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Menageries In Britain 1100 – 2000 by Christine E. Jackson

A history of keeping animal collections in Britain, beginning with the first recorded collection of Henry I. Published in 2014.

Cover of Menageries In Britain, copyright The ray Society.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the definition of “menageries” is “a collection of wild animals in cages or enclosures especially one kept for exhibition as in zoological gardens or a travelling show. Also the place or building where they are kept”.

Menageries in Britain 1100 – 2000 charts the history of keeping animal collections in Britain, beginning with the first recorded collection of Henry I. The book is divided into five sections – Royal Menageries; Travelling and Commercial Menageries; Private Menageries and Aviaries; Dealers; and 20th Century. The interactions of these private collections and the development of the science of Zoology, together with the establishment of scientific collections, are also considered.

The book is beautifully illustrated throughout, my favourites include a photograph of Lord Rothschild driving a trap pulled by three zebras and a donkey and drawings of exotic animals’ merchants in London in the 1800s, it was surprising to read they would have as many as ten to fifteen lions in stock at any one time. There are also interesting accounts of some of the animals kept in menageries, such as a monkey who was once given wine when he was ill and enjoyed it so much that he kept feigning illness in order to receive more.

Many of Thomas Bewick’s wood engravings were made from studies of animals in dealers’ premises, as well as travelling menageries.

The book concludes with an overview of the twentieth century and the changed attitudes to displaying and keeping animals, safari parks and the emphasis on conservation and not merely on entertainment.

This book is available to view in the Society library on the 2nd floor of the Great North Museum: Hancock, Newcastle. Members of the Natural History Society of Northumbria are able to borrow this book from the library.

Review by Nicola Lyons (2016)