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TOUR OF THE MONTH
ON THIS DAY IN LONDON
George Wombwell's Menagerie
This is where Wombwell's infamous menagerie started life.
Location: Old Compton Street
Description: In 1804 George Wombwell opened a cobbling shop somewhere here (can anyone identify where exactly?) on Old Compton Street, which lasted until 1810.
Wombwell was short, stout and a heavy drinker and he nonetheless built up three hugely successful menageries from a starting point of two snakes bought at a bargain price. He put them on display here along with other exotic animals he imported.
In 1810 he founded the Wombwell's Travelling Menagerie and began to tour the fairs of Britain. By 1839 it totalled fifteen wagons. The menageries travelled the length and breadth of England and made him a wealthy man before his death in 1850.
Wombwell bred and raised many animals himself, including the first lion to be bred in captivity in Britain; he named it William in the honor of William Wallace. In 1825 Warwick, Wombwell arranged a Lion-baiting between his docile lion Nero and six bullmastiffs. Nero refused to fight but when Wombwell released Wiliam, he mauled the dogs and the fight was soon stopped.
He was buried in Highgate Cemetery, under a statue of his lion Nero.
From The Book of Days:
A shoemaker by trade, and keeping a shop in Soho, he happened one day to pay a visit to the London Docks, where he saw some of the first boa constrictors which had been imported into England. These reptiles had then no great favour with showmen, as much from fear as ignorance of the art of managing them, and their marketable value was consequently less than it afterwards became.
Wombwell purchased a pair for 75, and in the course of three weeks realized considerably more than that sum by their exhibition. He used afterwards to declare, that he entertained rather a partiality for the serpent tribe, as they had been the means of first opening his path to fame and fortune.