Bostock and Wombwell Photographs

I recently asked if ‘This is the Enigmatic Mrs Wombwell?

  Well I have another clue to her identity which appeared on the front of a B&W Menagerie Programme from the late 18th century (exact date unknown). It also contained the Bostocks (E.H. and Mrs Bostock) and an early impression of George Wombwell. There’s no reasons to believe these are not the right photographs as they are printed on the B&W programme. I have to say my impresion of Mrs Wombwell (Ann Wombwell/Ann Morgan) is that she appears quite fierce, a bit like her lions I suppose. Is there any chance this Mrs Wombwell is the same person as in the last blog entry? Only you can decide that outcome.

The last picture is from inside the programme. Other inside images are available on request.


Could This Be The Enigmatic Mrs Wombwell?

A carte de visite is now part of the archives. It shows a Victorian lady in mourning dress. Across the back is pencilled ‘Mrs Wombwell’. Could this be the enigmatic ‘Mrs Wombwell’ of Menagerie fame? The carte was made either in Newcastle or London by the studios of W & D Downey a popular photographer to the Royal family and others.

Image of Mrs Wombwell

Back view of Carte

There’s no guarentee of this being George’s partner, but the locations are consistent with Mrs Wombwell travelling to Newcastle or being photographed in London. The eminence of Downey might also suggest the wife of Sir George Orby Wombwell, 4th Baronet, although he married Lady Julia Sarah Alice Child-Villiers who would not have been known as plain Mrs! Incidentally, Villiers is also one of my names too and other relatives existed in Maldon, Essex during the twentieth century with the same family name.

*Downey was an active studio from the mid century to the end of the nineteenth century.

I’ll keep an open mind on its authenticity.

Posters: Auctioned Posters come to light

Do you know anything about these posters that were auctioned?

The first appears to show animals coming in two by two as in Noah’s Ark. Did Bostock ever put on a show about the Ark?

The second appears to be a large hall somewhere. The tickets across the front are seperate and not printed on the posters. Both show 28th October and the town of Wigan, but cannot find a reference to B&W being at Wigan.

Any comments are gratefully received.

Thanks to the reader that drew our attention to them.

Accident at Holywell

Following an enquiry from a reader, I have gathered the stories as reported in newspapers together to outline the happenings on this dreadful night where four people, three of them children, were killed in a freak accident. As usual each newspaper report contradicts the others, but generally the whole story is presented here. There are also some fascinating facts that came out of the inquest such as carriges dimensions, etc. for those interested in such matters. Details can be provided on application.

The Story as per three newspaper reports:

Under the title Accident To Wombwell’s Menagerie – Four Lives Lost, it reports that when crowded with people in a field at Maes-y-dre, Holywell, Flintshire, a gale blew up and four caravans containing the animals were thrown onto the people burying them beneath it. About 20  people were pinned to the ground, some by the arm and some by the leg. Four people were killed – Mr B McBane 36, a keeper and who leaves a widow and three youths, belonging to the town; Edward Jones, 11 David Oxford, 13 and John Hughes, 14. An inquest returned a verdict Accidental Death. – Daily News, 1859

This story is corroborated by the Derby Mercury in 1859, except it adds that the keeper had stepped out of the lions’ cage and down some steps to describe the animals when the accident happened. The keeper is here named as Benjamin McBane, and the others as David Jones the son of a confectioner, John Hughes of Holloway near Holywell and David Oxford. It was rumoured that some of the beasts had escaped, but this was not the case. The coroner was Mr Peter Parry and the inquest was held at the King’s head Inn. Mr Wadsworth, travelling with Mrs Wombwell (George died in 1850), said the same safety precautions had been adopted as on other occasions and it had never happened before.

The North Wales Chronicle reported around the same time in 1859 that Edward Jones, David Jones, John Hughes and Benjamin McBane were all killed in the accident. It continues with a police witness at the inquest. One John Morris was on duty and explained Wombwell’s men had secured the caravans inside but not outside with props. They were secure he said.

Mr Robert Wadsworth, 27 years with Wombwell’s, was the manager that set up the show.

The canvas being tied to the carriages had pulled four carriages down in the high winds.

On the following Monday, two of the dead were buried (the keeper and David Jones) being interred in the new cemetary. They had been preceded by the band of the show, playing appropriate airs. We might estimate, the report continues, the number of spectators at from 400 to 500 persons.

NB: The difference between a keeper and a tamer is the latter did tricks with the beasts in the cages and keepers generally looked after the animals, feeding them, etc.

Close Shave for Malmesbury Landlord!

At least that is what I imagine the headlines in the local newspaper would have looked like if ever this photograph was published. Sent to me by the owner, apparently it shows the local barber known as Billy Weedon shaving the head the landlord of the George Hotel (Mr George Gay) in one of Bostock and Wombwell’s lion cages with two lions on the loose in the cage. The owner has kindly given permission for the publication on the blog. The date is said to be 5th July 1930 and must represent one of the last travelling menageries before they folded just two years later. Malmesbury is in Wiltshire, England.

If anyone wants further information I can pass your details to the owner of the photograph.

Carte de Visite: Mdlle Sherazade and her Performing Elephants

One of the most popular uses that the Victorians made of the new photography technology was the Carte de Visite. Millions of them were produced throughout the world. They are though, rare in the Menageries and Circus world, but Edmunds, the proprietor of Wombwell’s after ‘Mrs’ Wombwell retired, made use of them for his acts. One such act was Mdlle Sherazade and her elephants. Billed as the only Lady Elephant Trainer in Europe, she came, probably from Brussels around 1884. Edmunds was known to have even sold off an elephant already in the menagerie to make way for Sherazade’s two performing elephants. She even married the other animal trainer in the Menagerie and also trained big cats as well. This carte is now in the collection.

A full report will be entered on the research website in due course.


Book: Ipswich Hippodrome by Terry Davis and Trevor Morson

Whilst concerning ourselves with Hippodrome theatres, this book caught my eye a few weeks ago. Published in 2005, it covers the years 1905 – 1985 and provides a history of the building and the variety acts that ‘trod the boards’ during that period. I of course, am interested in the early years when it was owned by E H Bostock the Menagerist. Indeed, it was even built by him in double quick time.

Ipswich already had a Hippodrome of sorts, a temporary wooden structure on the Woodbridge Road that contained a circus ring and therefore a potential rival for Bostock’s main business. He received information that the current Hippodrome was to be rebuilt which provided Bostock with some urgency for a completely new theatre. He chose Frank Matcham the well known theatre architect, of London Coliseum and London Hippodrome fame, to provide the plans. These plans were submitted for planning permission on the 19th September 1904. One month later and the foundation stone had been laid in St Nicholas Street, Ipswich after several houses had been pulled down to make way for the new theatre. E H Bostock was not going to hang around waiting obviously! It was opened during 1905, long before the rival theatre and became known as the Ipswich Hippodrome.
The book is a good read, but is quite scarce. It may be available via Amazon on occasions at:

Hippodrome: Photograph of A Possible Hippodrome Staff Group

This photograph now in the collection, recently came to light. It came from Lancashire, but could be any of the Hippodromes around the country. E H Bostock built and bought several Hippodromes between the years 1900 – 1918 including Norwich, Ipswich and Glasgow. It does not seem to be any of those though, unless it is the second of the two theatres that were known as the Hippodrome in Norwich. It may also be a group of people that visited from a company, etc., although I seem to have seen the man on the far left, middle row before now. Arthur Feeley the elephant handler, maybe? Some of the others appear familiar too, but the fashion of sporting a ‘tash‘ around that time does not assist recognition!

If you recognize anyone or the Hippodrome please do get in touch. It is a high resolution photograph. Click the photograph to zoom in. Good luck!

PS: If anyone recognizes the toffee tin being held up, centre back row, then let me know that too!

Book Review: Exhibiting Animals in Nineteenth-Century Britain Empathy, Education, Entertainment

In June 2014 Helen Cowie from York University published this book in the UK. It is probably the most comprehensive account of zoos and menageries written to date. As a scholar, Cowie’s writing is concise and covers many aspects of the travelling menagerie as well as the zoos up and down the country. Drawing from British Newspaper archives, she tells the tales that make the unique world of the travelling menagerie come to life again.
However, Cowie’s repeat of some overworked accounts leave her text somewhat lacking in authority in places.

Overall though, a good read and one for the committed menagerholic! Weighty price, but there’s an e-book too.

Exhibiting Animals in Nineteenth-Century Britain