Sunday, 20 April 2014

Victorian strangeness: The tale of the lion and the spa break

Saturday, as you'll surely need no reminding, is International Circus Day. Author Jeremy Clay delves into the Victorian newspaper archives to unearth a tale of a travelling menagerie, an escaped lion, and a Welsh holidaymaker on a spa stay that proved rather less than stress-free.

In the drawing room of a hotel in sedate Llandrindod Wells, Mr TJ Osborne is preparing to head home from a pick-me-up break in the Welsh spa town.

It's a June afternoon. The day is warm. The window is open. A fully-grown African lion leaps in.

In the lively few minutes that follow, Mr Osborne gets a crash-course in lion-taming and later becomes the hero of a pithy write-up in the newspapers. Well, some of them at least. A holidaymaker tackling a lion in Llandrindod may seem to us now - as it must have to Mr Osborne then - a remarkable turn of events, but it doesn't seem to have caught the imagination of many of the news editors of 1889.

Perhaps they'd just grown weary of printing variations on a well-worn theme. In the 19th Century, ferocious beasts roamed the British countryside once more, thanks to the lax security of travelling menageries that criss-crossed the nation in the style of incontinent mice, leaking wherever they went.

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