For any of you who are veterans of historical romance, and Regency, in particular, you have probably read about all the different entertainments available in London during the Season. While it isn’t written about as much as Covent Gardens or Drury Lane theater or even Brooks’s or White’s gentlemen’s clubs, the menagerie at the Tower of London is often included as one of the diverting activities where couples go to oh and ah over strange and exotic animals.
But did you know that it was not the only menagerie in town? One could also go to the Exeter ‘Change menagerie. This precursor to the modern-day zoo was located on the upper floors of the Exeter Exchange, which was a popular shopping arcade. I can’t even imagine what the shops below smelled like in the suffocating heat of summer, and don’t even get me started on what the ceilings underneath the cages must have looked like.
Anyhow, this menagerie was formed by Gilbert Pidock. Although, by 1814, when the menagerie was under the direction of Edward Cross, it was renamed to the Royal Grand National Menagerie.
It was not without its draws. There was a lioness and her cubs; tigers and a hyaena; a panther, several leopards, and an ocelot; bison, pelicans, and other various birds, and reptiles. Plus, there was an elephant. And for only 3 shillings (approximately $10.50 in today’s dollars) a patron could visit all three apartments of animals. That was the equivalent of a day’s wages for the average trade person. So not just anyone could visit, leaving this as a place for the upper class to mingle and promenade (because they did a lot of promenading).
So the next time you read about the Tower of London Menagerie, remember that not too far away, was another menagerie of equal magnificence.