The Menagerist

In her Foreword to her ‘The Proud Tower’, Barbara W. Tuchman states that ‘this book is an attempt to discover the quality of the world from which the Great War came’. First published in 1966, this is largely a collection of previously published writings gathered together. The first, entitled, ‘The Patricians – England: 1895-1902’, describes the powerful ruling classes whose complacency, based on the assumed right to govern accumulated over centuries of inherited position, wealth, and advantaged education, was unassailed at that time. According to the writer their status as leaders was seen to be natural and unquestioned, and would always be rewarded with success. The setbacks of the Boer War came as a great shock.

On a drizzle-miserable day I finished reading this chapter.

Later I scanned a few colour slides from Abney Park Cemetery produced in March 2009.

The last three of this set are of the multi-denominational chapel which has been graffiti-desecrated at the rear, bricked and boarded up. When making these images I was told that the building is intact inside. I do hope some renovation has been undertaken in the years since then.

I have converted those in this gallery to black and white.

The last two, bearing the sculpture of a docile lion, are of the tomb, shared with his wife, Susannah, of Frank Charles Bostock who ‘was part of the Bostock and Wombwell dynasty, famed for the presentation of travelling Menageries throughout the nineteenth century and the first third of the 20th century. George Wombwell commenced this tradition by exhibiting exotic animals from around 1804. This fascination for exhibition informed the emerging trends of entertainment throughout the Victorian period, with all manner of beasts, curiosities and displays of human endeavour on regular display in fixed and floating locations.

Wombwell took to presenting a travelling animal show from around 1805, competing with many other Menagerists of the time. He had a fierce drive to become the most famous animal showman in the country, and his partnership with the Bostock family established Bostock and Wombwell as the country’s leading operation.

The Bostock family were land-owning farmers in Staffordshire. In 1832 James Bostock turned his back on his farming destiny and worked as a waggoner with Wombwell’s Menagerie. His marriage to Emma Wombwell in 1852 saw the start of the Bostock and Wombwell dynasty, all capable and willing animal handlers and showmen. The core axis of this dynasty was the three sons of James and Emma (there were other children also): Edward Henry (EH) Bostock became the successor to running the main show, James William Bostock managed separate Menageries and presented ‘Anita the Living Doll’, whilst Frank Charles Bostock set off on his own direction by touring Europe and America.

Frank Bostock was equally as ambitious as his Menagerie-founding grandfather. In his memoirs he talks about how he introduced the ‘big cage’ to England in 1908 and how he discovered that big cats were wary of the underside of a chair. His time in America possibly led him to doing things differently, with contact at the vibrant Coney Island, and the tradition of ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ pioneered by PT Barnum.

Frank C Bostock arrived in the United States in the summer of 1893 at twenty seven years of age. He set up near 5th and Flatbush Avenues in Brooklyn. It is said that Frank and his family lived in one wagon and had another two wagons housing four monkeys, five parrots, three lions, a sheep and a boxing kangaroo.

It could be said that the arrival of Frank Bostock and the Ferari brothers in 1893-94 (Francis and Joseph Ferari were his partners at the time, they were the sons of Italian-born English showman James Ferari) was the beginning of the touring carnival business in America. The wild animal shows they brought became the nucleus around which many of the early street-fair showmen built their midways.

The elaborate carved fronts of the wild animal shows Frank Bostock brought from England, some of them made by the Burton-upon-Trent company Orton and Spooner, served as the prototype for wagon-mounted show fronts on American carnivals for the next half century’. (

This evening we dined on smoked haddock; Jackie’s piquant cauliflower cheese; creamy mashed potato; firm carrots and peas with which the Culinary Queen drank Hoegaarden and I drank Nivei white Rioja 2018.


  1. “…the powerful ruling classes whose complacency, based on the assumed right to govern accumulated over centuries of inherited position, wealth, and advantaged education, was unassailed at that time…”
    Has anything changed that much?

  2. A fascinating look at the past. I cannot help feeling sorry for those lions though: when you see them in the wild here, you can only imagine that those ones must have felt they had met a fate worse than death. Still – and we must always bear this in mind – we cannot judge the past by current standards or knowledge. Thank you for a truly interesting post.

  3. Oops. I didn’t mean to post the same comment twice.
    I read the mini-history of the Menagarists with a great deal of interest. I hadn’t heard that term used before. I hope the cemetary chapel has been rescued from neglect and vandalism.

  4. You focused on a few disparate subjects, each equally fascinating. How did those ruling patricians produce the environment that led to the Great War? The graffiti, though somewhat disfiguring, lends a haunting air to everything. And then the traveling menagerie… can’t help think of the poor creatures all crammed together. Derrick, lots to think about in this post.

    1. Thanks very much, Laurie. I agree about the animals. I read Tuchman’s piece as an indication of the nature and conduct of our leaders. The rest of the book gives her take on other contributory factors – the current chapter is about Anarchists.

  5. I’m glad more people today are realizing the cruelty of keeping wildish animals in unnatural crowed spaces. I love the Abney Park Cemetery structures and statues. If I lived there, I’d be willing to try to scrub off the graffiti, though I’m sure there is a special process. .

  6. Quite like Barbara Tuchman, you also have a historical tale to tell ably assisted by your photographic competence. The account of the menagerists is riveting, his tomb a befitting monument to his memories.

  7. I’ve been enjoying the photos and legends of those who slumber beneath the monuments. It is sad to see the graffiti, hopefully it has been cleaned since then.

  8. Your colour photos show such artistry…and are like beautiful painting. πŸ™‚ It’s so sad to me when people graffiti things that should never be graffitied…and when such a wonderful chapel with so much history is left in disrepair. πŸ™
    Your B&W photos are lovely…they highlight such beautiful sculptures and architecture!
    There were days I enjoyed zoos, etc, and then as I was growing up I felt sorry for the animals kept in cages, or trained, with violence, to entertain, etc. πŸ™ I’m glad today more of these places are closing and new generations of animals will not be captured and suffer such fate in their future.
    When were kids and took long walks in nature my Dad always taught us to leave creatures be…he said, “Don’t remove them from where you see them because they are trying to live their lives. For example, If you pick up a lizard or an insect and carry it home…you might have separated a mom from her babies.” Etc.
    That stuck with me my whole life.
    (((HUGS))) πŸ™‚

  9. “the powerful ruling classes whose complacency, based on the assumed right to govern etc etc”
    Point taken but we have had a few Labour governments since then. Quite a few of those were run by ordinary men from ordinary backgrounds, as well as the one with Prince Blair.
    Suffrage was below 15% in 1914. Now it’s 100%. The House of Lords has no power whatsoever any more.
    I’ve just finished a series of blog posts on the Old Boys of our school who died in the Boer War. What a fiasco that was, and a festival of greed. Men’s lives wasted in practice for WW1. And of course, it was the place where the first seeds were planted for the evil plant called Auschwitz.

  10. The black and white images are quite striking. The lion is so majestic. I hate to think of them caged and forced to perform.
    I agree with so many comments above about animals in captivity and that history continues and repeats itself. I hope the chapel has not suffered further neglect.

  11. I saw a boxing kangaroo once. I can’t say I found it very entertaining. I think that TV had a lot to do with that – by the early 60s cartoons and nature programmes were both more interesting than circuses. Animal welfare wasn’t high on my list at the age of eight.

  12. It is amazing how our entitlement makes us think we are superior! A very interesting piece of history. So sad to see the disrespectful graffiti on the chapel and statues. Have a great day Derrick!

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