Travelling menageries and Zoos

For those who could not get to the Zoo the travelling menagerie provided the best show.

In the same period as the introduction of permanent structures for exhibiting animals, travelling menageries developed. By the early 19th century, fairs throughout Europe were frequented by fully fledged travelling menageries. These were both spectacular and promoted as educational. They were famous for their long trains of wagons packed with wild beasts. Conditions for these animals were often appalling. They were hugely popular shows with all sections of the public. They were also seen as educational. One of the earliest permanent menageries that was open to the public was the Menagerie Royale at Versailles. Some of these developed into zoos such as Edward Cross’s Menagerie in London. In 1828 the Zoological Society of London developed it into a zoological garden in Regent’s Park (now known as The London Zoo). Soon after, other major cities opened zoos: Amsterdam (1838), Antwerp (1843), Brussels (1851), Rotterdam (1857), Cologne (1860), Hamburg (1863) and Stuttgart (1870).

Bostock & Wombwells Elephants Walking from one Fair to another. 1931.

Both Animals and People often found it necessary to walk between sites. The Elephants in this picture are walking from Hull to Newcastle – some 240 km. There was a famous elephant in the 1870’s who walked from Scotland to Manchester accompanied by his keeper. A tollgate keeper tried to make the keeper pay too much money to travel the road. The Elephant got so cross with the delay that he lifted the tollgate off its hinges. A very popular Elephant !

Menagerie posters were very ornate. This is a poster for Bostock and Wombwell’s from around 1900. The animals are pictured in the wild. The original must have been very brightly coloured.

Bostock and Wombwell’s Band Wagon photographed at the end of the 19th century. The bands were great attractions and always drew large audiences. The bandmaster was an important member of the show. Note that the band wagon is very ornate.

This small advert shows Bostock and Wombwell’s Royal Menagerie in the early 19th century. The mixing of the different species was one of typical performances in the menageries.

Postcard promoting Hull Fair, circa 1930. It shows attractions such as Bostock & Wombwell’s Menagerie, Helter Skelter and Steram Yachts.

A menagerie around 1900. This confrontation between a tiger and a mounted elephant probably isn’t part of the official programme. Should that be the reason the audience is not extremely interested?

François Bidel was a famous animal trainer. He was born in 1839, between a crocodile and a vulture in a cage wagon. Bidel used to perform in a theatre cage. He presented several animals at the same time. Predators were the main attraction. He had rather rough methods to provoke their scaring growls and movements.