officially adopted as the College Mascot and with much enthusiasm was christened ‘Reggie’.

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