Regency Hot Spots: Beasts of the Tower

historical plate of animals cages at the Tower of London

A View to London, 1803

The Tower of London held many curiosities during the Regency, being one of the favored attractions (as it still is today) when visiting Town.  The Royal Menagerie at the Tower was a longstanding royal tradition, dating to 1200 (  It also was in its final hours during the Regency; when a monkey bit a nobleman in the 1830s, Wellington shut it down and put the animals in Regent’s Park as the start of the London Zoo (

A description from 1809 said the Menagerie held these specimens: “A very curious black Leopardess. Though her skin is black, her spots are very visible. A handsome bright-spotted Leopardess. Another beautiful Leopardess. – A Hyaena, from the Cape of Good Hope. A fine young Wolf, from Mexico. A present from Earl St. Vincent. – – A small Ant-Bear, brought from Canada. A Racoon, bred in the Tower. The animals of this species always wash their meat before they eat it. A Jackall, or lion’s provider. This animal is said to have a remarkable good scent” A New History and Description of the Tower of London and Its Curiosities.

Another description detailed its impact on the visitor:
An Improved History and description of the Tower of London, etc, 1817

Once the Menagerie became memory, it was easy to wax poetical about the romance of wild beasts and royalty:

The Tower of London, 1850

Its hard, with our modern sensibilities and information access, to really understand the effect these wild and exotic creatures might have had on visitors.  Not only in the thrilling terror, but also in opening their imaginations to distant places.  Yes, there was the “othering” that likely occurred, the romanticism and intertwining of danger and excitement with foreign lands.  But there was also an element of scientific examination, and allowing that access to all (or those who could afford the entrance fee).

Rachel Knowles did a fantastic job at providing a tour of the Regency attraction which I dare not compete with, so I encourage you to tread on over for a view:

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