THEY are the iconic symbols of the city of Southampton.

But now Southampton’s treasured lions could face costly repairs after a tail was found to have broken off.

Street sweepers are reported to have found one of the Bargate lions’ tails on the floor as they were working.

Now the tail has been handed in to the council’s chief archaeologist Dr Andy Russel, who will have the job of trying to reattach it.

William Burns, founder member of local history group Southampton Sotonians and Friends, said: “This is so sad for Southampton as we have had lions guarding our ancient city of Southampton since ancient times, when the original lions had lamps hanging from their mouths lighting the way to the entrance of the old town for folk returning ‘home’ at the end of a day’s work in the fields.

“We proud Sotonians hope that our heritage is put right as soon as possible by the city.

“The Bargate which kings and queens of England have passed through is not the same without our whole and proud lions which show off the strength of our town.”

Dr Russel confirmed the tail was with the council and added: “We’re not sure whether it dropped off or if somebody was climbing up it.”

Southampton’s famous lions, made of lead, were put in place in 1743.

Cllr Satvir Kaur, cabinet member for homes and culture, said: “The lions are thought to have been made by the London sculptor John Cheere in about 1740.

“They replaced wooden lions that dated back to Tudor times. After guarding the city for more than 275 years, the lions have started to develop a number of cracks in recent years.

“This is probably caused by the ironwork inside them expanding due to natural corrosion. We are currently reviewing repair works to preserve the lions, which have been an important feature of the city for so long.”