About this image
A pelican outside Bostock and Wombwell's Menagerie. The Travelling Menagerie, also known as the Beast Show, is the term commonly used to describe itinerant animal exhibition as it developed during the nineteenth century. The expression travelling zoo was also used, and as well as exhibiting on the fairground, they were a stable feature of the circus. The travelling menagerie reflects the increasing wealth and influence of fairground showman in the nineteenth century, interest generated by new knowledge in the natural sciences and the publics' fascination with the exotic and the dangerous. As colonial expansion brought further and more regular contact with remote regions, birds and animals unseen in Europe arrived at the ports. Here, collectors searched, encouraging the sailors to return with animals thus supplementing their income. By popular legend, George Wombwell started his menagerie with two snakes bought from a sailor at the Port of London. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century there were several menageries travelling; amongst the better known, are Polito, Ballard, Pidcock, Miles and Wombwell. The shows were built up in a particular fashion with highly decorative front displays and the 'beast wagons'- placed behind in a rectangle, thus forming an enclosed area. The menageries often boasted 'A SPLENDID BAND IN ATTENDANCE', the menagerist becoming highly regarded by the public through their displays and educational commitments. By the time of his death in 1850, George Wombwell was so well known that his obituary was published in local papers the length and breath of the country indicating quite how great was the popularity of the menageries. Travelling menageries, which at first had been largely devoted to the exhibition of exotic animals and new species began to incorporate animal acts, in particular lion-taming. A contemporary development saw variety acts involving animals as actors and comedians gain popularity. In the latter nineteenth century and early twentieth century the constant search for variety led to the mixing of the menagerie in some seemingly unlikely combinations with the Cinematograph, for example Crecraft's Wild Beast and Living Picture Show, and Hancock's Living Pictures and Menagerie. The twentieth century saw the gradual decline of the travelling menagerie on the fairground, yet as late as 1928 The World's Fair carried adverts for ground to let at North Park Bootle for the May Day where the menagerie is at the head of the list of invited entertainments, the same issue proposes that Wild Beast Shows take up spaces to let at Grimsby Statute and Pleasure Fair. There were shows travelling till the 1960s that were essentially menageries, often travelling under the name of Lion Shows. The most famous travelling menagerie had been founded in the first years of the nineteenth century by George Wombwell and its reputation was such that the name was still travelling until December 1931 when Bostock and Wombwell's Menagerie showed for the last time at the Old Sheep Market, Newcastle, a moment captured in photography. (Menagerie information was provided by Tim Neal, January 2003 (copyright) on the excellent National Fairground Archive website at http://www.shef.ac.uk/nfa/history/shows/menageries.php ). The Goose Fair was originally held in Nottingham for 8 days of October, reduced to five days in 1876. The Market Place was filled with stalls, fairground rides, attractions, jugglers and entertainers, and inhabitants of Nottingham, both rich and poor. The name possibly comes from the hundreds of geese which were at one time driven from Lincolnshire and Norfolk to be sold in Nottingham. Goose Fair was first mentioned in the Nottingham Borough Records of 1541, though it was probably in existence much earlier than this. For centuries, Goose Fair was held in the heart of the city on the Market Place in front of the Exchange. It gradually spread to other streets in the vicinity and, with the growth of traffic, there were complaints about congestion and disruption in the city. Eventually, the Goose Fair is held on the Forest Recreation Ground, about a mile north of the Old Market Square.