During the 18th and 19th centuries, the use of wild animals in London theatres was a common and sensational practice. The use of animals, often exotic and dangerous, added an element of spectacle and excitement to theatrical performances. These displays were known as “animal acts” and were popular attractions in a variety of entertainment venues, including theatres, circuses, and menageries.
Wild animal acts in London theatres were diverse and ranged from dramatic reenactments of exotic scenes to more dangerous displays featuring trained animals. These performances could include scenes depicting jungle hunts, battles between humans and animals, or simply showcasing the exotic nature of the creatures. These acts were often included as part of larger theatrical productions or as stand-alone attractions between acts.
The animals used in these acts were sourced from around the world, and their presence in the city was a testament to the colonial and imperial interests of the time. However, the conditions in which these animals were kept and the treatment they received were often inhumane. Many animals suffered due to inadequate care, confinement, and the stress of performing in unnatural environments.
As public attitudes towards animal welfare began to shift during the late 19th century, concerns about the treatment of animals in entertainment grew. Activists advocated for better conditions and raised awareness about the ethical concerns associated with using wild animals in performances. Eventually, legal regulations and changing societal values led to the decline of such practices in theatres.
Overall, the use of wild animals in London theatres during the 18th and 19th centuries reflects a complex blend of curiosity, entertainment, and exploitation. It’s a historical reminder of how attitudes towards animals and entertainment have evolved over time.
Taken from the Stories page of these scrapbooks about Glasgow entertainments, it contains a wealth of information about E H Bostock and the Glasgow Zoo up to around 1910 -1911. It makes some interesting reading and I thank the University of Glasgow for bringing it to our attention.
The Britannia Music Hall had already been open for half a century on Glasgow’s Trongate by the time A. E. Pickard took it over. Under his management, the Britannia reopened in July 1906, now called “the Britannia Theatre of Varieties and Grand Panopticon” and incorporating a museum, freak-show and zoo. Presenting four shows daily, at 2pm, 4pm, 7pm and 9pm, the Panopticon was a prime music hall venue, at a time when that form was thriving. The scrapbooks give valuable insights into the music hall business in Scotland, as Pickard kept an eye on the competition and documented his own publicity. Acts booked for the Panopticon included singers, dancers and comics, while the Museum, in addition to its permanent displays and topical waxworks, featured novelty acts of a more bizarre nature.
Use the search facility to see the relevant pages on Bostock.
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:
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!