‘When wild beasts roamed the UK‘, the story of menageries, animal shows and exotic beast dealers like Charles Jamrach and Edward Cross. ‘Most exotic pet shops were in London – by 1895 there were 118 wild animal dealers in London alone – but there were also shops in Liverpool, Bath and Bristol.’ Cross’s menagerie shifted around central London, first on the Strand, then to behind Trafalgar Square and then finally to the Royal Surrey Gardens in Walworth, from where it was eventually dispersed and the site used for the construction of the Surrey Music Hall, no trace of which remains in today’s Palsey Park. The modern park is a few steps away from the current workshops of Victor Mara Ltd, scenery painters, about which very little exists online. The company can be traced back half a century at least, before one enters a rabbit hole of stories about theatrical stagings and grand public spectacles:
When Sir Edward Moss, the founder of Moss’ Empires, opened the Hippodrome on January 15th, 1900, he achieved his ambition to give Londoners “a circus and watershow combined with elaborate stage-spectacle impossible in any other theatre.” The first show, entitled Giddy Ostend, starred Little Tich and the cast included a youngster whose name was Charles Chaplin. After Giddy Ostend came a series of extravaganzas with titles like Volcano, Typhoon, Earthquake, Avalanche, and Flood. These productions were by no means confined to the stage; in front of it, the part of the auditorium normally occupied by the stalls, there was a circular arena; the floor could be lowered and the resulting tank filled with a hundred thousand gallons of water. In the course of an Arctic Spectacle called The North Pole, seventy-six Polar Bears slid down into the tank from the stage!