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Visiting Forbury Gardens, Reading, England and the Maiwand Lion: gigantic memorial, with insights into Imperial history

Updated on August 21, 2014
Flag of England
Flag of England | Source
The Maiwand Lion cast iron statue in Forbury Gardens, Reading, Berks.
The Maiwand Lion cast iron statue in Forbury Gardens, Reading, Berks. | Source
The Maiwand Memorial ("Forbury Lion") in Forbury Gardens, Reading, c. 1887
The Maiwand Memorial ("Forbury Lion") in Forbury Gardens, Reading, c. 1887 | Source
Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson. Published in 'The Adventure of Silver Blaze', 1892
Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson. Published in 'The Adventure of Silver Blaze', 1892 | Source

16.2 tonnes of cast iron commemorating serious losses in Afghanistan

This gigantic lion statue dates from 1886, and stands in Forbury Gardens, Reading, Berkshire. So, is this war memorial a tribute to some great Imperial victory from the days when the British Empire was at its height?

Well, no. Actually, it is a poignant tribute to great human losses sustained during a defeat in Afghanistan, sustained by the Royal Berkshire Regiment in 1880, at the Battle of Maiwand. At this battle, on 27 July, 1880, approximately 258 British soldiers were killed. Rather than recalling a victory, this tragic event is more on a par with historic failures such as the Charge of the Light Brigade and the Gallipoli Campaign.

At any rate, this lion monument, known as the Maiwand Lion, or, sometimes, the Forbury Lion, has gigantic dimensions. As well as 16.2 tonnes of cast iron, its length is 9.5 metres and 6.1 metres high.

The sculptor responsible for the Maiwand Lion was George Blackall Simonds (1843-1929). He was known for creating a number of sculptures, including one of Queen Victoria (1887).

Some historical background

By way of background, Britain, with strong, commercial interests in the region (India) sent troops into Afghanistan between 1878 and 1880 in what was known as the Second Anglo-Afghan War. This was because of Afghanistan's strategic location and in view of a perceived threat from Russia. (Doesn't this all sound rather eerily familiar?) However, a force of 500 from the Royal Berkshire Regiment, which was said to have fought very bravely, found itself outnumbered at Maiwand, near Kandahar, and suffered extensive losses.

Malalai of Maiwand: heroine who rallied the victorious Afghan fighters

What is probably not as widely known in Reading as in Afghanistan is that on the Afghan side of the Battle of Maiwand, forces were rallied by a woman who is regarded as a folk hero in her country. Following the death of the Afghan flag-bearer, Malalai of Maiwand (c.1861-1880), or Malalai Anaa, took up the flag and is said to have rallied the troops with inspirational verse.

Malalai perished herself before the battle was concluded in the Afghans' favour, but her example and memory are popularly linked with a great deal of credit for the victory.

A literary consequence: Sherlock Holmes's colleague Dr Watson

On the British side, the medical officer of the Regiment was Surgeon Major A F Preston, who was injured at Maiwand, Preston is said to have been the model for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's character Dr. Watson, in his Sherlock Holmes stories.

In the course of these works, the fictional character makes repeated allusions to his past army medical service in Afghanistan.

Also worth seeing

In Reading itself, the nearby Reading Abbey ruins, Hospitium, and the church of St. Lawrence-in-Reading are of architectural and historical interest, as are the University of Reading's Wantage Hall and St Patrick's Hall.

Silchester (distance: 18 kilometres) has interesting Roman remains.


How to get there

United Airlines flies from New York Newark Airport to London Heathrow Airport, where car rental is available. Distance from Heathrow Airport to Reading is 49 kilometres. A regular bus link exists between Heathrow Airport and Reading. For up to date information, please check with the airline or your travel agent.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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    • MJFenn profile image

      MJFenn 6 years ago

      Gypsy Willow: The Abbey vicinity does have a lot of things of interest. Thank-you for your comment.

    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 6 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      Thanks once again MJ, i went to the Abbey school Reading and never knew why the Lion was there. Even our school was quite spectacular though my main memory was having o swim in the outdoor pool when the temperature of the water was 57' (or above!). Reading was a true red brick town!