Tag Archives: London Zoo

A Bear of Very Little Brain

Commuters reading the London Evening News on Christmas Eve 1925 would have seen a new children’s story called ‘The Wrong Sort of Bees’, featuring the first appearance of a honey-loving bear. What the readers wouldn’t have known is that this wasn’t the last they would hear of this particular bear. Ten months later, on 14 October 1924, Winnie-the-Pooh was published and everyone’s favourite bear appeared between hard covers for the first time.

Opening page of Winnie the Pooh by A A Milne

Pooh’s creator, AA (Alan Alexander) Milne (1882-1956) grew up in Kilburn, where his father ran Henley House school. The school boasted HG Wells as one of its teachers and for a time Wells did teach the young Milne. He then went onto Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge where he made the right contacts and was able to get a job working on Punch. As well as writing comic essays and sketches he found success as a a novelist and as a playwright (The Dover Road was recently revived at Jermyn Street Theatre) but it was as a writer for children that he found lasting fame.

In 1921 Milne bought a teddy bear at Harrods for his baby son Christopher Robin which was soon named after Winnipeg, a Canadian bear in London Zoo. Winnipeg was a female bear which presumably accounts for the nickname Winnie. Young Christopher’s toys also included a donkey, a kangaroo and a piglet and later a tiger (but no owl). These toys, along with Christopher Robin himself found themselves appearing in Milne’s stories. The initial 1925 publication in the London Evening News was followed in 1926 by Winnie-the-Pooh, with The House at Pooh Corner following in 1928.

The books were instant successes. Christopher Milne found himself a rather unwilling celebrity and the subject of much teasing at school. Eventually he left London and spent many happy years running a bookshop in Dartmouth, Devon.

Incidentally, you can see Winnie, Piglet, Kanga and friends on display in the New York Public Library, where they are kept in captivity and much appreciate visitors from home… [see post script below]

Map inside cover of Winnie the Pooh, by A A Milne

For many of us, our enjoyment of the stories owes as much to the charming pictures as to the text. And these were drawn by another Londoner – EH (Ernest Howard) Shepard (1879-1976), who spent much of his life in St John’s Wood. He was born at 55 Springfield Road and in the 1930s lived in a splendid house in Melina Place with his son Graeme, whose own bear Growler was the model for Shepard’s drawings of Pooh. Shepard, of course, also drew the most famous set of illustrations for The Wind in the Willows (which AA Milne dramatised as Toad of Toad Hall) and he wrote a charming memoir of his St John’s Wood childhood called Drawn from Memory. This includes his memories of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee and the famous 1887 fire that completely destroyed Whiteley’s department store (then in Westbourne Grove) which could be seen from Highgate Hill. You can see a plaque to EH Shepard at another of his Westminster homes – 10 Kent Terrace, Regents Park.

EH Shepard illustration from Winnie-the-Pooh

You can find out more about AA and Christopher Robin Milne and EH Shepard in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log in with your library card number). You may also wish to look at the splendid bound volumes of Punch held by Westminster Reference Library.

Christopher RobinWinnie the PoohAnd of course, you’ll find plenty of Disney DVDs in our children’s libraries though you’ll have to try to ignore the American accents and the incongruous Gopher – we all know the real Pooh was a true Londoner!


Post script: Catherine Cooke of the Sherlock Holmes Collection has paid several visits to Pooh and friends in their New York home, and sent these great pictures to share:

Winnie the Pooh and friends in the New York Public Library, January 2015. Picture credit: Catherine Cooke  Winnie the Pooh and friends in the New York Public Library, January 2015. Picture credit: Catherine Cooke


Two lions to guard me

Marylebone Council House lion after restoration, July 2013

Damaged Marylebone Council House lion, 2013Anyone walking past Westminster Council House on Marylebone Road a few weeks ago will have been horrified to see that the splendid art deco lions who have guarded it since it opened in 1914 had been brutally assaulted, with one losing a nose and the other an ear in the attack. Fortunately they have now been mended and thanks to an excellent cleaning job they look better than ever. Do give them a pat if you’re in the area.

But these fine fellows are not  the only lions in Westminster – let’s have a look at some of the others. The most famous, of course, are the four guarding Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square. These were designed by the noted animal painter Edwin Landseer after a competition set by Parliament, despite the fact that, as The Times said, “Sir Edwin never had a chisel in his hand in his life, and never yet, we believe, attempted to model anything.” Read more about Landseer and his family (he was the youngest of seven children, all talented artists) in Oxford Art Online (you will need to log in with your Westminster Library card). The lions, of course, feature in the famous music hall song I Live in Trafalgar Square, which inspired the title of this blog post. Skip the boring introduction and listen to Richard Thompson’s rather splendid version instead.

London pride, by Valerie Colin-RussBut not all London lions are quite as big as those guarding Trafalgar Square and the Council House. London Pride by Valerie Colin-Russ attempts to list all the London lions ‘visible from the streets and public footpaths’.

While our neighbours in Kensington and Chelsea have 365 lions and Hammersmith and Fulham an impressive 1,323 (to put this into perspective the much larger Croydon has a mere 17), Westminster, you will be proud to hear, has a staggering 3,766 lions for you to find. Let’s look at a few of them…

Rather different to the placid creatures guarding Nelson is the lioness found in Grosvenor Gardens which is chasing an antelope. This was commissioned by the Duke of Westminster to celebrate the opening of the gardens to the public – what sort of activities he was expecting shall remain a mystery!

Lions turn up in all sorts of expected (The Red Lion pub on Parliament Street if spotting MPs takes your fancy) and unexpected places (the are sixty lion heads around the top of The Albert pub in Victoria Street. And you might want to take a careful look at the statue of World War I heroine Edith Cavell next time you pass the National Portrait Gallery. See how many of the other 3,700 or so Westminster lions you can spot next time you walk around the city.

London Zoo, on the border of Westminster and Camden, was once the home of real African lions but now only plays host to the smaller Asian variety. These were the lions known in Biblical times and which fought in Roman arenas so you still don’t want to mess with them. Of course you could always buy a ticket to The Lion King or Wicked which feature very different theatrical lions. Sadly it’s no longer possible to round off a hard day’s lion hunting with tea at a Lyons Corner House (though you can read about their fascinating history by clicking on the link) so you’ll have to make do with a Lion Bar.

Animal London by Ianthe RuthvenIf this sculptural safari has whetted your appetite for more hidden (or not so hidden) animals, why not broaden your horizons and take a look at a wider range of species… ?


Wild London

View of Burmese elephants with their keepers at London Zoo in 1923. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

View of Burmese elephants with their keepers at London Zoo in 1923. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Summer is here!
With long, hot days forecast and the school holidays nearly underway, it’s a great time to get out and about to enjoy all London has to offer. London Zoo, situated in Regent’s Park, has long counted among Londoners’ favourite destinations for a fun-filled day out.

Founded in 1826 as the world’s first ‘scientific’ animal collection, this famous institution has a fascinating history, documented in the Archives Centre’s current Book of the Month.
Zoo, by J. Barrington-JohnsonJ. Barrington-Johnson’s illustrated volume The Zoo: The story of London Zoo examines the Zoo’s historic development, as well as telling the story of some of its most celebrated residents.

Despite the fond place it holds in Londoners’ and tourists’ hearts alike, London Zoo has faced challenges over its 185 year existence. Changing attitudes towards the captivity and display of animals for entertainment and curiosity threatened the Zoo with closure in the early 1990s. Although its survival was secured due to the introduction of better standards of animal welfare along with an enhanced focus on research and conservation, the ethics of zoological collections are complex and continue to be publicly examined and questioned.

The Zoological Gardens, Regent's Park, c.1828. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

The Zoological Gardens, Regent’s Park, c.1828. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Do zoos provide unique and important opportunities for the appreciation, researching and preservation of wildlife?

Or are they an old-fashioned method of containing and classifying the natural world that is destined to become obsolete?

Why not research the history of London Zoo in more detail using resources available in our Archives Centre search room? While you’re there, take a look at our current display, which explores the history of animals in Westminster, from the Victorian menagerie exhibitions of the Strand to the varied wildlife thriving in our urban spaces today.