by Snuggle Pot La Bonche
The animal theme has intersected with circus for years on end as it has with other showmen’s products such as optical illusions, early cinema & tableaux vivants. Travelling with dangerous animals requires a much practical knowledge, going beyond what you would expect. The cost of maintaining & controlling animals is vastly expensive.
In the 1930’s Bostock & Wombwell Royal Menagerie was hitting hard times. Initially they attempted to display their animals permanently in Exhibition Park. This might have been Newcastle’s Zoo. But the concept fell through and resulted in the sale. They were sold in Newcastle and were sent all over the place to Prudoe, Hexham & Gateshead.
This selling off of whole menageries was not a unique event. There are several disturbing anecdotes in the archives which allude to this including for “Cold Meat Prices”. In particular during the 1st World War menageries went into serious decline and on the 6 June 1918, M. E Bostock offered the skin of a “very fine lion” to the city of Newcastle. It was possibly kept by Hancock Museum.
In 1941 Arthur recounts that “the Pinders thought it best to have all their lions shot soon after the outbreak of war” (WW2), and that the Pinders had a command letter from Queen Victoria to visit the Castle. It added “it is particularly requested you do not bring lions, The Queen does not like them.”
Madame La Bonche adds: Here is a little circus factule for you from Arthur Fenwick’s Scrapbooks… Following an auction of circus animals in Edwardian London, the buyer of a lion asked if he could borrow a dog collar from the Auctioneer so that he could take the lion home on the train. The Auctioneer said no!!! Commuting 100 years ago must have been something else on circus sales days!
There are some really heart breaking stories too about the sale of circus and menagarie animals. Some were sold “for cold meat prices”. There are several ex-circus animals in the North East’s Museums. The most famous is Wallace, who can be seen at Sunderland Museum. (Read more about him on our time line article with Maccomo.)