The Tiger that Briefly Terrorized 19th Century London

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On October 26, 1857, a Bengal tiger escaped from its cage in the backyard of a menagerie in London's East End. Snatching a young boy in its jaws, it ran off down the street. Astonishingly, the boy survived. So did the tiger—and, even more astoundingly, so did the man who wrestled the boy from the tiger’s jaws.

The boy’s rescuer was also the tiger’s owner. Born in Hamburg, Germany, in 1815, Charles Christian Jamrach was a dealer in wild and exotic animals and birds, who, with the help of his father, established a vast business trading and supplying wildlife to zoos, menageries, circuses, and museums across 19th century Europe. (Even Dante Gabriel Rossetti was a customer, purchasing his beloved wombat from Jamrach.)

After his father’s death in 1840, Jamrach moved to London to take over the British arm of the business. There, he opened an exotic pet store and museum of natural history—“Jamrach’s Animal Emporium”—on St. George Street, as well as a menagerie on Bett Street. In 1891, the Spectator described the emporium as "an exciting place to visit," going on to note:

"The passages between the two storeys of cages were narrow, and to walk down them was occasionally like running the gauntlet. Furtive paws were darted out between the bars, and made grabs at the passer-by, and one might find one’s coat-tails being 'hung on to' by a playful puma while turning round to ask a question."

With an ever-growing list of A-list customers and contacts (including the London Natural History Museum and the recently opened London Zoo), Jamrach’s company was becoming more successful—and it was at that point when, in 1857, he acquired what was to be a star attraction: a fully grown Bengal tiger, shipped to England from the East Indies.

On the morning of October 26, the tiger (along with a delivery of several other big cats) arrived at the Bett Street menagerie. It was held in a large crate, which had three solid wood sides and thick iron bars across the front. Jamrach himself had decided to oversee the tricky procedure of moving the tiger from its transport crate and into its enclosure, and asked that the crate be positioned so that the open iron bars were placed against the wall of the yard while the tiger’s enclosure was being prepared.

That might have sounded like safest option at the time, but Jamrach had seemingly underestimated just how powerful a fully grown tiger is. "They were proceeding to take down a den with leopards, when all of a sudden I heard a crash," Jamrach later recalled in The Boy’s Own Paper, "and to my horror found the big tiger had pushed out the back part of his den with his hind-quarters, and was walking down the yard into the street, which was then full of people watching the arrival of this curious merchandise. The tiger, in putting his forepaws against the iron bars in front of the den, had exerted his full strength to push with his back against the boards behind, and had thus succeeded in gaining his liberty."

As if that wasn't disastrous enough, the situation quickly went from bad to worse when the tiger spotted a 9-year-old boy, who had reportedly put his hand out to stroke its back as it strode past, and snatched him up in its jaws. "The tiger seized him by the shoulder and ran down the street with the lad hanging in his jaws," Jamrach said. "This was done in less time than it takes me to relate." Without a moment’s hesitation, Jamrach took off after it:

"[W]hen I saw the boy being carried off in this manner, and witnessed the panic that had seized hold of the people, without further thought I dashed after the brute … I was then of a more vigorous frame than now, and had plenty of pluck and dash in me."

Amid crowds of pedestrians fleeing for their lives, Jamrach quickly caught up with the tiger and, throwing himself onto its back, grabbed it by the scruff of its neck, to little avail. It was still too strong, and as it tossed Jamrach to the ground and dragged him along the street, it still kept the boy in its jaws. Jamrach tried a second time to stop the tiger, this time by tripping it up, and as it finally fell to the ground, Jamrach knelt on its back and forced his hands around its neck in an attempt to strangle it. As he subdued it, one of the workers from his yard ran over and struck it over the head with a crowbar.

Dazed, the tiger dropped the boy from its jaws—and promptly went to turn on Jamrach:

"I thought the brute was dead or dying, and let go of him, but no sooner had I done so than he jumped up again. In the same moment I seized the crowbar myself, and gave him, with all the strength I had left, a blow over his head. He seemed to be quite cowed, and, turning tail, went back towards the stables, which fortunately were open. I drove him into the yard, and closed the doors at once. Looking round for my tiger, I found he had sneaked into a large empty den that stood open at the bottom of the yard. Two of my men, who had jumped on to an elephant’s box, now descended, and pushed down the iron-barred sliding-door of the den; and so my tiger was safe again under lock and key."

The boy was rushed to a nearby hospital where, despite his ordeal, it was discovered that he had suffered little more than a few scratches.

In the aftermath of the escape, the boy’s father sued Jamrach, who was forced to pay £60 compensation and legal costs of £240 (about $7000 and $28,500 today, respectively). The judge in the trial, although aware he had to pass down a harsh sentence for such a potentially dangerous accident, reportedly sympathized with Jamrach and commented that he “ought to have been rewarded for saving the life of the boy, and perhaps that of a lot of other people.”

As for the tiger, he was later sold to George Wombwell, the owner of a famous Victorian travelling menagerie, who reportedly cashed in on the entire affair by exhibiting the creature as “the tiger that swallowed the boy.”

Jamrach, meanwhile, continued to expand both his collection and his client list, and in 1864 helped the legendary showman P.T. Barnum restock his circus after a devastating fire.

Jamrach's tiger at Tobacco Dock in London
Matt Brown, Flickr //CC BY 2.0

Yet by the time of Jamrach's death in 1891, the trade and public interest in exotic animals was beginning to wane. The business was taken over by his son Albert after his death, but when the outbreak of World War I made the international trade of animals nearly impossible, the company folded. Nevertheless, today a statue commemorates Jamrach’s contribution to Victorian culture and his selfless rescue of the unnamed boy—an extraordinary 7-foot-tall bronze tiger now stands in the entrance to Tobacco Dock, close to where the incident took place.

London's Trafalgar Square Gets a Poetry-Writing Red Lion

Tolga Akmen, AFP/Getty Images
Tolga Akmen, AFP/Getty Images

London’s historic Trafalgar Square just got a fifth lion, the BBC reports. The fluorescent red, AI-powered lion takes visitor-submitted words and turns them into two-line poems, which are displayed on a screen inside its mouth. The history-inspired installation is part of the ongoing festivities for the London Design Festival, which ends Sunday.

The idea comes from set designer Es Devlin, who is participating in a yearlong collaboration with Google Arts & Culture. She was inspired by another designer who remarked that Sir Edwin Landseer, who sculptured the other lions in the square in the late 19th century, "never wanted [them] to look so passive.” Landseer apparently wanted the lions to assume a more lively stance, “but Queen Victoria found it too shocking,” Devlin says.

The story of how Trafalgar Square’s lions came to be is an odd piece of history. For one, the process was painfully slow. Landseer spent four years just working up a sketch and spent hours studying the habits of lions at the London Zoo. He even waited two years for one of the zoo’s lions to die, then carted it back to his studio and kept it there until it started to decay. He was forced to throw out the animal—and his reference material—before he finished. “Which is why, if you look closely, you can see that the lions in Trafalgar Square actually have the paws of cats, rather than lions,” The Telegraph notes.

[h/t BBC]

13 Facts About Notre-Dame Cathedral

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iStock

Constructed between the 12th and 14th centuries, Notre-Dame de Paris has centuries of French history built into its stone. The Gothic cathedral reflects the prominent role of Paris as an economic and spiritual center in the 12th century, and its scars from the French Revolution are reminders of its long connection with the monarchy—a connection that almost resulted in its demolition. Yet although thousands of tourists enter its doors each day to photograph its rose windows and flying buttresses, this sacred destination still has its secrets. Here are 13 lesser-known facts about Notre-Dame de Paris.

1. A PAGAN CITY LIES BELOW THE CATHEDRAL.

The Île-de-la-Cité on which Notre-Dame de Paris now stands was once a Gallo-Roman city known as Lutetia. The cathedral may have been built right over remnants of a temple: Around 1710, pieces of a sculpted altar dedicated to Jupiter and other deities were discovered during an excavation under the choir (although it remains unclear if this is evidence of an ancient temple, or if the pieces were recycled there from another location). Additional architectural ruins found in the 1960s and '70s, many dating back to this ancient era, lie in the archaeological crypt located beneath the square just in front of Notre-Dame.

2. THERE'S SOME RECYCLED ARCHITECTURE ON ITS FAÇADE.

The Sainte-Anne Portal at Notre-Dame
The Sainte-Anne Portal at Notre-Dame

There are three portals on the western façade of Notre-Dame, each laden with sculpted saints and sacred scenes. One doesn't seem to fit, however—the Portal Sainte-Anne has a much earlier style than the rest. Its figures, such as the central Virgin and Child, look stiffer in their poses and less natural in their features compared to the other statues. That's because this tympanum, or semi-circular area of decoration, was recycled from a previous Romanesque church. A close examination in 1969 revealed that it was not originally made for this space, and had been adapted to fit the Gothic structure.

3. THERE'S A "FOREST" IN ITS ROOF.

The cathedral contains one of the oldest surviving wood-timber frames in Paris, involving around 52 acres of trees that were cut down in the 12th century. Each beam is made from an individual tree. For this reason, the lattice of historic woodwork is nicknamed "the Forest."

4. ITS FLYING BUTTRESSES WERE GOTHIC TRENDSETTERS.

Low angle view of the East end of Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral at sunset with flying buttresses
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The cathedral was one of the earliest structures built with exterior flying buttresses. They were constructed around its nave in the 12th century to lend support to the thin walls, after the need for more light in the incredibly tall church required larger windows, and thus greater supports. The exposed flying buttresses became an iconic aspect of Gothic design, and although there's some debate over whether Notre-Dame was the first church to have them, they certainly set the trend in sacred architecture.

5. TWENTY-EIGHT OF ITS KINGS LOST THEIR HEADS IN THE FRENCH REVOLUTION.

In 1793, in the midst of the French Revolution, 28 statues of biblical kings in the cathedral were pulled down with ropes and decapitated by a mob. (King Louis XVI was guillotined earlier that year, and any iconography tied to the monarchy was under attack.) The mutilated stones were eventually tossed in a trash heap, which the Minister of the Interior dealt with by ordering the material be repurposed for construction. It wasn't until 1977 that the heads of 21 of these kings were rediscovered during work on the basement of the French Bank of Foreign Trade. Now they're at the nearby Musée de Cluny.

6. THE TOWERS ARE NOT TWINS.

The two towers of Notre-Dame
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At first glance, Notre-Dame’s two towers appear like identical twins. Closer examination reveals that the north tower is in fact a bit bigger than the south. As with all the elements of the cathedral, they were built over time, and reflect how the cathedral is more of a collage of architectural trends and leadership than the culmination of one person’s vision.

7. ITS BELLS WERE ONCE MELTED DOWN FOR ARTILLERY.

The kings weren’t the only part of Notre-Dame destroyed during the French Revolution. The cathedral, like other churches around France, was transformed in the late 18th century from a Christian space and rededicated to the new Cult of Reason. All 20 of its bells—except the colossal 1681 bourdon called Emmanuel—were removed and melted down to make cannons.

While the bells at Notre-Dame were replaced in the 19th century, the new instruments were not as finely made as the older versions, and made a more dissonant noise when clanging. Finally, in 2013, a new ensemble of bells restored the cathedral to its 17th-century sound, with the deeply resonant Emmanuel still joining in the toll on special occasions.

8. NAPOLÉON AND VICTOR HUGO SAVED IT.

When Napoléon Bonaparte decided to have his 1804 coronation as emperor in Notre-Dame, the building was in bad shape. Centuries of decay as the city developed and changed around it, as well as the vandalism of the French Revolution, had left it on the verge of demolition. For years it had been used as little more than a warehouse. So when Napoléon declared its return to church use, and hosted his grand ceremony within his walls—an event in which he famously crowned himself—it brought Notre-Dame to new prominence.

Nevertheless, the coronation didn’t fix its structural deterioration. Then author Victor Hugo used the building as a personification of France itself in his 1831 novel Notre-Dame de Paris. (The book’s name is often translated as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, yet the hunchbacked bell ringer Quasimodo is not the main character; the central figure is Notre-Dame.) And Hugo vividly evoked its decrepit 19th-century state:

“But noble as it has remained while growing old, one cannot but regret, cannot but feel indignant at the innumerable degradations and mutilations inflicted on the venerable pile, both by the action of time and the hand of man, regardless alike of Charlemagne, who laid the first stone, and Philip Augustus, who laid the last. On the face of this ancient queen of our cathedrals, beside each wrinkle one invariably finds a scar. 'Tempus edax, homo edacior,' which I would be inclined to translate: 'Time is blind, but man is senseless.'”

The book was a success, and the momentum led to a major restoration overseen by architects Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus and Eugène Viollet-le-Duc.

9. ITS MONSTERS ARE MODERN, NOT MEDIEVAL.

Gargoyle and wide city view from the roof of Notre-Dame
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Some of the most popular images of Notre-Dame are from the perspective of its gargoyles or chimera (the carved monsters that don’t act as waterspouts). Few visitors would guess that the fantastic creatures now on the cathedral weren't there until the 19th century; they were added between 1843 and 1864 during the radical restoration overseen by Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc.

Hugo had described gargoyles extensively in Notre-Dame de Paris, and Viollet-le-Duc was reportedly inspired by this romantic vision of the past. A daguerreotype from before this overhaul shows a building more stark than the one we know today, with no beasts perched on its towers, its medieval gargoyles having long been removed. Unfortunately, many of the 19th-century gargoyles are now decaying; PVC pipes have taken the place of those that have been taken down for safety.

The gargoyles were far from the only fanciful addition by the architect Viollet-le-Duc. Among the 12 apostles he had installed around the new spire, he included himself as the face of Saint Thomas.

10. ITS SPIRE IS A SAINTLY LIGHTNING ROD.

Look way to the top of the spire and you'll spy a rooster. This is not a purely decorative bird. In 1935, three tiny relics—an alleged piece of the Crown of Thorns and some bits of Saint Denis and Saint Genevieve (the city's patron saints)—were secured inside the metal bird’s body. The idea, the story goes, was to create a sort of spiritual lightning rod to protect the parishioners within.

11. THE ORGAN IS THOUGHT TO BE THE LARGEST IN FRANCE.

The Notre-Dame organ involves almost 8000 pipes (some dating back to the 18th century) played with five keyboards, making it the biggest pipe organ in France (although some claim that Saint-Eustache has a larger one). While there are some slashes on the wood of the organ loft—damage from the French Revolution, when its fleur-de-lis symbols were carved off—it was restored in 2013 to mark the 850th anniversary of the cathedral.

12. ALL ROADS LEAD TO NOTRE-DAME DE PARIS.

Point Zero marker outside Notre-Dame in Paris
Jean-Pierre Bazard, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Mostly overlooked beneath the crowds of tourists milling around outside Notre-Dame is a diminutive circular marker with an eight-pointed bronze star embedded in the cobblestones. It’s engraved with the words Point zéro des routes de France, and is the point from which distances are measured from Paris to other cities in France. It was placed there in 1924, although it had to be temporarily dislodged in the 1960s during the excavations for what was intended to be an underground parking garage. Those construction plans were thwarted when workers turned up architectural ruins—now kept in the archaeological crypt.

13. BEES LIVE ON ITS ROOF.

On the Notre-Dame sacristy, adjacent to the cathedral, is a small hive of bees. It was installed in 2013, with Buckfast bees—a strain developed by a monk named Brother Adam and known for its gentleness—living in its hives. Their honey is made from the flowering plants in nearby gardens, including the Square Jean XXIII just behind the cathedral. According to The New York Times, the sweet stuff is given away to the poor.

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