Animal displays and menageries were popular in both London and the provinces during the 18th and 19th centuries, as shown in this advertisement for a Lion exhibited at Worcester Races. In a world before television and cinema these shows offered the public a rare glimpse of other worlds far beyond the high seas, filled with bizarre and unfamiliar looking creatures and wildlife.
The conditions in which exotic animals were kept were – by modern standards – often appalling. Animals as large as rhinoceroses and elephants were kept in narrow iron cages in town houses and shopping arcades, with no opportunity for exercise. The general public also mixed freely with the creatures in a surprisingly intimate way. In the 1790s a buffalo kept in London’s Haymarket was allowed to be petted by ladies, while a Zebra kept at the Lyceum was advertised as being so docile that ‘ladies and children may stroke him with safety’. Not all animals were so friendly though. In 1826 an elephant kept at the Exeter Change menagerie was shot dead by soldiers after the animal killed a keeper and went on a rampage while being taken for a walk along the Strand.