Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Exeter Exchange: The London Menagerie

Did you know a seventeenth century edict prohibited exotic animals being exhibited in London's streets?

This ban wasn't out of concern for public safety, but because the privilege of showing rare animals (and the associated revenues) belonged to the keeper of his Majesty's lions, at the Tower of London. However, in a city hungry for novel entertainment, the showmen merely moved their lions and tigers to fairs and back alleys. But in 1793 one such itinerant showman, Gilbert Pidcock, dodged the issue and established a privately-owned menagerie which he opened to London's public.
Inside the Exeter Exchange (also known as the Exeter 'Change)
Gilbert Pidcock bought a four-storey building, the Exeter Exchange, in the Strand. It seems likely Pidcock wanted a place to overwinter his animals when not touring the country, and later realised there was a demand to exhibit in London all year round. His collection of exotic animals included a rhinoceros, kangaroo, zebra, lynx and some rare birds. Later he added tigers and an elephant. The latter is all the more surprising because the animals were kept indoors - on the first floor and above - the ground floor being occupied by shops.
The Stand, London - in the 19th century
Pidcock's Menagerie grew in popularity at a time when the Tower Menagerie was shabby and in decline. Although situated in central London, it seems the city authorities were remarkably tolerant of Pidcock's establishment, even if newspapers frequently published letters complaining about jungle noises disturbing the peace, and noxious smells issuing from the building.

When Pidcock died in 1810 the menagerie eventually came under the ownership of Edward Cross (Pidcock's deputy and a skilled animal keeper) Cross had an eye for publicity and in adverts likened himself to:

"…that primeval collector of natural curiosities, Old Noah."

Edward Cross
Indeed, Cross' collection included Chunee (an elephant), Nero (a large lion), four other lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, antelopes, camels, llamas, bison and sea lions! That's not to mention a large collection of birds from ostriches, to five species of eagles, and vultures.

The menagerie was open 9 am to 9pm and it cost a shilling to see the three main exhibits, or two shillings to view everything. The most popular time to visit was at 8pm when the animals were fed and Chunee, the elephant rang a loud bell to signal the start of feeding time.
"The Lords of Parliament and the lions of Exeter Change all dined at about eight."
William Clarke, journalist.
The Exeter Exchange - note the banner displaying exotic animals.
And finally: one famous visitor to the menagerie was Lord Byron. He remarked that the face of the hippopotamus reminded him of Lord Liverpool (the Prime Minister) - [This seems rather dubious since no record exists of a hippo being exhibited] Other illustrious visitors included Princess Victoria (the future Queen), Robert Browning and Charles Dickens.
The caption reads :
Exeter Change, Strand, site of Edward Cross's
menagerie, shortly before its demolition in 1829
If you have enjoyed this post you may also be interested in:
The Wonderful Dog: Munito
The Learned Pig

1 comment:

  1. From Mark Have been metal detecting today and found a token of the exeter change showing picture of toucan on one side and that of a two headed cow on the other how on on earth did it get into the field i farm in hampshire


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