A popular song sung by The Great Vance, star of the nineteenth century Music Halls, was “Walking In The Zoo” which it seems was one of the big things to do in the city of London, like being seen of a morning in Rotten Row. The song helped make the zoo even more popular and Vance followed up his success with “Lounging In The Aq.”
I thought about it when thumbing through a book Chris took down from the shelves; yet another I didn’t know we had. The book is a republication of “Dickens’s Dictionary of London 1888” and was compiled not by the Charles Dicken’s but by his son. It’s a fascinating volume to thumb through.
For example, I don’t know how many policemen there are now in London (there’s never one when you want one) but in 1888 the city was divided into divisions. The City itself had a force of 888, the rest had a total of 14,106 including all ranks from superintendent to constable. That’s a lot of manpower and there wasn’t even the modern motor car to deal with. The docks seem to have had the fewest numbers. Pembroke Dockyard Division for example had no Superintendent but 2 Inspectors, 4 sergeants, 28 constables.
But back to the Zoo … “The gardens of the Zoological Society of London contain the largest and by far the best arranged collection of wild beasts, birds, and reptiles in the world, and being themselves laid out in the best taste and kept in the most perfect order, afford the best place of open-air amusement to be found in London.” It goes on to give directions as to how to get there by omnibus and metropolitan railway and the cab fare from Charing Cross is one shilling and sixpence. The entrance fee is one shilling. It goes on to describe the lions’ den, the sea-lion pond and the monkey house and, “The feeding times of the animals, when of course they hold their most crowded receptions, are as follows: the pelicans 2.30 p.m.; the otters 3p.m.; the eagles 3.30 pm (except for Wednesdays!); the lions and tigers at 4pm.
And if all that feeding has made you feel a trifle ravenous “there is a conveniently arranged refreshment room where you may order a table-d’hote dinner which they can serve under the verandah, a very agreeable institution on a summer evening.”
For a small initial outlay and yearly subscription, proposed by three members one of whom must be acquainted with you and elected by ballot, you could become a member of The Zoological Society and it would seem it was well worth it for all the perks, particularly the many free entrances you and your friends could have, meetings, publications, and a member’s wife could use his privileges on payment of one guinea per annum. Altogether an amazing deal. I wonder if Vance was a member when he went walking in the zoo.
PS: What happened to the eagles on Wednesday?