Friday, 31 July 2009

Lions Loose in Yorkshire

The other day I came across a brilliant reader's letter in the paper Look Local, published weekly near Sheffield. The said letter quoted an article from 1891 describing the events that occurred when a traveling circus of wild and wonderful beasts had a few problems with the lion's wagon.

Here is the letter transcribed in full:




“The quiet valley in which the hamlet of Wharncliffe Side is situated, was yesterday the scene of a series of exciting incidents. The collection of animals known as Day’s Menagerie was at the Holmfirth Feast during the early part of the week; and on Thursday [May 14th 1891] it set out for the Sheffield Fair. In consequence of a slight mishap on the road, however, they only reached Deepcar, where they remained until early yesterday, when they resumed their journey. Soon after six o’clock in the morning the fourteen vans containing the animals, and a number of camels following on foot, entered Wharncliffe Side. As they were passing down the road there the thread upon the bolts fastening one of the axle arms to the van containing the lions, gave way, and after oscillating for a few seconds, the van rolled over on its side with a loud crash. Fortunately no persons were walking by the side of the van at the time or they would certainly have been crushed to death.

Wallace, Hannibal, and Tyrant, three large lions, which were the occupants of the van, naturally became much alarmed, and one of them tore away the grating, which when the van is in the proper position is on the top. Now that the van had fallen the grating was at the side, and the lion, after removing it, put his head out and made the surrounding hills echo with his roar. The other lions joined in the cry, and were answered by the howls and yells of the bears, tigers, wolves and other animals in the remaining vans. Mr John Daniel Day, one of the proprietors, at once gave the lion a stroke with the butt end of a whip stock, and having by this means prevailed upon him to withdraw his head, he promptly nailed a board over the opening.

It was not long before the inhabitants of the neighbouring houses, and especially the children, gathered round the van, and Police-sergeant Hobson proceeded to the place to render assistance. A number of horses attached to milk carts were passing at the time, and the former, partly in consequence of the roaring of the animals, but chiefly at the sight of the camels, became very restive.

Mrs Wragg of Brightholmelee, was proceeding to Sheffield in her milk cart, when the horse bolted, and she jumped out; and while Sergeant Hobson and a number of other men went to secure the horse, Mr Joseph Wood, whose father bears the same name and keeps a farm at Onesacre, was leading his horse past the place, it broke away upon seeing the camels, and rushed through the crowd, knocking down three girls. It then leaped over a wall into a field, when one of the shafts and most of the harness broke; the cart remaining in the road. The horse was cut but not permanently harmed.

One of the girls was not hurt, but the other two received rather severe injuries. One of the injured children is Clara Micklethwaite, ten years of age, daughter of Benjamin Micklethwaite, a rasp cutter, who lives at Wharncliffe Side. When the horse sprang into the field she was wedged between the cart and the wall. She was rendered insensible, but recovered consciousness upon being taken home. The name of the other girl is Alice Hawley. She is eleven years of age and is the daughter of Arthur Hawley, who lives at Wharncliffe Side and is employed at the paper mill there. She was knocked down by the horse, but fortunately the wheels of the cart did not pass over her.

Both girls were attended by an assistant of Mr. Browning, surgeon, Oughtibridge, who found them suffering from bruises, but neither of them had sustained broken bones. Micklethwaite also suffers from internal injuries, but it is not expected that they will terminate fatally. About four years ago Hawley was an inmate of the Infirmary in consequence of her having received a very severe kick in the face from a horse.

Another horse which took fright at the camels was that of Mr [John?] Walker, of Eaton House, near Brightholmelee, but no accident resulted. After some difficulty Mr Wood’s horse was caught, and by borrowing another cart he was able to complete his journey. Meanwhile the services of Mr. Thomas Walker, the village blacksmith had been obtained for the purpose of mending the defective bolts, and he accomplished his task with such promptitude that the menagerie was soon able to proceed, and the Sheffield Fair Ground was reached without further mishap”.

I love the idea of a circus of wild beasts traveling round Yorkshire from one country fair to the next. To us, today, the thought of seeing lions and tigers in the flesh (well, fur I suppose) might not seem particularly exciting. But, to people in the late 19th Century, who didn't have the constant exposure to such things that TV and the internet grants us, this would have been an incredible sight. It is easy to see why the local fair became such a central part of rural life.

No comments: